Monday, November 21, 2022

Exit Poll Shows Making the Mid-Terms a Referendum on Trump Hurt the GOP

On Election Night, the pundits were busy explaining the reasons for the lack of a red wave using exit poll data. The consensus was that Trump and abortion had reversed the GOP advantage. But here's the thing about exit polls. Compiling and studying exit poll results actually takes days, not hours.  Often, what one is told to be true on election night turns out not to be so when a more in depth study of the numbers is conducted.

Jeffrey H. Anderson writing for the City Journal, took a hard look at the exit poll numbers.  His analysis concludes that the unpopularity of Trump and other GOP leaders is what dragged down the party:
Midterm elections normally serve as referendums on incumbent presidents—to whom voters seldom give the benefit of the doubt, and whose parties almost always lose substantial numbers of seats in the House of Representatives and often the Senate, as well. To the surprise of most commentators (including yours truly), that didn’t happen this time. As of a week after Election Day, the number of seats that the GOP will gain in the House looks likely to be in the single digits—a far cry from the 54 seats that Gingrich and company gained in 1994 or the 64 seats that a Tea Party-fueled GOP picked up in 2010.

A pair of numbers leaps out of the exit polling: 32 percent of voters said that they cast their House vote to “oppose” President Joe Biden, while 28 percent said they cast their House vote to “oppose” former President Donald Trump. In other words, for every eight votes cast against Biden, all but one was negated by a vote cast against Trump. This is surely unprecedented in a midterm election. It’s nearly impossible to imagine a previous midterm in which almost as many people voted against the loser of the previous presidential contest as voted against the winner. How many people, for example, bothered to vote against Richard Nixon in 1962, Jimmy Carter in 1982, George H. W. Bush in 1994, or even Hillary Clinton in 2018?

Of course, it didn’t help Republicans that the leading establishment faces of their party are even less popular with voters than Trump. The former president’s favorability rating in exit polling was -19 percentage points (39 percent favorable, 58 percent unfavorable), worse than Biden’s -15 points (41 percent favorable, 56 percent unfavorable). But Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy’s favorability rating (-26 points, with 27 percent favorable and 53 percent unfavorable) was not only lower than Trump’s but also lower than House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (-24 points, with 36 percent favorable to 60 percent favorable). RealClearPolitics lists Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell’s unfavorability rating as of Election Day as being nearly triple his favorability rating (59 percent vs. 21 percent). Per RCP, McConnell’s net favorability rating of -38 percentage points is 24 points worse than that of his Democratic counterpart, Chuck Schumer (-14 points, with 33 percent favorable and 47 percent unfavorable).
During the last few weeks of the campaign, Donald Trump worked hard to make certain the mid-term would be considered a referendum on him.   No doubt Trump wanted the public to view the anticipated GOP wave as an endorsement of his re-election.  Republican operatives voiced concerns the presence of Trump might drag down GOP candidates.  Turned out those worries were well-founded.  The exit poll data suggests Trump was consistently a drag on GOP candidates across the country, even more so in those statewide races where the twice impeached ex-President openly endorsed candidates who had embraced Trump's Lie about the 2020 election being stolen.

The abortion issue was also cited as a factor that hurt Republicans in the mid-terms.  Anderson though found the effect of the issue, unlike the negative effect of Trump's endorsement of election denying candidates, was much more mixed:
Many observers have blamed Republicans’ lackluster showing in the midterms on their positions on abortion, but exit polling suggests a more nuanced picture. On the one hand, Fox News exit polling indicates that few voters (10 percent) considered abortion to be “the most important issue facing the country.” On the other, 25 percent regarded the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade as the “single most important factor” to them personally when “thinking about voting in this election.”

The network consortium’s exit polling found that only slightly more voters think abortion should be “legal” (30 percent) as think it should be “illegal” (26 percent) “in most cases.” But those in the latter camp appear to hold their positions with more conviction, as they were far more likely to support Republicans (90 percent to 9 percent) than those in the former camp were to support Democrats (60 percent to 38 percent). Indeed, the Republicans’ 81-point margin among voters who think abortion should generally be illegal swamped the Democrats’ 22-point edge among those who think it should generally be legal.

Moreover, Republicans won a majority of the vote among the 58 percent of voters who, in response to the overturning of Roe, felt “enthusiastic” (16 percent), “satisfied” (21 percent), or even “dissatisfied” (21 percent). Combining those three groups, Republicans won by a margin of 50 points (74 percent to 24 percent). Only the 39 percent who felt “angry” in response to Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization supported Democrats (85 percent to 14 percent).

Thus, more moderate voters on this contentious issue—those who were neither enthusiastic nor angry, and those who think abortion should be neither legal nor illegal in every case—were more apt to favor Republicans. Among those with more intense views either way—those who were enthusiastic or angry, and those who think abortion should either always be legal or always be illegal—Democrats prevailed.
Clearly the Republicans were not prepared to handle the politics of abortion in a post-Roe world.  Early on, the GOP allowed the issue to be defined by the exceptions (rape, incest, threat to life of the mother) which in actuality account for less than 1% of the abortions performed.  It was not just Democrats doing the defining.  Shortly after Roe was overturned the Republican Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita held a press conferences announcing an investigation into an Indiana doctor who performed an abortion on a 10 year old rape victim who had traveled to the Hoosier State from Ohio for the procedure.  So incredibly dumb.

Republican candidates used to concede the exceptions as a political necessity. But as the GOP became more radicalized on the abortion issue over the years, Republican candidates faced defeat in primaries if they embraced the exceptions. But now the political climate has shifted with those candidates now having to face general elections in which abortion rights are more than theoretical.  Still despite their clumsy handling of abortion and getting heavily outspent on the issue in the mid-terms, the pro life side had numerous successes in 2022.  In my home state of Indiana, after the Dobbs decision, the Indiana legislature this year passed the most strict abortion law in the country which only allowed abortion for the three exceptions.  I was certain that it would cost Republicans seats in the state legislature.  Instead, the Indiana GOP added seats and won statewide races by even bigger margins previously.  Likewise, the Republican Party did well in a number of states including Arkansas, New York, Ohio, and Georgia. 

Republicans though will have to moderate their position on the abortion issue.  That means again embracing the three exceptions and forcing the Democrats to debate what gestational limits on the procedure they will accept.  Most industrialized states have adopted, via their legislature, 12-15 week limits.  Roe mandated 24 weeks, at the minimum.  Democratic talking points are that the issue is just about a choice regarding what a woman does with her body suggests they are no acceptable gestational limits on the procedure.  Further, they want it to be funded with tax dollars.  In Georgia, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams found herself defending this very unpopular position, which let Governor Kemp off the hook on the issue. 

OOP's short takes:
  • Regarding my predictions on the eve of the election, I was hoping to get 70% correct, not a huge number but one I thought was reasonable given that so many races were within the margins of error in the polling.  I ended up calling 87.5% of the races correctly, missing only four: the Arizona and Wisconsin governor races, the Nevada Senate race, and the Indiana Secretary of State's race.  I was not right in guessing the Republicans would lose seats in the Indiana House and Senate, that Senate control would be decided by the Georgia run-off and that Kari Lake would be the new MAGA star.
  • And, no, the 2022 polling was not "off."  People need to understand how the MOE works in polls.  Some of the predictions based on the polling was off, but the polls this cycle were very good.  Yours truly did very well.
  • Saw the Mike Pence interview on Sunday Meet the Press.  Pence's repeated attacks on the FBI for simply doing their job is appalling.  Likewise, so too is his claim that the accusation of Trump's collusion with Russians in winning the 2016 election was a hoax.  The evidence is overwhelming that the Trump campaign warmly accepted the help of Russian officials in that campaign.  Saying that that was not "collusion" is an intentional dodge, based on how that term is used in the federal code.
  • So sorry to learn of the passing of my political mentor, Rex Early.  I will have to write at length about him later.

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