Midterm elections entirely ‘predictable’

Dr. Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of Gallup, discusses the complex process of opinion polling in the United States.

By Amar Kapadia
The economy, voter enthusiasm and the current direction of the country were some of the elements that led pollsters at Gallup to accurately predict the extent of the Republican Party’s victory earlier this month.

Dr. Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of Gallup, spoke Wednesday in Sweigart Auditorium at an event sponsored by the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics. He said the midterm election results were not surprising.

“A lot of what happened in this election was very much predictable,” Newport said.

According to Newport, this was because, “who’s in the White House is critical,” referring to the fact that voters tend to vote against the party that occupies the presidency.

Newport added that it doesn’t matter who is in charge of the government because the party not in power or their supporters will always think that the government is too powerful.

According to Newport, this election was interesting because neither party had a favorable rating among the people.

“We don’t have a situation where the reason people were voting for Republicans was because they revered the Republican Party more than they revered the Democratic Party,” Newport said. “It was more of an election where we were dissatisfied on many different fronts, and, therefore, change is what we are after.”

While it is not something that can be measured quantitatively, Gallup polls take voter enthusiasm into account when polling during elections.

“Starting with our measurements back in March, we found Republicans had an extraodinarily higher degree of enthusiasm about getting out the vote this year than did Democrats,” Newport said.

In October, there was a 19-point gap in voter enthusiasm between Republicans and Democrats, which was a good indicator of how the election would play out, Newport said.

Newport also said there is a strong correlation between religion and voter enthusiasm. Nearly half of Americans who identify themselves as Republicans identify themselves as “highly religious white Americans.”

“Religion, in fact, is one of the biggest predictors we have in American politics today of your politics,” Newport said.
Newport explained that if he were to see a white American on the street and could not ask them which party they identified with, but could ask them any other question, he would ask how often that person went to church.

“If that white American says, ‘I go to church weekly,’ I’d say, ‘The odds are very high that you’re a Republican.’”

This highly religious support garnered by Republicans matters because religion is emotional, and religious voters tend to be more passionate than nonreligious voters.

Newport then explained a poll that said that members of Congress had a barely higher “ethical standard” than the oil and gas industry. In another survey, when “oil and gas industry” wasn’t an option, Congress came in last for “confidence in institution.”

He said these results show that there is a negative sentiment towards Congress in general and the election results shouldn’t be taken as a “Republican mandate.”

Compromise between the parties is also something that a majority of Americans want, according to research by Gallup.

However, Newport said  Democrats are more likely to compromise than Republicans.

Newport also took several questions from the audience. On one question about technology, he said that Gallup might change to asking questions through social media sites such as Facebook. He said that technology is changing politics. Newport also acknowledged that how a question in a poll is worded makes the difference in how a question is answered.

According to Newport, the event that put the Gallup organization in the consciousness of the American public was its accurate prediction that President Franklin D. Roosevelt would be reelected in 1936.

There was another polling publishing giant at the time, The Literary Digest, which had its members fill out a ballot and mail it back in, stating who their preferred candidate was. Gallup instead used a random sampling method to predict who would be the winner.

“Using certainly a much more random technique than was being used by the mail-in ballots from The Literary Digest, courageous Dr. George Gallup said Roosevelt would be reelected,” Newport said.

With this correct prediction, George Gallup quickly became a household name.

Additional reporting by Emily Landgraf

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