A Year in Review
“Polling is an act of political resistance. It agglomerates the messy and inconvenient opinions of everyday people, kneads them into a whole, and forces them through the door into the air-conditioned echo chambers of political elites. This is not newly true, it’s just newly apparent.”
That’s from a CommonWealth Magazine piece I wrote early this year, arguing why polling is more important now than ever. A few readers called it a polling manifesto. I’ll take it.
Public opinion matters, particularly in a time when nearly every trend is toward taking political power away from everyday people and pushing it upward. In a functioning democracy, the opinions of the people have power. Good polling is an organized way for citizens to express those opinions to their leaders and each other. Polling ensures everyone who cares can find out what the public thinks.
Some people find this irritating:
The Fake News refuses to talk about how Big and how Strong our BASE is. They show Fake Polls just like they report Fake News. Despite only negative reporting, we are doing well – nobody is going to beat us. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 24, 2017
The assertion is so deeply preposterous it requires no response. But it serves as a ready reminder that public opinion can be inconvenient.
That’s not to say voters’ opinions are always correct or that leaders should always follow the will of the people. Elected leaders are often supposed to substitute their own judgment for popular will. But they, the media, and the public will know when something is popular or unpopular, and how a give policy idea is being received.
In a turbulent political year, public opinion has been a key part of the story of our country. Voter skepticism helped scuttle initial efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. President Trump himself was historically unpopular when inaugurated, and remains the least popular president at the end of his first term since such measurements have been collected. Polls showed that despite his electoral success, the ideas Trump talked about on the campaign trail held little appeal beyond his base. Eventually, Congressional Republicans passed a large tax cut, even as polls showed little public support for it.
We move into 2018 looking to see whether the historically unpopular bill will gain voters’ approval once they start seeing their own taxes go down. Congressional leaders are also talking about another run at repealing Obamacare, an idea with support ranging in the 20s. Hanging over it all is a public sharply divided over just about everything and skeptical of just about everyone on the national political stage.
Even amidst the political discontent and division, economic optimism has remained strong. The economy roared out of the end of the Obama era and has continued to break records throughout Trump’s first year.
A big part of national politics in 2018 will be how these seemingly contradictory dynamics play out in the year ahead. If voters give Trump and Congressional Republicans credit for the ongoing economic boom, and find things to like in the tax cuts just signed into law, it could help stem the apparent Democratic wave building toward 2018. But persistent discontent and unease with Trump’s policies and approach to governing could build the Democratic wave into a tsunami.
We’ll be watching how these exchanges unfold and how voters react to these issues and will keep bringing their voices to the table. We at MPG end 2017 where we began, with the strong belief reliable public opinion data is critical to a functioning democracy. How leaders react is up to them.
Steve Koczela is President of the MassINC Polling Group
Note: Though #resistance has become a popular term for anti-Trump Democrats throughout the year, it didn’t mean anything partisan here. Instead, resistance was meant to signify a heavy weight dragging on the inclinations and passions of political leaders.
MPG ICYMI: Year-in-Review Edition
2017 has been, to put it mildly, busy. Here’s a roundup of what we’ve been up to:
Steve wrote our first national story for CNN on claims of massive voter fraud in New Hampshire, for which there is no evidence. Massachusetts political leaders were similarly befuddled by the charges that Massachusetts Democrats were crossing the border to vote in the Granite State.
Absenteeism is still not down at the MBTA, despite claims to the contrary.
We analyzed the frequent comparison between Trump’s Russia quandary and Watergate, and found today’s extreme polarization complicates the conversation.
Steve and new team member Jacob Rubinstein wrote about the how to increase the number of women in Beacon Hill. More party primaries will be needed to make further progress toward gender parity, which has stalled in recent years.
Opinions on climate change are, well, changing, according to our WBUR poll. Concern is up sharply, and more people see it already underway than in past polls.
After the demonstrations in Charlottesville, VA, our poll of Virginia voters on the question on civil war monuments was picked up by The Washington Post. Most voters thought the monuments should stay.
The wave of unenrolled voters in Massachusetts continues to grow. In the face of this, should the parties continue to act as gatekeepers for who gets on the primary ballot?
And finally, we started a podcast! The Horse Race came out of the gate in September with an inside look at Massachusetts’ most exciting elections and campaigns. Co-hosts Steve Koczela and Lauren Dezenski of POLITICO Massachusetts have filled headphones on Friday mornings, and show no sign of letting up on the content or the horse puns. Subscribe on iTunes, SoundCloud, or TuneIn.
FiveThirtyEight has Trump’s job approval at 37.5 percent, with 56.7 percent disapproving. That puts Trump a dozen points or more below any other president at the end of their first year, since the advent of polling.
Survey Monkey’s Mark Blumenthal does a deep dive on Trump’s approval rating, drawing from over 600,000 interview the firm conducted over the course of 2017.Quinnipiac finds that though 63 percent of voters say the economy is excellent or good, a majority disapprove of Trump’s handling of the economy. How this disconnect works out in the midterms is not clear yet.