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Some unexpected results in the Minnesota Poll

by Woden on September 22, 2016

There were some unexpected results in the Star Tribune’s Minnesota Poll, though to admit the click-baity nature of the headline, most results were what was expected, at least by me, but they’re interesting nonetheless. But since the headline says “unexpected”, let’s start with something unexpected.
There seems to be good news for the DFL in the cross-tabs that show self-identified Democrats are finding no appeal in third party candidates. Gary Johnson is getting zero, Jill Stein is getting 2%, and 9% are still trying to decide. At the same time and seemingly in contradiction, younger voters, defined in the poll as 18-34, are the most favorable to third parties, giving Johnson 10%. Yet younger voters are part of the Democratic coalition, leaning something like 60% Democratic. 2% are for Stein and a full 13% are undecided. How does that work? It makes sense if we distinguish between self-identification and voting behavior. Younger voters are the age group most likely to vote Democratic, but least likely to self-identify with a party. The bad news is they’re the group least likely to remember what happened when Democratic-leaners voted third party in swing states in 2000. In Minnesota that didn’t matter, but not in only in Florida, but in other close states too, those who voted for Ralph Nader had the means to easily prevent the Bush Jr. administration and everything that went horribly wrong as a consequence. How many young voters remember that? The good news at least is that when younger voters decide, or decide they can’t stick with a third-party candidate in a close election, they’re likely to vote for Hillary, even if with pinched noses. Of course, with the consequences of a Trump presidency being so horrible, best to talk to third party supporters and not make assumptions. Really, Johnson supporters, do you have any idea of what Libertarians are about? Please look into that before not merely throwing away your vote, but shredding it, stomping on it, and burying it deep in the compost heap.
Fully expected is that Trump is doing terribly in the metro area, defined in the poll as Ramsey and Hennepin counties, but leading by a few in the outer suburbs, defined as the suburbs outside Ramsey and Hennepin counties, and by a bit more outside the metro area. The definitions can be dickered with, as the western stretches of Hennepin sure seem like outer suburb, and first tier suburbs are counted as “outer” because of which county they’re in, but broadly the definitions are useful. This is trend we’ve seen in Minnesota in recent elections, and we were actually behind the times compared to most states in that central cities are deep blue, inner suburbs are nearly as blue, outer suburbs are deep red, rural areas are just as red except maybe for some off blue spots, and there’s a band of purple through the second or third tier suburbs. The areas of Trump’s strength fits that pattern. Sadly, that pattern suggests a cultural divide we’ve seen in other polls, and recent elections, not to mention some non-political measures. It’s a nationwide trend, and there was no reason to think Minnesota would remain exceptional indefinitely. The rural/metro divide is something Republicans have tried to exploit for momentary political advantage, but they didn’t create it. Pretty much pick a state, and it’s there.

There’s of course the question of urgency to Democrats: why are the polls tightening? There are several plausible answers, and those answers aren’t necessarily comforting, except that knowing is better than not knowing. Knowing means we’re one step along to doing something about it. Some possible reasons:
– Republicans are becoming reconciled to Trump. They haven’t necessarily grown comfortable with him, and may find him as repulsive as ever, but American elections are a zero sum game. If Trump loses, that means a Democrat wins, and worse yet, that Democrat is Hillary, whom they’ve hated for decades. Literally, decades. Maybe as the election has gotten closer and the prospect of President Hillary has gotten more real, and maybe as Trump has been mildly less repulsive, they’ve followed their partisan inclinations.
– Pollsters have moved to a likely voter screen. They tend to do this around August, and since Democrats tend to do worse in turnout, likely voter screens usually give a polling bump to Republicans. If you’ve ever wondered why Democrats seem so fixated on unlikely voters, on drop-off voters, that’s why. Our turnout efforts are at least in part aimed at the voters the pollsters screen out.
– Hillary has been taking a pounding in the media. Obviously we’re exaggerating when we characterize the media’s attitude as “Never mind Trump’s lies and racism and rampant fraud — there’s five dollars in petty cash the Clinton Foundation can’t account for!”, but we’re not exaggerating that much. Much of the mainstream media treats every point of the stories about the Clinton Foundation and Hillary’s email as some big revelation of nefarious activity. Even when it exonerates her, but that’s not what the public gets told if they don’t dig in to the details. Hopefully the coverage of Trump’s latest birther lies shows the press is getting its priorities straight.
– The conspiracy theories about Hillary’s health were fed by her pneumonia and the bone-headed way the campaign handled it, but I doubt that accounts for the polls narrowing. The narrowing started well before the 911 commemoration. Nobody except the #TrumpTrolls bought into it. I have great doubts even her weakness on 911 hurt in terms of concerns about her health. It hurt in terms of the narrative she’s secretive, but in terms of health, there isn’t any real evidence.
– Maybe more people are finding Trump persuasive. Fortunately, the narrowing seems to be Hillary falling rather than Trump rising, and she seems to be back to a lead in the low single digits.
Fortunately there’s something we can do about it. Want to reach the voters the pollsters miss? Get to your local campaign office and help with voter contact. Having more enthusiasm when casting your one vote doesn’t help. Want to win? Talk to people. No, not just your own family. Go help with the ground game. Trump doesn’t have one because he thinks money and his brand are all he needs. Go prove people power works.
Conservative have been “gaming the refs” for decades anytime the media reports things they don’t like. You know, facts. Less snarkily, they give media a hard time anytime they perceive a liberal bias. You have to let them know when their reporting is crap, like when the story of Trump allegedly bribing Florida AG Pam Bondi went unreported in most outlets while the spent lots of time and ink and pixels on allegations against Hillary, unless those allegations proved false or grossly exaggerated, in which case, silence. Let them hear about it. As the right has shown, it works.
Finally, be nice to your Republican friends who can’t stand Trump but think Hillary is worse. Imagine Democrats had nominated Trump, and we were told we had to vote for the Republican that was the only way stop Trump — and that Republican was Chris Christie. Or Rick Santorum, or just any other former member of that clown car. That’s more or less where they are. They might still be persuadable to vote for the rational candidate. If we’re nice. And patient.

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