Tag Archives: polling

RIP GOP?

I keep encountering people who share with me their (agonized) conviction that Trump will be re-elected. Admittedly, it’s a fear that keeps me up at night–despite my life-long belief that most Americans are good, sensible people, and despite consistent polling that shows a majority of citizens disapprove of him.

It isn’t an entirely unreasonable fear; thanks to the Electoral College, gerrymandering, vote suppression, Russian bots and the various electoral games at which the GOP excels, it can happen. The strength of turnout in November by voters determined to “vote blue no matter who” will tell us whether today’s optimism or pessimism is justified.

That said, I recently became aware of some polling that should cheer us up.

Stan Greenberg is a longtime Democratic pollster, and he predicts both massive turnout and a massive defeat for Trump and for the GOP generally. A column in the Los Angeles Times reports the basis for his optimism.

The columnist begins by conceding the possibilities for defeat: maybe the Democrats will self-destruct at their convention, for example.

Maybe vote suppression by Republicans will succeed. Maybe Tulsi Gabbard will run as a third-party candidate and draw enough votes in a few key states to give the election to Trump. Maybe Trump will lose the popular vote by millions — again — but squeak through in the electoral college by a few thousand.

Despite those possibilities, the column notes that Trump has done nothing to expand his base–and cites Greenberg and others for data showing that the GOP’s base is considerably smaller than that of the Democrats.

Almost half of registered voters (48%) say they are certain they will vote against Trump, while only a third (34%) say they are certain they will vote for him.

The Democratic strategist and pollster Stan Greenberg has a whole book about why Trump will lose (with the great title R.I.P. G.O.P.). He asked voters in a 2016 election day poll whether they could handle an unexpected expense of $500. A majority of unmarried women said they could not. They are unlikely to agree with Trump’s claims about his tax cut benefiting everybody, and unmarried women make up a quarter of the potential electorate.

On many of the issues Americans care most about, Trump is consistently on the wrong side. An increasing majority of people, as Greenberg points out, believe “immigration benefits our country,” up from 50% in 2016 to 65% today. An increasing majority — now more than 60% — believe that the government should play a bigger role in addressing our problems, especially in healthcare. Free college tuition and a wealth tax have widespread support.

But what about the Electoral College? Hillary Clinton was ahead in all the national polls, and won nationally by nearly three million votes. What about Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin?

Of course 2016 showed that we need to look beyond the national polls, and focus on the swing states. But there, too, the news is encouraging. In Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, since Trump took office, his net approval ratings, which started out on the plus side, have fallen — disastrously. In Pennsylvania they decreased by 17 points, in Wisconsin by 20 points, in Michigan by 22 points. In the midterm voting, those three swing states all elected Democrats in 2018. Wisconsin elected a Democratic governor to replace a Republican, and reelected a Democratic senator; Pennsylvania reelected a Democratic governor and Democrats there took three House seats away from Republican incumbents. In Michigan, which the Democrats lost to Trump by 11,000 votes, the Democrats had a huge victory in 2018, sweeping the elections for governor and senator and flipping two House seats. Voters also banned gerrymandering and created automatic voter registration, which together will bear fruit in 2020. All this explains why I’m quite certain we’ll be free at last from Donald Trump on Jan. 20, 2021.

A lot can happen between now and November. We can’t afford to rely on this or any other analysis– we can’t let our guard down. We have to keep working hard and do everything in our power to get the vote out.

But these are good numbers and good omens. Fingers crossed…

 

Just Get Them To The Polls…

These days, good news is rare, so a recent article in The Atlantic-one of my favorite publications–brightened my entire week.

It appears that Trump has “reshaped” American public opinion, but not in the way I  feared he would.

Recent polling shows that Donald Trump has managed to reshape American attitudes to a remarkable extent on a trio of his key issues—race, immigration, and trade.

There’s just one catch: The public is turning against Trump’s views.

The article noted Trump’s increasingly obvious racism, characterizing it as a strategic effort to firm up his base. (I’m less inclined to apply the word “strategy” to anything Trump does–I think as he gets more and more out of his depth, he becomes more unhinged and his true “character” emerges…) Whatever the impetus, however, instinctive or strategic, it isn’t working.

Quite the opposite, if survey research is to be believed.

The Reuters analysis also found that Americans were less likely to express feelings of racial anxiety this year, and they were more likely to empathize with African Americans. This was also true for white Americans and whites without a college degree, who largely backed Trump in 2016.

Among the details, the number of whites who say “America must protect and preserve its White European heritage” has sunk nine points since last August. The percentages of whites, and white Republicans, who strongly agree that “white people are currently under attack in this country” have each dropped by roughly 25 points from the same time two years ago.

The article reports that there has been a 10 percent drop in the number of Americans who espouse white identity politics since Trump entered office, and that Trump’s increasingly explicit racist rhetoric turns off voters who may express some degree of racial anxiety, but who aren’t classical bigots.

The article also notes that Trump has radicalized Democrats, especially white Democrats. By several measures, they have become more liberal on race –on some measures, more liberal than Democrats of color.

Reuters found that more Democrats say blacks are treated unfairly at work and by the police than in 2016—remarkable given how coverage of police violence toward African Americans has dropped in the past few years—while Republican attitudes have remained unchanged.

When it comes to immigration, which the article calls “Trump’s signature issue” (and which is clearly race-based),

Reuters found that white Americans are 19 percent more supportive of a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants than they were four years ago, and slightly less supportive of increased deportations. Other polls find related results. A record-high number of Americans—75 percent—said in 2018 that immigration is good for the United States. Although the Trump administration took steps last week to limit even legal immigration, the Trump presidency has seen an increase in the number of Americans who support more legal immigration—not just among Democrats, but even slightly among Republicans.

Ironically, as the article reports, although Trump has managed to force a national conversation around the issue of immigration, rather than bringing more people to his anti-immigrant views, he has convinced them he’s wrong.

And it isn’t simply his bigotry. His obvious ignorance on issues of economics and trade has also moved public opinion.

One big problem for Trump is that voters have now gotten a chance to see him implement ideas that seemed novel or at least worth a shot during the campaign, and they don’t like what they’re seeing in practice. A trade war with China might have seemed worthwhile in summer 2016, but now that there’s actually one being fought, the public is having second thoughts, and fears of a recession are growing. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released yesterday found that 64 percent of Americans think free trade is good, up from 57 in 2017, 55 in 2016, and 51 in 2015. Meanwhile, the percentage who say free trade is bad has dropped 10 points since 2017.

As reassuring as these results are, they won’t mean diddly-squat unless the people who hold anti-Trump opinions go to the polls in 2020. As I have insisted ad nauseam, the name of the electoral game is turnout, and in 2020 that is truer than ever.

Fortunately, the Atlantic article even had some encouragement on that score.

Raw polling can, admittedly, be somewhat misleading on its own. Progressives have for years lamented the gap between the fairly liberal policies that the public says it favors and those that its elected representatives actually pursue. One reason for that is not everyone votes, and those who don’t vote tend toward the left.

But the Reuters poll offers reason to believe that the shifts it documents are directly relevant to the coming election. The poll found that “people who rejected racial stereotypes were more interested in voting in the 2020 general election than those who expressed stronger levels of anti-black or anti-Hispanic biases.” That wasn’t the case in 2016, when Americans who held strong antiblack views were more politically engaged.

Again, I repeat: we shouldn’t waste time talking to voters in Trump’s base. Anyone who still supports him is clearly beyond reason. Instead, we need to get every non-racist, non-crazy person who cares about this country–especially those who took a pass in 2016– to the polls!

America’s future depends on turnout.

 

 

 

 

This is Called Reality

The Presidential primaries are effectively over. Both parties have chosen their candidates (and it is worth reminding everyone that primaries are party affairs, not exercises intended for the general/unaffiliated public).

I am reluctant to re-enter the toxic primary debate between the “Bernie bots” and the Hillary supporters, and I will preface this post with a disclaimer that will no doubt be ignored: this is not an “endorsement” of either of them. I tend to agree with most–not all– of Sanders’ positions, and I have never been a particularly enthusiastic supporter of Hillary–not because I consider her corrupt or dishonest (I don’t), but because, despite her resume and formidable policy chops, she is a defensive and not particularly inspiring candidate.

I will support Hillary. Had Bernie emerged as the Democratic candidate, I would have supported him. But that is a far cry from believing that he would be the stronger candidate against The Donald.

A recent article from Slate spells out what most politically active people know: polls at this juncture in the campaign are absolutely meaningless. The reason Hillary’s negatives are high is that everything that the Republicans could possibly throw at her has been thrown (repeatedly) for the past 25 years. There won’t be any surprises.

Bernie, on the other hand, would go into this election facing the national GOP smear machine for the first time–and given that Trump is head of their ticket, that machine would undoubtedly go into overdrive. The Slate article spells out just some of the more obvious attacks (and no, they need not be fair or accurate–just as many of the efforts to bring Hillary down have not been fair or accurate). Just a few examples from the article:

[Sanders] has never been asked to account for his relationship with the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party, for which he served as a presidential elector in 1980. At the time, the party’s platform called for abolishing the U.S. military budget and proclaimed “solidarity” with revolutionary Iran. (This was in the middle of the Iranian hostage crisis.) There’s been little cable news chatter about Sanders’ 1985 trip to Nicaragua, where he reportedly joined a Sandinista rally with a crowd chanting, “Here, there, everywhere/ The Yankee will die.” It would be nice if this were due to a national consensus on the criminal nature of America’s support for the Contras. More likely, the media’s attention has simply been elsewhere….

Imagine an ad drawing from the old Sanders essay “The Revolution Is Life Versus Death.” First it might quote the candidate mocking taboos on child nudity: “Now, if children go around naked, they are liable to see each others [sic] sexual organs, and maybe even touch them. Terrible thing!” Then it would quote him celebrating girls who defy their mothers and have sex with their boyfriends: “The revolution comes … when a girl pushes aside all that her mother has ‘taught’ her and accepts her boyfriends [sic] love.” Finally, it would remind viewers that Sanders was one of 14 congressmen to vote against the law establishing the Amber Alert system and one of 15 to vote against an amendment criminalizing computer-generated child pornography. The fact that these votes were cast for entirely principled civil libertarian reasons is, in the context of a general-election attack, beside the point…..

As the nominee, Sanders would have to address his former opposition to public schools and praise for parents who believe that it is “better for their children not to go to school at all than for them to attend a normal type of establishment.” He’d have to explain whether he still feels that sexual repression causes cancer, whether he still opposes the concept of private charity, and whether he still supports the public takeover of the television industry.

Anyone who believes that the GOP would not use–and abuse–these currently little-known positions from Sanders’ past, or that such attacks wouldn’t be highly effective, is being willfully naive.

Bernie Sanders has done the Democratic party an enormous service during this primary campaign. He has raised issues that needed to be raised, and he has moved Hillary Clinton from her more cautious and much more incremental positions. His arguments will strongly influence the party platform. He has brought enthusiastic young people into the political process, and I for one believe he will put the issues above his ego and work hard to keep them involved.

As an old political warhorse, I can tell you that winning an election is not the same thing as winning the argument. The “Bernie bots” can console themselves that he has already won that.

Finally, for those still insisting that Bernie can still win the nomination, or in the alternative, that he was somehow cheated out of winning, please read this.

About Those Polls….

A recent polling “primer” intended for journalists has some useful cautions for all of us being inundated with reports about the “latest polling results” in this weird campaign season.

We are always (usefully) reminded that even the best polls are but a snapshot of public opinion at the time the poll is fielded, so results depend upon what voters have heard and seen at that particular time. Subsequent campaigning can–and more often than not, does–change those perceptions.

It also should not be news that some polls are more equal than others: good polls are expensive, and a lot of what’s out there is at best unreliable and at worst, garbage. Composition and size of the respondent pool (the sample), design of the questions and a number of other flaws can make some surveys worse than useless.

But in addition to those standard cautions, recent changes in communications and the willingness of the public to answer questions cast further doubt on the accuracy of even the better-designed polls.

It should go without saying that “click on our link and tell us what you think” internet polls are worthless.

The increased use of mobile phones, especially, has challenged polling operations. That’s particularly true because there are significant differences in the populations that use cell phones and those who continue to keep their landlines, posing a huge challenge for the algorithms pollsters use to compensate for inability to reach mobile devices.

Further compounding the problem, the number of people willing to talk to a pollster when they are contacted has steadily declined; some estimates are that a mere 5% of those who answer their phones are willing to answer survey questions. Even if the number in the sample is increased in an effort to compensate, it is highly likely that the people who are willing to talk differ in some relevant ways from those who aren’t.

We saw the consequences of all this recently in the Michigan Democratic primary. The best polling has come a long way since “Dewey Beats Truman”–but most of what earns headlines isn’t the best polling.

The troubling aspect of this is that even garbage polls have the ability to affect people’s perceptions and ultimately, to affect election results.