Pollster Peter Hart spoke at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on February 3, 2015 to a small group of people in the regular Tuesday noon conversation. He brought slides from the recent NBC/WallStreetJournal poll done just prior to State of the Union.
The major point was that the Michigan consumer index is well up over 85% and his own polling shows that people are more satisfied with the economy (45% to 55%) than they have been before. The recovery is still not complete but people seem to be feeling better about their economic future.
Creating jobs, defeating ISIS, reducing the deficit are the top three issues, in different order, for Republicans, Democrats, and Independents but people, in general, hate the government and, in particular, loathe Congress.
Hart related how in one a focus group, a Republican woman, Jenny, said the politician she’d most like to spend an hour with is Elizabeth Warren. She was mad at Boehner because he said everyone who needs a job has one. As her husband has been out of work and looking for 18 months, she knows that’s not true. She also feels caught since she went back to school for more training and to advance in her job. Now she has student loans that amount to about $1300 a month, nearly twice her monthly rent.
He spent most of the hour answering questions. Asked about polling now, he said it has nothing to do with what will happen in 2016. One Republican candidate who stood out in his polling and focus groups is Rand Paul. All the other Republican candidates had problems. Hart advised us to look at who has a theme, who has something to say to the country. He believed that Jeb Bush at least has a vision as does Paul.
As to what to run on, Hart said that candidates should run on safety and economic security, as always; but it’s no longer war, it’s radical terrorism and how we get our sense of confidence back. Immigration remains a hot button issue while gay marriage seems to be settled and something the Republicans should avoid.
Hart’s company now break out Republicans into Tea Party and not in all their polls. I asked him about this after the session and he said that there are a number of different constituencies in the party today which may result in the Republican party becoming more like the Democratic party, a collection of competing interests.
When asked, he refused to name who were his picks for 2016 but gave betting odds that it would be Clinton and Bush. The advantage goes to the Republicans given that the 6 year election results have been a historic indicator.
One major difference from previous years is that anger is closer to the surface and there is a disconnect within the population with many not realizing how much of a struggle it is to get ahead or simply live now.
In discussing the idea of “voters voting against their own interests,” he talked a little about West Virginia which voted for Dukakis in 1988 but is now a solid Republican state although there has been no real demographic changes within the population. West Virginia changed from economic to social value voters.
On the issue of income equality, Hart says the debate is no longer supply side versus fairness but economic security. He has not done any polling on the issue of inequality of opportunity polling.
He believes that Senatorial and Congressional choices are made from the head but Mayors, Governors, and President are chosen on more intangible measures. Who would you like to be in a car in the HOV lane with?
People are getting their information more and more from the Internet. Fox and MSNBC viewers are like the fans of different teams. But younger people follow a wider range of news sources than their elders.
He believes that voter participation will be up in 2016 but the African-American vote will be down unless there is someone on the ticket to energize them. Voters under 30 have been turning out and their cohort will probably keep growing.
Both he and his Republican partner, Bob McInturff, felt that in 2012 there was a potential for a double digit third party and there still is potential for a Broom Party, clean sweep of the bums.
Asked whether the economy is as predictive an indicator as it was, he replied that the consumer index looks like it will go up but there may be “Democratic fatigue” as Obama builds his legacy, something that will be perceived as pushing the country to the left.
“Hillary’s campaign will be bigger than life,” Hart says but Elizabeth Warren is perfect on one issue for a lot of people. She has the potentiality to be the RFK of 2016.
I asked him about the concern about the deficit, whether he had done reality testing with the issue, letting people know that the deficit has decreasing rather than growing, cut in about a half since Obama took office. Hart replied that people do not understand the economy and that he has not done any of what I would call reality polling, asking people their opinions on the deficit and then polling them again after they’ve seen what the numbers actually are.