Another national election came and went last week, and when all was said and done, it was a very good night for Republicans across the country – better even than the pollsters had predicted.
Why did Republican candidates do so well across the board? And why did they outperform the pundits’ predictions?
Looking back, Public Policy Polling director Tom Jensen says pollsters overestimated Democratic turnout – partly because they’d underestimated Democratic turnout in 2012 and didn’t want to make the same error twice. PPP surveyed voters who’d voted in at least two of the last three national elections (2008, 2010, and 2012) – but that meant they surveyed some voters who’d only voted in presidential years, and Jensen says it’s becoming apparent that presidential elections and midterm elections simply draw two different pools of voters.
Still, PPP outperformed most other national polling outlets – and pollsters in general did accurately predict the winners of nearly all the Senate races. The one exception, as it happened, was North Carolina: most polls had Kay Hagan leading by a point or two, but Thom Tillis ended up winning by the same margin.
Jensen says there’s an explanation for that too. The 2014 election wasn’t as much of a ‘referendum on Obama’ as some believed – most voters actually based their votes on other factors, like the qualities of the individual candidates themselves – but voters who were undecided at the last minute did end up basing their votes on their opinion of the President, and the vast majority of those voters disapproved of him. (According to Jensen, Obama’s approval rating was only 10 percent among last-minute undecideds in the Hagan-Tillis race – and that difference alone was enough to turn a 1-point Hagan lead into a 2-point Tillis win.)
Tom Jensen spoke with WCHL’s Aaron Keck about the 2014 election – and the art of polling.
Meanwhile, with the 2014 election in the books, the 2016 campaign has already begun.
Last week, conservative commentator Ben Carson became the first to officially declare his candidacy for president, and many more are sure to follow.
What can we expect to see in 2016? Will Democrats be able to recover from their big losses this year?
Jensen says yes – up to a point. Senate terms are six years long, so the Senate seats up for grabs in 2016 will be the same seats that were up for grabs in 2010. That was, of course, a great year for Republicans – which means the GOP will be on the defensive in 2016, just as the Democrats were in 2014 (having to defend all the seats they narrowly won in 2008). Republicans will have to defend six seats in states that Barack Obama won twice: Democratic-leaning Illinois, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and swing states Ohio, New Hampshire and Florida. (Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire appears safe, but the other five Senators could be vulnerable.)
Which means Democrats have a good chance of regaining some Senate seats in 2016 (though there are some vulnerable Democratic incumbents as well, like Michael Bennet in Colorado and Harry Reid in Nevada). The race for control of the House, however, may be a different story: because of how district lines are drawn across the country, very few Congressional seats are actually competitive. (Jensen says only 9 percent of Congressional races this year were decided by a margin of less than 10 percent.) So unless 2016 sees a major shift in the electorate – not impossible, but unlikely – Jensen says the balance of power in the House isn’t likely to change much.
As for the presidential election? Jensen says PPP’s early polls suggest Ben Carson is actually one of Republican voters’ top four choices for the GOP nomination, despite (or because of?) his never having held political office.
Jensen spoke with Aaron Keck about what to expect in 2016.
PPP will release more data from its 2016 surveys later this week. Visit this link for a discussion of the 2016 Senate picture.