What to Look for in the Next Polls

Charlie Cook New
December 13, 2019

Over the next week or 10 days, there should be a number of brand-name national polls released, a welcome development after the dearth of reliable polls since mid-November. Many networks and others budget for 10-12 national polls a year, scheduling one for one-year-out-before-election stories and maybe not another until a final one before the Christmas holidays begin.

What should we be looking for in the next round of surveys? One thing to look for would be a generic congressional ballot test. Though it is not an accurate predictor of how many seats each side will pick up or lose, it does allow us to gauge which way the wind is blowing and whether that wind is light, moderate, or heavy. If there is any political impact of the House readying articles of impeachment, one barometer would be the generic ballot test. As a baseline, Democrats have been running ahead on that question by 5 or 6 percentage points nationally. It was about 6 points at the time of the 2018 midterm elections.

Obviously, everyone will be looking at support for and opposition to impeaching and removing President Trump; it is the only impeachment-related question worth looking at. Support for impeachment and removal has been under 50 percent, basically in the high 40s, with opposition in the mid-40s. Both numbers have remained very stable. With support for impeachment and removal running consistently 4 to 8 points below Trump’s disapproval numbers, there is clearly some resistance outside of the ranks of Trump supporters. It would be interesting if a poll or two tested the appeal of censuring, but not removing, Trump.

The Democratic nomination trial heats will be closely scrutinized. Is Joe Biden maintaining his double-digit lead over all of the other Democrats or is Ukraine, along with age- and performance-related factors, weighing down on him? Has Elizabeth Warren’s downward plunge ended, and has she reversed it at all? Now that Pete Buttigieg has soared in Iowa and New Hampshire, are his national numbers catching up? There have been signs of Amy Klobuchar moving up some in Iowa; how about anywhere else?

Another thing that should be closely watched are questions related to Michael Bloomberg’s candidacy. It would not be realistic for him to crack the top four, coming as he did from a standing stop. But should his numbers creep past the low to mid-single digits, the party may stand up and take notice, because his support will likely grow from there. Advertising Analytics reports that his campaign has added $28.8 million to its broadcast and cable buy for the period of Dec. 10-22, bringing its total buy to $97.3 million thus far, in markets accounting for about 75 percent of U.S. television viewers.

The other Bloomberg figure that could be important is how he is faring in general-election matchups against Trump. If Bloomberg shows a lead over Trump early next year, comparable to or better than any of the other Democrats, suddenly the former New York mayor will be seen in a completely different light, validating his strategy of skipping Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. A self-funding Democratic nominee might free up a little extra money for capturing the Senate and holding the House, something that has very likely occurred to Democratic leaders and campaign committee chairs.

There probably won’t be too many quality swing-state polls released between now and the end of the year, but expect a ton early next year. Given that the popular vote and Electoral College outcomes have inverted twice in the last five elections, you can bet that everyone will be watching individual state polling more closely. The networks are having to budget for significantly more state-level polling in 2020 than in 2016, and in a larger footprint of states.

Keep an eye on the Frost Belt, particularly the three industrial states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, which effectively tipped the 2016 election to Trump, alongside Minnesota, where Hillary Clinton barely won. While once-perennially competitive Ohio wasn’t particularly close in 2016, congressional district-level data suggest that the Buckeye State is not one that the Trump campaign can automatically count on next year. Other states to watch closely are Colorado, Maine, and New Hampshire.

In the Sun Belt, Florida and Nevada are always key swing states, but Arizona, Georgia, and North Carolina are going to be extremely close and merit a lot of polling. Trump can be expected to win in Texas, but last year’s election results and the president’s underwhelming numbers there suggest that it should be monitored as well. A common denominator in these states is that each is seeing an enormous influx of non-Southerners moving in, bringing with them distinctly non-Southern voting patterns. Conversely, Southern states with little in-migration, like Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana (notwithstanding Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’s reelection win last month), and South Carolina are staying reliably Republican.

For political junkies in need of a fix, the wait is almost over.