April 12, 2009 - April 18, 2009
More reader reaction to my post last week on the disappointing cooperation with AAPOR's Ad Hoc Committee report on the New Hampshire primary polling mishap. Or more accurately, this email from long-time survey researcher Jan Werner responds to a comment I posted from former CBS News polling director Kathy Frankovic:
Kathy Frankovic wrote that:
"In 1948, there was an accepted academic standard for survey research – probability sampling – one that was not used by the public pollsters. That – in addition to the lack of polling close to the election – was an obvious conclusion the SSRC researchers could make to explain what went wrong."
Kathy's statement is literally true, but it is also highly misleading because it fails to note that in its report, the SSRC panel led by Frederick Mosteller explicitly ruled out sampling methodology as the primary reason for the failure of the polls to predict the 1948 presidential election. The report did mention the lack of polling close to the election as one among several contributing factors, but that rationale subsequently gained prominence in large part because, as the explanation least damaging to their businesses, it could easily be endorsed by the pollsters themselves.
The Mosteller panel did admonish the pollsters for using quota rather than probability sampling, but it concluded that the incorrect predictions most likely derived from a combination of many different inadequacies in the conduct of the 1948 polls. It also noted that a major problem for the polling industry was the unrealistic expectations of accuracy that it had fostered among the public. These conclusions seem equally compelling today.
Neither the 2009 AAPOR report nor the 1949 SSRC report could satisfactorily answer the question of what went wrong, but both provide superb resources for students of public polling. AAPOR would do the profession and the public a great favor if it could help make "The Pre-Election Polls of 1948" available again, either in print or online.
In case you have not yet seen it, the Pew Internet and American Life Project just released a new report on The Internet's Role in Campaign 2008. I have only had a chance to review the summary, but it is well worth the click (the full report is available here). While they attempt to quantify and track a wide range of political activity on the Internet, these two paragraphs from the summary provide striking confirmation of the trends roiling the conventional anews media:
As the overall size of the online political news audience has grown, the internet has taken a front-and-center role within the media environment. Among the entire population, the internet is now on par with newspapers as a major source of campaign news -- 26% of all adults get most of their election news from the internet, compared with 28% who get their election news from newspapers -- although television remains the dominant source of political news in this country.
For internet users and those under the age of 50, the internet plays an even more central role. Fully 35% of those who use the internet get most of their election news online (compared with 25% who point to newspapers), while 34% of both 18-29 year olds and 30-49 year olds rely on the internet, compared with the 20% of those in each age group who rely on newspapers as a major source of campaign news.
The summary also reviews data shwoing that "politically-active internet users," especially those under 30, "are moving away from news sites with no point of view to sites that match their politics views."
And do not overlook the methodology. Unlike the monthly political surveys produced by the Pew Research Center, the survey used to produce this report did not include cell phone sampling, so it may slightly understate Internet use among younger voters:
These results come from a national telephone survey of 2,254 American adults between November 20 and December 4, 2008...This sample was gathered entirely on landline phones. There was no extra sample of cell-phone users, who tend to be younger and slightly more likely to be internet users.
And speaking of the Pew Research Center and its groundbreaking work conducting political surveys via cell-phone, I will be attending their presentation later this afternoon on "Practical Issues in Cell Phone Polling," hosted by AAPOR's DC Chapter. Although "breaking news" is rare at these sorts of presentations, I may pass along a though or two via Twitter, then (hopefully) blog more later.
Cook Political Report / RT Strategies
4/8-11/09; 833 registered voters, 3.4% margin of error
405 registered Democrats (4.9%), 317 registered Republicans (5.5%)
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews
Presidential Job Approval
60% Approve, 30% Disaprove (chart)
Dems: 90 / 5 (chart)
inds: 55 / 30 (chart)
Reps: 30 / 59 (chart)
Regardless of how you might plan to vote in your own district, which party would you like to see in control of Congress after the congressional elections in 2010-- (ROTATE:) the Democrats or the Republicans?
And if the election for President were held today, would you definitely vote to re-elect Barack Obama, probably vote to re-elect Barack Obama, probably vote for someone else, definitely vote for someone else for President?
50% Definitely/Probably Obama
39% Definitely/Probably Someone Else
4/6-13/09; 1,332 registered voters, 2.7% margin of error
570 registered Republicans (4.1%), 474 registered Democrats (4.5%)
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews
Job Approval / Disapproval
Pres. Obama (D): 60 / 32 (trend)
Sen. Nelson (D): 52 / 24 (chart)
Sen. Mel Martinez (R): 42 / 35 (chart)
Favorable / Unfavorable
Gov. Crist (R): 64/ 22 (chart)
2010 Senate - Democratic Primary
Meek 16, Iorio 15, Klein 8, Gelber 5 (trend)
2010 Senate - Republican Primary
Buchanan 16, Rubio 11, Bense 3 (trend)
Crist 54, Buchanan 8, Rubio 8, Bense 2 (trend)
Steve Ansolabehere and I have been working over the past few weeks on a paper we are writing for the AAPOR conference next month. Over the next couple of weeks, I'll share some of our preliminary findings here and I wanted to lead off today by presenting some comparative data we put together from three different surveys with distinct approaches to sampling.
The National Election Study, which has been around since 1948, is a labor- and time-intensive survey that uses a residential sampling approach and conducts face-to-face interviews. The Cooperative Congressional Election Study is an web-based survey conducted by YouGov/Polimetrix. The respondents opt-in to the study and Polimetrix uses a sample matching methodology where they first select a random target sample and then attempt to find a match for each respondent in their pool of opt-in respondents. Finally, Pew's survey work is fairly well known to regular Pollster.com readers. Their efforts to incorporate CPOs into their samples has relied on a dual-frame approach where they randomly select landlines and then cellular lines to build their sample.
So what happens when we compare these surveys, each of which takes a different sampling approach? Each survey I'll present data on here was conducted during the presidential campaign last year. For starters, the chart below compares each survey's estimate of the size of the cell phone only population after sample weights are applied. Note that Pew includes phone status as one of their weighting criteria, but the NES and CCES do not.
CPOs make up 19.7% of the CCES sample after weighting; 17.9% of the Pew sample and 17.3% of the NES sample are CPOs (again, after weights are applied). Thus, the differences are relatively small. Also note that the 95% confidence intervals for each estimate (represented by the darker lines) overlap.
So each of the surveys provides a similar estimate of the size of the CPO population, but what about the composition of that group? The table below compares landline and CPO respondents on a wide array of demographic and socioeconomic factors.
There is a lot of information in the table, but the different surveys are fairly similar across most measures. A few differences do stand out, however. After weighting, the CPO respondents reached by Pew and CCES were less likely to have children, less likely to be married, and less likely to be home-owners than those reached by the NES. Pew's CPOs also tended to have lower incomes and were somewhat more likely to be racial/ethnic minorities. Perhaps NES's face-to-face approach is more likely to pick up CPOs who have "settled down" relative to CCES or Pew.
Speaking of "settling down," one other item deserves attention; that is the information on residential mobility at the bottom of the table. While we weren't able to find this information in any of Pew's surveys conducted in October or November, the data were available for the CCES and NES. Not surprisingly, residential mobility is strongly related to whether one is a CPO or not. Even controlling for age, people who have moved recently are much more likely to have shed their landline and gone with just their cell. In fact, this relationship holds up when you control for all of the other demographic variables in the table. This is something I'll post more about later, but you can probably imagine that there are some significant political consequences arising from the fact that CPOs tend to move around much more frequently.
A DC reporter I know emailed recently to ask, "what do pollsters do in non-election times, like now?" The answer to his question depends on the sort of work they do. As regular readers know well, media pollsters are always busy fielding surveys on a variety of issues. Campaign pollsters -- those that are paid by campaigns to conduct their internal surveys -- spend more time pitching new clients, working on non-campaign work and, if they're lucky, fielding benchmark surveys for candidates in 2009 contests or in highly competitive 2010 races already gearing up.
But whatever they do to pay the bills right now, the campaign pollsters keep careful watch of measures of the new and emerging political environment for clues to the challenges they will face in 2010. One of the most closely watched questions, when available, is the so-called "generic" U.S. House vote that asks respondents whether they plan to vote for the Democratic or Republican U.S. House candidates in their district, and that is something that pollsters are watching carefully even now.
It's not surprising, for example, that congressional handicappers like Charlie Cook and Stu Rothenberg took note when the most recent NPR survey, conducted by Republican Glen Bolger and Democrat Stan Greenberg, showed a 42%-42% dead-heat on the generic ballot. On our chart, most surveys show the Democratic advantage narrowing to the low single digits.
Over at the Public Opinion Strategies blog TQIA, Glen Bolger explains the significance of the result from the Republican perspective:
After four years of horrendous generic ballot numbers, the data is consistently showing improvement. The latest Public Opinion Strategies national survey, taken April 7-9, 2009 among 800 likely voters, has the generic ballot deficit at 39% Republican/42% Democratic. These data are pretty consistent with what most public polls have been showing in March and now April -- the generic ballot ranges anywhere from tied to a five point Democratic advantage.
What's remarkable about these results (other, of course, than the fact that Republicans are back to being competitive for the first time since 2004) is that the GOPer is close on the generic ballot DESPITE the Dems still significant advantage on party ID. This survey found an eight point party ID deficit -- 33% say they are GOPers, while 41% are Dems, and 24% are Independents (2% refused/don't know combined).
Of course, there is more to gauging political environment than watching the generic House vote. As Bolger pointed out yesterday, for example, several surveys now show greater approval for "Democrats in Congress" than for "Republicans in Congress." Still, Bolger is right that the current results on the generic ballot are better now than they were two years ago, at least in comparison to those from the NPR surveys they helped conduct.
You might wonder how the current generic House vote compares to surveys conducted at this stage in the two-year cycle in previous years. I did, but it turns out to be a tough thing to check since most media pollsters do not start asking the generic House vote until later in the cycle. I checked the Roper Center Archives and the only other pollster I could find that asked a U.S. House vote question on natiional surveys was Stan Greenberg's Democracy Corps project. And their surveys from the first quarter of 2003 and 2005 also show very small (1 or 2 point) Democratic advantages.
So Bolger's characterization is about right: On this measure, things are better now for Republicans than they were two years ago, and roughly the same as four and six years ago.
A side note: The Democracy Corps question is not entirely comparable since they changed the way they asked about U.S. House vote preference in 2006. Originally, like all other pollsters, Democracy Corps asked a fully "generic" question that asked respondents to choose between the "Democratic candidate" and the "Republican candidate. Starting in 2006, they inserted the actual name of the appropriate incumbent member of Congress into the question (and then the name of both candidates later in the cycle once the challenger in each district is identified;* they also used the question on NPR's surveys of competitive districts in 2006, as explained here). When they ran both versions of the question in parallel in surveys in 2005, they found some interesting subgroup differences but the overall results were within a few percentages points of one another, with no party benefiting consistently.
So back to the most intriguing question: Why are Republicans running so close on the House ballot given the larger Democratic advantages in party identification and the presence of a Democratic president with an approval rating hovering at or above sixty percent?
One theory is that the more recent loses in party identification for Republicans have been mostly about the way voters think about presidential politics. The changes on the margins reflect the sharply negative attitudes toward President Bush, and the votes cast for now President Obama. In other words, for those who have shifted their party identification over the last few years, that sense of affiliation is more about Bush and Obama than about their member of Congress. When they think about how they might vote for Congress, they are thinking mostly about what they know (or don't know) about their local candidates.
Consider the contrast in the generic House vote and Obama's job rating when tabulated by party (using the data provided by my National Journal Group colleagues from the most recent Diageo-Hotline poll)
There are differences in each category, but the biggest is among independents. Obama has a 63% approval rating from independents on the most recent Diageo-Hotline poll (56% on our most recent multi-poll trend estimate), but only 23% of independents are ready to support the Democratic House candidate. That's not because the majority of independents are ready to vote Republican, although slightly more (26%) say they will support the GOP candidate. The issue is that most independents on the Diageo-Hotline poll are undecided. More than half (51%) say they are not sure how they will vote, an entirely predictable result for self-identified independents on a question that is all about party labels.
So yes, as Cook, Bolger and many others have argued, those currently identifying as independent may provide Republicans with an opening in 2010. But they have a long way to go. As Bolger argued this week, the Democratic advantage in party ID means that Republicans "have to win Independents big" for a comeback in 2010. For the moment, at least, Obama's popularity among independents stands in the way.
Further reading: I did two-part series on the generic house vote and its accuracy in predicting actual House votes following the 2006 elections.
*Updated the post to clarify this aspect of the Greenberg/Democracy Corps question.
4/6-9/09; 1,027 adults, 3% margin of error
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews
As I read off some different groups, please tell me if you think they are paying their FAIR share in federal taxes, paying too MUCH or paying too LITTLE? (April 2008 results)
41% Fair share (32%)
39% Too much (51%)
16% Too little (13%)
50% Fair share (50%)
43% Too much (43%)
5% Too little (4%)
23% Fair share (24%)
13% Too much (9%)
60% Too little (63%)
18% Fair share (15%)
8% too much (6%)
67% Too little (73%)
Public Policy Polling (D)
4/14-15/09; 805 registered voters, 3.5% margin of error
Do you think Norm Coleman should appeal the decision and continue to fight in court or should Coleman concede the race?
Some people say that Republicans are funding the Coleman legal suit to keep the Minnesota seat vacant and slow down the Obama agenda. Do you agree or disagree with that statement?
Public Policy Polling (D)
4/8-11/09; 979 registered voters, 3.1% margin of error
Job Approval / Disapproval
Gov. Perdue (D): 41 / 40 (chart)
Sen. Burr (R): 35 / 31 (chart)
2010 Senate: General Election
Roy Cooper (D) 41, Burr 37 (trend)
Burr 39, Mike McIntyre (D) 34
(source: Gov, Sen)
4/6-13/09; 1,332 registered voters, 2.7% margin of error
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews
Gov. Christ Job Approval
66% Approve, 23% Disapprove (chart)
2010 Governor - General Election
Christ 47, Generic Dem 27% (trend)
Across the country today, conservatives, libertarians, Republicans and those concerned about taxes will gather for "tea parties" in protest over increased government spending and over taxes. After all, today is April 15th, tax day, and the tax issue proved successful for the Republicans in the 1990s; under a new Democratic administration, Conservatives are hoping that the tax issue can again be a winner.
Many in the GOP that I've spoken with are quite confident that, despite differences between the party and young voters on some social issues, young voters are far more libertarian on fiscal issues. The idea that young Americans are largely "fiscally conservative, socially liberal" is one that many Republicans hold on to as a hope that the these voters will reject big government spending, high taxes, "wealth redistribution" and expanded government programs and regulation. On Monday, I posted about the divergence in attitudes toward homosexuality between younger voters and older voters. Indeed, the beliefs held by young voters on gay marriage and homosexuality also differ greatly from the position of the Republican Party, presenting a challenge to the party's ability to grow long-term. However, this was tempered with the reminder that issue salience is key; just because a group of voters disagrees with the GOP on an issue does not preclude those voters from voting Republican or becoming Republican if the issue is not a high priority. While gay marriage may be important to many voters, one issue alone is unlikely to make or break a voter's decision to affiliate with a party unless that issue is clearly dominant in the issue mix.
So what issues are dominant in today's issue mix? The economy. Poll after poll has shown that Americans care about the economy as a top priority and the same is true of young votes. The Harvard Institute of Politics in April 2008 found that the economy was far and away the top issue to 18-24 year olds; 41% of respondents named it as one of the top two national issues that concerned them. And in today's public discourse, the economy has become inextricably linked to taxes and spending. Between TARP, the stimulus package and now the budget, national coverage of government efforts to repair the economy come down to issues of taxing and spending.
Unfortunately, as I noted on Monday, the Republican Party may have bigger problems on its hands in terms of reaching young voters that the differences on the issue of gay marriage. Fundamental principles of the Republican Party - smaller government, lower taxes - are not embraced by younger voters at the same level as voters overall. Fiscal conservatives and Republicans have quite a bit of work ahead for them in terms of winning young voters, as well.
Let's begin with the role of government overall. In a May 2008 national survey conducted by The Winston Group* for nonprofit New Models, respondents were asked if the believed the statement "Government should help people". To be sure, a high positive response rate was to be expected; even many serious libertarians can see a role for government in helping people in some limited cases. Sure enough, 79% of respondents believed the statement. Yet age was a significant factor in looking at responses to this question; 92% of those 18-34 believed the statement compared to 71% of those 65 and older. Younger voters are simply far more likely to believe the government has a role in helping people.
Then there's the issue of the efficacy of tax cuts as economic policy. In the aforementioned Harvard IOP study, when asked if they agreed or disagreed with the statement "The best way to increase economic growth and create jobs is to cut taxes.", some 36% agreed with the statement, 23% disagreed, and another 41% said they neither agreed nor disagreed. (Had I put together the questionnaire, I would not have used the same language; I likely would have changed "the best way" to "a good way", as the stronger language here I believe is responsible for the high "neither agree nor disagree" response.)
Looking at a question with a similar aim but different wording, the May 08 New Models study asked if respondents believed that "lowering taxes will benefit the economy". Some 60% of respondents overall believed it, as did 57% of voters 18-34 indicating that young voters do see the efficacy of tax cuts. However, the uncertainty shown in the responses to the Harvard IOP study shows that young voters are uncomfortable with the idea that tax cuts are the only answer or the best answer. While this should give heart to conservatives, it should also serve as a warning that there is work to be done if the right wishes to convince young voters that tax cuts are usually the best option.
Finally, and perhaps most troubling, the conservative notion that the free market tends to hold the answers is not as widely accepted by this new generation. In the May 08 New Models study, respondents were asked if they believed that "the free market is a better way to solve problems than the government". On the whole, the results supported the notion that America tends to be "center-right" - 56% believed the statement while 34% did not (10% did not know or refused to answer). Yet the trend among voters 18-34 was cause for concern - 46% believed the statement while 48% did not believe it. In this case, age was a statistically significant factor. All other age groups found more support for the free market than government.
So what do young voters think about government? Pew's values surveys have shown a shift in how young voters view government efficiency. In their 1987-88 and 2002-2003 studies, respondents were asked "when something is run by the federal government it is usually inefficient and wasteful". In the '87-'88 study, younger respondents were evenly divided with 47% agreeing and 47% disagreeing. Among those 26 and older, some 67% agreed while only 28% disagreed, showing an age gap and a more positive impression of the government among the young. Yet in 2002-2003, impressions of government were more positive overall, particularly among those 18-25. Only 32% of those 18-25 in the 2002-03 study agreed that the government is usually inefficient and wasteful, while 58% of those 26 and older agreed. While these numbers are a few years old, they show an important shift over the last two decades that deserves attention. In short, young voters have a more positive view of the government and its ability to handle responsibilities.
So where should the Republican Party or conservative movement go from here? There is a belief structure among young voters that is slightly in conflict with a core principle of the Republican Party - the belief that the free market trumps government. Young voters have a more positive view of government and are not as convinced that the free market provides better solutions than government.
Yet on the issue of taxes, young voters do believe tax cuts can improve the economy, despite their uncertainty about whether or not tax cuts are the best option. If the Republican Party wants to win young voters in the future, an understanding of the ways that young voters view the economy is essential. Messaging that focuses on the need for less government and lower taxes is not likely to be as well received or convincing to this generation. This isn't to say these messages won't work, to be sure. But the spectre of Big Government is not as frightening to young voters, nor is the devotion to the free market so prevalent. In order for the Republican Party to grow long-term, they must work to impact these belief structures and spend the effort convincing a new generation of the sorts of beliefs that are taken for granted among older cohorts.
*The Winston Group is the author's employer.
The Republican driven tax cuts have worked. Voters now have more faith that the federal income tax system is fair than at any other time since World War II. Moreover these changes in public opinion coincide with the Republican capture of the House in 1994 and accelerate with the Bush tax cuts. But the irony of this success is that the GOP finds it hard to claim credit for a job well done. Once the tax monster is slain, who do you fight next? Once the people are no longer grumpy about unfair taxation (tea parties notwithstanding), how do you keep the issue alive? By successfully shifting public views of the fairness and burden of federal income taxes through repeated cuts, Republicans inadvertently also reduced the salience of their best issue of the 29 years since the Reagan Revolution. The public now agrees that tax cuts are good, but they are no longer particularly angry about taxes.
The logic of the tax cut issue has been that people should keep their money rather than send it to Washington. But where do you stop that spiral short of reducing everyone's taxes to zero? If lower taxes are good for individuals and good for the economy, the theory offers no logic of where to stop.
Today Ari Fleischer, former press secretary to President Bush, offered an interesting proposal
in the Wall Street Journal: raise income taxes on those who currently don't pay. That is a rather shocking proposition from the party that has spent nearly 30 years arguing that tax cuts are good for everyone. The very success of that political program has been to remove millions from the tax roles, and put nearly half within striking distance of paying no federal income taxes. So you'd think that would be cause for celebration among Republicans for a job well done and a lot of credit to claim with those voters.
Alas, those voters aren't voting Republican in overwhelming numbers. The way to not have to pay taxes is to not make a lot of money. And while these less taxed citizens appear to have been pleased with lower taxes, that hasn't translated into a majority of Republican votes among these non-taxpayers. So Mr. Fleischer has now taken on the burden of convincing nearly half of the public that it is not good for them to pay little or no income taxes. Instead, fairness demands that everyone pay taxes. That's a breathtaking argument for a Republican to make.
Fleischer goes on to argue that it is poor policy for the top 10% of earners to pay 72% of all income taxes, and that is probably a discussion worth having. But the argument for raising income taxes on the bottom 90% to provide a little more load sharing for the top 10% is an interesting electoral calculus to say the least.
Fleischer makes a pitch for a total tax system overhaul, dropping all federal taxes except income taxes and allowing no deductions or credits for anything. No Social Security taxes, no Medicare taxes. Just income taxes. He's quiet about the rate structure or about revenue neutrality. Dubbing this the "Economic Growth Code" is interesting, given that Ronald Reagan was eloquent that cutting income taxes was the way to stimulate economic growth. President Bush argued that too.
If we look at the data in the top chart, we see that patriotic support for taxes in WWII dropped sharply once the war ended. Alas, pollsters stopped asking the fairness question for nearly 30 years as well. But when we rejoin the question in the mid-1970s, the public is quite strongly of the view that the income tax is unfair. That feeling was very little affected by the Reagan administration, or the first Bush term. Perceptions began to move in the mid-1990s as Republican control of Congress gave the tax cutting policy proponents opportunities to affect legislation. The public began to respond to tax cut messages with a modest improvement in the "taxes are fair" trend. That shift accelerated in the second Bush administration, presumably driven by the joint effects of the Bush tax cuts and unified Republican anti-tax rhetoric from both White House and Congress. And so we find ourselves at the outset of the Obama administration with only 37% saying their taxes are unfair, while 60% think they are basically fair. That is nearly an exact flip of where things stood at the start of the Reagan Revolution.
Beyond fairness, Americans are also complaining less about how much they pay in taxes, though here the shift in opinion is not nearly so dramatic.
While the shifts are smaller, Republican successes are still clear. During the Reagan and Bush I administrations, those feeling they paid too much declined by close to 10 points. But that reversed with Clinton in the White House, as more complained of too great a burden, largely erasing the gains from Reagan-Bush. The second President Bush however succeeded in sharply reducing complaints about high taxes. The greater than 10 point drop in his terms was greater than that achieved by the Gipper. Ironically Obama arrives in office with a public almost evenly divided between thinking they pay too much and thinking the tax burden is about right. Obama's plan to lower taxes for more of the lower 90% (or 95%, whatever) plays to the anti-tax momentum Bush built. And it means that Republicans don't have the angry taxpayer revolt of the late 1970s that helped build the Reagan platform that transformed tax policy for a generation of Republican politicians.
And so we are left with the irony of Republican success. How do you keep tax cuts at the center of your economics when nearly half don't pay, but aren't as grateful as they might be. And if the issue doesn't have the mass appeal it did for Reagan, can it still motivate the base (remember those tea parties!) enough to continue to have legs. But I have to wonder if Mr. Fleischer's plan is really the way for the anti-tax party to go.
(Data note: The question wording varies across polling organizations. The quoted texts are typical but are not universal. Results from 12 different polling organizations are included. Gallup, with it's long history, contributed 58 of the 106 items represented in the charts. The last datapoint in each chart is the latest Gallup poll, completed 4/6-9/09.)
4/6-9/09; 1,027 adults, 3% margin of error
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews
Do you consider the amount of federal income tax you have to pay as too high, about right, or too low? (April 2008)
46% Too high (52%)
48% About right (42%)
3% Too low (2%)
CNN / ORC
4/3-5/09; 1,023 adults, 3% margin of error
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews
Do you think the actions Barack Obama has taken as president have increased the chances of a terrorist attack against the U.S., or don't you think so?
26% Have increased
72% Have not
Regardless of how you feel about the war in Afghanistan in general, do you favor or oppose President Obama's plan to send about 20 thousand more U.S. troops to Afghanistan in an attempt to stabilize the situation there?
In today's Daily Beast the daughter of Sen. John McCain, Meghan McCain, wrote about the need for "a gayer GOP" in order to expand the Republican Party's hopes of winning back a majority coalition and in particular in order to appeal to young voters.
I recently completed research on the topic of young voters and the GOP: where the Republican Party is losing young voters, how serious the threat is to the party, and how the Republican Party should respond. And on this point, Ms. McCain has it right - the issue of gay marriage is one on which young voters and the Republican Party diverge significantly.
Yet this is not to say that a Republican Party that embraces socially conservative policy stances is unsustainable; indeed, on some issues, such as abortion, young voters have beliefs similar to those of voters overall. When pressed in the 2008 General Social Survey with the question "Please tell me whether or not you think it should be possible for a pregnant woman to obtain a legal abortion if the woman wants it for any reason", 41.6% of those 18-34 said "yes" as did 41.2% of respondents overall - hardly a distinction. The GSS also asks about six particular instances in which a woman may seek an abortion; on all six instances, roughly equivalent numbers of those 18-34 supported a woman's right to obtain an abortion in each instance as did respondents overall.
Yet issues relating to homosexuality find vast differences between the young and older voters. In terms of the issue of whether or not homosexual sex is wrong, 44.3% of respondents to the General Social Survey 18-34 believe it is "never wrong" compared to 33.5% of respondents overall. Furthermore, 47.3% of respondents 18-34 said homosexual sex was "always wrong" compared to 55.6% of respondents overall. A Harvard Institute of Politics study in Spring of 2008 of 18-24 year olds also corroborated the findings that young voters are more tolerant concerning homosexuality; when asked if they agreed or disagreed with the statement "homosexual relationships between consenting adults are morally wrong", 50% disagreed while 30% agreed and 20% neither agreed nor disagreed.
On the issue of homosexual marriage the distinction is even greater. Some 39.3% of respondents in the 2008 GSS said that they "agreed" or "strongly agreed" that homosexuals should have the right to marry. That number soared to 53.4% among those 18-34, with one out of four in that age group strongly agreeing. As one looks at each age group, as age increases so too does opposition to marriage for homosexuals.
To be sure, not all Democrats are supportive of gay marriage or homosexuality. Some 48% of those who identified as "strong Democrats" said that homosexual sex was "always wrong" as did 50.7% of Democrats overall. Furthermore, while support for gay marriage is more common among Democrats, 38.1% of Democrats do not believe that homosexuals should have the right to get married.
Yet regardless of how narrow or wide the chasm is between the two parties is on the issue, the differences between the beliefs of young voters and the beliefs of the older segments of the electorate - particularly the modern day Republican electorate - are significant.
While these numbers don't necessarily shed light on why it is specifically that younger Americans are more accepting of homosexuality or why they are less opposed to gay marriage, one can think of a number of reasons why this may be the case. When looking at a generation that has grown up with Ellen DeGeneres and "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" as normal fixtures on the television set, it isn't hard to imagine why younger voters are more accepting of homosexual behavior.
This is not to further imply that a change in position on gay marriage would mean droves of young voters signing up for the GOP. A number of other factors have to come into play, not the least of which is how important gay marriage is relative to other important political issues in the minds of these voters. As I'll discuss in future columns, the Republican Party may have much bigger problems on its hands than the perception that it is out of touch with young voters on the issue of gay marriage.
Yet whether the Republican Party amends its actual policy stance on gay marriage or whether it simply makes efforts to be more tolerant and inclusive of homosexuals generally, the Republican Party cannot ignore the vast differences in public opinion between young and old voters on the issue. This difference certainly presents a serious challenge to the party's long-term ability to swell its ranks among young voters. In the words of Dr. Morris Fiorina and his co-authors in Culture War?: The Myth of a Polarized America (p. 124), "If the commandants on the 'orthodox' side hope to win a culture war over homosexuality, they had better do it soon - their potential ranks are being thinned by mortality."