What Republicans get wrong about the 'blue wave crashing'
Posted May 14, 2018 3:07 p.m. EDT
Updated May 14, 2018 6:37 p.m. EDT
(CNN) — The headline on Sean Hannity's website blared the news: "BLUE WAVE CRASHING: Poll Shows Americans Side with TRUMP on Economy, Security."
The piece on hannity.com was actually just a summary of a broader piece written by the Washington Examiner's Paul Bedard -- which carried the same headline and the same message: Republicans (and Trump) are actually in much better shape heading into the November election than people believe.
That conclusion was based on polling conducted by Zogby Analaytics, a firm run by pollster John Zogby, and shared exclusively with Bedard.
Here's the spine of the argument made in it:
"When asked 'Who do you trust more?' on the economy, it was Trump over Democrats 41 percent to 35 percent, and on national security the president again led, 40 percent to 38 percent. ... Added to the poll's other findings that support for Democrats is down among millennials, blacks, and so-called Walmart and NASCAR voters, it would appear that Trump is back in favor among voters and that the ballyhooed 'Blue Wave' is dissipating."
There are a lot of things wrong here. Let's list them!
Bedard notes lower in the piece that Democrats continue to hold a 40% to 33% edge on the generic congressional ballot question in the Zogby poll. The generic ballot, much more so than "who do you trust" questions, has historically been the best predictor of party gains or losses in congressional elections. And a 7-point Democratic edge would suggest significant gains for the minority party if the margin held through November. (Bedard notes that Democrats were at 44% in the Zogby generic ballot in January but offers no specifics on what the Republican number looked like at that point.) The "edges" that Trump has over Democrats on the economy and national security "trust" questions are almost certainly statistically insignificant. While Bedard doesn't provide details about the size of the sample or the resulting margin of error, it's very, very likely to be well within the 2-point "lead" that Trump has on national security and even the 6-point margin he enjoys on the economy. Statistically speaking, the best way to describe these results goes something like this: People trust both Democrats and President Trump roughly equally when it comes to issues of the economy and matters of national security. This poll is conducted via the Internet, a methodology that continues to be looked at very skeptically by the broader polling community. "Rigorous evaluations have found that volunteer online panels are less representative of the general population than probability samples," reads an analysis of the method on the American Association for Public Opinion Research. (You can read MUCH more about the issues with online polling here.)
None of that is to say that there may well be signs emerging of a path toward something well short of destruction for Republicans this fall. As I noted last week, there is data that suggests a) people are increasingly focused on the economy and optimistic about its future prospects and b) potentially willing to separate their feelings about Trump from their views of the broader GOP. And even Trump's not-terribly-strong job approval numbers have shown some marginal improvement of late!
But that's not what this poll says. Or what Bedard's writeup says.