Monday, November 6, 2017

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.]



Monday, June 12, 2017

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.
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 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.


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

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, Missouri, and Pennsylvania 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.