Against the Grain

Twitter Isn’t Reality, Polling Edition

The latest round of polling underscores that the conversation on social media and cable news doesn’t reflect American public opinion.

Sen. Bernie Sanders
AP Photo/Seth Wenig
April 9, 2019, 8 p.m.

Polling gets a bad rap these days but, despite its challenges, there’s no better way to keep flawed conventional wisdom in check than with reliable data. And over the past month, there have been plenty of reputable polls that run against the consensus of the Twitter mob.

Here are some of the most interesting findings from the world of politics, culled from the leading surveys.

1. Democrats still love Joe Biden. Despite the saturation coverage of the former vice president’s overly tactile approach to politics, his political standing hasn’t been dented much at all. A newly released Morning Consult survey, conducted between April 1 and 7, found Biden still leading the Democratic pack with 32 percent of the vote. That’s down just 1 point from the previous week. Contrary to conventional wisdom, he’s performing better with Democratic women than he is with Democratic men.

The one red flag: His sky-high favorability rating slipped a bit. He’s now viewed favorably by 75 percent of Democratic voters, down 4 points since February.

2. Home-state problems for Elizabeth Warren. Here’s a sign of what a rough start it's been for the senator's presidential campaign. She’s only polling in third place in her home state, tallying just 14 percent of the vote in an April Emerson poll. She’s leading South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a rising sensation, by only 3 points.

These aren’t the numbers that a home-state favorite typically commands. For reference, Mitt Romney won 72 percent of the Massachusetts Republican presidential primary in 2012.

3. Independents are intrigued by Bernie Sanders. Every politician tested in the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, including Biden, is viewed more warily than enthusiastically by voters. But among independents, Sanders polls very well. A 48 percent plurality of registered independents are enthusiastic or comfortable with his candidacy, with 47 percent expressing reservations or discomfort with him. Biden was the only other candidate tested who scored above-water with independents.

4. Kamala Harris is viewed much more favorably by the Left than the center-left. Harris’s appeal is centered among the most progressive Democratic voters, according to an April Quinnipiac poll. Harris wins 15 percent of support among voters who consider themselves “very liberal,” scoring a second-place finish to Bernie Sanders. But she wins only 5 percent of the party’s centrist constituency.

5. There’s growing, but not universal, support for gay presidential candidates. It wasn’t long ago that a majority of Americans said they would be uncomfortable with a gay or lesbian candidate for president. Now 68 percent of respondents in the NBC/WSJ poll said they’d be comfortable with such a candidate—up 25 points since the question was asked in 2006 (and up 5 points since 2015). That’s a larger number than the share of voters who said they’d be comfortable with a business executive (56 percent) or an evangelical Christian (54 percent). Call it Pete Buttigieg’s political moment.

6. Perception on Trump’s tax cuts isn’t reality. About two-thirds of households received tax cuts over the last year, but few voters recognize that fact. Only 17 percent of respondents in the NBC/WSJ poll said they’re paying less in taxes under Trump’s new law, while 28 percent said their taxes have gone up. Reality check: Nearly half of households got tax cuts of more than $500, while only 5.5 percent saw tax increases of more than $100.

7. A plurality of Americans worry about demographic change. A March Pew Research Center survey found widespread anxiety over the United States becoming a majority-minority country in the future. A 38 percent plurality of respondents said a majority-nonwhite population would weaken American customs and values, while only 30 percent said it would strengthen the country’s culture. Among whites, a near-majority (46 percent) expressed concern about the country’s changing demographics.

If there’s a dividing line in our country’s politics that will last long beyond President Trump’s tenure, it’s this split over American identity.

8. Democratic support for Israel is flagging. There’s a reason that a growing number of Democratic officeholders are expressing criticism—if not outright hostility—toward the Jewish state. While many more Americans express sympathy for the Israelis (47 percent) than the Palestinians (16 percent), there’s an even split among Democrats in a March Quinnipiac poll. The survey found 27 percent of Democrats sympathizing with the Israelis and 26 percent sympathizing with the Palestinians—a notably narrower margin than polls on the subject taken in previous years.

9. Ron DeSantis: most popular governor in America? Here’s a reminder that candidates’ personas during campaigns don’t always reflect how they’ll govern. The Florida Republican governor, whose polarizing campaign led him to a narrow victory in November, has seen his approval ratings surge since taking office. A March Quinnipiac poll found his job approval hitting 59 percent—the highest total of any Florida governor in the past decade of the pollster’s surveys. Even more remarkable: a 42 percent plurality of Democrats approve of the former tea-party congressman’s performance.

For more from Josh Kraushaar, subscribe to the “Against the Grain” podcast on iTunes or Stitcher.

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