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Monmouth University Poll – 2018 Midterm Recap


[Note:  All Monmouth poll reports can be found at www.monmouth.edu/polling .]

The Monmouth University Poll made a commitment in the 2018 midterms to focus on a range of Congressional races that would help the public understand what factors were at play in this election. Monmouth’s polls in the final weeks of the campaign captured the trajectory of the race for control of the U.S. House.  Specifically, Monmouth’s likely voter model results for four polls conducted in late October were very close to the final margins in those contests.

“We really wanted to focus on the important issues at play while conveying a reasonable range of potential outcomes. Our primary goal was not to predict results, but rather to tell an accurate story of the factors driving this election and the direction it could potentially go,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

Monmouth’s polling in 13 competitive House races, plus one Senate race, depicted the unusually high levels of interest among voters this year. This includes an early Democratic enthusiasm advantage in the summer and Republicans closing that gap in the fall.  In addition to the individual poll reports in these districts, Monmouth released additional analysis that gave an overview of the state of the race, first after Labor Day and again right before Election Day. These reports went beyond the “horse race” to examine the issues and dynamics at play in different regions of the country and among key voting blocs.

A notable innovation in the way Monmouth reported its findings in 2018 was showing the results for more than one potential turnout scenario. This approach pointed to a range of realistic outcomes and also conveyed the inherent uncertainty involved in election polling. These models were based on tests conducted in two special elections held earlier in the year, which accurately pointed to the dynamics in those races.  Monmouth’s special election polling showed the Democrats gaining in both races over the final weeks of those campaigns, pulling ahead in the PA18 race in March, but falling short in OH12 in August.

Image details Monmouth University's Poll Performance for the 2018 Midterm Elections

Battle for the House: If you want to know “why” then look to the regions


Here’s my #2018Midterms HOUSE watch thread:  Other forecasters focus on the numbers, but I’m more interested in themes.  First thing is you can now ignore the national generic ballot and Trump rating – both have been stable for 4 weeks. As we learned in 2016, the national polls did not tell the story of that election. It was a set of regional stories that determined the outcome, e.g. breach of the industrial Midwest’s “blue wall,” Clinton’s ill-conceived attempt to expand the map into the Southwest, etc.

[Find more details from the Monmouth University Poll’s 2018 House polling .]

The 2018 House will be a regional one as well. While all the issues I am about to mention play out nationally, their impact is more of a factor in different regions.  Let’s start in order of poll closings.  We might see some early disappointment for Dems and hope for Republicans in places like #KY06 and #WV03. But these may be more of a sign that “red gravity” in the inland SOUTH is just too heavy for Democrats to reach escape velocity.  If Dems pick up one of those, they are probably in for a good night, but we will need a little more data to see if they weren’t idiosyncratic victories.

The next region to focus on is the EAST COAST – this is where Dems look likely to pick up their largest number of House seats.  This is where white suburban college educated women are the single biggest voting bloc. Those that have voted Republican in the past are not happy with Pres. Trump and not happy with their party leaderships’ unwillingness or inability to provide a check on that. In other words, they feel their party has left them. Combine that with high levels of enthusiasm among Democrats and you have the makings of a blue wave.  The question is whether this wave could materialize here but dissipate as it tries to cross the Appalachians.

Virginia could provide the answer as it contains a number of competitive districts that could indicate how far a wave could travel if it materializes. First, if Republicans can hold onto #VA10, there is no blue wave – in fact, not even a turquoise ripple.  But Dems winning that one seat does not necessarily get them to 218 in the House. #VA07 will be a key.  If Dems pick up this seat, then they are almost certainly on the path to a majority.  If Dems can also swing one or both of #VA02 and #VA05 then they are on the path to a very big night as we head west.

Next up is the MIDWEST.  If the Northeast is largely a story of “Romney-Clinton” districts, the Midwest is where we are looking at “Obama-Trump” districts. But it might be more accurate – and easier to understand the dynamics there if we refer to them as “Change-Change” districts instead.

This region is more populated (relative to other regions) with voters who feel government is deaf to their concerns and that politicians are more interesting in protecting the interests of the “establishment.”  Many of them still like Trump simply because he continues to destabilize the establishment. But they don’t necessarily feel that way about the Republicans running for Congress. Combine that factor with enthusiasm among suburban Dems who regret staying at home in 2016, and you have a recipe for another big haul for Democrats.  On the other hand, the president’s recent appeals to his supporters to think of this election as him being on the ballot might be just enough for Republicans to hold on to many of these seats (although it’s not looking that way right now).

Then we move to CALIFORNIA and the SOUTHWEST. These are some of the most – and rapidly growing so – culturally diverse districts in the country.  This may sound like good news for Democrats, but there are two problems. First, Hispanic and Asian voters are the least likely to show up to vote, especially in midterms. Second, Latino men are not monolithically Democratic – in fact they may be one of the biggest swing groups in the country.  Democrats need to turn out a big number of first-time midterm voters. This group is a key ingredient for them in the East and Midwest, but early vote returns suggest they may be still lagging in places like southern CA and TX.

Republicans, on the other hand, need to hold on to a significant number of Latino men, as polls suggest they are doing now in the Southwest.  One issue central to this is immigration, where many Latinos side with GOP policy.  This is one region where immigration competes with health care as the top issue that voters say they are looking at when they consider their House vote. Republicans have a built-in advantage if they can get voters to prioritize concerns about immigration in their choice for House.

[Side note: if determining control of Congress comes down to Southern California, we probably won’t know the results for another month because apparently each county clerk there is provided with a single abacus on which to tally the votes.]

The bottom line is that we could see a blue wave in one or two areas but not in others. If you want to understand the “why” and not just the “how many” of party shift in the House, pay attention to the regional differences.

So long Chris, and thanks for all the juice


by Patrick Murray

There’s no question that Chris Christie has made a significant impact on both the New Jersey and national political scenes. I’d like to take a quick tour of his 8-year journey as seen through his home state polling numbers.

Christie’s rollercoaster ride in public opinion can be seen in his job approval ratings. I took a rolling 3-poll average based on data from polling organizations that regularly survey New Jersey (Monmouth University, Public Mind at FDU, Quinnipiac University, Rutgers-Eagleton). At approximately 6 month intervals (or following key events), Christie’s approve-disapprove rating among registered voters was:

July ’10:  44-43 (first budget)
Jan ’11:   49-40
June ’11:  45-47 (post-helicopter ride to son's game, "Take the bat out")
Jan ’12:   54-38 (post-Hurricane Irene, Reagan Library speech)
July ’12:  56-37
Feb ’13:   72-19 (post-Sandy)
June ’13:  67-26
Dec ’13:   65-26
Mar ’14:   48-43 (post-Bridgegate revelations)
Sep ’14:   48-41
Jan ’15:   44-47 (post-extensive travel during midterm)
Apr ’15:   38-53
July ’15:  33-57 (post-Bridgegate indictments, launches presidential bid)
Feb. ’16:  34-60 (ends presidential run)
May ’16:   29-64 (post-Trump endorsement)
Dec ’16:   19-75
July ’17:  16-79 ("Beachgate")
Dec ’17:   17-76

Christie’s record high approval among polls conducted with a standard probability sample* was 74% (Quinnipiac on 1/23/13 and 2/20/13.  * Another poll that has been cited with a higher number did not use this standard methodology). His lowest ever disapproval rating was 16% (Monmouth 2/12/13 – not counting a 15% disapproval rating in the first month of his term when most voters had no opinion of him).  Conversely, Christie’s record low approval rating was 15% (Quinnipiac 6/14/17 and Monmouth 7/10/17). His record high disapproval rating was 81% (Quinnipiac 6/14/17).

[Note: you can find all of Monmouth’s New Jersey polling on Christie.] 

The story behind the numbers:

Christie came to office with a narrow but clear victory over an unpopular incumbent. He made headlines as a corruption busting U.S. Attorney, but the New Jersey public still didn’t know much about his plans for the state. After being burned by a generation of politicians who kept passing the buck on major fiscal problems, the public initially greeted Christie with a healthy dose of skepticism.

His first budget received mixed reviews. An April 2010 Monmouth University Poll found that 46% said that it was the product of tough choices and an identical 46% said it was the product of the same old political deal-making. Two-thirds felt that the pain of his proposed budget cuts would be unfairly distributed.  It took Christie a while to win the public over.

There were a few missteps along the way.  A plurality of 38% blamed Christie for the bungled “Race to the Top” application for federal education funds in September 2010. A majority believed his first budget was hurting the middle class. Basically, polls showed that New Jersey did not, at first, buy into Christie’s plans as the panacea for all that ailed the state (which consequently led to the governor’s first public diss of the Monmouth University Poll and me personally on his monthly radio show).

Christie’s job rating did go up, but fell back a bit in 2011 as his personality – and YouTube moments – overshadowed his policies. A low point was when he asked the media to “take the bat out” on a state legislator critical of his administration. But by the end of 2011, he had convinced the public – with his budget cuts, property tax cap and pension reforms – that he was taking a new approach. They may not have liked every aspect of his program, but they gave him credit for shaking up Trenton.

On the other hand, New Jersey was under no misapprehension about Christie’s personal ambitions. Even as his approval rating registered a solid majority in early 2012, New Jerseyans felt he was more concerned about his own political future (48%) than he was with governing New Jersey (39%).

This followed a year of speculation about whether Christie would get into the 2012 presidential race. At the time, most New Jerseyans had no problem with all the national attention – as long as he did his job and his personal ambitions coincided with what was good for the state.  That opinion would change. But not until after what many consider to be Christie’s finest moment.

After Superstorm Sandy hit New Jersey in October 2012, Gov. Christie showed a willingness to put partisanship aside for the good of his state. He would ride that high through re-election in 2013, until it all came crashing down with the Bridgegate revelations in early 2014.

But even that scandal was not a death knell for Christie. His job rating dropped, but it quickly leveled off and remained positive – even as most New Jerseyans believed that Christie had prior knowledge of the plan to close the George Washington Bridge entrance as political payback.

It wasn’t until 2015, after he took the reins of the Republican Governors Association, that the public started to feel he was taking his eye off his day job to pursue his political ambitions. Certainly, Bridgegate didn’t help – his rating took a further hit after indictments were announced in May – but his overall approval drop during this time was due primarily to the sense that he abandoned New Jersey.  Fully 70% said he was putting his personal political future ahead of the Garden State.

Image of Chart Showing Responses from 2012 to 2017 to Questions Asking if People thought NJ Governor Chris Christie was more concerned about governing the state or his own political future

By the time he launched his presidential bid in the summer of 2015, Christie was one of the least popular governors in the country – a fact that Christie seemed to disbelieve.

A Quinnipiac Poll that year found the vast majority of New Jerseyans saying that Christie would not make a good president. In a subsequent interview with Megyn Kelly, Christie said they were only saying that because they didn’t want him to leave the state.

We at Monmouth took that as a challenge and repeated the Quinnipiac question in a poll taken when Christie announced his presidential bid. We also found 69% of the state saying their governor would not make a good president. Then we followed up with a fact check among those who gave Christie a poor job reference – just 5% affirmed the Governor’s interpretation that they only said that because they wanted him to stay in New Jersey. Fully 9-in-10, though, said that they really meant it when they said he would make a bad president.

Christie’s job rating remained negative but steady throughout his presidential run. When it came to an end in February 2016, there seemed to be a sense that he would finally come back to New Jersey and focus on the last two years of his job here. That didn’t happen according to the public. After he decided to endorse Donald Trump his ratings began to slide again.

By the time that election was decided – and Christie had been ousted as Trump’s transition chief – New Jersey had finally had it with him.  His job approval rating slipped below 20% – a point from which it never recovered.

Perhaps the lasting image of Christie will be him sitting on a beach that was off limits to state residents because of a government shutdown. An image that left his constituents “disgusted” according to what they told us in a poll taken shortly after the incident.

On a personal note, I am a little more sanguine about Chris Christie’s tenure as governor. It’s been a very good time to be a New Jersey pollster. When Christie, on the campaign trail in New Hampshire, said that no one was “on the edge of their seat waiting for the Monmouth Poll to come out,” our media hits skyrocketed. Thanks Guv!

Responding to a question about the numerous perks he enjoyed as governor, Christie once bragged that he tries to “squeeze all the juice out of the orange.”  Extending that analogy, Gov. Christie was a pollster’s orange. And this pollster bids him a fond farewell.

So long, Chris. And thanks for all the juice.