By Ed Smith
Los Angeles—Strange and surprising.
That’s about as good a summary of this year’s midterm election landscape as you’ll get, in the view of pollsters Kristen Soltis Anderson and Margie Omero, who made the final General Session presentation at NCSL’s Legislative Summit.
“People on both sides of the aisle feel something is off,” said Omero, a Democratic pollster who hosts the popular blog “The Pollsters” with Soltis Anderson.
“It’s harder for people to socialize and feel connected with people of a different party.”
“People are more likely to unfriend and fight with each other on social media … and not talk to relatives,” she said. “There’s a real sense that its harder to connect. That I think is new and worse this cycle.”
President Donald Trump, of course, is the X factor this time around. “It’s difficult to have any other conversation,” Omero said.
Soltis Anderson, borrowing from another political analyst, said the nation increasingly is divided by those who see themselves on the side of restoration or reformation.
This is not a religious movement, but really a way of describing how people have sorted themselves into camps.
Those leaning toward restoration see themselves as reclaiming “something the country used to have … that they are going to get that back.”
Those who lean to the transformative side see the nation’s changes—demographic and technological primarily—as good things that are improving the country.
A key issue this year will be young voters, she said, people who typically turn out in much smaller numbers in the midterms.
“Younger voters are part of this transformation group and increasingly feel Trump is not on their side.”
One of the most surprising poll numbers she’s seen relate to millennial women, who are leaning 50 plus points toward Democrats.
“This is not normal,” Soltis Anderson said.
She noted, however, that the deep divide between generations, with younger voters leaning toward Democrats, could work in the GOP’s favor if those younger voters don’t show up at the polls and their parents and grandparents do.
An obstacle for state legislators running this cycle is the nationalization of the race.
“Numbers are way up on both sides” with people saying they are voting to support or oppose the president, Soltis Anderson said.
“The question of whether you support President Trump or oppose him is the dominant theme,” and that makes it harder for the local message to come through.
Omero noted not everything this midterm is new. People are still concerned about health care, female voters remain a critical constituency, and retail politics with an emphasis on authenticity is still the best way to connect with voters in local and statehouse races.
Soltis Anderson argued that despite the nature of the national political scene, Trump’s approval ratings are remarkably stable.
“For as chaotic as the national political environment feels,” she said, “when you look at the president’s job approval it’s been pretty stable.”
But when it comes to the $64,000 question (younger readers should brush up on their 1950s television shows) of whether a blue tsunami is heading our way, the pollsters were a little gun shy.
“I think you’re likely to see a wave of enthusiasm from the Democratic side and the question is do the Republicans have a big enough wall to prevent it,” Soltis Anderson said.
Omero took a similar tack: “On the House side it seems hard to see how they don’t win votes. … It’s really just how big.”
Given how bloodied and bruised political prognosticators were after the 2016 election, it’s hard to blame them.
Ed Smith is the director of content for NCSL.