By Jim Ellis
Jan. 29, 2019 — In the past couple of days, the new Morning Consult American electorate tracking poll (Jan. 18-22 — 1,996 US registered voters; 35 percent self-identified Democrats, 33 percent Independent, 32 percent Republican) captured media attention because it released a national Democratic presidential primary ballot test.
The results concluded that former Vice President Joe Biden is leading Sen. Bernie Sanders 17-12 percent while 19 other candidates or potential candidates all fell into single digits. (Some reports indicated Biden’s edge over Sanders was 26-16 percent, but this was done by eliminating some minor candidates and extrapolating the remaining preference votes among the major candidates. The actual polling results for the entire field are the ones quoted in the first sentence of this paragraph.) But, the figures are largely irrelevant because the ballot test was asked of the whole respondent pool and not just the Democrats and Independents who lean Democratic.
The inclusion of the Republican and Republican-leaning Independents certainly would skew this data, thereby not accurately depicting where the candidates stand among Democrats, and more particularly, Democratic primary voters and likely caucus attenders. This makes the results highly questionable as they relate to where national Democrats are headed in choosing a presidential nominee.
The ballot test, however, was just one query of 82, an extensive segmented questionnaire that, for the most part, provides us interesting and useful issue data.
While President Trump is clearly in what could be the lowest point of his presidency in terms of popularity and job approval – Morning Consult finds him with a 40:57 percent favorable to unfavorable ratio – those highly negative opinions don’t necessarily carry through to other Republicans.
When the respondent universe was asked which party’s representatives they believe will best handle a particular issue area, the results are similar to previous historical data.
This is surprising since Republicans have recently been reeling with President Trump in his lowest approval territory and just after the party lost their House majority by a substantial margin. Yet, the preference responses regarding perceived performance about certain issues remains virtually unchanged when comparing to those obtained before the 2018 election.
Concerning which party in Congress the respondent sample trusts to handle the economy, Republicans are preferred by a 43-38 percent margin.
The GOP was seen as the more trusted party relating to jobs (44-38 percent), national security (46-35 percent), gun policy (42-37 percent), and slightly on immigration (41-40 percent).
The congressional Democrats were preferred on healthcare (46-35 percent), the environment (49-27 percent), energy (43-34 percent), education (46-32 percent), and sexual harassment (43-27 percent).
Again, none of these responses are particularly eye-opening, since the patterns are relatively consistent with past issue area surveys.
The more interesting part, however, relates to the issues that the respondents think are the most important when casting their votes for the House and Senate. Combined, 51 percent said either the economy (29 percent) or national security (22 percent) is their congressional vote issue of the greatest significance.
Yet, when compared with the actual 2018 votes, we see something much different. Had the electorate voted based upon the economy and national security in the percentages reported in this survey, the Republicans would have fared better.
Extrapolating the actual results with the available data suggests that President Trump’s image and the voting public’s views about healthcare, particularly concerning the pre-existing condition argument, probably played the stronger vote-influencing role. What this tells us about future votes in various primaries and a general election still remains to be seen.