The 2018 midterm elections, for Republicans, is a story of missed opportunity. Holding the House was a tall order with history against the GOP as the party in power and the large number of Republican retirements But a path to preserving their House majority, even if a difficult one, did exist if the election became all about the economy. It didn’t.
This post-election analysis, based on exit poll data from the National Election Pool, done by Edison Research, and the Winston Group’s Winning the Issues post-election survey, done Election Night, assesses the 2018 campaign that began and ended with the fight for the election narrative.
There is no question that money was a significant disadvantage for Republicans in this election, but this report outlines the opportunities that existed which could have led to a much better result for them, especially in terms of what the electorate heard from both Republicans and Democrats. This report also shows that the election outcome was not the result of an ideological or party identification realignment, but instead a shift in vote preferences. This means that Republicans still have an opportunity to rebuild their majority coalition for 2020…
On Wednesday, Mary Meeker, a venture capitalist at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, released her highly acclaimed annual report on Internet trends and technology. One of the findings of this year’s report was that people are trending toward mobile devices faster than ad dollars are keeping up. From the Washington Post coverage of the presentation, “Meeker sees mobile advertising growing another $22 billion in the United States because the time consumers spend on mobile devices — 25 percent — is more than double the share of ad dollars the platform receives. However, a major concern is the 420 million smartphone users who utilize ad-blocking technology.” If people are shifting toward mobile devices but with large numbers using ad blockers, ads of the future will not only have to be more adept at transitioning to mobile devices and away from traditional platforms, but the content will have to be more compelling.
To inform how ads might be more compelling, we looked at which sources are most influential in shaping political views, from research we conducted for the Ripon Society earlier this year. Not unexpectedly, news media sources were not among the most influential sources on a person’s political views. By far, voters overall and across party cited their own experience as the largest influence on their political views (69%). Family (36%) and education (34%) fell into a second tier of most important influences, followed then by the media (29%).
Given the current media and campaign environment, these results indicate that ads of the future intended to shape views about a candidate or issue will have to be credible and informative enough for people to see the personal impact and how the content can become part of personal and family discussions. This may sound difficult, but it can be done, as exemplified by a recent exchange in a focus group in a competitive Congressional district. In that discussion, we heard a college-educated, independent female (a key voter group for this year’s midterms) describe her reaction to the provisions of the tax plan – not messaging – simply the basic provisions of the plan. After seeing the provisions of the plan and how it could impact her personally, her response was “I’m going to go home and have a drink with my husband and tell him about this stuff because I think it’s fascinating. This has been so interesting.”
With the right kind of content that voters find personally relevant and informative, ads can provide content and information that can become part of personal discussions that voters are having, and those kinds of ads can have a much greater impact. The ideal reaction to an ad of any kind would be that a voter discusses it at home with family and concludes that “this has been so interesting.”
In a May 2nd interview, Hillary Clinton was asked if describing herself as a capitalist hurt her presidential aspirations. Her response was “probably…it’s hard to know. But I mean if you’re in the Iowa caucuses and 41 percent of Democrats are socialists or self-described socialists, and I’m asked ‘Are you a capitalist?’ and I say ‘Yes, but with appropriate regulation and appropriate accountability.’ You know, that probably gets lost in the ‘Oh my gosh, she’s a capitalist!’”
In the new survey from Winning the Issues (April 28-30), we asked voters if capitalism or socialism is the better economic system. One out of two voters (52%) said capitalism, with 17% answering socialism, but with about one-third (31%) that did not know. Among Democrats, the results were much more evenly split, with the largest group of Democrats (39%) being undecided on this question, and the remainder being split between capitalism (30%) and socialism (30%).
- Moderate Democrats leaned toward capitalism (33%) over socialism (23%), but the largest percentage were undecided (44%).
- Liberal Democrats were split among all three with a slight edge toward socialism (35%).
- Among those who said they voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, there was a small lead for capitalism (36%) over socialism (28%), but with another third that did not know (36%).
These results indicate that there is a significant level of debate within the Democratic Party about the merits of capitalism and socialism, and with the large percentages of undecided, there is a clear lack of consensus among Democrats about the best economic system.
The Democracy Fund Voter Study Group has released two new reports exploring the views and values motivating the American electorate. As part of the Voter Study Group, the WG’s David Winston used a unique longitudinal dataset of 5,000 voters to explore which issues mattered most in 2016. Read the full report here or take a look at the highlights:
Viewing the electorate through the lens of issue priorities rather than through demographic variables yields valuable insights. Our analysis suggests that the mix of issue priorities revealed more about voter decision-making than demography.
Using voters’ views on the importance of 23 different issues, a cluster analysis produced five distinct groups — the “Democrat/Independent Liberal Elites” (15 percent of the electorate), the “Democratic-Leaning Working Class” (the largest cluster, at 25 percent), the “Moderate Younger Middle-Income” voters (17 percent), the “Conservative Older” voters (21 percent), and the “Conservative Younger” voters (12 percent), with an additional 10 percent unidentified by these clusters because they did not respond to all 23 issue priority questions.
These clusters demonstrated distinct presidential election voting patterns, party preference, and ideological patterns that can provide insight into voters’ decision-making. The conservative, Republican-Leaning clusters appear more cohesive than the two Democratic-Leaning clusters. The “Democrat/Independent Liberal Elites” cluster prioritized issues popular in the media coverage of the election, but not issues that were “very important” to the other Democratic cluster and the country as a whole, such as the economy and jobs. These differences will be consequential for Democrats in the future.
The key issues driving the election, based on what voters found most important, were the economy, health care, jobs, and Social Security. Issues such as climate change, gender, and racial injustice that made up a significant level of the media coverage of the 2016 election were not among the most important issues for most voters. The Rust Belt was key to the election outcome, and the economy was the top issue among Trump voters in that region, and the fifth most important issue among Clinton voters.
Of the four top issues, Trump had the advantage among voters who highly prioritized jobs and the economy while Clinton had an advantage among those who prioritized health care. Neither candidate had an advantage on Social Security. Clinton won a majority of those voters who prioritized 12 of the 23 issues included in the survey, and often by large margins. But Trump won a majority of those who prioritized two of the top three issues, including the most important, the economy.
Voters were not satisfied with the status quo when it came to the economy, and deep economic frustration and desire for change underlied their issue prioritization and political decision-making.
The newest monthly WG Sports Survey (November 29-30) found that the NFL brand improved very slightly, going from 44% favorable – 40% unfavorable in October to 48% favorable – 38% unfavorable. While this is a slight improvement, favorability is well below where it was in August when it was 57% favorable – 23% unfavorable. The question is whether this is a small start back toward the original brand standing, or a settling-in process for the new brand standing of the NFL with the public.
In the most recent survey for Winning the Issues (July 5-6, 1000 registered voters), we updated the list of issues and news stories in how they are driving voting decisions for next year’s mid-term elections. The chart below shows how each item was ranked on Election Day, in March, and this week. Economy/jobs remains the most important issue on the list, which is consistent with what we observed on Election Day and back in March. The issue that continues to be a close second on the list is need to get things done in Washington and get the parties to work together.
Foreign policy (#3 and #5 on the list) and tax issues (#4 and #6) continue to be significant factors in voting decisions. However, news stories being heavily covered by the media – including stories about White House ethics scandals (#18) and allegations of Trump ties to Russia (#20) – are lesser priorities in voting decisions at the moment. As shown in these results over time, the electorate is remarkably consistent in their priorities.
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As part of the immediate discussions about how to deal with problems in the health care system, the future of health care and the opportunities that exist should be a key part of those discussions.
Following the 2016 election, the Congressional Institute commissioned The Winston Group for a study of middle-class Americans and their dissatisfaction with government, including both qualitative research and a survey of voters.
From the overview: “The most recent research indicates that the electorate continues to show serious concern about the direction of the country, and defines the kinds of changes they want to see. In the context of the most recent presidential election, voter perceptions were that the election was a choice between change and the status quo, and the result of voters’ voices not being heard…
From voters’ perspectives, the middle class sees value in their contributions and the work that they do, but do not feel valued by the nation’s elites and institutions… While one out of two voters describes themselves as more engaged and interested in the political process after the last election cycle, they are not fully clear on how to effectively make their voices heard other than by voting. However, the actions taken by lawmakers as a reflection of the issue priorities for which they voted seems to be the most clear signal to voters as to whether or not their voices were heard.”
Head to the Congressional Institute site for the full report.
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