Who is providing the foundation information in these never ending polls we read about in the newspaper? Most of us would confess, “Nobody asked me.” And, as a fact finding aspect of this column, if you are one of those who has been asked your opinion in a recent national or regional poll please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Inquiring minds would like to know. I’ll report in a future column.
The key to the validity of a poll is the group being polled. To get the answer to the “validity” question we need to look closer at those being polled. With a few exceptions polls are focused on the nominating process and are polling likely Republican or Democrat voters. Once we know who is in the group being polled we can ascertain the level to which a particular poll will predict the vote for the nominee and, eventually, the vote for President in November of 2016.
A recent poll revealed that 29 percent of our fellow citizens identify as Democrats and 26 percent identify as Republicans. Those who identified themselves as independents now total more than 42 percent of the population. Thus, if 29 percent of Americans identify as Democrats then Hillary Clinton’s polling numbers at 61 percent represent approximately 17.6 percent of the total U.S. voting public. Donald Trump’s polling numbers at 40 percent represent just 14 percent of the voting public. The elephant in the room, of course, is the number of independent voters who will be casting a vote in November of 2016. As is our tradition, the two political parties will decide who will carry their flag into the general election. But, when the final vote is cast the independents will have the most influence on the outcome of this general election.
When President Obama won the election of 2012 he received just over 51 percent of the popular vote. If the next winner of the general election wins by the same percentage he will have to carry 100 percent of the voters in his/her political party plus an additional portion of voters from the independent block. For the Democrats that is approximately 55 percent and for the Republicans 60 percent. To the extent either candidate does not carry 100 percent of his party’s voters the support he/she must receive from independent voters will have to rise proportionally. Today, the challenge for candidates is to attract the party faithful. From August until November of 2016 the challenge will change radically. Then, their focus will be to sway independent voters to their side of the political aisle.
Twenty years ago those who identified themselves as independents totaled only 22 percent of the total voting public. The nearly 100 percent growth of that independent number has major ramifications for this and future elections. Third party candidates have always prospered by appealing to the independent vote. That was true with Ross Perot in 1992 and was even true back in 1912 when former president Theodore Roosevelt mounted a campaign to return to the White House through a third party effort that he called the Bull Moose Party. Both Perot and Roosevelt failed in their efforts, each costing the Republicans the election victory as Woodrow Wilson (D) won in 1912 and Bill Clinton (D) won in 1992. In recent weeks Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor of New York City, has threatened an independent or third party candidacy for President. Most believe his entry into the race would insure a Democrat victory in November. However, with 42 percent of the likely voters professing independent status don’t discount his ability to significantly influence the outcome or, perhaps, even win the election.
So, are you confused yet? In short, when the current polls say “40 percent” that means 40 percent of likely voters from their political party in the primary elections. The general election will be much more dependent on the candidate’s ability to swing independent voters to his/her side of the political aisle.
Dr. Mark L. Hopkins writes for More Content Now and Scripps Newspapers. He is past president of colleges and universities in four states and currently serves as executive director of a higher-education consulting service. You will find Hopkins’ latest book, “Journey to Gettysburg,” on Amazon.com. Contact him at email@example.com.