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Polls won't tell you who can beat Trump

Pollsters love to do general election matchup polls early in the process to figure out which candidates would fare the best against a sitting incumbent president like Donald Trump. The idea is to give primary voters of one party or another an idea of which candidate is the most “electable.”

For example, in April 2011, Democracy Corps published a poll that showed Mitt Romney could defeat then-President Barack Obama, 48 percent to 46 percent. In Oct. 2011, another CNN-Opinion Research poll showed Romney leading 50 percent to 45 percent.

But we all know how it turned out. Even after showdowns with House Republicans over the debt ceiling in 2011 — which resulted in budget sequestration that helped reduce the deficit — Obama went on to comfortably win re-election in 2012.

So, how much stock should we put in the Politico-Morning Consult poll that shows former Vice President Joe Biden at 42 percent versus President Donald Trump at 36 percent? Almost none.

The question, particularly for first term presidents, is whether voters think it is time for a change, or if they are willing to be patient while the incumbent party finishes what it started.

In modern history, since 1952, that has yielded a fairly high re-election rate for incumbent parties in their first terms. Dwight Eisenhower was re-elected in 1956, Lyndon Johnson won John Kennedy’s second term in 1964, Richard Nixon was re-elected in 1972, Jimmy Carter was ousted in 1980, Ronald Reagan was re-elected in 1984, Bill Clinton was re-elected in 1996, George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004 and Barack Obama was re-elected in 2012.

All told, in modern history, in 87.5 percent of the cases where the incumbent party had served one term it tended to be re-elected.

Readers will note that George H.W. Bush is not included in that listing. The reason for that is he won Reagan’s third term — that is, the third consecutive term that Republicans had held the White House. So, his being ousted in 1992 was less surprising because it came after 12 years of uninterrupted Republican rule in the White House. The same applies to Gerald Ford, who in 1976 was running for essentially Nixon’s third term, and Lyndon Johnson and then Hubert Humphrey in 1968 running for a third Democratic term.

But even if you include Bush and Ford in the mix as far as how sitting presidents have fared in a general election, in 70 percent of cases they have won since 1952. If you want to go back to World War II, Harry Truman won election in 1948 as a sitting president, and the number jumps up to about 73 percent.

If you look as far back as the beginning of the republic, sitting presidents who have stood for re-election in the general election have won about 70 percent of the time, although it is worth noting that until the 1800s, state legislatures generally chose electors.

So, there’s a distinct incumbency advantage, especially for first-term presidents that should give Trump an edge in 2020 no matter who the candidate is.

Particularly when it comes to presidents, in modern history, the American people, particularly independents, do not aspire to one-party rule. Swing voters tend to decide elections nowadays, and after just one term, they are still a lot more likely to give the incumbent the benefit of the doubt.

Where the rubber meets the road, and what separates one-term presidents from two-term presidents, will be the primaries. Biden or whoever is going to win the Democratic nomination must first compete and win the nomination, and do so in commanding fashion (rather than being bloodied along the way), to have a good chance to oust the incumbent.

Simultaneously, whoever the Democrat nominee is would need President Trump to have a bruising primary contest for the nomination to even out the odds. If Trump is vulnerable, it should be revealed in the primaries. But is William Weld really a credible threat to Trump? We’ll find out soon.

In modern history, unchallenged incumbents have tended to cruise to reelection. The likelihood of unseating an incumbent in the primary is close to zero, but real damage can be wrought to harm to his re-election chances. For more information, check out Stony Brook University Professor Helmut Norpoth’s primary model, which offers a guide to some of these trends. (Disclosure: I took his class!)

President Trump and Republicans have been in power for just two years and change. Is it already time for a change? History says the odds are - not yet.

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Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government. He is also a guest contributor to the Penny Press - the conservative weekly "voice of Nevada." You can subscribe here at www.pennypressnv.com. His column has been reprinted in full, with permission. 

Published in Politics

So, Sunday morning, I opened the electronic version of the only local newspaper I subscribe to and trust, the Las Vegas Review Journal, and I see, buried on page A8, a story headlined “Poll shows Democrats more trusted with health care”

 

Which was true…sort of.  Because I’m pretty sure the story reported the numbers of the poll accurately.

 

The “poll” was an “Associated Press-NORC Center” poll which, you had to read seven paragraphs to the bottom of the story—by the Associated Press—to find out that “The poll of 1,108 adults was conducted April 11-14 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.” Let me be the first to ask the question:  If that factoid had been in the headline or in the first paragraph, would anyone take this seriously? What if the story read like this:

 

“A poll of 1,108 adults paid for by the company selling this story to news outlets says that Democrats are more trusted to handle healthcare in the United States.  The pollsters say that the 1108 adults can predict the sentiments of the 128,824,246 voters who cast a ballot in 2016 with a margin of error of 4.1 percent.”  

 

Would anybody actually believe—especially after the 2016 election—that a sample of .0000086 percent of the voting electorate has a margin of error of 4.5 percent? But, in my favorite local newspaper, it is presented as fact. If this kind of polling were accurate, why did virtually every pollster predict Hillary by 7 points on the day of the 2016 election.

 

Polling used to be easier because, for most purposes, you could at least get a sample which was demographically sound.  We could tell roughly where you lived by your telephone number and who you were. Today, with the advent of cell phones and cheap VOIP services, we cannot even tell with certainty what state you are in. Further, there is the built-in bias of many news organizations which sponsor such polls.  If you believe that the AP is some kind of neutral news behemoth, guess again.  Ditto for CBS, NBC, CNN, ABC and, yes, even Fox.  They all come at stories from a predominately liberal viewpoint (with the occasional exception of Fox) so why would you believe that their polling selections would be much different?

 

Then, there’s the “if you see it in the media it must be true” school of thought. It’s today’s version of Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels’ Big Lie theory which, simply stated, says if you tell a lie big enough, many people will have to believe it. Inevitably, these “polls” are presented by the same people who populate organizations like the White House Correspondents Association and are soooo offended by the term Fake News and the President’s assertion that those who willfully present Fake News are the enemies of the people.

 

But the truth is not only is President Trump correct, but the average voter knows bullcrap when he or she sees it.  Journalists have a tendency to see themselves as more knowledgeable and more important than average voting citizens.  Many times, in conversation, journalists use terms like “them” and “those people” to describe and differentiate average voters.  As if journalists, somehow, fall into a different category. Like Hillary and the word deplorable.

 

Want some proof? Watch those panels on FNC and CNN.  Watch the Sunday morning shows.

 

It’s that sort of hubris which allows them to write headlines and lead paragraphs like the one I referred to above—even in my favorite local newspaper. (And I’m not kidding about that.) I’ve been in this business since I was 12.  But I live about 2,600 miles from Washington and my neighbors remind me daily that I’m pretty average.  I would hate for it to be any other way.

 

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Fred Weinberg is a columnist and the CEO of USA Radio Network. His views and opinions, if expressed, are his own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of GCN. Fred's weekly column can be read all over the internet. You can subscribe here at www.pennypressnv.com. His column has been reprinted in full, with permission. 

Published in Opinion