Monday, February 11, 2019

Recent polls are flashing warnings for both parties

A version of this was published in the on line version of the Sky Hi News:

 I have been following public opinion polls closely it seems forever. It is a habit I picked up during years of being active in politics, doing polling myself, and hiring pollsters. The value of nationwide polls is not predicting who or what will win on election day; we have seen too many misfires when elections are close. The voting registered through the Electoral College often distorts the nationwide popular vote outcome. State by state polls have more meaning then.  The highest value of national polls is helping political strategists keep a grip on reality even in a closely divided nation where there still can be lopsided results on public policy issues. Democrats and Republicans should consider them flashing caution lights and ignore them at their own peril.

 Analyzing polls can be tricky. How many, when, who were asked, and how important were ranked issues to voters, are critical elements in interpreting polls. Ask yourself if 80% of Republicans support Donald Trump, why is it he had been polling around 40%-43% nationally per multi polls reported by conservative leaning Real Clear Politics, February 6.  It is math. There are more Democrats than Republicans. In 2018, Gallup found 40% identified as Democrats, 29% as Republicans and 28% as independents. For example, Donald Trump’s State of the Union address polled 76% approval, but CNN found only those who watched it were polled and they were 17% more Republican, warping the results a bit. Nonetheless, Trump nearly a week later showed a significant bump in job approval over prior national polls. How permanent that bump will be may be short lived if he shuts down the government again or calls for a national emergency.  Right now, the country is more closely divided on the president than it was just before his State of the Union address.

Per Gallup, in the 2018 midterms, healthcare, the economy and immigration topped the list of public policy issues.” Other issues that at least seven in 10 voters rate as ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ important include the treatment of women in U.S. society, gun policy and taxes. The investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. election and climate change rank at the bottom, although roughly half still considered them important”.

 For every public policy issue that has widespread support it seems there will always be at least 30% of the voters who disagree.   It is rare if approval of anything exceeds 65 to 70% but polls registering 65% or higher are as near to a national consensus as we can get. To reach that figure, parts of more than one demographic, party affiliation, or geographic location must agree.  

 I set out to find any publicly released polls that registered approval/disapproval of opinions on issues and politicians in at least the 65- 70% range I did.  Caution lights for the GOP:  90% favor background checks on guns (Politifact) and taxing the ultra-rich scored 76% approval. (reported Fortune and News Max).  Nonpartisan, nonprofit Pew Research found 70% against overturning Roe v Wade. Building the wall was not as decisive, but mid fifty percent polled opposed it.   reported by The Hill, and over 69% did not think it was a priority, per a Fortune magazine report. Whether the president should declare a national emergency to build it, a CBS poll found 66% disapproval.

 There is clearly a flashing yellow caution light for Democrats trying to craft their platform on health care insurance.  While polls show Medicare for All has had 70% approval, (The Hill) a Kaiser Foundation poll found if it means eliminating private insurance (single payer), approval crashed to 10%. However, only 14% want the current system and they found degrees of support for Medicare with private supplements, and choice between public and private plans.



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