Orlando Shooting, Sanders Staying In: How They Affect Polls

Orlando Shooting, Sanders Staying In: How They Affect Polls
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Are candidates more important than the issues in 2016—or is the other way around? A new survey by YouGov unearths evidence for both hypotheses, while providing intriguing hints about the mood of the 2016 electorate.

In partnership with RealClearPolitics, YouGov conducted “reconnect” interviews with its survey sample in an effort to detect any shifts in public opinion in two topic areas impacting current presidential politics: the mass shooting in Orlando and Bernie Sanders’ refusal to abandon his candidacy.

Although the delegates Hillary Clinton earned in primaries and caucuses, coupled with  superdelegate endorsements, put her over the top for the Democratic nomination mathematically, the YouGov survey (and other polls) show that she has made little headway in converting the last big chunk of Sanders loyalists to her cause. In fact, the reconnect poll shows that since February the number of Sanders voters willing to support her in the general election has actually dropped slightly, from 68 percent to 66 percent.

These holdouts can be viewed in two ways. On one hand, it’s potentially worrisome to establishment Democrats that even so late in the game, one-third of Bernie’s voters are not feeling it for Hillary.

Does this suggest that they might not “come home” to the degree we’d usually expect from disaffected primary voters?

Perhaps, but a couple of caveats should be considered. First, this pool of undecided liberal voters means that Clinton—who already leads Donald Trump in head-to-head matchups—has substantial room for growth among Democratic voters. The second is that Sanders himself hasn’t really attempted to nudge his loyalists toward Clinton. He’s badmouthed Trump and mumbled in response to journalists questions that he intends to vote for his rival, but he hasn’t given her a full-throated endorsement.

A second area examined in the “reconnect” poll was whether, in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting, voters’ position on Trump’s proposed Muslim ban moved towards the candidate that shared their position. The answer was yes, albeit to a slight degree.

Among undecided voters who favored the ban—suggesting they were already receptive to Trump’s message—the presumptive GOP nominee gained 1.2 percentage points. Meanwhile, Clinton gained a similar percentage, 1.5 percent, among undecided voters who opposed the ban. 

By contrast, Trump lost 1.4 percentage points among those who opposed the ban, and Clinton lost 1.1 percentage points among those who favored the ban. This adds up to a net increase of 0.6 percent for Clinton in the wake of the shooting. 

The data on Orlando suggest that Americans know their own mind on this question, and gravitate toward the candidate who shares their feelings, instead of tailoring their views to fit their preferred candidate. This is not always the case in modern politics.

Elements of George W. Bush’s plans to partially privatize Social Security were wildly popular in surveys—unless and until Bush’s name was attached to them. Then the support plunged precipitously. Likewise, several features of the Affordable Care Act poll much higher even today than does the law itself, especially if the pollster mentions the dreaded word “Obamacare.”

During the current primary season, pollsters found that when they told voters that Trump endorsed a particular position on, say, the minimum wage, his followers were more likely to favor it and his detractors more likely to oppose it.

The data on Muslims suggests something quite different: that this an issue people care strongly about and are using to pick their candidate—not the other way around.

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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