Skip to main content

Authoritarian Tendencies in the American Electorate (Part 1)

by Patrick Murray

The release of Authoritarian Nightmare by John Dean and Bob Altemeyer raises important questions about the underlying values and motivations of the American electorate. A core part of their analysis is based on a survey of voters conducted with the assistance of Monmouth University’s Polling Institute. I discuss our participation in the project in another post, but here I take a deeper dive into the explanatory power of authoritarianism for American voter attitudes and behavior.

[Note: this is a lengthy “extra for experts” post aimed at those wanting to understand psychosocial dimensions of political attitudes and behavior – and whether it is even possible to measure these constructs. If you are only interested in polling to forecast the next election, look elsewhere. The analysis here is based on a survey of 990 registered voters conducted online from late October to November, 2019.]

The framework for the book’s analysis is found in a number of psychological scales developed by Altemeyer and others to measure perceptions of prejudice, social equality, morality and preferences for strong leadership. Altemeyer’s premise is that traditional religious values and authoritarian tendencies are interrelated. [However, I must emphasize that the following thoughts are mine alone and do not represent Altemeyer’s research or writing.]

The existence of a correlation between traditional social values and authoritarianism makes sense from a lay person’s point of view. People who value tradition are more likely to be threatened by changes to the social order they know – whether those changes are real or perceived. And if you are concerned about the world changing too rapidly, the more likely you are to cede control to a strong authority figure who will do whatever is necessary to stem or reverse that cultural shift.

In fact, many evangelical voters offer a similar rationale in their continued support of Donald Trump. His behavior may be antithetical to their stated belief system in many ways, but they can rely on him to fight for their priority concerns. And while none of them have actually articulated it in this way, it basically boils down to: “If some Constitutional norms need to be undermined to overturn legal abortion, then so be it.” The ends justify the means.

This description is admittedly a simplistic depiction based on one type of single-issue voter. For many other Trump supporters, though, the cultural shifts they hope to reverse are more amorphous than any particular policy. This type of person’s calculation is more about having to confront unknowns in their daily life – a sense of discomfort and discontent that they are not getting ahead while “others” are. In this context, the passive authoritarian is willing to cede control to a strong leader who can identify and vilify the “other.”

Altemeyer has been utilizing his scales in a variety of settings for nearly four decades, but this new book marks the first time they have been put to the test with a representative sample of the American electorate. As the discussion in the book illustrates, this new data supports many of his prior claims about authoritarianism.

How Does One Measure Authoritarianism?

As someone new to the scene, though, I examined his Right Wing Authoritarian (RWA) scale and asked whether it is a measurement of traditional values more so than it taps into a willingness to cede authority to a strong leader. A look at the 20 questions in the scale finds a mix of items, such as “Our country will be great if we… do what the authorities tell us,” as well as “God’s laws about abortion, pornography and marriage must be strictly followed before it is too late.”  The scale includes constructs around strong leadership as well as items tapping into traditional views of sex and sexuality.

My question is whether we can tease out these two constructs. Altemeyer’s 20-item scale seems pretty solid as a measurement tool, with high reliability score of α=.96.  I wondered if the scale hold up without the sexual morality component, so I excluded the most blatant religious value questions and replaced them with a couple of additional items in the survey that asked about adherence to strong leadership (see question list here). This new 11 item scale had a similarly strong reliability score (α=.91). And because academic social scientists have a tendency to overegg the sauce, I also created an even more efficient 5-item scale. This produced a similar level of reliability (α=.90).

Lo and behold, these new scales exhibit nearly the same distributions as the findings discussed in the Dean and Altemeyer book that showed increasing authoritarian tendencies among Trump supporters (Table 1).  The mean authoritarian score of strong Trump approvers is more than twice that of strong Trump disapprovers across the board.  The results here suggest that removing the most blatantly religious items from the RWA scale demonstrates a squarely different mindset among Trump supporters on the proper exercise of leadership to maintain “order.” In other words, there are greater authoritarian tendencies among Trump supporters regardless of whether the scale includes references to specific social “norms” of gender and sexual orientation.

Table 1.RWA Scale Means by Trump Job Rating
RWA scale…Strongly
Original 20-item scale
(range=20-176;  x̅=.84)
11-item non-valence
(range=20-178;  x̅=.82)
5-item non-valence
(range=20-176;  x̅=.87)

Despite the different composition of these RWA scales, all three of them correlate significantly with a separate scale measuring religious fundamentalism, although they do so at notably different levels (Table 2). These correlations range from r=.83 for the original 20-item scale to r=.68 for the 5-item scale with the sexual norms items removed. It is also interesting that all three RWA scales correlate highly with a separate scale in the survey designed to measure racial and religious prejudice (between r=.78 and r=.84). These concepts – racial equality and religious piety – were not referenced directly in any of the RWA scale items. While the religious aspect may be implicitly tied to authoritarianism because of how the original scale was constructed, racial prejudice is not. Yet, the two scales are indeed highly correlated. [By the way, the direct correlation between the prejudice scale and the fundamentalism scale is r=.65. Prejudice is not as strongly related to evangelism qua evangelism as it is to authoritarianism. These findings hold even when the analysis is run among white voters only.]

Table 2.Scale Correlations
(all are significant at p<.01)
RWA scale…Religious
Original 20-item scale.83.84.68
11-item non-valence.72.78.62
5-item non-valence.68.79.63

The survey included another scale – one that may be even more telling about the underlying psychosocial dimensions of political behavior. The 16-item Social Dominance Orientation (SDO) scale measures a belief in and preference for maintaining hierarchy in society in general. [Note: the developers of this scale note that it includes two distinct dimensions – group dominance and anti-egalitarianism – that are meant to be scored separately. However, the correlations of the separate components to the other scales in our survey are nearly identical, so for ease of discussion I am using a summary scale value for SDO.]

The SDO scale does not specify any group identities, but it still has a strong correlation with the Prejudice scale (r=.80). This is much stronger than its correlation with the Religious Fundamentalism scale (r=.50). SDO also correlates with RWA – between r=.62 and r=.68 depending on which RWA scale is used. Other research has shown a weaker correlation between SDO and RWA, but those studies were conducted primarily with university students, whereas this study was conducted with a representative sample of American voters. The gap between Trump supporters and other voters is apparent on both scales, although the social dominance dimension varies over a smaller ranger (Table 3).

Table 3.Scale Means by Trump Job Rating
RWA scale5482101119
SDO scale (rebased to
match RWA scale range)

The Dean and Altemeyer book suggests that while authoritarian followers provide Trump’s base of support, social dominators in his camp may pose the bigger threat. Basically, they see authoritarianism as passive and social dominance as aggressive (e.g. think of QAnon). About 1-in-8 survey respondents scored in the top quartile on both the RWA and the SDO scales and among this group, 89% are solidly in the pro-Trump camp. Among those who score highly only on the RWA scale, solid Trump support stands at 74% and among those who score highly only on the SDO scale solid Trump support is 58% of this group.

We know these “Double-highs” – as Dean and Altemeyer call them – on the RWA and SDO scales are firmly in Trump’s corner. The question is how far are they willing to go to back him?  One question in the survey is illustrative. It asked what should happen if Trump loses in November but he “declares the election was fixed and crooked” (Table 4). Nearly 1 in 4 (23%) double-highs agree that Trump should continue as president in this situation, while 53% disagree. Other high RWAs are not far behind (19% agree and 66% disagree) while other high SDOs are not as willing to back an unconstitutional extension of Trump’s term (5% agree and 79% disagree). That puts them in basically the same category on this question as voters who score moderately high on either the RWA or SDO scales (5% agree and 85% disagree).

Table 4.Trump should continue in office despite a loss  
if he declares election was fixed and crooked
 Double High
High RWA
High SDO
Low on
Agree (7%)23%19%5%5%1%
Neutral (10%)24%15%16%10%1%
Disagree (83%)53%66%79%85%98%

Now, I am not a big fan of hypothetical questions. There are too many instances where what people thought they would do in a given situation do not match up with their actions once they are faced with the reality of the situation. But these results do suggest that Trump does maintain a core base of high RWA/SDO voters who might take to the ramparts for him and another group of high RWA voters who will tacitly offer their support. The question is whether these two groups form a critical mass in American politics.

Altemeyer’s position is that a certain number of people in any given population will always have authoritarian tendencies. The question is whether those inclinations are validated and authoritarian behaviors are deemed acceptable by a critical mass in society. Such situations seem to require a perfect storm of social uncertainty and economic volatility, but also seem to depend on the willingness of political leaders to cravenly play on those fears – or stand idly by while others do this.

It is possible that much has changed since Altemeyer first developed these scales. Religious fundamentalism as a political force was in its nascent stage four decades ago. There may have been other belief systems that correlated with authoritarianism just as well.  Regardless, these two constructs seem to be tightly linked today, at least in American politics.

This does not mean that all evangelicals or all Trump supporters are predisposed to authoritarianism. Nor does it mean that only those on the right of the political spectrum exhibit these tendencies. But the correlations are rather strong. I discuss these exceptions to the rule, as well as consequences for a constitutional republic, in the second part of this post.

Monmouth Poll Research on Authoritarianism

by Patrick Murray

The Monmouth University Polling Institute recently provided research support for a new book by John Dean and Bob Altemeyer entitled Authoritarian Nightmare. Our objective was to further public understanding of what drives voter attitudes and behavior in the 21st century. This is how our association with the authors came about. Thoughts on the data in the survey can be found in separate posts (here and here).

I have a long-standing interest in the role of identity in politics – how people see themselves and how that translates into political attitudes and behaviors, be it through the lens of race, class, geography, etc. The rational choice models typical of political science tend to miss the more visceral need to be part of a group and how that group identity can subsume other political calculations. This is the main reason why I studied political psychology in graduate school and eventually found my way into the polling business.

These factors became especially evident with the ascendance of Donald Trump’s 2016 candidacy. It is worth remembering that Trump had only a 20% favorable to 55% unfavorable rating among Republican voters before he got into the race. Within weeks of his June 2015 announcement, that opinion had flipped to 52% favorable and 35% unfavorable. He hit 70% favorability by Election Day and now routinely tops 80% among his fellow Republicans. I remarked at the time that a universally known candidate suddenly upending what voters think of him on the basis of a campaign speech was unprecedented.

Trump, however, was no typical politician and his appeal could not be readily explained by the usual political paradigms – no matter how much academics and pundits tried to do so. It wasn’t that a critical mass of Republican voters were looking for certain policy boxes to be ticked. These voters were not saying to themselves, “The lack of a border wall is keeping me up at night. Which candidate can I trust to build one?” They were looking for someone who could articulate why they felt unsettled in a changing world; someone who could identify the culprits responsible and vilify them. They were looking for someone who would ostensibly allay their fears – ironically by stoking those fears.

Clearly, something more than a rational choice model of political behavior was at work. But standard public opinion polling has a difficult time tapping into these psychosocial dimensions. These factors are always present but have become much more prominent – perhaps even overwhelming – in the Trump era. There were a few attempts to measure these extra-political factors during the 2016 campaign. None was particularly robust, though, largely because the lengthy question sets needed to tap into these dimensions cannot be administered reliably in a telephone poll. Surveys with psychological batteries tend to be long, wordy, and intentionally provocative, while standard polls are short, succinctly worded, and intentionally bland.

I began looking into ways to obtain better measurements of these phenomena as Trump supporters’ loyalty solidified once he took office. Enter John Dean.

Dean has spoken on the Monmouth University campus twice in the past five years and I had the opportunity to join him for lunch on those occasions. During a conversation in October 2018, I mentioned my concern that standard political polling and the media coverage of voter attitudes was not up to the task of fully explaining the current political climate, and specifically Trump’s ability to maintain his core support. John contacted me shortly after that meeting to discuss a book idea he was working on. In 2006, he published Conservatives Without Conscience, a play on the title of Barry Goldwater’s seminal work, The Conscience of a Conservative. Dean’s book profiles the evolution of the Republican Party as he saw it, drawing on the authoritarianism research of Altemeyer, a retired professor of psychology from the University of Manitoba. While the 2006 volume profiled Republican leaders, Dean and Altemeyer were collaborating on a new book examining Trump’s rank-and-file supporters in the context of the typologies Bob started developing four decades ago.

One thing they were missing, Dean explained, was a broad-based survey of American voters that could directly test their hypotheses. Upon hearing my own interest in developing a fuller understanding of voter attitudes and behavior in the Trump era, Dean asked if Monmouth might be interested in conducting a survey using Altemeyer’s psychological batteries. I saw this as an opportunity to further our body of knowledge by combining academic research with public polling methodology.

We came to an agreement where the authors underwrote a representative online survey of American voters (although we slightly oversampled Republicans to ensure a sufficient group size in the study). Monmouth maintained full control over the selection and management of the sample in line with our standard protocols. And while we agreed to work cooperatively with Altemeyer on the questionnaire content, Monmouth effectively had veto power over any questions, aside from the validated psychological batteries, that did not meet our standards for objective measurement. Dean made it clear on multiple occasions that he was fully prepared for the possibility they might need to rethink their premise if the data led to different conclusions. The numbers would fall where they may. In the end, the findings did support their hypothesis.

Monmouth delivered the final data set to the authors late last year, but played no role in the findings and conclusions of their book. However, part of the agreement was that Monmouth would have the ability to publish its own analysis of the data once the book was released. As such, we provide some initial thoughts on the results here and here.

Issues in Implementing All-VBM Elections in New Jersey

by Patrick Murray

[The following was presented as testimony to the New Jersey General Assembly State and Local Government Committee on June 17, 2020.]

I am not an expert in voter access law or the mechanics of election administration. I do know something about voter motivation and behavior. So that’s what I will address today in providing some context about what we saw in New Jersey in May’s local elections and what we may see in the July primary and beyond.

In 1992, more than 90% of all votes in America were cast traditionally – that is to say at polling places on Election Day. By 2016, the Election Day vote had dropped to 60% of national turnout, with the remainder evenly split between mail ballots and in-person early voting.

It is likely that vote by mail – or VBM – will increase this year because of Covid even without a state change. Half of voters in a recent national Monmouth poll said they are very (31%) or somewhat (20%) likely to vote by mail this year. Covid is accelerating the already existing move in states to provide more convenient – and safer – access to the voting franchise.

I want to talk about two related impacts – turnout and public confidence in the system.


If you looked at the turnout in last month’s local elections here, you’ll notice a large increase for many, but not all, of those races. Looking at the six Bergen County school districts that held Board of Education elections, average turnout more than doubled in these contests compared to last year’s April elections. However, we didn’t see quite the same jump in more urban communities. Turnout was much higher in Irvington for both its municipal and school board elections, but was up only slightly in Newark’s school board race. Turnout was actually lower in municipal contests in Orange and Paterson than for the same races four years ago.  However, in both those cities, these races were less competitive than in the prior cycle – and you need to factor that in.

We need a larger sample of elections before we can draw any firm conclusions about VBM in New Jersey. However, it does seem that VBM had a bigger impact on turnout in the suburbs. There is one other side note to this. It appears that there were fewer undervotes on the public questions relative to overall turnout. So perhaps, VBM prompts more voters to fill out the entire ballot.

But July will be a statewide election, so the question is what do we know about turnout from other states that have implemented all-VBM?  Researchers are not quite agreed. It looks like there were initial bumps in Oregon and Washington when they first implemented all VBM more than a decade ago, but those gains may have been maintained inconsistently. VBM does seem to have had an impact in CO, which made the switch only recently. The impact seems to be higher in lower turnout elections.

There is no evidence that VBM has a partisan impact on turnout, even though Republicans tend to express less enthusiasm for it than Democrats. A study of recent elections in CA, UT, and WA by Stanford researchers, which was just released last week, found a negligible shift in pre-existing partisan turnout advantage related when those states moved to all VBM elections (maximum 0.7% Democrat).

Looking back at May, the overall picture is that VBM may increase turnout more in the suburbs than the cities. Irvington stands out as an exception to this limited finding. That may be in part because the municipal and school elections were combined. Holding fewer elections in a year has a measurable impact on increasing turnout by decreasing voter fatigue.

We also saw a five-fold increase in turnout for mayor and council in Montclair, which was much higher than the increased turnout in other municipal contests. However, most of the Montclair seats were uncontested in the prior cycle. And we know that the one thing guaranteed to cause a sizable increase in turnout is a competitive election. But it doesn’t look like we are going to have too many of those in July.

-Public Confidence-

The other issue I want to discuss is public confidence. Researchers have found a correlation between confidence that one’s vote will be counted accurately and the likelihood to vote. This is one area where New Jersey could have problems in July, particularly if there are close contests in high profile races.  And that’s because implementing VBM properly takes time.

A recent study by Brigham Young University political scientists found a decrease in public confidence in Utah after that state went to all-VBM. The percent of all Utah voters who said they were very confident that their ballot was counted accurately went from 69% after the 2008 election to 60% in 2018.  Nearly all the remainder were somewhat confident and only about 5% were not confident in either year. However, that dip in confidence was tempered by past experience with voting by mail. Among voters who had cast a mail ballot in two or more elections, strong confidence in the process stood at 68% – nearly identical to the 2008 number for all voters. This result was a similar 64% among those with one VBM ballot under their belts, but it was only 53% among those who voted by mail for the first time in 2018. Thus the switch to all VBM caused an initial dip in confidence that disappeared once voters experienced it.

On the other side of the coin, an examination of the voter files in one particular California county after it switched to all-VBM more than a decade ago actually found a decrease in individual voting turnout after that change. Confounding factors in that county included poor communication about the switch and large numbers of non-English speaking voters. These issues were not factors in Utah, Oregon or Washington State, but are the kind of things we could see here in New Jersey with our diverse population and sudden implementation of VBM.

It’s important to caveat this. New Jersey may face certain VBM problems that are not noticeable in July, because it is already a low turnout primary without high-profile competitive races at the top of the ticket. If we have an all- or even high-VBM election in November, though, these cracks in implementation could become more apparent.

So, let me mention some key factors that should be considered in implementing and examining VBM elections:

First, if you look at states that have successively implemented VBM, “vote by mail” is actually an inaccurate term. Yes, all voters receive their ballot by mail. But the vast majority actually deposit it at one of many offices and drop-box locations near them. Only about one-third of voters in these states actually return their vote by mail.  In other words, they do not rely on the U.S. Postal Service to carry the full load of delivering ballots. We already saw some problems in May with relying almost exclusively on the U.S. Postal Service to handle returned ballots. Some were missing the requisite postmark and others were not delivered to the county clerks in time, or at all. A successful VBM process requires multiple drop off locations that voters can easily access.

Second, we need to give voters the opportunity to rectify rejected ballots. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 16 states require clerks to notify voters if their ballot signature does not match the voter file. Election officials are not handwriting experts and should not have the final say based only on their own visual examination.

Third, allowing additional time for ballots to be received and problems to be addressed is also important for building public confidence. Some states only rectify problems for ballots received before Election Day, but others allow for a longer period to ensure full voter access. Washington, for example, gives voters from 10 to 21 days after the election to rectify signature discrepancies.

Fourth, another feature of a high-confidence VBM process is providing an easy way for a voter to verify that their ballot has in fact been accepted – via either automated phone interface or online.

Finally, VBM actually addresses a glaring security problem in New Jersey’s current voting system – the lack of a paper trail. While there are costs associated with moving to all-VBM elections, they more than offset the capital investment required to address the urgent need to replace all of the state’s existing voting machines.

These things, along with an extensive voter communication campaign, are some of the things that have contributed to the successful transition to all-VBM elections in other states. We lack most of these factors here in New Jersey. Even so, we may have a seemingly “successful” primary election here next month. However, that experience may not tell the whole story of how VBM might perform if we administer November’s high turnout general election in a similar way.

Trump Job Rating “Bump” in Context

By Patrick Murray

Fact 1: Donald Trump’s job rating is at an all-time high.

Fact 2: Donald Trump has not received the same approval “bump” as past presidents in a crisis.

Recent shifts in the president’s job approval have been met with “either alarms or fist pumps,” as one reporter put it to me.  But we really have to keep this in context.  We have become so accustomed to the fact that Trump’s numbers never move all that much, that we accept that as the norm. The current crisis is just an exceptionally stark example of that.

To put this in perspective, if this were any other president, we would expect job ratings to have swung almost instantaneously by at least 10 points.  George W. Bush got a nearly 30 point bump after 9/11.  John F. Kennedy saw a double-digit hike in his already high ratings during and after the Cuban Missile Crisis. Even Jimmy Carter got a 25 point bump in 1979 when Americans were taken hostage in Iran.

In Monmouth’s polling, Trump’s approval rating is only 2 points higher than where it was one month ago, before the pandemic really spread in the country. And for context, his current rating is 3 points higher than two months ago in the midst of his impeachment trial, and 5 points higher than six months ago, when the impeachment process was just getting underway.  Monmouth’s numbers track consistently with the average of all polls.

The scale of these shifts means that we end up trying to discern significance from infinitesimal amounts of evidence.  I am not saying that these small movements cannot be consequential. When the country is as evenly divided as it is now, they most certainly can be the tipping point for political change. What I am really trying to say is that is it very difficult to explain the reasons for these shifts at the microscopic level of detail many observers want. That’s because standard public opinion polls are not the right tool for the job. They are more like magnifying glasses than microscopes.

Let’s take the recent shift in Monmouth’s poll numbers as an example. The one major change we saw in Trump’s job rating was that approval among Democrats went from 6% last month to 11% now. The numbers for Republicans (91%) and independents (44%) stayed exactly the same. Now, the fact that the latter groups were exactly the same in the poll does not mean they are exactly the same in reality, because of the potential margin of error in the poll sample. It’s just that we know they did not move as much (if at all) as the Democrats.

A five percentage point movement among a group that makes up about a third of the population is microscopic in polling terms. Absent a sample size in the tens of thousands, we just don’t have the ability to examine this group with any level of precision. In real terms, this shift may represent about 3 or 4 million adults across the country. In polling terms, this equates to approximately 15 respondents in a sample of 850).

It is likely that this group had a range of reasons for changing their opinion. For some it was probably movement from soft disapproval to soft approval for a specific thing Trump had done. For others it may be aspirational.

There’s a body of literature about the psychological need to rally around a leader in times of crisis, which is why the bigger research question for a student of public opinion is why that effect isn’t bigger right now rather than finding explanations for the few people who have become more positive toward the president.

Part of the explanation is certainly down to Trump’s inability to project a more inclusive, non-partisan persona as well as a steady hand on how his administration is tackling this situation. Part of the explanation is the failure of opposition leaders to signal to their followers that they should get behind the president (which admittedly is difficult for them to do as Trump’s rhetoric continues to lambast those who don’t show due deference to him).

Basically, the current times are blowing away a lot of the political theories about what typically happens in a time of crisis.  And that, to me, is the more important public opinion story right now.

Should We Reform the Presidential Nomination Process?

by Vincent Grassi, Monmouth University Polling Institute Intern

The process by which the Democratic Party chooses its presidential nominee has faced increased scrutiny this election cycle, especially after a flop at the Iowa caucuses. One argument has been that the first two states that hold a caucus or primary, Iowa and New Hampshire, do not represent the demographics of the Democratic Party and hold an outsized influence on choosing the party’s nominee.  A majority of Democratic voters (56%) believe that Iowa’s caucuses and New Hampshire’s primary have too much influence over who wins the party’s presidential nomination, according to the Monmouth University Poll. One in four say having these states go first hinders the party’s ability to nominate the best candidate. It may be time to shake up the primary calendar and try something different.

To begin, what are some of the advantages of having Iowa and New Hampshire go first? Candidates with limited funds can stay competitive in small states with less expensive media markets but would not be able to compete against more well-funded candidates in bigger states. Since Iowa and New Hampshire are small states, candidates who are less well known or have fewer supporters are given the opportunity to gain traction and secure a win, something that would not be possible if larger states like California went first.

Candidates turn to different methods of campaigning in these states to establish closeness with the electorate. For example, in small states like New Hampshire, candidates hold small, intimate gatherings with voters like town halls. In bigger states there wouldn’t be an incentive to hold these types of events. Candidates would be more focused on holding large rallies and giving interviews on television. Also, candidates would have little motivation to campaign in a smaller state like New Hampshire if a larger state like Florida (with more delegates to be won) were to vote first.

However, there are some disadvantages to the current system as well. The first two states, Iowa and New Hampshire, provide poor representations of the demographics of the Democratic Party. For example, having New Hampshire as the first primary has been criticized because the state’s racial demographics are 90% white, with African Americans only making up 1.7% of the population, Asian Americans 3%, and Hispanic Americans 3.9% according to the US Census Bureau.

The addition of Nevada and South Carolina as early states somewhat offsets the problem regarding the demographics of Iowa and New Hampshire. With this, some claim the first four states in the nomination process are somewhat representative of the country. Hispanic Americans account for 29% of Nevada’s population. In South Carolina, African Americans account for 27% of the population and make up an even larger share of the Democratic electorate. The media uses these states to gauge candidates’ support among minority groups. 

 However, if a candidate does not perform well in Iowa and New Hampshire, they are usually compelled to drop out of the race and never have the opportunity to compete in more diverse states. The candidates that perform well in Iowa and New Hampshire get increased media coverage that propels their campaigns. The process is all about gaining momentum leading up to Super Tuesday.

Iowa’s caucus system has been criticized for being noninclusive. It disenfranchises large parts of the state’s population due to its design and procedures. According to the ACLU of Iowa, the physical demands of caucusing in the state, “… makes participation difficult for people who can’t get or afford child care, people living with disabilities or mobility issues, people who lack transportation, and people who work evenings.” According to the Brookings Institute, the current way, “caters to older voters and those for whom politics is a passion.” Voter turnout in Iowa was also lower than expected this year.

What are some possible solutions or reforms that can be made to better the process? There are multiple different options and proposed reforms that can replace or complement what we have now. The Monmouth University Poll shows a majority of Democratic voters (58%) favor a national primary day. A national primary day would make it so that all states hold a presidential primary election on the same day. Proponents of this reform claim that this system would be more efficient, however, opponents argue that it would be very expensive for candidates to compete on a national scale.

Another reform that garnered 15% support in the poll is having a few other states hold their contests on the same days as the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. This would keep the drawn out process of the current system and calm the criticism surrounding Iowa and New Hampshire going first.

According to the Monmouth Poll, one in ten support replacing the current system with grouped primaries. Rotating regional primaries is one reform that The National Association of Secretaries of State has supported. This would group states by their geographical location (making segments) and create the primary schedule according to region. The order of these primary elections according to region would be rotated each election cycle.

Another possible reform is the elimination of caucuses and establishing primaries with ranked-choice voting. Not only does this address the concern over the accessibility of caucuses, but it may also answer the concerns expressed by Democrats over how much influence early states like Iowa and New Hampshire have over the candidate pool. Ranked-choice voting would enable fringe candidates to stay in the race even after Iowa and New Hampshire by allowing people to rank their preferences in a primary vote.

Ranked-choice voting could ensure that nominees have broader support among the electorate. According to FairVote, “The system incentivizes candidates to work together rather than attack one another in the hopes of earning backup choices, and to campaign to a broad swath of voters rather than just their own base.” Nevada used ranked-choice voting in their early voting period which helped increase voter turnout significantly according to FairVote

It might be time to give more consideration to reforming the current presidential nomination system. Criticism over Iowa’s and New Hampshire’s status as the first states to vote on presidential candidates has caused many to reexamine the process. Within our country’s history, the way political parties nominate their presidential nominees has evolved and changed to suit cultural shifts. By weighing the advantages and disadvantages of the current system, we can propose the right reforms.

There’s more to key voter groups for Biden and Sanders than meets the eye

by Patrick Murray

The story of the 2020 primary has been that Joe Biden does well among older voters, moderates, and black voters.  Bernie Sanders counts younger voters, liberals, and Latinos among his key backers.

We have exit poll data from 16 states so far this cycle – nine won by Biden, six won by Sanders, and one yet to be called.  Analysis of key group support across these states reveals that victory is not just a matter of which groups supported each candidate, but by how much.

Biden was backed by just over half of voters aged 45 and older in the states he has won so far, but he only managed to get 3 in 10 of this group’s support in the states won by Sanders. Similarly, Biden won half the vote of moderate and conservative voters where he was victorious, but only one-fourth in the states he lost.

Joe Biden Share of Key 2020 Primary Voter
Groups in States Won by …
Biden Sanders
Age 45 and over 51% 30%
Moderates/Conservatives 50% 27%
Black voters 62% 35%
White voters 38% 22%
Source: NBC News Exit Poll

In the states that landed in Sanders’ column, he won a clear majority of voters under 45 years old. That group’s support dropped to less than half in the states he lost to Biden. In the states Sanders won, he got the backing of 4 in 10 liberals, but only a third of this group in states Biden won.

Bernie Sanders Share of Key 2020 Primary Voter
Groups in States Won by …
  Biden Sanders
Under age 45 44% 56%
Liberals 33% 40%
Latino voters 38% 49%
White voters 26% 30%
Source: NBC News Exit Poll

Biden’s black support has been a key factor in his surging campaign this week. Biden has emerged victorious when he was able to claim the backing of 6 in 10 black voters on average, regardless of the share of the black electorate in any given state. He lost states where his support among black voters was about half that level. When Sanders was able to win about half of the Latino vote, he tended to win the state as well, but he lost states where his Latino support was less than 4 in 10.

While all these demographic groups have been identified as key blocs for the two candidates in pre-election polls over the past year, the way white voters have divided their support has also proven to be a critical factor in Biden’s comeback.  In states he won, Biden tended to claim more than one-third of the white vote. His share of the white vote was about one-fifth in states he lost. The white vote has not been as decisive for Sanders – he has won about the same proportion of this group in states he has won and states he has lost.

The one state that really tested these countervailing racial dynamics is Texas, which has significant numbers of both black and Latino voters. Biden got 58 percent of the black vote in Texas, only a few points shy of his average black share in the states he won.  Sanders won only 39 percent of the Latino vote there, which is on par with the average margin in states he lost. The two candidates split the white vote (30% for Sanders and 28% for Biden), but it was the differential vote shares between black and Latino voters that put Biden over the top. And this linkage between key group vote share and outcome held even though there were many more Latinos than black voters in yesterday’s Democratic electorate in Texas.

Now, of course, there are exceptions to these overall trends. Biden won Massachusetts, for example, despite low support among the small group of black voters in that state. But the overall analysis of the exit polls to date suggests that the threshold of support within each candidate’s key groups may be more critical in determining the outcome than the share each group represents in any given state’s electorate.  We will see if this trend continues in the diverse states up for grabs in the coming weeks.


Notes: Thank you to the NBC News Decision Desk for access to the exit poll data.

Biden states = AL / MA / MN / NC / OK / SC / TN / TX / VA

Sanders states = CA / CO / IA / NV / NH / VT

Iowa is a Sanders state based on initial preference vote. Maine’s winner is uncertain.

Big Tech, Fake News, and Political Advertising

by Vincent Grassi, Monmouth University Polling Institute Intern

Social media has had a huge impact on politics by shaping public discourse and revamping civic engagement. However, as we have seen with foreign interference in elections, social media is an outlet for everyone, including what many refer to as online “bad actors.” Here, we’ll look at how big tech companies (namely Facebook, Google, and Twitter) have been taxed with combating the spread of fake news and disinformation ahead of the 2020 election. And, more specifically, we’ll examine their role in safeguarding political speech while also acting to dismantle false or deceptive political advertisements shared on social media.

Fears concerning disinformation campaigns that target voters and our elections were chiefly birthed from the revelation of a Russian state-backed online influence operation that maliciously used social media to interfere in the 2016 election. According to a Monmouth University Poll from March of 2018, most Americans (87%) believed outside groups or agents were actively trying to plant fake news stories on social media sites like Facebook and YouTube, and 71% felt this was a serious problem. Nearly three-in-ten (29%) believed that social media outlets were mostly responsible for the dissemination of fake news, although a majority (60%) said they were partly responsible but other media sources were more to blame. In addition, over two-thirds of Americans (69%) felt that Facebook and YouTube weren’t doing enough to stop the spread of fake news.

In the lead up to the 2020 election, Facebook, Twitter, and Google have taken responsibility for eliminating social media accounts operated by foreign actors that intend to mislead the citizens of other countries. For example, Facebook has focused on removing accounts that take part in what it deems “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” or networks of accounts that are intentionally trying to mislead others. According to an article on Facebook Newsroom, Nathaniel Gleicher, the company’s head of cybersecurity policy, said, “In the past year alone, we have announced and taken down over 50 networks worldwide for engaging in CIB, including ahead of major democratic elections.”

Deceptive practices on social media platforms are not only attributed to foreign agents, but also American citizens. Gleicher said, “While significant public attention has been on foreign governments engaging in these types of violations, over the past two years, we have also seen non-state actors, domestic groups and commercial companies engaging in this behavior.”

Recently, the issue of false ads was brought to the forefront when a controversial Trump campaign advertisement about Joe Biden was published on Facebook, Twitter, and Google’s YouTube. The ad has been largely regarded as spreading false, unfounded claims about the former vice president’s past involvement in Ukraine. Biden’s campaign urged the social media giants to remove the advertisement from their platforms, but they declined.

Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been under fire for this decision. In a speech on free expression given at Georgetown University after his decision, Zuckerberg said, “I know many people disagree, but, in general, I don’t think it’s right for a private company to censor politicians or the news in a democracy. And we’re not an outlier here. The other major internet platforms and the vast majority of media also run these same ads.” Also in the speech, the Facebook CEO revealed that the company does not fact-check political ads.

Since then, Facebook has been under heavy scrutiny and, according to an article posted to Facebook Newsroom on October 21, they are looking to make some changes to address the problem. The article reads, “Over the next month, content across Facebook and Instagram that has been rated false or partly false by a third-party fact-checker will start to be more prominently labeled so that people can better decide for themselves what to read, trust and share.”  Facebook’s plan to protect the integrity of the U.S. 2020 elections includes fighting foreign interference campaigns, increasing transparency by showing how much presidential candidates have spent on ads, and reducing misinformation by improving its fact-checking labels and investing in media literacy programs.

In response to Zuckerberg’s defense of Facebook’s policy, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced that Twitter will do the opposite and not allow any political advertising on its platform starting at the end of the month. Dorsey explained the decision by highlighting some factors that should be considered in the ongoing debate, tweeting, “Internet political ads present entirely new challenges to civic discourse: machine learning-based optimization of messaging and micro-targeting, unchecked misleading information, and deep fakes. All at increasing velocity, sophistication, and overwhelming scale.”

While both Twitter and Facebook have addressed their platform’s policies on political advertisements, Google has refrained from commenting on YouTube’s policy. According to Google’s transparency report, they received around $126 million in revenue from political advertisements since May 31st 2018 running 172,308 ads. Also, findings from Quartz show that the Trump campaign’s controversial advertisement appeared more often on YouTube than it did on Facebook.

Some of the Democratic candidates for president have signaled their frustration with the social media giants. Leading democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren targeted Facebook by posting her own purposely false advertisement on the platform stating that Zuckerberg had endorsed President Trump’s reelection in order to see if it would be approved (it was). Another candidate, Kamala Harris, urged Twitter to suspend President Trump’s twitter account partly due to a series of tweets about the Ukraine scandal whistleblower and the impeachment inquiry in which, she believes, the president violated Twitter’s terms of service by using the platform to obstruct justice and incite violence.

While big tech companies are taxed with disrupting foreign disinformation campaigns, they have also had to focus on domestic issues such as the viral spread of misinformation. Another concern has appeared over their political advertising policies as well and the debate over how social media companies should approach political speech on their platforms. Is it better to not fact-check political social media advertisements, ban them altogether, or is there some middle ground that can be deemed effective at safeguarding political speech online?

New Jersey’s legislative election and 2020 implications

By Patrick Murray

Was New Jersey’s election good news for Republicans? As you may have guessed from the way I phrased that question, the answer is both yes and no.

First, let’s take nothing away from the Republican legislative victories.  They held onto seats that were targeted by Democrats and also knocked off Democratic incumbents in at least one district, all while being outspent by a lot.  But the fact that this outcome – i.e. the governor’s party losing a couple of seats in a midterm – was not something we were really considering before the election says something about the state of politics in the age of Trump.

Republicans won by keeping their races local.  Gov. Phil Murphy, who has middling approval ratings, was a factor, but not the major one. For example, the Democrats’ vote-by-mail effort, while formidable statewide, did not materialize into a large advantage where it counted.  And Democrats’ attack ads in the 1st District seems to have backfired.

Taken in isolation the result was “normal” for a midterm, but it does seem like New Jersey Republicans overperformed and/or state Democrats underperformed when viewed in the context of what happened elsewhere in the country. This includes an apparent Democratic gubernatorial victory in Kentucky and an unusually close race in Mississippi, as well as Democrats picking up both chambers of the Virginia legislature in a midterm with a sitting governor of the same party (who is best known nationally for wearing blackface).

Keep in mind, though, that New Jersey Democrats had already picked up a number of “red” seats in prior legislative elections. They had already reached a saturation point in the size of their majority – unlike Virginia, which has only recently been trending more Democratic.  Also, the Virginia race was nationalized, whereas New Jersey’s was not.  Which means if you start digging past the superficial results, there are some factors in the New Jersey results that actually confirm what we saw elsewhere.

First, political engagement has increased in the Trump era.  Yes, turnout was low in New Jersey, but it was significantly higher than the last legislative midterm in 2015.  Part of this has to do with the state’s new automatic vote-by-mail law, but part is a sign of the times. But since New Jersey’s races weren’t nationalized to the extent they were in other states, our increase in turnout was not as high as elsewhere.

Second, Trump Republicans did well in Trump areas (see LD1 and LD2), but not in moderate Republican areas. This is similar to what we saw in the other states’ voting yesterday.  In New Jersey, Republican incumbents were able localize their races by reclaiming the party brand from the president (at least temporarily), while Trump-aligned independents did little damage to the GOP ticket in LD21 and LD8.  Democrats in the other states did better because those races had higher stakes that spurred turnout among Democrats in suburban areas.  This was not the case in New Jersey.

What this tells me about 2020 is that Jeff Van Drew could have a tough reelection bid in CD2 – even with the attempt to inoculate himself by voting against the impeachment inquiry.  Those types of calculations rarely help if the political environment is against you (cf. John Adler and his ACA vote). Yesterday’s results also means that Andy Kim will need an even greater suburban turnout in the Burlington portion of CD3 to offset Trump’s strength in the Ocean County portion.  On the other hand, Mikie Sherrill (CD11) and Tom Malinowski (CD7) probably can count on stronger Democrat turnout in their districts next year.  Results in hotly contested local races (such as the strong Democratic performance in Somerset County) seem to support the idea that there is Democratic vote to be tapped that wasn’t this year in districts with popular moderate Republican state legislators.  This is not to say that anything is guaranteed, just that the evidence does not support one can count on a return to Republican voting patterns in those suburbs.

In the end, it is not the night New Jersey Democrats wanted and the state Republican Party got a reprieve from the ever-present death watch.  But the results also suggest that in a national context, Democrats will continue to do well in the suburbs while Republican success may be limited to the most Trump-friendly parts of the state.

What does this mean for Phil Murphy?

The governor and first lady, Tammy Murphy, made a mad scramble to hit as many parts of the state as possible in the last days of the race. This was a smart move with little downside for him – even though most of the candidates they were stumping for would have preferred to use that time on last minute GOTV efforts rather than gubernatorial photo ops.  While Murphy’s direct impact on the outcome was limited, if there had been an upset he could have claimed credit for the victory.  On the other hand, in the worst case legislative scenario for Democrats (which is what actually happened), he would have been blamed regardless of whether he went on the campaign trail or not.  

Republicans aren’t the only ones who will be calling this “the Murphy midterm.” You can expect the South Jersey wing of the Democratic Party to start saying that as well. [Although Murphy can counter this with the fact that the only Dem losses were in South Jersey.] All this is a lead-up to the big prize in January – i.e. who will head the state Democratic Party.  The anti-Murphy Democrats will attempt to use these results to rally committee members to oust the sitting chairman John Currie as ineffective.  This is one of the reasons why Murphy ended his Election Day in Somerville.  The Democratic bright spot was success at the county and local level.  The support of these leaders – particularly key players like Somerset County Democratic Chairwoman, and state vice chair, Peg Schaffer – will be crucial to Murphy keeping Currie in his position.

Halloween 2019 – Costume Trends and Safety Tips

by Vincent Grassi, Monmouth University Polling Institute Intern

Halloween is almost here, and according to the Monmouth University Poll that is good news for the 45% of Americans who say Halloween is either their favorite or one of their favorite holidays. Here, I will discuss some of the trends, safety considerations, and news surrounding the spooky fall holiday.

The poll finds that 29% of adults plan on dressing up for Halloween this year. If you are looking for a unique costume, check out Google Trend’s “Frightgeist” website to see what to avoid. It shows the most searched for costumes on both a national and local level, as well as each costume’s trending status over time and the popularity of different costume categories. At the moment, searches for costumes related to the horror movie IT take the top spot while witch and Spiderman costumes trail in second and third, respectively.

An annual survey by the National Retail Federation projects Halloween spending to reach 8.8 billion in 2019, slightly behind the 9 billion consumers spent last year and 9.1 billion in 2017. The survey also shows the trend of dressing up pets for Halloween. Americans are expected to spend $490 million on costumes for their pets, with the most popular being pumpkins, hot dogs and superheroes. Overall, the NRF survey found that consumers plan to spend 2.6 billion on Halloween candy this year.

The Monmouth poll finds that out of eight top-selling Halloween candies, a plurality of Americans (36%) pick Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups as their favorite, while Snickers (18%) place second and M&M’s (11%) take third. Whether you grab the candy mix bags from Walmart or splurge on packs of full-size candy bars, make sure you stock up on enough. According to the poll seven-in-ten parents and caregivers report that their children plan to go trick-or-treating this year.

Among those (70%) who say their children plan to go trick-or-treating, the poll finds almost all children (95%) and even most teenagers (76%) will be accompanied by an adult. To help keep children safe, the American Academy of Pediatrics has published some important safety considerations. They advise parents to rethink letting children wear masks as it can obstruct their vision, making sure their costumes fit appropriately to avoid trips and falls, giving children glow sticks or donning them with reflective tape if they plan to go out later in the evening or at night, and purchasing fire-resistant costumes, wigs, and accessories.

In an effort to address safety concerns regarding motor vehicle accidents on Halloween and make celebrating more accessible to other age groups, the Halloween and Costume Association started a petition in 2018 on to move Halloween from October 31st to the last Saturday of October. The petition would be sent to the president for his consideration if their goal number of signatures is met. In July, the petition was updated to reflect concerns over the holiday’s historical significance and cultural and religious ties. Now, the petition calls for the creation of a separate National Trick or Treat Day to be held on the last Saturday of October in addition to Halloween, “so families across the country can participate in community parades, throw neighborhood parties and opt for daytime Trick or Treating.”

Not only does the petition aim to reduce the number of accidents involving cars and kids, but it is also trying to make the holiday more accessible to other age groups other than children. This effort may reflect the poll’s finding that just about three-in-five (58%) adults aged 18-34 said Halloween was either their favorite holiday or one of their favorite holidays. The poll also finds that half of those aged 18-34 plan to wear a costume.

Changing the date on which Halloween trick-or-treating takes place is not unheard of. One example was after Hurricane Sandy in 2012 when former NJ Governor Chris Christie signed an executive order that postponed Halloween to the following Monday due to unsafe conditions caused by the storm.

Trunk or Treat events also uphold safety priorities and act as a safer alternative to door to door trick-or-treating. These events are usually held prior to Halloween in blocked off parking lots and are hosted by the community, local schools, or local churches. It is praised as being more convenient for parents and, more importantly, safer for children. This year, Monmouth University will be hosting its Trunk or Treat event on 11/3 at 12-2 p.m. in lot 16. You can also find a list of other Trunk or Treat events happening all over NJ here.

Whether you enjoy decorating your home with spooky decorations, taking your children trick-or-treating, watching scary movies, or attending a Halloween costume party – have fun, be safe, and Happy Halloween!

Will New Jersey Ban Single-Use Plastics? Here’s a Look at its Journey So Far

by Vincent Grassi, Monmouth University Polling Institute Intern

West Long Branch, NJ – According to the Monmouth University Poll, a majority of New Jersey residents claim to support a ban on both plastic bags and straws. They also see ocean pollution caused by plastic products as a serious problem, but many are unaware of the threat posed by microplastics – extremely tiny pieces of plastic used in certain products like cosmetics or caused by the breakdown of larger plastic objects. Although legislation has been proposed to ban certain single-use plastic products, the state legislature has not yet enacted such a change.

The poll finds that a majority of New Jersey residents (65%) would support a ban on single-use plastic bags. The same rings true for plastic straws with a majority (52%) supporting a complete ban. Although the poll also suggests that public support may not be quite as robust as these numbers suggest.  More on that in a bit.

Last year, the state’s General Assembly introduced bill A3267 that would have put a nickel fee per bag on both plastic and paper carryout bags. The bill also called for the Department of Environmental Protection to put forth a public information program on the effects that single-use carryout bags have on the environment, and advocate for the use of reusable carryout bags. However, Governor Phil Murphy vetoed the bill saying that even though the bill was well-intentioned, “the time has come for a more robust and comprehensive method of reducing the number of single-use bags in our State.”

Critics of Governor Murphy’s decision say the fee would have been an important first step in the right direction. Those who supported the Governor’s veto may be pleased with the introduction of bill S2776, which would prohibit plastic carryout bags, polystyrene foam food service products, and single-use plastic straws. Customers would also be charged at least ten cents per paper carryout bag. Those who violate the law would have to pay a fine of $500 for their first offense, up to $1,000 for a second offense and up to $5,000 for subsequent offenses. Introduced in June of last year, the bill is currently pending in the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. In the meantime, there is a growing list of New Jersey towns that have enacted their own bans on single-use plastic bags.

Gov. Murphy is holding out for a complete ban on single-use plastic bags, but maybe he should have settled for the Assembly bill last year. The Monmouth poll found that support for a “ban” may not be as strong as it first appears. Only 31% of New Jersey residents support a complete single-use plastic bag ban when it is posed against two other options, having customers who request a plastic bag pay a small fee (27% support) or allowing stores to continue to give away plastic bags for free (39% support).

In an effort to reduce the amount of plastic bags and straws that end up in the ocean, the proposed statewide ban highlights the public’s concern regarding ocean pollution. According to Monmouth’s poll, a majority of state residents (64%) believe ocean pollution caused by plastic products is a very serious problem. Most (71%) believe that plastics in the ocean causing injury to marine life is a major problem. Similarly, 60% feel that plastics in the ocean making seafood harmful to eat is also a major problem.

Another consideration in relation to ocean pollution is the issue of microplastics. Extremely tiny pieces of plastic in the ocean, referred to as microplastics, result from the breakdown of larger plastic products or come from certain products like cosmetics. These toxic pollutants pose risks to both ecological and human health. Attention has started to focus not only on the impact that microplastics have on marine life and their habitats, but also on human seafood consumers and drinking water.

In October 2018, the New Jersey state legislature introduced a resolution (ACR198) encouraging all levels of government to work together to clean up plastics from the state’s waters. The resolution touches on the impact of microplastic pollutants stating, “There is evidence that microplastic pollution can move through natural food webs and accumulate in fin fish and shellfish tissues, which means microplastics and associated pollutants have the potential to move into the human food chain.”

Unsurprisingly, some have raised the alarm at the idea of microplastics in drinking water. The World Health Organization does not recommend routine monitoring of microplastics in drinking water right now, however, this is largely due to the limited amount of research on the impacts they have on human health. Lawmakers in Trenton addressed concerns over microplastics in drinking water and introduced bill S3792 in May, which would direct the NJ Department of Environmental Protection to “adopt regulations concerning identification and testing of microplastics in drinking water.” It is currently in the Senate Environment and Energy Committee.

Interestingly, the poll shows nearly half of Garden State residents (45%) say they have never heard about microplastics. Significantly fewer (17%) have heard a great deal about microplastics, 19% have heard some, and 19% have heard only little.

Since the poll shows that a vast majority of New Jersey residents believe ocean pollution is a very serious problem, there is the possibility that support for more rigorous government action could increase. However, there is still a way to go to create an informed public about the challenges posed by plastic in all its different forms.

A Welcome to New Citizens

by Patrick Murray

I was asked to deliver the keynote remarks at a naturalization ceremony this week, where 24 new U.S. citizens took their oaths of allegiance to this country.  These new Americans came here from Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Ecuador, Ghana, Guatemala, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, United Kingdom, and Zambia.

I’ve given a lot of speeches and presentations over the years, but this was one of the biggest honors of my life.  During the turbulent times our country is going through right now, it was truly inspiring to witness these new Americans promise to “support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

The urgent need to remember the values of our Constitution was one of the reasons I started the Guardians of the Republic podcast with my friend Ian Kahn (who portrayed George Washington on TURN: Washington’s Spies). And in that spirit, I wanted to share my welcome to those new Americans with you.

Remarks for US Naturalization Ceremony

Washington’s Headquarters Museum

Morristown National Historical Park

September 25, 2019

Welcome, fellow citizens of the United States of America!  It is an honor to be the first to say that to you in person.

Every September, we celebrate Constitution Day to commemorate the signing of the document that would become the foundation of our system of government.  And immigration was one of the issues they debated at the Constitutional Convention.

During this debate, the renowned statesman Benjamin Franklin reportedly said: “When foreigners – after looking about for some other Country in which they can obtain more happiness – give a preference to ours, it is a proof of attachment which ought to excite our confidence and affection.”

Franklin saw people wanting to immigrate to America as validation of the distinctiveness of our new country and a sign of the opportunities that could only be found here.

Indeed, from the very beginning, our founders acknowledged that immigrants were central to building America.

Now, I’m going to give you a little quiz.  It might be a little tougher than the questions on the naturalization test. But here it is.  The first official government holiday – that means a recognized day off – in the United States of America is believed to have been declared right here in Morristown in 1780.  Does anyone know what holiday it was?

It wasn’t the 4th of July.  And it wasn’t Christmas.

It was actually Saint Patrick’s Day – an immigrant’s holiday.  Yes, General George Washington wanted to give his troops a day off after a harsh winter camping just south of where we are sitting right now.  So, in recognition of the many Irish immigrants who were serving in the Continental Army and their connection to the fight for Irish independence, he felt that St. Patrick’s Day was the perfect choice.

After the war, Washington wrote a letter to a friend in New York who was helping new Irish immigrants coming to this country.  This is what he said in that letter:

“The bosom of America is open to receive not only the opulent and respectable Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and Religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges, if by decency and propriety of conduct they appear to merit the enjoyment.”

What Washington was saying is that America welcomes immigrants from all walks of life.  But with that welcome comes responsibility.

One of your most important responsibilities is to exercise your right to vote.  And you are in luck, New Jersey holds elections for some office or another every single year.  Which means the next one is in six weeks.  You have until October 15th to register to participate in your very first election.  You will be able to choose representatives for state government in the General Assembly as well as a number of local offices.

And I’m going to let you in on a little secret.  The people who serve in these local offices will have much more impact on your day to day life than those who get elected to big statewide offices like Governor and U.S. Senator.  So get out there and do your civic duty this November!

Okay.  So that’s your first job as citizens.  But there is one more special thing about your home state that I want to tell you before I close.

We are fond of saying that America is a nation of immigrants.  And indeed New Jersey is a state of immigrants.  Did you know that over 20 percent of the people who live in New Jersey were not born in this country?  That means that 1 out of every 5 people you meet in the great Garden State are like you – immigrants!

Indeed, 125 years ago, my own ancestors were among the many immigrants who came to these shores. And my family continues to be populated with recent immigrants.

When I was a child, my grandfather would take my brother and me to many of the sites in New Jersey that were crucial to the creation of our country.  I do the same with my children today – whether they like it or not! 

One of the great things about living in New Jersey is that you can stumble across some reminder of the values and the struggles that gave birth to our country every single day.  These places are everywhere in New Jersey.  It is why, 13 years ago, Congress designate much of the state as the Crossroads of the American Revolution National Heritage Area.

All these childhood visits to Revolutionary War sites instilled a very important message in me.  It’s one that I hope is instilled in my own children – and in you as well.  And that message is that this grand story – the story of America with all its high points and low points – is our story too. We may not be able to trace our lineage back to 1776, but we share equally in the story of the creation of America and in everything that makes it what it is today.

I hope you come to feel that too.  Because you are now part of the American story!  And your job is to keep that story going.

And for agreeing to accept that job, I have only one thing to say – Thank you!

Leading Academics Propose New Jersey Legislative Redistricting Reforms

Report calls for increasing the number of independent members and establishing mapmaking criteria

A working group of leading academics and lawyers who have been active in promoting redistricting reform has issued “Improving New Jersey’s Legislative Apportionment Process,” a comprehensive report on reforming the state’s decennial legislative redistricting process.  The group’s key recommendations include:

  • Retain the bipartisan commission structure, ensuring that commissioners appointed by the parties reflect the state’s diversity.
  • Increase the number of independent commissioners from one to three and appoint them at the start of the apportionment process.
  • Create apportionment guidelines that prioritize communities of interest and partisan fairness but avoid formulaic requirements that impinge on the commission’s ability to balance and reconcile competing principles.
  • Increase opportunities for public comment and extend the period for comment.
  • Facilitate informed public comment with disclosure of precinct and voting data, including digital tools to allow all citizens to offer comments in a timely manner.

The working group was formed early this year in response to legislative efforts to amend the current apportionment process, which ultimately faced opposition from good government and civil rights advocates across the political spectrum. The group’s work took on added impetus after last month’s U.S. Supreme Court decision that left solutions to partisan gerrymandering in the hands of the states.

The report was authored by:

Patrick Murray, Director, Monmouth University Polling Institute

Samuel Wang, Director of Princeton Gerrymandering Project, Princeton University

Yurij Rudensky, Redistricting Counsel, Brennan Center for Justice, New York University School of Law

Brigid Callahan Harrison, Professor of Political Science and Law, Montclair State University

Ronald Chen, University Professor and Distinguished Professor of Law, Rutgers University Law School

Ben Williams, Legal Analyst, Princeton Gerrymandering Project, Princeton University

The report recommends maintaining the current bipartisan commission structure, but calls for expanding the number of independent members appointed by the Chief Justice and making those members a part of the process from the outset.  Having a panel of arbiters will help ensure that agreed-upon rules are applied consistently and should result in a more deliberative process. This would be a marked improvement over the current dynamic where each party vies to meet the preferences of a single “tie-breaker.”  The proposed reforms also require the commission to solicit public input over an expanded time period. This will require slightly shifting the state’s primary election calendar in redistricting years, similar to how it is handled in Virginia, which also holds its legislative elections in odd-numbered years.

The report also proposes criteria to guide the commission’s deliberations, emphasizing communities of interest and partisan fairness, while also respecting municipal boundaries – a touchstone in the state’s political culture.  Additionally, the proposal calls for codifying widely accepted standards of equal population and racial representation in the state constitution.

“We have proposed a bold, yet common sense approach to improving the current system. It increases public participation in the process while also addressing concerns raised by legislators who proposed changes last year. Under this plan, the legislative map’s outcome will not hinge on the priorities of a single independent member,” said Murray of Monmouth University.

“New Jersey was a leader in establishing one of the first redistricting commissions. Now that a dozen other states have adopted commissions, we can learn from their experience. If we implement those lessons, we can give all groups and parties a fair shot at representation in Trenton,” said Wang of Princeton University.

“This proposal fuses national best-practices with New Jersey values. The much needed renovation would address the known flaws of the current process while promoting fairness and establishing a system that is community driven and accountable to voters,” said Rudensky of New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.

“Ensuring that New Jersey’s legislature is representative of its citizens begins with improving our redistricting process, so that our redistricting commission is representative of New Jersey’s diversity, and the redistricting process provides for transparency and facilitates public participation,” said Harrison of Montclair State University.

“Fair redistricting will not be achieved through indiscriminate use of formulas or algorithms, but will require a broad-based approach that includes broad and effective public input and the ability to reconcile often competing redistricting principles,” said Chen of Rutgers University, the former New Jersey Public Advocate.

“In recent decades, states have enacted bold reforms to make their redistricting processes transparent and open to all. Adopting the best practices from those systems would bring New Jersey to the forefront of the national movement for fair districts,” said Williams of Princeton University.

Click here for the full Improving New Jersey’s Legislative Apportionment Process report.

It’s All About Name Recognition, Folks!

Hypothetical general election match-ups don’t mean all that much… yet

By Patrick Murray

I was watching a news channel the other day when the resident pundit opined that polls show Joe Biden to be the most formidable Democrat against Donald Trump. “No! They do not. Stop saying that,” I shouted into the void.

There is a great deal of nuance in what these current polls really mean versus how they are breathlessly characterized in the 24-hour media environment.  The main caveat for all 2020 polling is that the campaign really hasn’t started as far as the vast majority of voters are concerned.  They simply are not paying enough attention right now to offer carefully considered opinions.  We pretty much say this every time we release a poll, but journalists and pundits who eat, sleep and breathe the election find it difficult to put themselves in the shoes of a typical voter for whom this is still just background noise.

Even though interest in the upcoming election is astronomically high, it’s not clear that voters are keeping up with the details yet.  A recent Quinnipiac Poll found that 42% of voters nationwide are currently paying a lot of attention to the 2020 campaign, which includes 48% of Republicans, 45% of Democrats, and 36% of independents.  In other words, the majority of voters are really not tuned in.

To be sure, voters will talk about politics when you ask them – in a poll or in the ubiquitous Iowa diner – but their opinions at the stage of the race tend to be rather inchoate.  In fact, one candidate probably owes his spot on the debate stage this week due mainly to the way his name was introduced in a poll of Democratic voters who had previously known nothing about him.

A recent Monmouth University Poll in Nevada bears this out as well.  Likely caucusgoers make up less than one-tenth of all registered voters in the state, so it’s fair to assume they would be among the most highly engaged.  Of 24 Democratic candidates in the field, only three (Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren) had nearly universal name recognition and only ten candidates were sufficiently well known to get a majority of these highly engaged voters to provide an opinion of them.

Moreover, political “moderates” in this pool of likely Democratic caucusgoers were even less likely to have opinions of the top ten candidates – to the tune of about 7 points less likely on average.  It’s no surprise that moderate voters are currently much more likely than liberals to throw their support to Biden.  It’s not just about ideology.  He’s the one candidate they actually know something about, whereas liberal voters tend to be more familiar with many of the other candidates.

You have to be especially careful when looking at polls of potential general election match-ups.  The graph below shows Trump’s support in head-to-head contests against four possible Democratic nominees according to nine recent polls.  Across each of these polls, Trump’s numbers barely budge in any of these contests because voters are confident in their knowledge of him.

Now, take a look at the same graph, but this time showing the four Democrats’ support against Trump.  The graph is ordered based on name recognition, starting on the left with Biden, then Sanders and Warren, with Pete Buttigieg at the end.  There is almost a straight diagonal line in voter support from the best-known candidate to the least-known in each poll.

Name recognition plays a significant role in whether voters are ready to say they will support a specific Democrat against Trump, but it does not impact how many voters say they will back the incumbent in any of these four scenarios.  These graphs also illustrate why you’re probably better off just using a simple “Trump reelection support” question at this stage of the race rather than any hypothetical head-to-head polls.

Voter engagement and candidate familiarity matters and will certainly change. This is important to keep in mind not only for lower-tier candidates who could eventually emerge as top contenders, but also for support of the supposed front-runner as well.  Even though Biden already has universal name recognition, it does not mean that opinions of him are set in stone.  The campaign will matter. The “Joe Biden” whom voters know today – or think they know today – will not be the same candidate they are evaluating in the throes of a competitive nomination battle five or six months from now.

The bottom line is that most Democratic voters will not really tune into this race until the fall. This week’s debates will be a step toward introducing them to a field of candidates they barely know.  Of course, it goes without saying that pundits will seek to immediately declare whose campaign is sunk and who is inexorably on the rise because of their debate performances. But as far as most voters are concerned, this will be a first look – and for many just a fleeting glance – at a race that still has many laps to go.


Monmouth University Poll – 2018 Midterm Recap

[Note:  All Monmouth poll reports can be found at .]

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.

History suggests the GOP tax reform celebration will be short-lived

by Patrick Murray

Bookmark that photo of Republican lawmakers gathering at the White House today to celebrate their first major legislative victory of the Trump era. If history is any guide, many of them may be on their way out this time next year.

As others have documented, including Harry Enten at 538, the just-passed tax reform bill starts out life as the least popular tax legislation going back to at least 1981. Tax HIKES in 1990 and 1993 got better reviews. For the record, the Monmouth University Poll (Dec. 18, 2017) puts public opinion of the current package at 26% approve and 47% disapprove.

Polling shows that the public feels the package was mainly designed to benefit the wealthy rather than the middle class. Republicans, and Pres. Trump in particular, currently suffer a credibility deficit with the middle class. Based on Trump’s rhetoric that he would put average Americans first, fully 66% of the public believed when he took office that the middle class would benefit from a Trump administration. That opinion has flipped. Currently, a majority of 53% say that middle class families have seen no benefit at all from the president’s policies to date.

Importantly, fully half of the American public believes that their own federal taxes will increase because of this new tax reform package. Only 14% expect that their taxes will go down. In reality, many more than 1-in-7 taxpayers will see at least a nominal decrease. This reality is what GOP lawmakers are banking on when they face the voters next year.

But politics – and voters’ decision-making process – isn’t always based on reality. It is, however, always based on perception. And based on historical perception metrics, the short-term future doesn’t look quite so bright for the bill’s proponents.

Even though voters won’t feel the full impact of this tax cut until they file their returns in early 2019, they should get a small increase in their net take-home pay when the IRS adjusts the withholding tables in the next few months. Will this be enough to turn around public opinion? History says no.

For example, the 2009 stimulus package included tax cuts for nearly all taxpayers that was reflected in an increase in net take-home pay. Most Americans didn’t notice. A University of Maryland/Knowledge Networks survey conducted in November 2010 found that a majority of the public (52%) did not think the stimulus bill included any tax cuts at all. In fact, 39% said their own federal income taxes had gone up and 48% said they hadn’t changed. Just 9% said their taxes had gone down – a perception that was far from the “reality” of nearly 95% of Americans whose taxes were decreased.

The Tax Policy Center estimates that the mid-point increase in net income for the current package will be about 1.6%. My rough back of envelope calculations suggest that this might amount to anywhere from $25 to $50 extra in the biweekly paycheck of someone earning $60,000. I’m not convinced this amount will be perceived as significant by many voters.

Of course, the IRS could always release new payroll tables that significantly under-withhold federal taxes. This would mean taxpayers end up owing money to DC when they file their 2018 returns – but that would happen months after the midterm elections. Barring that type of manipulation, though, the net increase is unlikely to be seen as significant if at all.

In the end, we have a tax package that starts out in a very deep negative public opinion hole. Couple this with the prospect that the net take-home pay impact is likely to be perceived as immaterial. It does not look very likely that public opinion on this legislation will turn around in the next 10 months or so.

P.S. The 12 House Republicans who voted against the tax bill should not get too confident that they’ve inoculated themselves from any fallout in the upcoming midterms. In 2010, the ACA was the hot button issue and nearly three dozen Democrats decided to buck their party and vote against it. Of the 30 who ran for reelection that year, 17 lost. By 2013, only 6 of the original 34 Democratic nay votes remained in the House.

Monmouth University Poll Accurately Depicts Alabama Senate Race

West Long Branch, NJ

The Monmouth University Poll accurately described the potential outcome in the Alabama Senate race, both in terms of the margin of victory and in the level of turnout.  Monmouth’s midpoint model showed a razor thin race that Democrat Doug Jones eventually won by 1.5 percentage points.

This unique special election involved a high degree of uncertainty and Monmouth used this opportunity to provide a realistic range of outcomes. Different turnout models were based both on individual voting history as recorded in the voter rolls and self-reported interest and enthusiasm in this election. Monmouth’s high turnout model (about 55-60% of registered voters) with a light screen based on presidential-electorate demographics showed Jones leading Republican Roy Moore by 3 points. A lower turnout model (about 30-35%) based on typical midterm demographics, including only voters who participated in at least two recent elections or expressed a very high level of interest, had Moore up by 4 points.

Monmouth also created an adjusted midterm model based on patterns seen in recent special elections as well as last month’s Virginia gubernatorial contest. This model projected a slight increase in typical midterm turnout (about 35-40%) driven by Democratic voters in Democratic areas of the state.

This model assumed that, regardless of overall turnout, Democratic strongholds would command a larger than normal share of the electorate. For example, in last month’s Virginia election, the region Monmouth defined as Northern Virginia accounted for 31% of the total vote whereas this area would normally contribute about 28-29% of the final tally, with nearly all that increase coming from Democratic voters. The model based on this turnout pattern produced a tied outcome for the Alabama race.

In the actual results, overall turnout came in at about 45% of registered voters, with relatively higher turnout among Democratic voters in Democratic parts of the state. For instance, Jefferson County – home to Birmingham, the state’s largest city – comprised 16% of the final electorate whereas it usually contributes 14% of the total vote.  This result put the actual turnout somewhere between Monmouth’s adjusted midterm model and high turnout model. The final margin of victory – Jones by 1.5 points – was also midway between the estimates provided by these two models.

“The 2016 presidential contest as well as the Virginia gubernatorial race last month showed that slight deviations from typical turnout can have a huge impact on election outcomes,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute. “I don’t think pollsters should present every possible model under the sun, but the current era of electoral instability suggests it may be a good idea to show a realistic range of outcomes in states where pollsters have little track record or where the nature of the campaign itself invites uncertainty.”

Monmouth’s only other polls in Alabama were conducted during the 2016 presidential primaries. Monmouth’s Republican poll showed Donald Trump with a 23 point lead over his nearest opponent – a race he won by 22 points. That poll was within one percentage point of the actual vote share for 4 of the 5 candidates on that ballot, underestimating only Ted Cruz’s total by 5 points. Monmouth also showed Hillary Clinton ahead by 48 points in a Democratic primary race that other polls suggested would be much tighter. She won that contest by 59 points.

The Monmouth University Polling Institute was established in 2005 to be a leading center for the study of public opinion on critical national and state issues. The Polling Institute’s mission is to foster greater public accountability by ensuring that the public’s voice is heard in the policy discourse. The Monmouth University Poll, which is conducted nationally and in 27 states, received an A+ rating from the polling website

For more information:

Election Night Preview: What to look for in Virginia and New Jersey

Here’s a quick overview on what harbingers to pay attention to as the results start rolling in tomorrow night.


The Virginia race for governor has been competitive from the start, despite the fact that the polling has been all over the place – ranging from a 17 point Democratic advantage to an 8 point Republican edge in various polls released over the past two weeks alone. Ralph Northam seemed to have a small and consistent advantage heading into the fall, but his lead was never a comfortable one. Monmouth’s polling showed him doing relatively well in traditionally conservative parts of the commonwealth in September. That all changed as Republican Ed Gillespie focused on an anti-immigration message and the race took a decidedly nasty turn. A majority of 56% of voters described the campaign as being a largely positive affair back in late September, but that number went down to 25% just six weeks later.

Basically, Gillespie’s strategy won back his conservative base in Western Virginia, but simultaneously pushed moderate Northern Virginia voters into Northam’s camp. This means the race is going to come down to base turnout with just a few swing districts holding the key. Since Northam’s support has grown stronger in the DC suburbs, Gillespie will need to surpass his 2014 U.S. Senate performance in the western region. Our polling suggests he might just do that.  However, this still wouldn’t determine the outcome.

From Northam’s perspective, he will have to romp in Northern Virginia and pull big numbers from the Hampton Roads region. Specifically, he will need two thirds of the vote in Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Hampton County, and he must keep the margin close in Virginia Beach. If Northam exceeds these targets he will likely be the next governor. If he falls significantly behind these targets, Gillespie should emerge victorious. But if Northam is just meeting these targets, we need to look for other tea leaves to read.

The counties just north of the Greater Richmond Area have been a fairly good indicator of the commonwealth’s mood in past elections, especially around the upper Rappahannock River. If I had to pick one set of returns to watch on election night, it would be the numbers from Caroline County.

Caroline County tends to vote Democratic, but has swung to Republicans on occasion. Importantly, it has voted with the winner in every Virginia election for governor, U.S. senate, and president from 2001 to 2014. It broke this trend in 2016, giving Donald trump a 5 point margin while Hillary Clinton won the commonwealth by 5 points. However, the county has been uncannily reliable in recent gubernatorial races: giving Democrat Terry McAuliffe a 5 point edge in 2013 when he won Virginia by just over 2 points, giving Republican Bob McDonnell a 13 point edge in 2009 when he won Virginia by 17 points, and giving Democrat Tim Kaine a 10 point edge in 2005 when he won Virginia by 6 points. It was a little more bullish on Democrat Mark Warner in 2001, giving him a 22 point margin when he only won the commonwealth by 5 points that year with an electorate that looks notably different than Virginia does today.

So keep an eye on Caroline County. It has a history of voting slightly more Democratic than the rest of Virginia in every election, but broke with that streak to back Trump last year. If Northam wins this county by at least 5 points, there’s a good chance he is meeting his targets elsewhere in the commonwealth.

New Jersey

The polls have been exceedingly static in New Jersey’s race for governor, landing somewhere between a 14 to 16 point lead for Democrat Phil Murphy. Monmouth’s polling indicates that this will be a record low turnout election (*see note). Even though this means the electorate will be comprised of people who vote in nearly every election – a majority of these habitual voters say they really don’t know where either candidate stands politically.  They are simply pulling the lever for the Democrat or the Republican. And in New Jersey, that means a natural 12 point advantage for the Democrat.

Republican Kim Guadagno has done everything in her power to distance herself from Chris Christie – who is in part responsible for the GOP’s poor standing in the Garden State – but she will need to take a page out of the incumbent’s playbook if she is going to pull off a shocker.

Jon Corzine won the 2005 election by just over 10 points, but he lost re-election to Christie four years later on a 14 point swing to the Republican. This shift was fairly uniform in most of New Jersey’s 21 counties – between 8 and 14 points. But there were three counties where Christie’s performance was staggeringly good. He swung Ocean County by 23 points – going from a +12 GOP advantage in 2005 to +38 in 2009 – as well as Monmouth County by 23 points – going from a +8 to +31 margin. He also swung the Democratic bastion of Middlesex County from a 17 point deficit for the Republican nominee in 2005 to a +2 victory in 2009.

Guadagno needs to follow the same path if she is to win – i.e. put up monster numbers in large Republican counties (Ocean, Monmouth, Morris) and win at least one sizable Democratic county.  Another option would be to padlock every polling place in Hudson County and then put voting booths on the back of pickup trucks to personally visit every registered voter in the rural counties of Hunterdon, Warren, and Sussex. The fact that either scenario is about as likely to happen is pretty much all you need to know about this race.


* Note on interpreting turnout trends: You cannot compare recent turnout as a percentage of registered voters to elections prior to 1997.  The Motor Voter law that went into effect in 1996 significantly increased the voter rolls in New Jersey and Virginia. While the law may have brought some new voters to the polls, it also added a lot of people to the voter rolls who never had any intention of voting. As such, turnout figures for elections prior to 1996 are higher in part because a smaller number of eligible voters were actually registered. For example, even though turnout in New Jersey’s gubernatorial elections seemed to take a massive hit from 65% of registered voters in 1993 to 56% in 1997, the decline is much less precipitous if the pool of all eligible voters is used as the base – taking turnout from 47% to 45% over that period. This doesn’t discount the fact that turnout has continued to decline, though. Since 1997, New Jersey’s gubernatorial turnout has consistently declined, hitting a record low 40% of registered voters in 2013. Virginia’s lowest gubernatorial turnout was 40% in 2009, although it rebounded to 43% four years later. [Also, see note at bottom of Virginia’s election page.]

Public Opinion on Impeachment: Lessons from Watergate

by Patrick Murray

It was only a matter of time before a pollster started asking about the possible impeachment of President Trump. But what do these results really mean?

Polling during the Watergate era gives some context. Four decades ago, the public took their cue as much from Congressional leadership’s reaction as from breaking news. In fact, public support for removing Richard Nixon from office did not did not reach a majority until after the House Judiciary Committee passed articles of impeachments – just days before Nixon resigned. Watergate polling also shows that Nixon’s job approval rating hit a hard floor nearly a year before he actually resigned.

Using the Gallup Poll as the barometer, President Nixon’s job approval rating hovered between 57% and 62% during the latter half of 1972. The Watergate break-in and the indictment of its ringleaders were minor news stories that fall as the president won re-election in a historic landslide. Nixon’s job rating bounced around a bit during the first months of 1973, starting the year at 51%, going to 67% after his inauguration and dropping back to a still healthy 58% in early April.

Then the bottom started to fall out. Key advisers resigned or were fired after it was learned that potential evidence was destroyed, coinciding with Nixon’s job approval dropping to 45%.  From May to June, the Senate began committee hearings on Watergate, Archibald Cox was appointed special counsel, and reports emerged that John Dean admitted to discussing the cover-up. Nixon’s job rating held steady at 44% in late June, but slipped to 39% in early July.

At this time, Gallup added a poll question specifically on impeachment, with an initial reading of 19% who supported removing Nixon from office in late June. This ticked up to 24% in early July. The existence of an Oval Office taping system was revealed in mid-July with Nixon refusing to hand the tapes over to investigators. His approval rating dropped to 31% in August, while support for impeachment held fairly steady at 26%.

The fall of 1973 brought the infamous “Saturday Night Massacre” and the spectacle of Vice President Spiro Agnew‘s resignation, which was unrelated to Watergate but certainly not a helpful optic. Nixon’s job approval rating fell to 27% in late October and held there in early November. This would pretty much be this metric’s statistical floor for the remainder of his term. Support for removing Nixon from office rose to 33% in late October and again to 38% in early November.

Image Details President Nixon's Poll Ratings during Watergate investigation of 1973-74

In mid-November, Nixon gave his famous “I am not a crook” speech and the existence of an 18-1/2 minute gap in the White House tapes was revealed. Still, Nixon’s job rating saw an uptick to 31% in December and support for impeachment slipped to 35%. This would prove to be only a temporary reprieve. Nixon’s job rating fell to 23% in January, recovering slightly to 28% in February. Support for compelling the president to leave office held steady at 37%-38% during this time.

In March 1974, the “Watergate Seven” were indicted. Nixon’s approval rating dropped to 25% in April. Support for removing him from office stood at 46%, although it is unclear whether this was truly an increase from February’s result because Gallup decided to change the wording of its impeachment question. Both Nixon’s job rating (24%-25%) and support for his removal (46%-48%) was stable, though, from the spring into mid-July as impeachment hearings got underway in the House Judiciary committee.

After the Supreme Court ordered the Oval Office tapes’ release and the Judiciary Committee actually passed articles of impeachment in late July, support for removing Nixon from office rose dramatically to 57%, while his job approval rating held steady at 24%.

Even when Nixon’s job rating hit bottom in the Fall of 1973, he was able to cling to power on the back of minority support for his removal from office. That is, until Congress started the impeachment process. It’s worth noting that about two-thirds of House Republicans still opposed impeachment in early August 1974 – but they didn’t control the chamber.

In terms of the current state of affairs, the recent Politico/Morning Consult Poll (May 2017) puts public opinion on the impeachment of Donald Trump at 43% support and 45% oppose, while the incumbent’s job rating is 45% approve and 51% disapprove. At first glance it appears that support for impeachment is greater now than it was during Watergate. But there is a huge caveat. The Gallup questions back then specifically gauged public support for compelling Nixon to leave office. The current poll asks whether Congress “should or should not begin impeachment proceedings to remove President Trump from office.”

It will take a lot more polling, with a variety of approaches to question wording on impeachment and removal from office, before we know where the public really stands on this issue. One thing that Watergate teaches us, though, is that public opinion will be unlikely to move significantly unless a critical mass of Republicans in Congress decides that such a move must be made for the good of the country – or at least to save their own political skins.

* Polling source: Gallup Organization. Dates refer to last day of interviewing for each poll. Before March 1974, Gallup asked: “Do you think President Nixon should be impeached and compelled to leave the Presidency, or not?”  After March 1974, Gallup asked: “Just from the way you feel now, do you think his actions are serious enough to warrant his being removed from the presidency, or not?” Results obtained from the Roper center for Public Opinion Research iPOLL database.

How is the Recent Email Controversy Affecting the Polls?

By Nicole Sandelier

Monmouth University Polling Institute Graduate Assistant

Last Friday, FBI Director James Comey sent a letter to congressional leaders stating that the FBI had “learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation” of Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal email server.  With Election Day right around the corner, how will the new revelation impact the presidential race?

It is important to note that even before the recent news regarding Clinton’s emails, national polls were already tightening.  According to the Real Clear Politics 4-way national average, Clintons’ lead had been on a decline.  On October 18th, Clinton led Trump 46% to 39%, and on the day that the Comey news broke, Clinton’s lead had fallen to 45% to 41%.  As of today, Clinton is hanging onto a slim 2-point lead (45% to 43%) nationally.

Although it may still be too early to tell, as of now there are scare data suggesting the recent news regarding Clinton’s emails has caused voters to rethink their vote preference. A recent national ABC News/ Washington Post poll found 63% of voters nationally saying the recent news does not affect how likely they are to support Clinton.  Recent Monmouth University polls in Indiana (Oct. 31, 2016), Missouri (Nov. 1, 2016), and Pennsylvania (Nov. 2, 2016) draw an even stronger conclusion. Fewer than 5% of voters in each state say Comey’s letter actually caused them to change their vote choice. Since this finding includes supporters of both candidates, the net effect of Comey’s letter is only a net 1 or 2 point gain for Trump. With all the coverage and talk focusing on Comey’s decision to re-open the investigation, there is little evidence it has been overwhelmingly detrimental to the Clinton campaign and her standing in the polls … yet.

Clinton Enjoys a Post-Debate Bump as Majority Feel Trump Does Not Have Presidential Temperament

by Ashley Medina and Nicole Sandelier

Monmouth University Polling Institute graduate assistants

A Monmouth University Poll (Sept. 26, 2016) released the morning of the debate suggested that the vast majority of voters (87%) did not expect to learn anything that would change their minds based on the first presidential debate.  With the majority of voters already set on their presidential candidate selection, Trump and Clinton have shifted their attention to gaining the support of undecided voters. Presidential temperament may be one of the factors that helps sways undecided voters.

The national Monmouth University Poll that came out on debate day found that nearly 6-in-10 voters believe Hillary Clinton has the right temperament to sit in the Oval Office, while just 35% feel the same about Donald Trump’s temperament.  A FOX poll conducted just after the event mirrors pre-debate findings on presidential temperament stating that 67% of likely voters say Clinton has a presidential temperament while only 37% say Trump has the temperament to be president.

The most recent Monmouth University Polls in the battleground states of Colorado (Oct. 3, 2016) and Pennsylvania (Oct. 4, 2016) appear to be reflective of national views concerning both Clinton’s and Trump’s temperament.  A majority of likely Colorado (61%) and Pennsylvania (64%) voters feel that Hillary Clinton has the right temperament to be president.  Meanwhile, only 31% of likely Colorado and Pennsylvania voters feel that Donald Trump has the temperament to be president.  With Election Day just around the corner, the candidate’s presidential temperament will continue to play a key role in swaying undecided voters in battleground states.

According to Nielsen, an estimated 84 million people watched the first presidential showdown between candidates.  Recent polls have expressed voters’ opinion showing Clinton as the clear winner of the first debate (ABC/ The Washington PostPolitico/ Morning Consult).

The latest Politico/Morning Consult Poll (Sept 28, 2016) confirms Monmouth’s pre-debate findings, with approximately 8-in-10 voters (81%) stating that the debate did not change their ballot decision. About 1-in-10 (9%) voters said that the debate has influenced their selection for president.  Nonetheless, post-debate findings are confirming what pre-debate polls suggested.  The first presidential debate reaffirmed many voters’ ballot selection and did little to sway voters’ minds.

Historical Presidential Nominee Favorability Ratings

A Monmouth University Poll released today ( underscored the historically high level of negative attitudes toward both major party nominees for president.

The number of voters who cannot bring themselves to voice a favorable opinion of either major party nominee is unlike anything witnessed in past elections.  Only 2% have a favorable opinion of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump while one-third (35%) do not have a favorable opinion of either candidate.  These results are unprecedented according to polling data going back more than 30 years.

The number of voters in elections going back to 1984 who had a favorable opinion of both candidates was never lower than 5% – in fact registering as high as 19% in 2000.  Conversely, the number of voters who did not have a favorable opinion of either nominee was never higher than 9% – a fraction of what is being seen in the current election.

Image Shows Historical Presidential Nominee Favorability Ratings for Elections between 1984 and 2016

Among the 1-in-3 voters in the current poll who do not have a favorable opinion of either nominee, 21% say they have an unfavorable opinion of both candidates, 7% have an unfavorable view of Clinton while expressing “no opinion” of Trump, and 8% have an unfavorable view of Trump while expressing “no opinion” of Clinton.  Even taking into account differences in question wording and methodology compared to past election polls, the number of voters who hold negative views of both candidates is indisputably a record high.

Monmouth combined the data from its four national polls conducted this summer to get a better sense of these disapproving voters.  Based on this four-poll average, those with an unfavorable opinion of both nominees are dividing their support almost evenly among Trump (24%), Clinton (21%), and Johnson (22%), with Stein at 8%.  Among those who hold a negative view of one nominee and no opinion of the other candidate, however, the vast majority are voting for the candidate of whom they have no personal opinion.  This includes 77% of the “unfavorable Clinton/no opinion Trump” group who are voting for Trump and 75% of the “unfavorable Trump/no opinion Clinton” group who are voting for Clinton.

This is not surprising because the vast majority of “no opinion on Clinton voters” lean Democrat and the vast majority of “no opinion on Trump” voters lean Republican.  It just seems that they can’t bring themselves to admitting to a favorable opinion of the person they are grudgingly supporting.

It’s also worth noting that there are more Republicans than Democrats among voters who have an unfavorable opinion of both candidates and this negative group is also much more likely to be college educated.  The demographic composition of each voter group is below.

Among those who have an unfavorable opinion of Trump but no opinion of Clinton:

·         44% describe themselves as Democrats and 33% are independents who lean Democrat

·         51% are white, 21% are black, 23% are Hispanic, and 6% are Asian or other race

·         42% are under age 35, 26% are 35-49, 21% are 50-64, and 10% are 65 and older

·         41% are men and 59% are women

·         39% have a college degree

Among those who have an unfavorable opinion of Clinton but no opinion of Trump:

·         45% describe themselves as Republicans and 29% are independents who lean Republican

·         84% are white, 3% are black, 7% are Hispanic, and 7% are Asian or other race

·         23% are under age 35, 18% are 35-49, 33% are 50-64, and 25% are 65 and older

·         58% are men and 42% are women

·         46% have a college degree

Among those who have an unfavorable opinion of both Trump and Clinton:

·         29% are Republicans and 21% lean Republican, 13% are Democrats and 20% lean Democrat, and 18% are self-described independents who do not lean toward either party.

·         80% are white, 6% are black, 10% are Hispanic, and 4% are Asian or other race

·         36% are under age 35, 24% are 35-49, 26% are 50-64, and 15% are 65 and older

·         54% are men and 46% are women

·         56% have a college degree

It’s also worth noting that nearly 1-in-4 of those voters who do not have a favorable opinion of either candidate are considered to be unlikely to turn out to vote this November.  This compares to less than 1-in-10 with a favorable opinion of one of the candidates who are considered to be unlikely voters.

For the record, among those who have a favorable opinion of Clinton only:

·         72% describe themselves as Democrats and 19% are independents who lean Democrat

·         58% are white, 24% are black, 12% are Hispanic, and 5% are Asian or other race

·         22% are under age 35, 26% are 35-49, 28% are 50-64, and 24% are 65 and older

·         35% are men and 65% are women

·         53% have a college degree

·         93% are voting for Clinton

Among those who have a favorable opinion of Trump only:

·         62% describe themselves as Republicans and 25% are independents who lean Republican

·         89% are white, 2% are black, 7% are Hispanic, and 2% are Asian or other race

·         16% are under age 35, 27% are 35-49, 31% are 50-64, and 26% are 65 and older

·         57% are men and 43% are women

·         42% have a college degree

·         94% are voting for Trump

Another historical note: the difference between the two candidates’ favorability ratings correlates extremely closely with the actual margin of victory.  For example, Barack Obama had a 6 point advantage over Mitt Romney in candidate favorability in 2012 and ended up winning the popular vote in that election by 4 points.  Ronald Reagan had a 17 point favorability advantage over Walter Mondale in 1984 and won that election by 18 points.  Even in the razor thin election of 2000, Al Gore had a one point favorability edge over George W. Bush and won the national popular vote by half a percentage point despite losing the Electoral College.  The same is true in 2004 (favor +5R; vote +3R), 1996 (favor +6D; vote +8D), 1992 (favor +5D; vote +6D), and 1988 (favor +8R; vote +7R).  According to the average of recent polls reported by HuffPost Pollster, Clinton has about a 6 point advantage on this metric.

There are also intriguing down-ballot implications.  Some pundits point to the 1996 election when the GOP tried to disconnect the Congressional races from its presidential nominee who was trailing in the polls.  In that year, however, opinion of Bob Dole was fairly positive, with 50% of voters holding a favorable opinion of him.  This year, the top of ticket nominees in both party are largely negative, with Trump doing significantly worse among his fellow Republicans than Clinton is doing among her fellow Democrats.  This suggests that the GOP could have a bigger problem holding its base in down ballot races where their nominee is seen as aligned too closely with Trump.

A Poll Sample’s Party Composition

A note on party composition in polling samples.

Some commenters have noted that the Democratic advantage in the latest Monmouth University Poll (Aug. 8, 2016) is larger than in our poll taken just prior to the two parties’ conventions . Specifically, voters in the current poll self-identify their party leanings as 35% Democrat, 26% Republican, and 39% independent or other.  In the July poll it was 33% Democrat, 28% Republican, and 39% independent or other.

Contrary to some misperceptions – largely by those unhappy with the overall results of the latest poll – Monmouth did not “choose” the sample to look this way.  Party identification is a self-reported attitude based on where people see themselves fitting in the current political environment.

It is not the same as party registration or partisan voting behavior (e.g. consistently voting in one party’s primaries), which is a more stable metric. I wrote about these differences in more detail a few years ago (Party ID Apples and Oranges).  While the data in that analysis were drawn from New Jersey voter files and poll samples, the underlying message is the same.  Party self-identification can move with the political climate, while party registration is more stable.

Monmouth’s 2016 presidential polling uses a combination of voter lists and random digit dialing. The voter list includes data on voter registration and past primary voting.  According to this metric, 34% of the Monmouth sample are registered or active Democrats, 34% are Republicans, and 32% are independents or something else.

In other words, the Monmouth sample is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to registration and past voting behavior.  Yet when asked how they see themselves politically, these same voters are 9 points more likely to call themselves Democrats rather than Republicans.

The question you should be asking yourself, in light of events over the past few weeks, is why that might be so.

The Case for Including 3rd Party Candidates in Presidential Polls

by Ashley MedinaMonmouth University Polling Institute graduate assistant

As it becomes increasingly likely that the American public is now looking at their two major party candidates for the 2016 election, pollsters will begin to test the head to head matchup between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump with more frequency. However, what many of these pollsters may fail to account for are the number of voters who may be looking for another option come election day.

A recent NBC News/Survey Monkey poll found 16% of voters nationwide say they would vote for a generic “3rd party” candidate rather than vote for either Clinton or Trump. These numbers suggest that a substantial number of U.S. voters may be seeking another option this November. While the U.S. electorate has expressed similar sentiments in the past, a single third party candidate has received that large of a vote share only once before.

In 1992, self-funded Reform Party candidate Ross Perot won nearly 19% of the total 20% of votes earned by independent and third party candidates. The next largest showing for a single independent or 3rd party candidate came in the 1968 presidential election when American Independent Party candidate George Wallace earned nearly all 14% of the third-party candidate votes that year. Perot ran again in 1996, but this time, earned just 8% of the 10% total vote that independent and 3rdparty candidates received. The 1996 election marked just the third time since 1948 that third party and independent candidates combined received at least double digit support.

If current polling remains consistent, the third party gains in this upcoming presidential election could reach double digits. However, there are some caveats facing third party candidates during this cycle. For one, there will likely be several candidates vying for independent and third party votes. Additionally, many of them are largely unknown to most Americans and are likely to remain unknown unless they can make it to the debate stage. In order to do so, these candidates must appear on enough state ballots to mathematically earn an Electoral College victory as well as average at least 15% in national polls. Without the opportunity to participate in presidential debates, they will struggle to increase their name recognition.

However, only three polls to date have included individual third party candidates. The first of these, a national Monmouth University Poll (March 24, 2016) taken in March, found that in a match-up between the two front runners, Hillary Clinton held a ten point lead over Donald Trump. When Libertarian third party candidate Gary Johnson was added to the mix, both Clinton’s and Trump’s numbers fell as Johnson pulled in 11% of the vote. This pattern was mirrored in a similar national Public Policy Poll where Clinton held a 6 point lead over Trump, but Clinton’s lead shrunk to 4 points when two third party candidates were added to the mock ballot, with Johnson at 4% and Green Party candidate Jill Stein at 2%. In a more recent national Fox News Poll, results were consistent with these third party findings. In this poll, when respondents were asked to choose first between Clinton and Trump, Trump led Clinton by 3 points, but when given the option of choosing between Clinton, Trump, and Johnson, Trump’s and Clinton’s vote share dropped 3 points each as Gary Johnson garnered 10% of the vote.

Given high voter discontent, it is likely that the third party vote will be higher than average this year, but we will not know just how high unless other polls include third party candidates in their surveys. As the rules stand, including these third party candidates in more polls is necessary if they are to have a chance at participating in the presidential debates.

The national polling requirements for third party candidates are rather unrealistic given the fact that a third party candidate was only once able to cross the 15% margin in the past 70 years. A look at Wallace’s regional appeal in 1968 suggests that this requirement may be unfair, as Wallace was able to earn enough Electoral College votes to impact the final outcome. More recently, in 2000, it is possible Ralph Nader’s 3% share of the vote was a contributing factor in that year’s race.

With this in mind, it is clear that even five percentage points in the polls can reflect the mood and preferences of significant segments of the U.S. voting base and as such, the voices of third party supporters should be represented on the presidential debate stage. It is for this reason that more pollsters should use methodologically sound ways to include these candidates in their polls.

WATCH: Monmouth Poll Director discusses these issues.