Polls apart

Starkville Daily News - - FORUM -

“Fish gotta swim. Birds gotta fly.” Add to Jerome Kern and Os­car Ham­mer­stein II’s time­less wis­dom from “Show Boat” that be­fore ev­ery elec­tion, “(al­leged) pun­dits gotta pre­dict.” You can be sure that once again, this cam­paign year at least one long-shot can­di­date whose in­evitable de­feat, long be­fore Elec­tion Day, has been smugly as­sumed by the pun­dits and/or poll­sters will re­spond by quot­ing Pres­i­dent Harry Tru­man, the pa­tron saint of all po­lit­i­cal un­der­dogs, who re­but­ted dis­cour­ag­ing polling num­bers be­fore his own his­toric up­set vic­tory in 1948: “I won­der how far Moses would have gone if he’d taken a poll in Egypt.”

Truth be told, there is some very good pub­lic polling avail­able, in­clud­ing the Wall Street Jour­nal/NBC News poll, which, let it be noted, af­ter a pre-Elec­tion Day sur­vey in 2016, fore­cast that Hil­lary Clin­ton — who would ac­tu­ally re­ceive 2.86 mil­lion more votes than Don­ald Trump and cap­ture 48.2 per­cent of the na­tional vote, com­pared with Trump’s 46.1 per­cent — would win by 4 per­cent­age points. Read­ers and view­ers were openly told that poll came with a mar­gin of er­ror of plus or mi­nus 2.7 per­cent — well within the ac­tual elec­tion re­sults.

The most re­cent WSJ/ NBC News poll con­tains some wel­come news for Pres­i­dent Trump and Repub­li­cans: Nearly two-thirds of Amer­i­cans are sat­is­fied with the na­tion’s econ­omy, one of the high­est rat­ings since Bill Clin­ton left the White House in 2001. Trump’s ap­proval rat­ing has climbed to 44 per­cent, the high­est it has been since the first month of his pres­i­dency and al­most iden­ti­cal to Barack Obama’s and Ron­ald Rea­gan’s scores at sim­i­lar junc­tures in their pres­i­den­cies.

But be­fore mem­bers of the GOP put the Cham­pagne on ice in ex­pec­ta­tion of a big win in the midterm elec­tions Nov. 6, they should lis­ten to the cau­tion­ary wis­dom of two pro­fes­sion­als who have, through decades of na­tional elec­tions, jointly con­ducted that Wall Street Jour­nal/NBC News sur­vey, Demo­cratic poll­ster Peter D. Hart and Repub­li­can poll­ster Bill McIn­turff.

Hart re­minds us that in 2010, when the Repub­li­cans took away 63 Demo­cratic House seats and re­claimed the House ma­jor­ity, the WSJ/ NBC News poll had shown that 63 per­cent of Repub­li­cans were ex­press­ing a strong in­ter­est in that elec­tion cam­paign, com­pared with 49 per­cent of Democrats. Hart points out that Democrats in 2018 are ben­e­fit­ing from an “in­ten­sity ad­van­tage” — in­ter­est­ingly by the iden­ti­cal 63-49 per­cent mar­gin Repub­li­cans en­joyed eight years ago — which has his­tor­i­cally been a reli­able in­di­ca­tor, es­pe­cially in lower-par­tic­i­pa­tion midterm elec­tions, of ac­tual voter turnout.

McIn­turff, writ­ing with his polling col­league Dave Wil­son, has found a di­rect re­la­tion­ship be­tween a pres­i­dent’s job ap­proval rat­ing and the ac­tual vote for mem­bers of Congress. It’s “so strong it ac­cu­rately pre­dicts the net mar­gin of the elec­tion.” Us­ing the av­er­age vote of the past three midterm elec­tions, McIn­turff found that con­sis­tently, 85 per­cent of vot­ers who ap­prove of the job the pres­i­dent is do­ing will vote for the con­gres­sional can­di­date of that party, while 83 per­cent of those midterm vot­ers who dis­ap­prove of the pres­i­dent’s per­for­mance will vote against the con­gres­sional can­di­date of that pres­i­dent’s party. So even with his climb­ing 44 per­cent fa­vor­able rat­ing, Trump is sport­ing a tank top when it comes to po­lit­i­cal coat­tails for GOP House can­di­dates, which may ex­plain why, in the lat­est WSJ/NBC News poll, vot­ers, by a solid 50-40 per­cent mar­gin, would pre­fer that Democrats con­trol Congress.

Even with pos­i­tive eco­nomic news and the promised tax cuts, doubts and mis­giv­ings about Don­ald Trump’s tem­per­a­ment and poli­cies re­main a mill­stone for Repub­li­cans on the 2018 bal­lot and a wind at the back of chal­leng­ing Democrats.

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past col­umns, visit the Cre­ators Syn­di­cate web­page at www.cre­ators. com.

MARK SHIELDS SYN­DI­CATED COLUM­NIST

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