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‘Unprecedented Times’? We’ve Seen This Stuff Before

by Jimmy Watson, Monmouth University Polling Institute Intern

A common adage in the study of history is “The Past is Prologue.” While overused in certain areas, the phrase holds up well when viewing many of the issues facing society today. Professors, teachers, and even media members have given a nod to this phrase. Yet 2020 seems to have been the year that the American public has forgotten it. COVID-19, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and Biden vs. Trump have prompted terms like “unprecedented” and “new normal.” While the events of 2020 thus far have certainly been dramatic in many respects, they are, in actuality, a sobering reminder that America has been through similar situations. In 1918, the country grappled with a widespread pandemic while fighting World War I. In 1968, another pandemic presented itself, social unrest spread like wildfire, and a major presidential election took place in November. The events of 2020, while termed “unprecedented,” are sadly similar in scope, composition and influence to what is now in history books.

As WWI raged on in Europe, 1918 gave Woodrow Wilson the most trying year of his presidency. An invisible enemy arrived now known as the Spanish Flu. Claiming the lives of 675,000 people in the United States alone, the pandemic raged on as the November midterm elections took place. Quarantines were put into effect, mask mandates angered people, and large gatherings were prohibited. The election looked a lot different. The San Francisco Chronicle called it, “the first masked ballot ever known in the history of America.” The country was forced to adapt in a time of global turmoil.

1918 was 102 years ago. 102 years ago, people were afraid to go outside, to the store, or to cast a vote. People were forced to wear masks and socially distance. In the “unprecedented times” of 2020, America has seen similar effects with COVID-19. People have been quarantined and mask mandates have become strict protocols across much of the country. 102 years ago, people still voted and American democracy continued as it had in years prior. Society did not dwell on its strife, but it moved on to rebound in the next decade. The unfortunate truth is that America has had to relive similar events in 2020 with a new pandemic. But let us not forget that we have been through this all before, and we came out the other side to fight on into the next decade.

1968 proved to be another year filled with unrest and uncertainty. The year brought a historic presidential race between Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, and George Wallace. It also brought the assassinations of two monumental Civil Rights advocates in Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. Violence swept the nation amid the deaths of two giants in the push for African American equality. Places like Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles saw rioting, looting and protests. A new flu pandemic arose taking the lives of 100,000 Americans. While there were nowhere near the same amount of protocols put in place as in 1918, the pandemic added more fuel to the proverbial fire that was spreading across the country. In November there was to be a general election during one of the most provocative and chaotic years since the end of World War II.

1968 was 52 years ago. 52 years ago, there was looting and rioting in the streets. For all intents and purposes, people of color had still not achieved true equality. The death of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy marked the end of one of the most prominent decades in the push for equal rights and the beginning of some of the most violent protests that the decade had seen. In the midst of the chaos, third party candidate George Wallace was quoted as saying, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” In 2020, in the wake of the death of George Floyd, America has seen little change. Looting and rioting have flooded the airwaves. As people ran to the streets to stand for social justice, Twitter saw President Trump use the same words as George Wallace did 52 years ago. “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” The unfortunate truth is that America is reliving history once again. 1968 and 2020 look increasingly similar. 1968 was a major moment that brought equality to the forefront of discussion. 2020 might reinvigorate a generation to do the same. The election is said by many to be a choke point for change just as 1968 was. America will soon find out whether or not that is the case.

2020 has certainly been a chaotic year. There has been a global pandemic like the one in 1918. There has been social and racial unrest just like there was in 1968. Just because these times might not be as “unprecedented” as they may seem does not make this year’s November election any less historic, important, or scary. However, it is worthwhile to understand where America has been and how an understanding of past experiences can help shape decisions that may impact the future. Past is prologue. However, the prologue does not necessarily determine the rest of the story in the remaining pages. It is the actions that are taken within a particular narrative that can influence the final pages. Let this tumultuous year not just be another prologue. Allow for history to instruct rather than discourage. Allow it to put things in perspective and be a force that keeps America moving forward.

Authoritarianism Among Pro- and Anti-Trump Voters (Part 2)

by Patrick Murray

As discussed in a prior post, Monmouth University’s Polling Institute assisted with a survey that formed a central part of Authoritarian Nightmare, a new book by John Dean and Bob Altemeyer. In another post, I examined measurements for Right Wing Authoritarianism (RWA) and Social Dominance Orientation (SDO) and how they relate to support for President Donald Trump. I take that analysis a step further to examine variations within the electorate on both sides of the partisan divide and a key question about constitutional norms.

While the analysis in the book, as well as in my last post, show a clear correlation between RWA and SDO inclinations, that is not to say that all Trump supporters are authoritarians. Or indeed that all Trump opponents are not authoritarians.  While 32% of strong Trump approvers score in the highest quartile on both the RWA and the SDO scales, 23% actually score below the top quartile on both dimensions (Table 1). Among voters who somewhat approve of the president’s job performance, 51% fall below the top quartile on either scale. Conversely, while the vast majority of Trump opponents have a moderate or low score on these scales, 21% of those who somewhat disapprove of Trump and 5% of those who strongly disapprove of Trump exhibit high RWA and/or SDO tendencies.

Table 1.RWA/SDO Inclination by Trump Job
Rating
 Strongly
disapprove
(n=463)
Somewhat
disapprove
(n=43)
Somewhat
approve
(n=119)
Strongly
approve
(n=346)
Double High RWA & SDO1%0%9%32%
High RWA only2%14%24%20%
High SDO only2%7%15%26%
Moderate RWA/SDO21%49%41%19%
Low on both74%30%10%4%

Some Trump supporters aren’t particularly enamored of his authoritarian tendencies and at the same time some Democrats prefer authoritarian leadership, just not Trump’s.  Since opinion of Trump’s job performance correlates highly with partisan identity, we can ask which types of Republicans are more likely to be on the authoritarian train. The data do not show a lot of variation demographically (Table 2). Republicans without a college degree tend to score highest on the RWA scale, while younger Republicans are somewhat less authoritarian than older partisans. But that’s about it.

Table 2.Mean RWA/SDO Scores
Among Republicans
 RWASDO
All Republicans + leaners (n=465)11286
GOP identifiers only (n=300)11586
GOP leaners only (n=165)10686
Men (n=292)11388
Women (n=169)11183
Age 18-44 (n=53)9582
Age 45-64 (n=188)11090
Age 65+ (n=215)11884
High school or less (n=71)12089
Some college (n=137)12086
4-year college degree (n=160)10886
Post-graduate (n=96)10284
White (n=415)11287
Latino, Black, Asian, other (n=39)10983

There’s a similar lack of differentiation among Democrats (Table 3). All demographic groups score significantly lower than their Republican counterparts, but there are only minor variations within the party itself. Democrats who never attended a college class tend to be most authoritarian and white Democrats tend to score lower on the RWA scale than Democrats of other racial or ethnic backgrounds. Otherwise, the scores are fairly similar across the board.

Table 3.Mean RWA/SDO Scores
Among Democrats
 RWASDO
All Democrats + leaners (n=408)5345
DEM identifiers only (n=284)5344
DEM leaners only (n=124)5246
Men (n=192)5349
Women (n=216)5241
Age 18-44 (n=93)4945
Age 45-64 (n=147)4843
Age 65+ (n=168)5947
High school or less (n=36)7547
Some college (n=69)5545
4-year college degree (n=137)4945
Post-graduate (n=166)4944
White (n=323)4945
Latino, Black, Asian, other (n=81)6645

I looked at potential variations among Democrats in another way by using a question on presidential preference as a proxy for different orientations within the party. Remember, the Democratic nomination was still wide-open when this survey was conducted in the fall of 2019. Mean RWA scores ranged from a relative high of x̅=59 among Joe Biden supporters (n=101), to x̅=48 among Bernie Sanders supporters (n=41), x̅=48 among Pete Buttigieg supporters (n=88), and x̅=44 among Elizabeth Warren supporters (n=75). The mean RWA score among Democrats with no candidate preference (n=63) was x̅=59.  [Interesting side note: Tulsi Gabbard was named by 32 respondents as a preferred Democratic nominee, but not by anyone who actually identified as a Democrat (the nominee preference question was asked of all survey respondents). Her supporters averaged x̅=106 on the RWA scale, which is much closer to the Republican average than the Democratic one.]

Both parties include their share of “authoritarians,” but there is a clear lack of critical mass on the left. Among Democrats, 11% of Biden supporters and 10% of Sanders supporters had a high score on the abbreviated 5-item RWA scale in the poll, while only 3% of Buttigieg and Warren supporters did. There simply aren’t enough authoritarian Democrats in the electorate to rally around a single leader and take control of the party. Of course, this may also be a “chicken and egg” problem. Voters who prefer authoritarian style leadership may be less comfortable with the Democratic Party as much for its lack of centralized leadership as for any specific set of policy issues. But considering the strong link between authoritarianism and religious fundamentalism in general, social issues must certainly play a key role in these wide partisan gaps on the RWA scale.

I attempted to strip the original RWA scale of its obviously religious items (discussed in my prior post). I found that the scales held up without the items that referenced values on gender and sexuality. However, this finding needs to be taken with an important caveat. The full battery of questions in the survey interspersed the value-laden items among the leadership items, so it is possible that respondents answered the full question set in ways that attained a level of internal attitude consistency (what we call context effects in the polling biz). This means that we could possibly get a different set of answers to the 5 questions in the shorter RWA measurement if they had been the only part of the scale included in the survey. We would need to test this in isolation to be certain.

As I mentioned earlier, my research interest lies in exploring the psychosocial underpinnings of political behavior. But I also have a normative interest in this particular study. To what extent does authoritarianism pose a danger to the U.S. Constitution?

The authors added a question to the survey that attempted to directly measure this question. However, the results may seem counterintuitive, at first glance. The question wording was: “The U.S. Constitution gets in the way of things too much nowadays and should just be ignored when it interferes with taking action on some issue.”  Overall, only 6% of respondents agreed with this statement or even took a neutral stance on it. In fact, 69% picked the most extreme “disagree” option.

Now, the first thing that comes to my mind in examining these results is social desirability bias. The idea that we should respect the U.S. Constitution is so baked in to the American psyche that you can hardly expect anyone to admit they are willing to disregard it when asked so blatantly: “I’m not undermining the Constitution. You’re undermining the Constitution!”

In fact, the responses to this question tended not to correlate with any of the RWA items in the survey. In the few cases where there was a significant – albeit weak – relationship, the correlation tended to be negative. In other words, willingness to ignore the Constitution to attain a policy end tended to be held – to the extent it was held at all – by people who had lower authoritarian tendencies.

I have not spoken with Dean and Altemeyer about this, but I expect they may have been surprised by the results.  Fully 83% of respondents who strongly approve of Trump said they very strongly disagree with this statement – the most negative option in the survey’s 9-point response set. This level of disagreement was less widely shared among voters who were less stalwart Trump supporters, including those who somewhat approve (68%), somewhat disapprove (51%), and strongly disapprove (62%) of the president’s job performance.

If you look at this question by partisanship, just 4% of Republicans either agreed or took a neutral stance on the question of the Constitution getting in the way of things, compared with 8% of Democrats and 10% of independents. This is a small, but still statistically significant difference. There is even further differentiation among Democrats. Sanders supporters (20%) are more likely to agree with this sentiment than backers of Biden (10%), Warren (5%), or Buttigieg (3%).

This may be a bit of a shocker because the charge against Trump has been that he is willing to trample on the Constitution to further his aims and his followers have been willing to go along with it. Does this mean strong Sanders supporters are more likely to ignore the Constitution to achieve their ends than strong Trump supporters are? I don’t think so. In fact, I hypothesize that these Sanders backers are just more likely to admit it – and indeed even recognize that they are doing it.

If you look at the Constitution as an operational framework for government rather than an ideological document, its purpose can basically be boiled down to concerns rooted in its historical origins. One key purpose was to create a functioning central government that would engender enough public trust to prevent anarchy and chaos (think Shay’s Rebellion). The other purpose was to prevent authoritarianism; that is, allowing any individual leader to put themselves above the law (think King George III). Basically, the Constitution works, not when everyone gets what they want from a policy standpoint, but when the public trusts that those who hold the reins of power are observing its rules of engagement.

Now, there are people on the left who want anarchy and those on the right who want an omnipotent ruler. For both, the U.S. Constitution’s purposeful ambiguity is an impediment to their ends. It just seems those on the left are more likely to actually recognize this and admit it. What neither side seems to realize, though, is this: in a nation as vast and diverse as ours, those tedious checks and balances embedded in the Constitution are in fact what keep this country on an even keel during uncertain times.

The bigger danger to our Republic does not, in fact, come from those who admit to seeking a wholesale change in our form of government. You can see that coming.  No, the more perilous hazard comes from those who are willing to erode Constitutional norms from within by manipulating the natural fears and psychological dispositions of a segment of the American public. And the biggest danger of all comes from those who do this while duplicitously giving lip service to the core principles of our Republic’s founding document.

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
disapprove
(n=466)
Somewhat
disapprove
(n=43)
Somewhat
approve
(n=119)
Strongly
approve
(n=348)
Original 20-item scale
(range=20-176;  x̅=.84)
5482101119
11-item non-valence
(range=20-178;  x̅=.82)
567996113
5-item non-valence
(range=20-176;  x̅=.87)
5681101125

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
Fundamentalism
PrejudiceSocial
Dominance
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
 Strongly
disapprove
(n=463)
Somewhat
disapprove
(n=43)
Somewhat
approve
(n=119)
Strongly
approve
(n=346)
RWA scale5482101119
SDO scale (rebased to
match RWA scale range)
45708190

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
(RWA&SDO)
High RWA
only
High SDO
only
Moderate
RWA/SDO
Low on
both
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.

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.

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.

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.

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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 FiveThirtyEight.com.

For more information: www.monmouth.edu/polling

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.

Virginia

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.

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* 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.

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* 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 (http://monmouth.edu/polling-institute/reports/) 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.

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.

Republican Disenfranchisement reaches the House: Paul Ryan Fails to Endorse Trump

by Ashley MedinaMonmouth University Polling Institute graduate assistant

Recently, the political divide within the Republican Party became even more evident when Speaker of the House Paul Ryan issued a statement expressing that he is “not ready” to endorse Republican frontrunner Donald Trump.  However, the Speaker’s unwillingness to endorse the billionaire may hurt his own political career as opposed to that of the presidential candidate.

Trump and some of his supporters have voiced strong positions concerning the issue of Ryan’s statement but what does the greater electorate think?  Results from a recent (5/6-9) YouGov/Economist Poll cite that two out of three voters who participated (or plan to participate) in the GOP primaries and caucuses believe that Ryan should endorse Trump.

Personal differences aside, Ryan now has to measure how the general Republican base’s attitudes and allegiances will affect his standing.  Keeping in mind the tremendous popular support the billionaire has been able to cultivate, it may be in Ryan’s best interest to officially support the candidate if he would like to maintain favor among the Republican electorate.

As the political climate stands now, Republican voters are actually more likely to side with Trump who among all American voters, is viewed favorably by only 30% and unfavorably by 64%. By comparison, Ryan is viewed somewhat more positively, with 34% of US voters viewing him favorably and 38% unfavorably.

Ryan may be better liked than Trump among all voters, but among Republicans only, two out of three actually have positive views of Trump.  Should Trump mobilize his supporters against the Speaker, Ryan is likely to face political ramifications for his recent statements.  This, along with the fact 49% of GOP voters disapprove of what Ryan has done as Speaker of the House, may motivate him to “get ready” sooner rather than later to support the presumptive presidential nominee.

West Virginia’s Trump Supporting Sanders Voters

What is up with West Virginia Democrats? Eight years ago, Hillary Clinton won every single county on the way to a 2-to-1 victory over Barack Obama. This year she lost every single county and got trounced by Bernie Sanders.

Well, here’s the thing. Many of those voters aren’t really Democrats at all – at least not by any standards we would call a Democrat in the rest of the country. While Democrats are still competitive for statewide office there, West Virginia has been solidly red in presidential elections for more than a decade.

In fact, the exit poll included two questions about the November election pitting Donald Trump against either Clinton or Sanders. According to results shown on MSNBC’s primary night coverage, nearly 3-in-10 of these Democratic primary voters actually said they will vote for Trump in either match-up.

Let that sink in. Three-in-ten voters who just cast a ballot in the Democratic primary said they would be voting for Trump in November regardless of “their” party’s nominee. For the record, most of these Trump supporters voted for Sanders over Clinton – 60% to 12%, with another 28% of these mischief-makers voting for one of the largely unknown other names on the ballot.

These Trump supporters who took part in the Democratic primary are more likely than others to be from coal mining households (53%), more likely to be very worried about the nation’s economy (81%), and more likely to want the next president to be less liberal than Obama (69%). The latter question has been asked in every exit poll this season and this is the only place where that many voters in a Democratic primary said they want to move in a less liberal direction!

These voters are most likely “legacy” Democrat. They belong to the party as it exists in West Virginia, but they disdain the Democratic brand on the national stage. It’s not that they like Bernie Sanders, but it’s more likely that they really detest Hillary Clinton. If these voters did not participate in the presidential primary, we would have likely seen an extremely close margin between Sanders and Clinton rather than Sanders’s 15 point win.

And this may not be the strangest West Virginia outcome in the past few cycles. Remember that four years ago, a convicted felon who was incarcerated in Texas at the time got 41% of the Democratic primary vote against Obama.

So, let’s just mark the West Virginia primary down as one strange footnote to a very strange primary season.

Cruz Zigged While the GOP Electorate Zagged

The Cruz campaign’s attempt to coalesce the #NeverTrump movement around their candidate #NeverHappened. In hindsight, the attempt to position him as the establishment alternative may not have been the wisest move.

Ted Cruz entered the 2016 presidential race with a reputation as the Senate Republican conference’s enfant terrible. He ended his campaign as the establishment’s last hope to deny Donald Trump the party’s nomination. The problem is that GOP voters’ desire for a political outsider intensified just as he was making this pivot.

Exit polls conducted by the national media’s National Election Pool asked voters in 24 different contests this year whether the next president should have experience in politics or be from outside the political establishment.

In the first four contests held in February, Republican voters were divided – 49 percent wanted an outsider while 45 percent favored someone with political experience. The preference for an insider fell off in early March’s Super Tuesday primaries – with 49 percent still wanting an outsider but only 41 percent looking for political experience.

By the mid-March primaries, a 52 percent majority of GOP voters preferred a political outsider compared to 41 percent who still wanted an experienced politician. The gap widened in the April contests, with nearly 6-in-10 Republicans (59 percent) wanting an outsider and just 37 percent favoring an insider. In yesterday’s Indiana primary, the results for this question stood at 59 percent outsider and 35 percent insider.

The Cruz recasting gambit worked to the extent that he was ultimately seen as the establishment candidate – 68 percent of Indiana Republicans who want an insider voted for him. In the very first contest of 2016 – the Iowa caucuses – Marco Rubio was actually the preferred candidate of voters wanting someone with political experience, even though Cruz was the overall winner on the night.

However, Donald Trump has been the favored choice of GOP voters looking for a true outsider since the very beginning of the primary season. He won 46 percent of this group’s vote in Iowa, culminating with a 78 percent showing in Indiana three months later.

“In retrospect, Cruz’s pivot to being the face of the establishment was a mistake. Cruz ceded the outsider mantle to Trump at the very same time the Republican base’s desire for an outsider grew,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

Super Tuesday Polling: How Did Monmouth Do?

To say the 2016 primary season has been surprising would be an understatement. A presumed Democratic nominee who was supposed to coast to victory has faced a tough challenge. The GOP race is now coalescing around a front runner who practically everyone would have laughed off less than a year ago.

This topsy-turvy situation has amplified the already significant challenges that pollsters face when trying to take the pulse of voters in presidential primaries and caucuses. Super Tuesday presented the first large-scale polling test of the nomination contest. Interestingly, only a few national polling organizations devoted significant resources to polling these races (more on that below).

Monmouth University conducted polls in four of the nine primary states in the weeks leading up to Super Tuesday – Alabama, Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia. We had a significant miss in the Oklahoma Republican primary where, like every other poll in the state, we forecast a Donald Trump victory when Ted Cruz was the actual winner. On the other hand, Monmouth was the only poll to accurately forecast a Bernie Sanders victory in the Democratic contest in that very same state. Monmouth’s forecasts were accurate in the other three states we polled.

Monmouth’s Democratic primary polls were closest – or second closest in the case of Texas – to the actual margin of victory of all the polls taken in those four states over the past month. Our Democratic primary results compared to the actual margin of victory:

TX : Vote – Clinton +32 / Monmouth Poll – Clinton +34

AL : Vote – Clinton +59 / Monmouth Poll – Clinton +48

VA : Vote – Clinton +29 / Monmouth Poll – Clinton +27

OK : Vote – Sanders +10 / Monmouth Poll – Sanders +5

On the GOP side, Monmouth came closest to the actual margin of victory in Texas and Alabama:

TX : Vote – Cruz +17 / Monmouth Poll – Cruz +15

AL: Vote – Trump +22 / Monmouth Poll – Trump +23

Monmouth had the correct winner in the Virginia GOP primary, but the margin was tighter than our poll: Vote – Trump +3 / Monmouth Poll – Trump +14. It’s worth noting that our Virginia poll was conducted a week prior to Super Tuesday, specifically before the crucial debate when Rubio decided to take on Trump. That performance appeared to help Rubio’s performance in Virginia, although not enough to change the overall outcome.

As mentioned, we had the wrong winner in Oklahoma GOP primary: Vote – Cruz +6 / Monmouth Poll – Trump +12. Every poll in Oklahoma had Trump ahead by a significant margin. Examining all the state exit polls from Super Tuesday shows that Oklahoma actually had the highest number of Republican voters (33%) who said they made up their mind in the last few days. These voters broke significantly for Cruz (37%) and Rubio (38%) over Trump (15%).

Despite the stakes involved in Tuesday’s races, only four national polling organizations polled in at least three of the nine primary states during the month of February. In addition to Monmouth, CBS/YouGov and NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist polled in three states and PPP conducted Democratic-only primary polls in all nine states.

In Texas, the one state where all four organizations polled the Democratic primary, Monmouth’s 32 point margin for Hillary Clinton was the closest to the actual result. CBS/YouGov had the margin at 24 points, PPP had 23 points, and NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist had 21 points. In the Texas Republican primary, Monmouth’s 15 point margin for Cruz was also closer to the actual result. NBC/Wall Street Journal had a 13 point margin and CBS/YouGov had an 11 point margin.

This primary season has been particularly tough to poll, so it is understandable why more national polling operations did not dip their toes in the water. Despite the one missed call, Monmouth is pleased with its Super Tuesday polling results.

Full information on Super Tuesday polling can be found here:

Democrats: http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2016/president/march1dem.html

Republicans: http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2016/president/march1GOP.html

After the Messaging, it’s Time for the Ground Game.

The final Monmouth University Poll (Feb. 7, 2016) in New Hampshire found Donald Trump with a sizable lead over his competition in the Republican race, while Bernie Sanders held a ten point lead over Hillary Clinton in the Democratic contest.

The big question on the GOP side is who will come in second place, with at least four candidates realistically vying for the spot.  On the Democratic side, the question is whether Clinton can reduce her deficit to the single digits.

In the retail-heavy political environment of New Hampshire, it may all come down to the ground game – how many voters can each campaign personally contact.  Monmouth asked its poll respondents whether they had been contacted, and if so, on behalf of whom.

Interestingly, since registered independents can – and do – vote in either party’s primary, a significant number of likely voters in each contest say they were contacted by both Republican and Democratic campaigns.  The numbers below give a relative sense of how intense that outreach has been – and which candidates are excelling in their field operations.

Candidates are listed in rank order of total voter contacts, assuming about the same number of voters will turn out in each party’s primary.  The first number in parenthesis is the percentage of likely Republican voters who report being contacted by someone promoting that candidate.  The second number is the percentage of likely Democratic voters who say the same.

New Hampshire Voter Contacts

1. Hillary Clinton (13 / 39)
2. Bernie Sanders (13 / 35)
3. Jeb Bush (31 / 8)
4. John Kasich (26 / 8)
5. Ted Cruz (22 / 10)
6. Marco Rubio (22 / 8)
7. Donald Trump (19 / 9)
8. Chris Christie (17 / 7)
9. Carly Fiorina (16 / 4)
10. Ben Carson (11 / 5)
11. Rand Paul (10 / 5)
12. Martin O’Malley (0 / 6)

Carson Up, Trump Down

by Anthony Alaimo

Monmouth University Poll Institute graduate assistant

Despite many pundits painting his campaign as a sideshow earlier this summer, Donald Trump has managed to stay atop the pack of Republican hopefuls in the race for the 2016 Republican nomination. However, ahead of Wednesday night’s third Republican debate, recently released polls, both nationally and in some important primary races, seem to indicate a Donald Trump slide. Dr. Ben Carson, who has had consistently high favorability ratings among Republican voters since he announced his candidacy in May, looks to be the prime beneficiary of Trump’s decline. Has Carson overtaken Trump as the favorite? If so, why has he been able to despite a lack of any recent major stumbles for Trump? As always, we need only to look at the numbers to find out.

In Monmouth University’s August Poll of Republicans in the crucial first caucus state of Iowa, the two political outsiders were locked in a dead heat at 23%. In Monmouth’s poll taken this past week, Carson (32%) has begun to pull away from Trump (18%). Similar polling in the month of October in Iowa can be seen from Quinnipiac (Carson 28% to Trump 20%) and Bloomberg/Des Moines Register (Carson 28% to Trump 19%). Trump led Carson by 6 points and 5 points respectively, in each outlet’s late August/early September Iowa polling of Republican voters.

Unfortunately for Trump, the downward trend continues when we look at recent national polling. A CBS/New York Times Poll, taken October 21-25, shows Carson (26%) now leading Trump (22%) nationally for the first time since Trump entered the fray in June. In a previous CBS News/New York Times national poll, taken September 9-13, Trump led Carson 27% to 23%. While Carson has not pulled ahead in any other major national poll, he continues to close the gap with Trump. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll taken October 15-18 had Trump (25%) holding on to a small lead over Carson (22%). CNN/ORC polling done October 14-17 show Trump clinging to a 5 point lead over Carson after leading him by 10 points in their September poll. Additionally, polls released this week in both Texas and North Carolina tell a similar story. A KTVT-CBS 11/Dixie Strategies Poll in Texas, taken October 23-24, shows Carson with a slim 1 point lead over Trump, while a Public Policy Polling survey taken October 23-25 in North Carolina has Carson leading Trump 23% to 11%.

So, why the sudden shuffle at the top of the GOP totem pole? Simply put, voters may simply be tiring of The Donald Show. After his announcement in June, to the surprise of many pollsters and pundits alike, Trump’s low favorability rocketed up as he took on the role of frontrunner while drawing huge crowds everywhere he went. However, after his performance in the second GOP debate in September, those ratings flattened and began to trend downward. Conversely, Dr. Ben Carson’s favorability ratings among Republican voters have consistently been at or near the top when compared to his fellow candidates, both nationally and in the early voting states. In fact, in a Loras College Iowa poll taken just this past week, when asked if they would absolutely not vote for Dr. Ben Carson, only 3% of Iowa Republicans would refuse to vote for the famed neurosurgeon, while 28% said they would absolutely not vote for Trump.

Trump is clearly no longer running away with the 2016 Republican nomination. However, besides his consistently high marks with Republican voters, why has Carson been the one to pose a significant challenge to the frontrunner? Essentially, Republican voters are still clamoring for an outsider candidate who has not been sullied by the partisan stalemate in Washington. A recent Associated Press-GfK poll, taken October 15-19, made this preference very clear. An overwhelming number of Republican voters (77%) prefer an outsider candidate who will change how things are done, instead of a candidate with Washington experience (22%). Similarly, they prefer a candidate with private-sector leadership (76%) over someone with experience holding political office (22%). With Carly Fiorina failing to gain any real momentum after her impressive debate performances, that leaves Trump, who Republican voters are clearly tiring of, and Dr. Ben Carson, who in the same AP-GfK poll pulled the highest favorability rating of any GOP candidate (65% favorable to just 13% unfavorable).

Trump recently said, “I don’t quite get it,” when he was asked about these troubling polls. Unfortunately for The Donald, unless he delivers a quality performance at Wednesday’s third GOP debate, he really might not get it.

What We Learned from Nevada

Cross-posted at PolitickerNJ

[Acknowledgements: Some of the data for this analysis was made available by NBC News, where I was an entrance poll analyst on caucus night.]

As I write this – more than 12 hours after the final caucus concluded – over one quarter of Nevada’s votes remain to be tallied. I’m guessing that Chumlee of “Pawn Stars” fame has been put in charge of the Clark County vote count operation.

Even so, we know the basic results from Saturday. And they have raised some new talking points among pundits. Are strong conservatives becoming more comfortable with Mitt Romney And can we glean anything from these results about how he would fare in a general election?

Even though the final vote totals aren’t in, the entrance poll gives some insight on emerging trends that have an impact on front-runner Mitt Romney.

Conservatives and Evangelicals

Nevada’s caucuses saw the highest proportion of voters calling themselves very conservative. Nearly half – 49% – described themselves that way, which is comparable to Iowa (47%) but much higher than South Carolina (36%), Florida (33%), and New Hampshire (21%).

Romney lost these voters in Iowa, South Carolina and Florida. He had a nominal win among the smaller group of very conservative voters in New Hampshire. But in Nevada, he racked up nearly half of this group’s vote – 46% to 25% for New Gingrich.

So what was different about Nevada’s very conservative voters? On the whole, not much. They look the same as very conservative voters in the other four states both demographically (age, gender, income, etc.) and in terms of issues and candidate quality preferences. The single area where the Silver State’s conservative bloc differs from prior contests is the significantly lower proportion of evangelical voters.

In fact, Nevada’s caucuses saw the second smallest proportion of voters who described themselves as Evangelical Christians. It was 28% there, compared to 64% in South Carolina, 57% in Iowa, and 47% in Florida. Only New Hampshire was lower at 22%.

Of course one of the reasons for the low evangelical total in Nevada is the high number of Mormons. More than 1-in-4 caucus goers belong to the same faith as Mitt Romney. In the four prior contests, Mormons numbered only 1%. As expected they went overwhelmingly for Romney – about 9-in-10.

Both Mormons and Catholics are much less likely than Protestants and other Christians to call themselves “born again.” Mormons and Catholics combined made up 46% of the Republican electorate in Nevada, 36% in New Hampshire, and 33% in Florida – the states that Romney won so far. These two denominations accounted for only 14% of voters in South Carolina, where Gingrich was the victor. (The Iowa entrance poll did not include data on religion.)

The importance of this is that there exists a correlation between being a strong conservative and being evangelical. In states where Romney did poorly with conservatives, the exit polls suggest that it had less to do with his experience and issue positions and more to do with his religion. It seems that concerns about Romney’s faith continue to occupy the minds of many GOP voters. This will be important to watch in heavily evangelical Protestant states, particularly in the South.

The Rich Thing

The exit polls in the five nomination contests held so far show a significant wealth gap in Mitt Romney’s support. In the three states he won, Romney garnered between 48% and 58% support levels among Republican voters earning more than $100,000 a year. And his share was even higher among those who earn over $200,000.

More importantly, Romney did worse among voters earning below $30,000 than he did among the wealthiest voters in all five states contested so far. The gap in his support between high earners and low earners was 5 points in South Carolina, 10 points in Florida, 17 points in New Hampshire, 21 points in Iowa, and a whopping 29 points in Nevada.

It seems that inartful comments about the poor and firing people, not to mention Donald Trump’s endorsement, has done nothing to help Romney close this “wealth gap” among GOP voters. If anything, it may have been exacerbated by these missteps.

The take away from Nevada is this. If Mitt Romney can navigate around the evangelical vote to win the GOP nomination, a key task in November will be to convince less affluent independent voters that he is on their side. So far, he has not been able to seal that deal with lower income voters from his own party.