NEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, 799 UNITED NATIONS PLAZA, 10TH FLOOR
MODERATOR: Good morning and welcome to the latest briefing in the New York Foreign Press Center’s 2022 U.S. Midterm Election Series. This morning’s briefing is focused on the Quinnipiac University poll. I would like to welcome our FPC members as well as overseas journalists. My name is Mahvash Siddiqui and I’m the moderator. First, I will go over the ground rules, and after that I will introduce our speaker. Following our speaker’s opening remarks, I will open the floor for questions.
Now for the ground rules. This briefing is on the record. Our briefer is an independent expert, and the views expressed by the briefer are his own. Our briefer is not affiliated with the Department of State or the U.S. Government and does not reflect the views of the Department of State or U.S. Government. Participation in Foreign Press Center programming does not imply endorsement, approval, or recommendation of briefers’ views.
For today’s briefing, we welcome Dr. Doug Schwartz, director of the Quinnipiac University poll. The Quinnipiac poll is an independent, nonpartisan, national and statewide public opinion poll that informs the nation where voters stand on critical issues. Dr. Schwartz is responsible for the poll’s methodology and all aspects of the survey process. Dr. Schwartz began his career as the survey associate with the CBS News Election and Survey Unit and as an Election Night analyst for 60 Minutes. In this briefing, Dr. Schwartz will outline the latest results from the Quinnipiac University poll in advance of the 2022 midterm elections.
And with that, it is my great pleasure today to introduce Dr. Schwartz. Over to you, sir.
MR SCHWARTZ: Well, thank you for inviting me back. It’s good to be with you. You only need to read the headlines on any given day in the United States to understand how much is at stake in November’s midterm election. The outcome will determine public policy and how much President Biden can get done for the remainder of his term.
In the U.S. House of Representatives all 435 House seats are up for grabs, and in the U.S. Senate there are 35 Senate seats that are open. As a pollster – as a pollster, I will share some of the factors I’m looking at to get a sense of what to expect on Election Day.
First let’s take a look at the U.S. House of Representatives. There is historical precedent during midterms for the party in power losing seats in the House of Representatives during the first term of a new president. That gives the Republican Party the advantage. However, that precedent is being tested this year because of the Supreme Court decision in June to overturn Roe v. Wade, which established the constitutional right to an abortion.
Pollsters started seeing conditions improving for Democrats, making races more competitive. In addition, the abortion issue became a key factor in some special elections favoring Democrats. While we don’t poll individual congressional races, the Quinnipiac University poll takes a big-picture snapshot by asking voters in our national polls which party they’d want to see take control of the House.
Our most recent national poll in late August showed Democrats with a slight edge. Previously it had been split. A note of caution: a lot can happen between late August and Election Day that can possibly change that. But it gives you a sense of how this year could buck historical trends.
That big-picture snapshot is not as precise as having 435 separate surveys in every congressional district. To look at individual races, one resource is the Cook Political Report. It breaks down every congressional district. While it doesn’t poll in each district, it has analysis of candidates, demographics, and political history with an outlook for individual races.
Taking a look at the U.S. Senate, which is evenly divided among parties, Republicans only need to gain one seat to take control of the Senate. In our big-picture snapshot in our national polls, voters are split over which party they’d want to see take control of the Senate as of late August.
We polled some individual Senate races, including the closely watched U.S. Senate race in Georgia. Democratic incumbent Senator Raphael Warnock faces Republican challenger Herschel Walker, a former football star player backed by former President Trump. Our latest poll among likely voters showed Warnock with a 6-point lead over Walker. That was mid-September. This week the race is gaining a lot of attention with a controversy involving Herschel Walker. The two candidates are also scheduled to debate this month.
Whether these factors will impact the race remains to be seen. One piece of data to consider is that 96 percent of likely voters in Georgia who have chosen a candidate say their minds are made up, while only 4 percent say they may change their minds. Something else to take into account in a race like this one is early voting. In Georgia it begins on October 17th.
Midterms are usually a referendum on the sitting president. President Biden is still unpopular, but he has improved significantly over the last few months. He has risen to about a 40 percent job approval, but that is still a low number and traditionally that does not bode well for the president’s party in the midterms.
Having said that, we have noticed that voters are distinguishing between incumbent Democratic senators and the Democratic president. For example, Senator Warnock has a positive job approval rating in Georgia while Joe Biden has a negative job approval rating.
Inflation has consistently ranked as the most urgent issue since March in our national polls, and voters are unhappy with the state of the economy. That does not bode well for the party in power.
Something else that we consistently see is that there are big differences between the political parties over the most urgent issue. Republicans and Independents continually rank inflation as the most urgent issue. In our last national poll, Democrats ranked abortion as the most urgent issue. On the issue of abortion, two-thirds of voters say they think abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and more than half of voters say it’s very important to them that a political candidate shares their view on abortion.
There are 36 states electing governors, and we have polls in some closely watched contests. One of them is in Georgia, where incumbent Republican Governor Brian Kemp is being challenged by Democrat Stacey Abrams, who is trying to become the nation’s first black woman to become governor. They ran against each other in 2018. Then, as now, they are locked in a very tight race.
In Texas, Republican Governor Greg Abbott is leading Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke by 7 points in a state with a history of voting Republican. Abbott and some of his controversial policies such as bussing migrants to Democratic-led cities have put him in the spotlight. Earlier this year, he also signed into law one of the strictest abortion measures in the country. O’Rourke, you might recall, ran for U.S. Senate in 2018 and lost to incumbent Republican Senator Ted Cruz by 3 points. He also launched a presidential bid in 2020.
Of course, everyone is wondering whether there will be another poll miss like there was in the 2020 presidential election where polls underestimated how well Donald Trump would do. After the election there was no clear reason for the poll miss, but what I can tell you from Quinnipiac polls is that we found an unusually high number of voters who didn’t tell us how they were voting at the end of the campaign. Since that time we have modified how we follow up on the election question. If people do not give us an answer on how they are going to – on the how they are going to vote question, we have come up with some new follow-up questions that will help us get an answer.
Our polling methodology remains the same. We have live telephone interviewers using random digit dialing to call people on both land lines and cell phones. Over these next few weeks before Election Day, many polls will be released from all kinds of organizations. Not all of them are created equal. Here is what I look for when deciding whether to trust the results. I trust polls that use high-quality methods such as the ones used at Quinnipiac University – telephone polls with live interviewers calling both land lines and cell phones. I also trust polls that are transparent about their methods and have a good track record.
Five weeks until Election Day a lot can happen and the question is: Will this midterm election follow historical patterns or set a new precedent? Republicans have history on their side when the party out of power has the advantage of usually picking up congressional seats in the midterms. There is also President Biden’s approval rating, which has improved but is still negative, where more voters disapprove than approve. And inflation continues to be a big concern for voters, and that doesn’t help an incumbent president and his party.
Democrats have an advantage over the abortion issue. One example: In Kansas, there was a ballot measure in August that would have removed protections for abortion rights and lawmakers would have been given the right to put more restrictions on abortions. That measure failed and turnout was larger than expected. We’ve also seen races become more competitive, and our generic House ballot shows Democrats competitive with Republicans when it comes to control of the House and the Senate.
There’s also the Donald Trump factor. He’s not on the ballot, but the investigation into classified documents removed from his Florida home has put him in front – put him front and center along with the investigation into the January 6 storming of the Capitol. He’s backing several Republican candidates and the prospect of another run for president is there, and the question is: How much will that factor into these midterm races?
With that, I’m happy to take your questions.
MODERATOR: Well, thank you so much, Dr. Schwartz, for sharing your expertise with us, and appreciate your very informative presentation. Let’s go ahead and open the floor for questions. If you have a question, please raise your virtual hand and wait for me to call on you. When called on, please enable both your audio and your video and identify yourself with your full name and your media outlet. You’re also welcome to type your question in the main chat room. Please, go ahead and state your name and media organization as I call on you.
So let’s start with Tom. Please, go ahead and unmute yourself, sir, and please tell us whom you’re with. Thank you.
QUESTION: Hi there. I’m Tom Minear from News Corp Australia. Thanks very much for doing this. I just had a bit of a methodology question, and sorry if this is a little bit naive, but obviously I come from Australia where we have compulsory voting, so whoever you poll is going to be voting. I’m just curious how you factor that in to the way you poll here and whether you sort of rule out people who have no intention of voting or how you kind of get a sense of that when you have polls in the field.
MR SCHWARTZ: Yeah, that’s a great question, and it’s something that pollsters differ on. That is, they have different ways of determining who’s likely to vote, and sometimes that can really factor into how accurate a poll is in terms of getting an election right. So pollsters generally look at a variety of factors, including intention to vote. That is, we ask how likely are you to vote; definitely going to vote; probably going to vote; possibly not vote; definitely not vote.
We also look at how much attention people are paying to the campaign. The higher attention voters are more likely to vote, obviously. We also look at past vote. That’s also a predictor of who’s more likely to turn out. People that have voted in the past are more likely to vote in the current election. And we also look at something that I call political involvement. It’s more of a general interest in politics, how much people care about what happens in elections generally.
So we use something called a screen. That is, we do screen out different voters depending upon how we gauge their likelihood to vote. And we do look at all of these different factors that I mentioned.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much for that response. I’ll turn over to Alex Raufoglu. Alex, if you don’t mind stating your full name and your media organization. Thank you.
QUESTION: Of course. Thank you so much, Mahvash. This is Alex Raufoglu from Turan News Agency of Azerbaijan. I thank the speaker for a very compelling presentation.
I have two questions. First one is, of course, about foreign policy. You did talk about key factors, including the Supreme Court abortion decision that has changed the race. But I’m just wondering how much foreign policy also is on the ballot based on your observations. And of course I have Russia-Ukraine top of my mind, but there are other, of course, foreign policy challenges that might be concerning in this case.
Secondly, I want to pick up on where you left off when you were talking about those who did not respond to your questions. I’m just wondering how would you expand a little bit on the characterization on those people. We used to call them secret Trump voters the past election. Are they undecided group for you? And how much – how big – let’s say how tangible, let’s say, their vote in terms of changing, shifting the results of the election? Again, thank you so much for this opportunity.
MR SCHWARTZ: Sure. Those are good questions. So on the foreign policy front, we have asked voters in our national polls about how urgent an issue they regard – we give them a list of a number of issues and we say, “What is the most urgent issue facing the country today?” And one of the ones that we list is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and it typically only gets a very low number, maybe 1, 2 percent when we’ve asked it. So in terms of being at the top of the list of priorities, it – foreign policy is not there. Specifically, the Russia invasion of Ukraine that we ask about is not there.
And I would say just generally speaking, Americans don’t pay close attention to foreign policy, and as a general rule, it’s not uppermost in their minds when they go to cast ballots. It’s more kitchen table issues, things that they regard as affecting their day-to-day life, pocketbook issues like inflation, as I mentioned, consistently the top issue to Americans. So that’s the foreign policy question.
The question about people not giving us an answer in 2020, how I would characterize that, I guess the way I would put it is – my interpretation is that these – many of these were reluctant Trump voters in terms of telling us how they were going to vote. We did get them in our poll. I know for many observers, the concern about the polls was “Well, maybe you just didn’t get enough of them to interview in your sample,” enough Trump voters.
For us, we found close to 10 percent of voters at the end of the campaign not giving us an answer to who you’re going to vote for, or if they had already voted, refusing to tell us who they had already voted for. And this was highly unusual at the end of the campaign. Typically, what you find is just a couple of percent of voters who are undecided and not giving you an answer. And typically, the number goes down from September to the end of October. People make up their minds. This was a unusual circumstance because we actually found an increase in the number of voters not giving us an answer to the election question. So we found this very surprising. And in the end when we looked at our different state surveys, we found that we had basically gotten the Biden percentage right in the different state elections. We had underestimated the Trump vote and we had this high no-answer, if you will – people not giving us an answer on the election question.
So again, my interpretation is that these – many of these folks were reluctant to tell us that they were voting for Trump, for whatever reason. Now what have we done about that in this election? Now also keep in mind this is an – a different election because Donald Trump is not on the ballot, obviously. He may be in 2024 for president, but he’s not now. But nonetheless, one thing that we decided to do is to separate out people who gave us an outright refusal, “I’m not going to tell you how I voted,” or “I’m not going to tell you how I will vote,” from people who said they were not sure, they were undecided. And so we have a separate question geared to those hard refusals to let them know how important it is that we represent everyone. And we’ve found that to be effective in getting them to give us an answer to the election question.
And we’ve also followed up with people that tell us, well, they’re not really sure which way they’re going to go with a little bit of a stronger probe, if you will, a little bit of “If you had to choose,” kind of question, “which way would you go,” so those are the things that we’ve implemented. And so far, in looking at our data, it seems to be working in terms of reducing the number of people not giving us an answer.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Alex, and thank you, Dr. Schwartz. I’m going to turn to a few questions that were submitted in the chat. There’s a question from Eva Schweitzer from Die ZEIT, Germany: “Is there a Senate race where an incumbent might lose or will not run again regardless of party?”
MR SCHWARTZ: Well, I guess why don’t we start – maybe – Nevada is the state that looks like the Democrats have an incumbent that’s vulnerable. It’s not a state that we’ve been polling in, but the incumbent Democrat there has been down a few points in the most recent polling that I have seen. So on the Democratic side, I’d say Nevada.
Wisconsin has an incumbent, Ron Johnson, who initially looked vulnerable, and I – and it’s certainly still a competitive race just like Nevada. But some recent polling shows he has a bit of momentum in the state and a small lead there, but that race is still considered very competitive, that he is vulnerable just like the incumbent in Nevada.
So where we poll in Georgia, there’s certainly polls out there that have shown that the incumbent, Raphael Warnock, is vulnerable. There were some polls a couple of weeks ago showing Walker with a small lead. So that race is still, I would say, very close. Our most recent poll had Warnock up by six points, but that’s certainly within striking distance for Walker. And of course everyone is sort of waiting now for the polls – what are they going to show given the recent controversies surrounding Herschel Walker, how much of an impact they’re going to have. My two cents is remember that stat that I pointed out that 96 percent of Georgia voters say their minds are made up.
So it does make you wonder about how much of an impact any kind of a scandal or, I should say, controversy can have in terms of effect, changing the way people are going to vote. So that makes you think it can’t have all that much. And also, just generally speaking, I’d say about the political environment we’re in right now where partisan opinions are so strong and that there’s really – people are really dug in and it’s hard to change people’s views.
Having said that, several years ago we did a little bit of research on the impact of scandals on how it affects voting behavior, what kind of scandals are most likely to affect voters, and the one that we met – we looked at, like adultery and financial scandal, we also looked at hypocrisy. And as it turns out, the one that had the most impact on affecting the way people were going to vote was hypocrisy. So that’s just something to think about as we see what happens in the polls over the next few weeks.
MODERATOR: Very interesting analysis. Now I’ll turn it over to Pearl Matibe. Pearl, if you don’t mind unmuting yourself and stating your full name and your media outlet, kindly. Maybe Pearl’s microphone is not working.
I’m going to go ahead and turn to Rafal Stanczyk. Rafal, if you could please unmute yourself and turn on your audio as your video as well and state your question.
QUESTION: Hi. This is Rafal Stanczyk from Polish Public Television. Thank you for doing this. The midterm election is very difficult for media especially in Europe to cover because it’s a pretty complicated system. But let’s assume that you are, I don’t know, chief editor and you’ve got three, four reporters and you have to send them to United States. Which places, states, cities would you choose? Which places seems to be the most important and which places would give answer who will win? Thank you.
MR SCHWARTZ: Sure. I think the top four that everyone is sort of looking at is Pennsylvania, where John Fetterman is going against Dr. Oz on the Republican side – close race. Now, this is an open seat that was held by a Republican, Pat Toomey. So it’s a close race, but Fetterman has the edge right now in all the polling. But it’s still close enough that it could go either way.
Georgia, same thing I’d say. Warnock, the Democrat, he’s the incumbent. He has the edge, but close enough that it could – Walker could still win and it could make all the difference. As I said, we have a 50/50 Senate; Republicans just need to net one seat.
Nevada and Wisconsin I would say are the other two, Nevada with the incumbent Democrat who’s actually down right now in the polls, so that could be a seat that Republicans pick up. But it could be countered, let’s say, in Pennsylvania where it looks like the Democrats could pick it up. And if the Democrats just keep the status quo that there’s zero net pickup for either party, then because they have the vice presidency with Kamala Harris who can break the tie, then they would still have control.
So those would be the four seats or the four states that I would be sending reporters to.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much for that. The – I’m going to go ahead and turn to another question in our chat. Joanna Robin from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation asks, “Could you please dig into the polling around the Georgia gubernatorial race? How close is it compared to the 2018 contest?”
MR SCHWARTZ: Yeah, our polling is showing that it’s just as close. We’ve done a few polls and each time we’ve done it and it’s essentially tied. So for us it’s looking sort of like a repeat, if you will, of 2018, a very close race going down to the wire.
Having said that, other polls have consistently shown Brian Kemp with a small lead. So if you had to sort of say who’s got the advantage right now, you’d – and even our poll had Kemp ahead, but it was only by two points. And when it’s that close, it’s definitely too close to call; it could go either way, within the margin of error. But given that there are a number of other polls showing Kemp five, six points ahead, as a pollster I look at other polls, I keep an eye out especially of the higher-quality polls, and if there are high-quality polls that are out there that are showing that, you have to take that seriously.
So Kemp I’d say has the advantage, but you definitely can’t count – can’t count out Stacey Abrams. So that’s how I would look at the race.
MODERATOR: Thank you. I’m going to go ahead and turn it over to Pearl Matibe to ask her question. Pearl, are you able to ask now? I think that there’s a technical difficulty.
I’m going to go ahead and ask a question. I guess Kanwal Abidi just raised her hand. Kanwal, go ahead and ask your question, please.
QUESTION: Hi. Can you hear me?
MR SCHWARTZ: Yes.
MODERATOR: Yes. Could you please state your media organization as well?
QUESTION: Okay. Okay. Thanks for doing the call. I am – I report for Pakistani print media, the AZB Daily. I have three questions, if you could just – we can just go by – one by one. I have – my first is on U.S. troop withdrawal. So on one hand, we see that the U.S. troop withdrawal (inaudible) Americans took it happily that, yes, our troops are back, but on the other hand, the way the troops were withdrawn, the chaos which we all saw on 31st of August. So my specific question: Do you think the way the U.S. troops were withdrew – withdrawn on 31st August impacted the President Biden’s voter?
MR SCHWARTZ: Yes, that was a time that we really saw a drop in President Biden’s job approval rating. That’s when we – he dipped into the 30s, very low for a president in terms of approvals. And he really didn’t regain his strength; it took about a year before public approval came back up in our most recent polling a couple of months ago. So it was about a year. It took – I think that was definitely a pivotal event, and it wasn’t just that, of course. It was inflation also took a big toll on the President’s approval rating. But that’s when we did see a drop and he didn’t come back up until recently.
QUESTION: So on like – as I said, Americans were very happy that the troops – and U.S. troops have come back. So didn’t that act as a catalyst to make his approval upscale? Didn’t it, like, act as a pusher? Like, you are saying it dropped to the 30s. So the way they were withdrawn, the chaos – so the chaos overtake – overtook their coming back home; am I right?
MR SCHWARTZ: Right, I see what you’re saying, that even though generally Americans wanted to remove troops, but how it was done and the – as you said, the problems with the withdrawal, how it was done, President Biden definitely took a hit in the polls from that. And – but like I said, he did come up. So I think that’s sort of – it was more of a – at the time, and I often say this about public opinion. It’s sort of a snapshot in time. At that time, Americans were not happy with the job he was doing, and it lasted for months. But it seems like now they are not – that’s not something that Americans are thinking about any longer and are feeling better about the job overall that he’s doing.
Having said that, I should note that foreign policy is not a strong suit of the President in terms of job approval. Because we do ask about specific issues, his handling of specific issues, and my recollection from our most recent poll was that his handling of foreign policy is still in the 30s. So people – it’s possible that people still are not that – I don’t know if it’s directly tied to that issue, but as an overall, it – he’s not getting good marks. It’s in part, I’m sure, related to what’s happening with Russia and Ukraine as well, that that is such a tough situation for any president. So I think there’s other things going on that’s affecting Americans’ views of his handling of foreign policy.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you. My second question is: We always talk about economy and immigration. But after, like, as the world saw the January 6th – the Capitol riots, so do you think that we can, like, name or trust on our law enforcement agencies a part of this – after – post-6 January? Because everyone saw this ongoing investigation on the former President Trump about the – all the text messages, the removal, the deleting, the FBI people and Secret Service deleting their text messages.
So my specific question: Do you think trust on law enforcement agency has now become junk like economy and immigration? Thank you.
MR SCHWARTZ: Well, let me address just one specific about law – trust in law enforcement that we did ask about in a recent national poll, is we did ask people’s views about the FBI and whether they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion. And when we asked that question a few years ago, most Americans said favorable. My recollection is that that number did drop pretty significantly. I don’t remember the exact number, but I remember seeing it and thinking oh, wow, people’s trust in the FBI has really dropped. And I think you’d – you could certainly argue that one of the key reasons is what’s – there’s so much controversy, if you will, the most – surrounding the FBI – the most recent, of course, being the FBI seizing government documents from Mar-a-Lago and the President coming out strongly critical of that move. So I would imagine that’s had some impact.
QUESTION: Okay. My last question is the – when you speak about polls, so what is your demographic population? Like, are you talking about millennials or are you talking about, like, 18 to 30 – like, the polls you conduct, so what is the demographic age group of it? Thank you. Thanks for taking all my questions.
MR SCHWARTZ: Sure, thank you. Eighteen and over. We speak to all adults 18 years of age and older. Now, one thing to keep in mind, however, as we’re getting into election season in our state election polls, we’re reporting likely voters. Those are the voters that we deem most likely to vote in the election. So as I had said earlier, we do some screening – basically, we screen out voters who we do not think are likely to vote in the election.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you so much.
MR SCHWARTZ: Sure.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Kanwal, and thank you, Dr. Schwartz. I’m going to turn to Sulaiman Daud. Sir, please, go ahead and unmute yourself, and please state your name and your media organization.
QUESTION: Hello, can you hear me?
MODERATOR: Yes, we can hear you.
MR SCHWARTZ: Yes.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you, Mahvash, and thank you, Dr. Schwartz. I just have one question. We know that President Biden has made some executive actions with a view towards elections. Recently we saw that he decriminalized marijuana possession, but my question is actually about the earlier action he did, which was to forgive student loan debt of up to 10,000, if I’m not wrong. And I’m wondering whether your organization has measured the impact of that action, whether it has helped his party or not. Thank you.
MR SCHWARTZ: Sure. So we did ask about President Biden’s plan to – for loan forgiveness, and we found that most Americans approved, especially young people, not surprisingly, 18-to-34-year-olds. And we did notice at the same time when we conducted the poll, which was right after that announcement, his approval rating did improve significantly with young people. And it – up to this point in time, almost the first two years of his administration, he had been lagging with young people, that historically young people are a strong Democratic group. But President Biden, one of the reasons why he had been getting an overall low job approval rating, is because he was getting a low job approval rating among young people – again, a Democratic group.
But after this loan forgiveness plan, his numbers improved significantly among young people, and that – I would say that’s one of the reasons for his overall improvement – job approval improvement. And it’ll be interesting to see if there is any further improvement among young people or other groups after his latest decision on marijuana.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you. We received a few pre-submitted questions. A question from Olivier O’Mahony from Paris Match, France. He asked, “Do the Dems have a chance to hold the House?”
MR SCHWARTZ: It’s a great question. And so here’s the thing that I love about my job, especially at times like this when we’re a month out, and we truly don’t know, which is – makes it exciting. You’d have to say six months ago, most political observers were expecting a big Republican wave kind of like what we saw after two years in President Trump’s term in 2018 – a big Democratic wave – or with President Obama in 2010 – big Republican wave. I think most political observers were saying, boy, low job approval. President Biden, high inflation, historical trends – we’re looking at a big Republican wave. I think at this point, most political observers are saying it’s not going to be as big of a Republican wave, if there is any at all, but they only need five seats to win the House. That’s not much.
So right now people are saying the advantage is with the Republicans winning back the House, but there’s enough uncertainty out there – as I mentioned, there are a few factors that are helping Democrats, one being the generic ballot that I had mentioned that it’s pretty close right now. If anything, at least our poll had Democrats slightly ahead in terms of whether people want the Democrats or the Republicans to control the House. So that’s – and then it’s interesting there because in past wave elections, you would have seen like a – if the Republicans were going to win in a big wave, you’d see a clear Republican lead on this question of who do you want to see control the House or who you’re going to vote for, a Republican or Democrat. You’d see a big Republican lead, but we’re not seeing that. So that’s why pollsters are saying this is an unusual election. We’re not quite sure. There’s these mixed signals.
And then there’s the other two factors that I had mentioned where the abortion decision – something that’s changed 50 years of law, and it has had a big impact. Most Americans disagree with that decision, and most Americans are saying that it’s very important to them this abortion decision. In fact, among Democrats it’s their most urgent issue. And we are seeing one other factor – big gender gaps where women much more likely to vote for the Democratic candidate than men – big gaps there. So the abortion decision is another factor.
And then I guess the third one you’d have to say is President Trump, that he’s still negatively viewed by most Americans, and his – he is out there, if you will. As I mentioned, between the investigation over his handling of classified documents and also we still have the January 6th hearings and the next one is coming up next week, I guess, or the final one, that that’s still in the news. So he’s a factor, which is kind of – it is unusual for a midterm election because traditionally, as I had mentioned, the midterms are a referendum on the incumbent.
Traditionally, you would – it would just be about Joe Biden and his performance and the party’s performance, but this is making it a bit more of a choice, if you will, that for a lot of people they’re thinking about President Trump as well and what’s been happening with him. So it’s more of a choice, I would say, than traditionally in midterm elections when it’s simply a referendum on the incumbent.
MODERATOR: Well, thank you for that. I’m going to go ahead and ask you another question submitted by Ayako Echigo from JiJi Press, Japan: “How did you and your team handle the recent problems with conducting polls, such as Republicans don’t answer the questions and so on?”
MR SCHWARTZ: Yeah. I mean, for us when we looked at the partisan distribution of our samples, they looked fine. Going into the election, for us we didn’t feel like that was a problem. Having said that, I will say for many pollsters – really the polling industry – we recognize that it’s not just did you get the right share of Republicans. It’s did you get right kind of Republicans in your sample? Are you sure that you’re getting enough, if you will, of the Trump Republicans or the MAGA Republicans, however you want to refer to them. Is – are you getting them in your samples?
And the way we look at it, for us it wasn’t so much of an issue of getting enough Republicans or Trump Republicans in our samples. It was they weren’t answering the question. Like I said, what we did right was that we got the percentage of the vote for Biden right, but we also at the end of the campaign had this high undecided number or high not-answering-the-question number, and so that put us in a tough spot. And we had a low – as we said – as I said earlier, we did underestimate Trump’s share of the vote, and our inference is part of that problem was that – the reluctant, if you will, Trump voters telling us how they would vote. But there were in the polls.
MODERATOR: That’s very helpful to know. This is the last question and you may have already answered this, but I want to basically address the journalist’s specific question. Miguel Jimenez from El Pais, Spain: “How do you foresee the electoral participation of women? Do you expect a greater mobilization on the abortion issue?”
MR SCHWARTZ: I would think so, and just one example being Kansas and that referendum. So that was a place that we saw it that I think nobody was expecting such a lopsided margin. I think people were thinking on this abortion question in Kansas it’s a conservative state, that it’s pretty close, and then the pro-choice side won by like 20 points. So I do think women are energized on this issue. Turnout is one of the toughest things it is for pollsters to predict. As I said, we look at a lot of different questions around – regarding intensity and attention to the campaign. So I can’t tell you for sure, but it does appear that this is an issue that is energizing women.
MODERATOR: That’s great. Actually, there’s one question which might be – part of it might be repetitive, but part of it may not be. So it’s from Ishmael Sallieu Koroma from Pan African Visions. His question is: “Do opinion polls help voters determined who they vote for and their voting patterns?” And his second part of the question is: “Also do you think, as it is now (inaudible) President Biden, will this have an effect on the Democrats in the upcoming midterm election?” So you may have already answered the second part of the question, but do opinion polls help voters determine who they vote for and their voting patterns?
MR SCHWARTZ: Gotcha. And that’s a good question and it’s something that pollsters have been asked for a long time about what’s the impact on elections. And my answer is that polls have an indirect impact; that is, they don’t actually affect how people are going to vote; that is, they vote for the candidate who they want to vote for regardless of what polls say.
Having said that, I do think polls have an indirect impact. And what do I mean by that? I do think polls affect media coverage during campaigns. So if one candidate is doing really well in the polls and another candidate is not doing well, the candidate that’s doing well in the polls is going to get the more positive media coverage, and the one that’s doing poorly in the polls the more negative coverage. The stories are about why is this candidate struggling to connect with voters, what’s the problems with their campaigns. And that can – media coverage can affect to some extent – I don’t think it’s a – the major factor, but it is a factor in voting decisions.
The other factor would be the candidate that’s doing well in the polls tends to get more money. And if you’re not doing well in the polls, people don’t want to give you money because they feel like they’d be wasting it, if you will. So money, and then that translates into ability to advertise and do – organize and do many other things to help a campaign. So it is important. It’s a factor as well. So I would say that polls do have an indirect impact on the elections.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much for enlightening us. We are now out of time. On behalf of the U.S. Department of State, I’d like to thank Dr. Schwartz for being with us today. Today’s briefing was on the record. I will share a transcript with everyone who’s participating today, and it will also be posted on our website fpc.state.gov. Thank you all and have a wonderful day. Thank you, Dr. Schwartz.
MR SCHWARTZ: Thank you.