Poll Confirms Voter Interest Surging for Midterm Election

 Democrats predict a blue wave and Republicans sense a surge in support after the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation. They both could be right and the nation could be in for a blockbuster night of tight election results. [Illustration by Zac Freeland/Vox]

Democrats predict a blue wave and Republicans sense a surge in support after the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation. They both could be right and the nation could be in for a blockbuster night of tight election results. [Illustration by Zac Freeland/Vox]

Democrats predict a blue wave in the looming midterm elections and Republicans point to a GOP surge following the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. They both could be right.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll released over the weekend shows overall enthusiasm for voting this November is markedly higher (12 percent) than it was in October 2014, the last midterm election.

The two largest leaps in enthusiasm from four years ago are among younger (25 percent) and nonwhite (24 percent) voters. Enthusiasm among Democrats jumped 18 percent, independents 13 percent and Republicans 4 percent.

There are fascinating statistics within statistics. The Kavanaugh confirmation battle increased Republican voter resolve this fall, especially among males. President Donald Trump’s approval rating also bumped up. However, a significant gender gap remains. According to the poll, women favor Democratic House candidates by a 59 to 37 percent margin, driven in part by an even greater split among women who identify as political independents (62 to 37 percent).

A striking, though not surprising finding is that partisans on both sides seem to be hardening their positions. Ninety percent of voters who disapprove of Trump are supporting Democratic candidates and 87 percent who approve of Trump are voting for Republicans.

Partisans do agree that the upcoming election is more important than previous midterms. Democrats are more convinced at 74 percent, but 61 percent of Republicans agree.

On issues, poll respondents expressed slightly more trust in Republicans over Democrats in managing the economy (45 to 41 percent), while showing about the same level of trust in Democrats over Republicans on taxes (45 to 42 percent). Democrats hold double-digit leads over Republicans on changing the way Washington works, appointment of Supreme Court justices, immigration and equal treatment of men and women. According to poll results, the economy and health care rank as the top issues.

The poll was conducted last week using a random sample of 1,144 adults, 65 percent reached via cell phones and 35 percent on landline telephones. Reaching voters by cell phone is a major change in the way telephone surveys are conducted to ensure representative inclusion of younger, poorer and minority respondents.

 

Looking Behind the Trust in Family and Friends

 A recent poll indicates people trust family and friends, and barely anyone else, for political information, which begs the question why when many families and friends shun political conversation. The answer may lie in the continuing and consuming culture war that has made people skeptical of everything, so they trust who they know, even if they disagree.

A recent poll indicates people trust family and friends, and barely anyone else, for political information, which begs the question why when many families and friends shun political conversation. The answer may lie in the continuing and consuming culture war that has made people skeptical of everything, so they trust who they know, even if they disagree.

Politics may be verboten at family dinner tables and social occasions, but a recent poll shows the most trusted sources of political information are family and friends. Super PACs and candidate political campaigns are the least trusted.

Seventy-one percent of respondents in the online poll conducted in August say they trust friends and family a lot or somewhat, dwarfing the news media in second place at 46 percent. Trust in businesses registers at 44 percent, the Democratic Party at 39 percent and the Republican Party at 35 percent. Super PACs trailed at 17 percent.

A key finding showed only 42 percent of respondents trust major companies to behave ethically, which is down from 47 percent in a similar poll in 2017. Only 9 percent say they have a favorable opinion of major companies, which barely tops the 7 percent favorable rating for the federal government.

Conducted by Morning Consult for the Public Affairs Council, the poll found only 10 percent of respondents have a favorable opinion of President Trump’s tweets, 17 percent don’t understand his criticism and 41 percent say it doesn’t change their opinion. Interestingly, slightly more Democrats admit reading Trump tweets than Republicans.

If family and friends are who we consider most trustworthy, why do family members and friends find it so hard to talk about politics, especially when they fall into different ideological camps? There probably isn’t a simple answer. Most likely the answer has something to do with shared experience, if not shared perspective. 

 This graphic illustrates the irony of trust in political figures who routinely lie and trash the news media and political opponents.

This graphic illustrates the irony of trust in political figures who routinely lie and trash the news media and political opponents.

Families have a common heritage and history; friends a common school or set of interests. Achievement or lack of achievement can be a binding life experience. People tend to trust what they know. Family members may be disagreeable and even unreliable, but family members may know when not to trust Uncle Bud when he criticizes a particular political person or party. The same holds true for friends whom we may trust even if we disagree. 

The troubling part about the Morning Consult findings, which echo other similar findings, is that people largely distrust every other source of political information. A significant percentage of Americans believe news outlets publish inaccurate or biased stories. A low opinion of corporations, political parties and political institutions such as Congress have been acknowledged for some time, and the lack of trust in them continues to decline.

Ironically, this is the ferment that breeds “strong men” who constantly poke and mock the news media and political opponents. In an atmosphere where people have few people they trust, someone who says they are right not to trust the news they read or what politicians say can somehow appear trustworthy.

The Morning Consult poll reveals low regard for Trump’s tweets, yet the President retains an unshakable base of support that trusts what he says, even if they dislike how he says it.

One of the best explanations for the epidemic of distrust among Americans is the continuing culture war, which itself reflects changing demographics and evolving political attitudes. Increasingly, people don’t trust information from the news media or the mouths of politicians with which they disagree. It’s like Rudy Giuliani famously said, “Truth isn’t truth.” If you believe homosexuality is a lifestyle choice, you won’t trust information or political views that talk about it as an innate orientation.

Which brings the conversation back to the trust in family and friends. People apparently weigh their personal relationships with family and friends higher than agreement or disagreement with their views. You trust your brother-in-law because he takes care of your sister and their family, not because you agree or disagree with his political view. You might think he is a political dolt, but he is your family’s political dolt.

It’s no surprise then that one of the most popular shows on Fox News is named Fox & Friends.

 

Viewers Express Exhaustion with Relentless Flow of Bad News

 The news can be relentless, negative and evidently exhausting, according to a New Pew Research survey. There are antidotes ranging from not watching TV, tuning into social media or asking Google to search for good news. But negative news remains alluring and as addictive as nicotine.

The news can be relentless, negative and evidently exhausting, according to a New Pew Research survey. There are antidotes ranging from not watching TV, tuning into social media or asking Google to search for good news. But negative news remains alluring and as addictive as nicotine.

Americans admit to being exhausted by the news, which can seem relentlessly negative and depressing.

According to a new Pew Research survey, Republicans admit to more fatigue than Democrats. News fatigue is more common among people who follow the news less frequently and have a lower regard for the news media. White Americans report noticeably greater news fatigue than African-Americans or Latinos.

“If you feel like there is too much news and you can’t keep up, you are not alone,” writes Jeffrey Gottfried and Michael Barthel of the Pew Research Center. “Almost seven-in-10 Americans (68%) feel worn out by the amount of news there is these days, compared with only three-in-10 who say they like the amount of news they get.”

The news tends to exhaust Republicans more (77%) than Democrats (61%), which probably has something to do with the content of the news. The Pew researchers note, “This elevated fatigue among Republicans tracks with them having less enthusiasm than Democrats for the 2018 elections.”

There are noteworthy demographic differences on the news fatigue curve. Women express more exhaustion than men. College graduates feel slightly more worn out than high school graduates. Older adults are less fatigued than younger adults. 

In light of all this exhaustion, Google has stepped in with relief from too much “negative news” by offering an assist from Google Assistant. Just say, “Hey Google, tell me something good.” Google Assistant then provides a summary of stories about “people who are solving problems for our communities and our world.” Many of the stories are plucked from the Solutions Journalism Network, which isn’t a regular contributor to mainstream news feeds.

However, the BBC says even though people may be fatigued by negative news, they are drawn to it like moths to bright light. “It isn’t just schadenfreude, we’ve evolved to react quickly to potential threats. Bad news could be a signal that we need to change what we’re doing to avoid danger.” We watch negative news for the same reasons we are drawn to the Walking Dead.

The New York Times published an article last year that suggested the more news people consume makes them yearn for “emotionality” in coverage, which often translates into negative stories. “Negativity is emphasized to keep [viewers] engaged,” according to a British psychology professor, Graham C.L. Davey. Negative news is apparently as addictive as nicotine.

One solution to “living in a Superconducting Super Collider of news with information bombarding us at a head-spinning velocity” is simply to turn to “slow news,” according to Dan Gillmor, a professor of media literacy at Arizona State University. Slow news could be as simple as plodding along without checking social media and news websites every few minutes.

News fatigue runs in cycles, often on the same wavelength as elections. As election day approaches and there is exponentially more political news, news watchers grow weary. Despite being tired, like campers who pulled an all-nighter around a campfire, they still have to watch the news so they don’t miss the latest sliver of negative news.

We do a lot of things when we are bone-tired. Watching the news, it turns out, is one of them.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling. 


Polling for All Seasons, Tastes and Political Stripes

 If the blizzard of polls overwhelms you, one solution is to tune into FiveThirtyEight, which summarizes recent polls, aggregates multiple polls to see trends and covers a wide range of topics from politics to sports to culture.

If the blizzard of polls overwhelms you, one solution is to tune into FiveThirtyEight, which summarizes recent polls, aggregates multiple polls to see trends and covers a wide range of topics from politics to sports to culture.

Election season means leaves change color and political polls fall like rain. Keeping track of all the polls and making sense out of them is beyond the capability of most of us. Thank goodness for FiveThirtyEight. 

FiveThirtyEight, named after the number of electors in the US Electoral College, launched in 2008 as a polling aggregation site. The idea was and remains that looking collectively at polls is more useful than focusing on a single poll, which can be influenced by the skill and methodology of an individual pollster. The fivethirtyeight.com website was acquired last April by ABC News.

In a weekly roundup of polling, called Pollapalooza, the site reports on the “Poll of the Week” and provides a quick reference and links to a wide range of political polls. This week’s Pollapalozza blog centers on polling that FiveThirtyEight shows support for President Trump flagging while support for Robert Mueller’s Russian interference investigation rising. 

The blog started with findings from a CNN poll that shows 61 percent of respondents believe the Mueller investigation is serious and should continue, up 6 points from a month ago. Poll findings indicate 72 percent of respondents believe Trump should testify under oath (+4 points since June) and 47 percent think Trump should be impeached (+5 points since June).

The latest poll by Quinnipiac, which has a slight tilt toward the right, produced complementary results. Respondents by a 55-32 margin said the Mueller investigation is fair, up 4 points from a Quinnipiac poll conducted a month ago.

 FiveThirtyEight is the brainchild of  Nate Silver , who brings a statistician’s eye to everything from political races to baseball sabermetrics. He has steered his informative and sometimes provocative blog through transitions that included the New York Times, ESPN and now ABC News. His statistical approach to politics and other subject areas has drawn a large following and earned him the label of ‘disruptive’ of status quo thinking.

FiveThirtyEight is the brainchild of Nate Silver, who brings a statistician’s eye to everything from political races to baseball sabermetrics. He has steered his informative and sometimes provocative blog through transitions that included the New York Times, ESPN and now ABC News. His statistical approach to politics and other subject areas has drawn a large following and earned him the label of ‘disruptive’ of status quo thinking.

Numbers were different, but the margins were similar in a YouGov poll, which indicated respondents approved of the Mueller investigation by a 49 percent to 30 percent margin. 

If you tire of reading about the Russian investigation, Pollapalozza offers a guide to other recent research. For example: 

  • 58 percent of Americans want the senior Trump official who wrote an anonymous op-ed published by the New York Times to identify himself or herself. (CNN poll)

  • A plurality of respondents say it’s “not very important” or “not important at all” for a political candidate to have strong religious beliefs. (Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research)

  • “Two-thirds of Americans rely on social media to get at least some of their news, but more than half of those people expect the news on social medial to be largely inaccurate.” (Pew Research Center)

  • “Among Americans who lost trust in media, 7 in 10 say that trust can be restored.” (Gallup and Knight Foundation)

If politics isn’t your thing, the FiveThirtyEight website serves up the latest news in sports, science & health, economics and culture.

In the culture category, the site’s blog, called Significant Digits, reported the results from a Washington Post survey of 50 cities that found police departments with lower caseloads of homicides have higher arrest rates while the opposite is true for cities with higher caseloads. “Major police departments that are successful at making arrests in homicides generally assign detectives fewer than five cases annually,” according to survey findings as reported in the newspaper under the headline, “Buried under bodies.”

The sports section is peppered with stories such as why the NFL, reputedly a passing league, doesn’t throw enough passes or a piece pitting “old-school stats” versus “fancy-pants analytics” in Major League Baseball.

FiveThirtyEight is pretty much like having your cake and political polling, too. It is worth some clicks.

 

Chinese Retaliatory Tariffs ‘Shrewdly’ Designed to Hurt Rural America

 Axios has posted an interactive map that shows the localized effects of  Chinese retaliatory tariffs if President Trump acts on his threat to impose another $200 billion on tariffs on Chinese exports to the United States.

Axios has posted an interactive map that shows the localized effects of  Chinese retaliatory tariffs if President Trump acts on his threat to impose another $200 billion on tariffs on Chinese exports to the United States.

 

Axios.com has posted a story with an interactive map showing areas of the country destined to feel the greatest pain from retaliatory tariffs spurred by President Trump’s trade policies.

“Industries affected by the brinksmanship are mostly concentrated in rural, deeply red, already-struggling parts of the country, with political consequences for Trump and Republicans in 2018 and beyond,” according to the Axios analysis. 

The analysis drew on data from the Brookings Institution, US Chamber of Commerce, US Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Axios posted the map after a public comment period ended last week on Trump’s threat to quadruple tariffs on Chinese goods to $200 billion. China has said it will retaliate with $60 billion in tariffs on US exports.

“That's on top of 25 percent and 10 percent tariffs enacted, respectively, on steel and aluminum imports from Canada, China, Mexico and the European Union, and by those countries against the United States,” Axios reported.

US farmers, manufacturers and consumer groups have been bracing for the blowback. The Axios map helps to localize where the most severe impact could be felt. For example, it identifies six industries in Douglas County that would be affected by retaliatory tariffs, which is 95 times more concentrated impact than the the national average. The map identifies 35 affected industries in Clackamas County.

“Employment in rural and low-population counties can be exceptionally vulnerable to gyrations in the global economy,” Mark Muro, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, tells Axios. "In a small county, a single meatpacking establishment can provide hundreds of jobs and make up a large share of that county's total employment.”

Muro  and a colleague wrote a previous report anticipating the impact of retaliatory Chinese tariffs with this observation: “Trade diplomacy can often seem an international and faraway activity. However, when it comes down to specific lists of tariffs on particular products that Americans produce, from ginseng to airplanes, the high-level posturing of Washington and Beijing suddenly gets more real.”

He added: “Our top line estimates suggest while the total number of jobs potentially disrupted by an all-out trade war remains modest, the count encompasses a diverse and shrewdly chosen ‘hit list’ of hallmark American industries – one that appears well-calculated to scare both red and blue America.”

Trump has assured his supporters, especially in the Farm Belt, his take-no-prisoners approach to international trade can produce positive results for US workers, businesses and farmers. In response to immediate-term impacts on soybean growers and other farm interests, Trump proposed a one-time $4.2 billion subsidy. It has met with opposition and disappointment by congressional Republicans and recipients of the aid.

 

New Book Says Polls Provide Indications, Not Predictions

 Anthony Salvanto with CBS News has written a new book that explains what polling can and can’t do. It’s a good place to begin to become a savvy research consumer.

Anthony Salvanto with CBS News has written a new book that explains what polling can and can’t do. It’s a good place to begin to become a savvy research consumer.

Political polls give indications of voter attitudes, not predictions of election outcomes, says Anthony Salvanto in his new book, Where Did You Get This Number.

Salvanto, the director of elections and surveys for CBS News, says he wrote his book to explain how polling works after skepticism arose following the 2016 presidential election that polls suggested was a lock for Hillary Clinton. She did win the popular vote, but lost in states critical to a victory in the Electoral College. The polls were right and wrong at the same time.

In an interview on Face the Nation, Salvanto said he is often asked how national poll numbers are generated based on as few as 1,000 ten-minute telephone interviews. He explains representative samples can produce reliable results. Pollsters may not interview you, but they interview people like you.

A representative sample is just part of the best practices followed by professional pollsters. Clear, objective questions must be asked. Individual questions should test a single variable. Conclusions should be tempered by statistical validity. For example, a national poll with a 1,000-respondent sample may provide a valid national picture, but not a statistically valid picture of voters in Colorado.

Even the most scrupulous professional pollsters don’t always get the numbers exactly right. There often is a slight, but significant skew as a result of the specific methodology a pollster uses. For example,  failure to include a representative number of random sample calls to cell phone users could under-represent younger people, low-income families and minorities.

Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com argues it is more reliable to look at groups of polls through the lens of a probability model.  He claims analyzing a pool of polls and weighting each one by their history of accuracy can burp out a more accurate polling results. Even then, Salvanto would say, it is not a prediction, just a reflection in time.

Then there are the polls that aren’t really polls. Push-polls ask questions, less to get an answer and more to deliver a message, often a negative one, about a political opponent. Cheap robopolls get lower than average response rates, which can skew results. Because they are prohibited by law from calling cell phone users randomly, they have a built-in bias.

The bottom line: Purchasers need to be smart consumers of research. Before looking at results, look at the sample so you know whose views are represented in the results. Understand the methodology being used and the statistical confidence it will yield. Know the benefits and limitations of different types of research, and certainly between qualitative and quantitative research. Collaborate with a pollster on the questions that need to be asked and let him or her advise you how to ask them fairly so you get usable responses, not just what you want to hear.

Salvanto’s book may be the place to start on your journey to understanding polling’s potential and limitations.