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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Polling Ideology

At pollster.com, Republican pollster Kirsten Soltis penned a very interesting article late last week pointing out that many surveys this year are showing levels of conservative ideology in the electorate that are difficult to credit based on historical trends:

At the House level, the exit polls have shown that moderates have outnumbered conservatives — and by considerable margins — in every election since at least 1984. In fact, even in 1994, when the Gingrich revolution swept a wave of conservative members into Congress, moderates still outnumbered conservatives. Sure, the gap closed significantly from the 1992 election, but we still did not see the number of conservatives even reaching parity with moderates, much less exceeding them….
Why then are so many of our public polls showing samples with an ideological makeup that looks nothing like this, with conservatives outnumbering moderates?

Soltis has no particular answer for her own question, but neither does anyone else. It’s not clear whether the phenomenon she’s talking about is a function of polling errors, a stronger-than-ever appearance of midterm turnout disparities favoring conservatives, a genuine and unprecedented ideological shift in the population, or just noise disguising the fact that the liberal-conservative-moderate choice pollsters offer respondents isn’t that meaningful to begin with. Still another possibility is that a lot of regular Republican-voting “moderates” now identify as “conservative,” which means the “shift” might have zero net effect on voting behavior.
But the numbers are very weird, and Soltics has some advice for her fellow GOPers:

This isn’t to say that pollsters with very heavily conservative samples are wrong. It isn’t out of the realm of possibility that a massive structural change is occurring in the American electorate this year that has conservatives making a massive jump — so massive as to eclipse that of 1994.
But what it does say to me, as a Republican, is that we ought to stop dancing in the end zone before we’ve scored a touchdown. It tells me that two-and-a-half decades of data show things aren’t as wobbly as they seem, that the electorate doesn’t change its ideological makeup radically, and that polls with more conservatives than moderates just might be painting a rosier picture than we all might find ourselves looking at on election day.

All in all, this is looking more and more like a cycle in which the post-election analysis is going to be difficult and very important.

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