Magazine article Politics Magazine

With Anti-Incumbent Sentiment Brewing before the Midterms, Kristen Soltis Is Asking Questions about Republicans, Democrats and Tea Party Supporters

Magazine article Politics Magazine

With Anti-Incumbent Sentiment Brewing before the Midterms, Kristen Soltis Is Asking Questions about Republicans, Democrats and Tea Party Supporters

Article excerpt

Politics: The Winston Group's Tea Party poll took a long time and a lot of resources, is that what it takes to get an accurate picture of the electorate right now?

Soltis: In order to get an accurate view of the electorate you've got to make sure that you are putting in the time and resources to do it right. A survey is not just a commodity, not something that you can buy at a store and say, "Well I would like $20,000 worth of survey, so see what you can do for me." If you have a question you want answered, it's important to take the time and do the due diligence to make sure you get it right before you put it out there. In the case of our Tea Party poll, about 17 percent in the three surveys combined said they were Tea Party folks. Well, 170 out of 1000 people is not a size that's insignificant. But to get a more complete picture, we wanted to see over three months if you push that all together, what does it look like then.

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Politics: "Tea Party" is a bit of a loaded term on all sides of the debate. Does that make it hard to get an accurate reading?

Soltis: It depends on the question that you ask. Some pollsters ask "Do you support the Tea Party?" I believe there was a question some months ago, "Do you sympathize with the Tea Party?" We tried to ask a question that was pretty strong, so it was either yes or no, not how you feel about it. We wanted to get the most definite group.

Politics: Tea Party supporters tend to be a little bit older, and one of your specialties happens to be younger voters. At the end of the 2008 cycle, young voters were the hot commodity, has that flipped for 2010?

Soltis: I think that it's not so much about whether younger or older voters are important. In midterm elections, the voter base tends to be just a little bit older. But again, for Republicans, if we ignore young voters this cycle entirely, we're going to have real problems bringing them back into the fold in 2012 when their numbers go back up again. And I think Republicans have been given a real reprieve--it looked bad after the 2008 election. It really looked like young voters had just abandoned the Republican Party, and it looked like it would be nearly impossible to bring them back. Now the mediocre performance of the Obama administration in its first years has reopened the opportunity for Republicans. There was some research that came out from the Harvard Institute of Politics--they do a survey that I think is just fantastic--they are showing some areas of opportunities for Republicans. The fact that young voters are very concerned about the economy is one. Republicans need to explain what they want to do to fix the economy to bring young voters back into the fold.

Politics: The Tea Party poll found a surprisingly high percentage of Democrats as well as Republicans and independents in the mix. Does having everyone mad at Washington change the way you have to poll?

Soltis: Where folks who have said, "I don't feel comfortable affiliating with one party or the other," go is more interesting. A sort of little known fact--and I have it up here on my computer so I won't forget it: In 1994, 34 percent of the electorate was Republican, and they broke for Republican candidates 91 to 8. In 2006, 36 percent of the electorate was Republican and they broke for Republican candidates 91 to 8. It's not about turning out your base as much as many consultants would have you believe. It's really independents going from in favor of Republicans by 14 points to against them by 18 points. That's where you see the big shift. Right now, independents are looking a lot more like Republicans when you look at the crosstabs of the poll--and that's very good for us.

Politics: What can national parties do in an election when nobody wants to be seen as "from Washington"?

Soltis: I think what national parties can do is work on the policy side, on the ideas side. …

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