Polls Are Political Weapons in Midterms

By | 2018-10-19T22:35:06+00:00 October 20th, 2018|
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As we come down the homestretch for the 2018 midterms, people are looking at congressional generic ballots and debating whether or not the Democrats will take back the House. By now, thanks to the Senate Democrats’ Brett Kavanaugh escapade, most rational people are starting to realize that the Senate has probably slipped away from the Democrats. Republicans will likely hold all their toss up seats in Arizona, Nevada, and Tennessee and gain two to four seats with the likely pickups in North Dakota, Missouri, and Florida, and potential outliers in Montana, Indiana, Minnesota, and New Jersey.

Strangely (or not!) these political realities are escaping the notice of mainstream media outlets. With the dynamics of this midterm shifted considerably in the wake of the Kavanaugh hearings (call it the Kavanaugh Effect), one could be excused for thinking that some entities are conducting psychological warfare via public opinion polls. This is especially true with congressional generic ballots. Most people only see or hear the blaring top line of a poll: “Democrats leading in congressional generic ballot by 13 points!” and assume that somehow those numbers are a legitimate and accurate presentation of political reality.

But that’s not always so.

As Nicholas Waddy recently showed at American Greatness, CNN’s generic ballot showing Democrats up by 13 points made some outrageous assumptions to get to that number: women voting for Democrats vs. men by nearly double the historical trends, the over 65 vote swinging 26 points in Democrats favor from 2016 until now, and that somehow the white vote will drop 21 points for House Republicans in a two year time period. Those numbers are on the level of fraudulent. These media outlets are basing all of their polling on the prediction that somehow we’ll have the most historic changes in voting demographics ever, ignoring much of the data out there on previous elections and current energy levels for each party.

The question is why? Why would someone want to goose poll numbers? Why not just report the numbers as accurately as possible? Why not act as a public barometer, as is assumed by many people?

Especially after 2016, that reason should be clear: It’s because gauging public sentiment emphatically is not the point of every public opinion poll. All public opinion polls are not created equally.

Christopher Hitchens hit the problem of public opinion polls on the head in a 1992 essay for Harper’s:

Opinion polling was born out of a struggle not to discover the public mind but to master it. It was a weapon in the early wards to thwart organised labour in the battle against Populism . . . Polls are deployed only when they might prove useful—that is, helpful to the powers that be in their question to maintain their position and influence. Indeed, the polling industry is a powerful ally of depoliticization and its counterpart which is consensus.

So ask yourself as you’re looking at polls: is the source actually interested in understanding public opinion, or is it more interested in pushing a specific narrative while trying to shape and mold public opinion?

This is all the more true when a poll is being used by a politician or a pundit to make a point. When it is clear that there’s a motive, dig deeper into that poll, and even check out the actual questions and responses.

Case in point: the recent Fox News poll that showed health care was the number one issue for voters in the midterms. There were plenty of Democrats crowing about that poll who clearly had overlooked three important facts: Question 23 showed that while healthcare was the top motivating issue for voters, only 13 percent of likely voters said it was the one motivating issue driving them to vote. Question 36 showed that healthcare was the number one issue because 65 percent of voters are concerned about affordability and question 39 found that 40 percent of those saying healthcare was their number one issue because they are “extremely concerned” about the potential of a government takeover of the healthcare industry.

The Democrats’ answer to this? A $32 trillion Medicare for all takeover of the healthcare industry.

Especially in midterm elections, one can dismiss out of hand polls of registered voters; they border on the meaningless as midterms are about the base and likely voters, not registered voters. Focus on polls that report likely voters, as these are generally more representative of the people who will actually show up to vote. And don’t forget the phenomenon of the shy Trump voter; we now live in a country with radical leftists who are happy to chase Republicans out of restaurants, roundhouse kick pro-life women in the streets, and end friendships over simple political disagreements.

In this environment, it’s no surprise that many Americans who support Trump’s policies and Republican candidates are hesitant to say so out loud.

The Left might be organizing in the streets, rending their garments and storming the Supreme Court, but that doesn’t mean Republican voters won’t show up when it counts in November. They know how important this election is, and I’m betting they’ll be there to quietly make a big statement.

Photo Credit: Getty Images 

About the Author:

Ned Ryun
Ned Ryun is a former presidential writer for George W. Bush and the founder and CEO of American Majority. You can find him on Twitter @nedryun.