The Topline: The Art of Repeal

Health care bills moves votes. They cost seats. They start waves. The Democrats’ two runs at health care reform ended with Republican gains of 54 seats in 1994 and 63 seats in 2010. In the latter case, Massachusetts was the canary in the coal mine, as health care helped propel Scott Brown past Martha Coakley and into Ted Kennedy’s (errr, the people’s) seat in the Senate. That was the beginning of the red tide which has rolled across the country in the years since, with Republican electoral wins piling up at all levels of government. Certainly, other factors were at play, but health care played a major role.

The polling on the GOP’s American Health Care Act suggests that Republicans run similar risks in 2018 over their repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). The original plan — repeal an unpopular bill and replace it “with something terrific,” to be announced later — seemed like a winner for the years Republicans were voting over and over again for symbolic repeal measures. More voters opposed Obamacare than supported it from 2009 to late 2016, so opposition seemed safe.


Credit: Huffington Post Pollster

But a curious thing started to happen right around Election Day 2016: Obamacare started getting more popular, even as Republicans finally came within reach of ending it. It now averages 48 percent support in recent polls, with 43 percent opposed. By contrast, the GOP replacement is averaging a -16 percent net approval, and it may be heading even lower. The latest poll, from Quinnipiac out yesterday, found that only 17 percent Americans support the new legislation. That is a lower support level than any of the 498 national polls taken on Obamacare since 2009.


Credit: Huffington Post Pollster.

President Trump’s efforts on behalf of the bill do not appear to be helping. Just 29 percent approve of his handling of health care, according to the Quinnipiac poll; 37 percent approve of his job performance overall, compared to around half for Obama on the eve of the Affordable Care Act. Crucially, Quinnipiac found that Trump is now losing the support of his base: white voters without a college degrees. Trump net favorability with these voters dropped a remarkable 19 points from their last poll,  and only 22 percent of non-college whites approve of the GOP health care bill.

The friction that could burn Republicans is between appeasing independent voters to win reelection versus winning the vote of the House’s most conservative members to pass the bill. Support for the bill among independents is a paltry 14 percent in the Quinnipiac poll. Moderate Republicans in competitive districts need these independents to win reelection, and moving the bill further right could make these numbers even worse. But a big chunk of the opposition in the House is from the House Freedom Caucus, a group of the most conservative members of Congress who want to the bill moved exactly in that direction.

Among Republican voters, an unimpressive 41 percent support the bill, and 24 percent oppose it. So even while irritating independents, the bill does little to excite the base. And if it were to pass, it may make things worse. As TheUpshot showed, the bill disproportionately hurts voters who supported Trump in 2016. Adding to the dismal math, the intensity is all in the opposition, with 43 percent strongly disapprove of the GOP bill, compared to just 6 percent who strongly approve. November 2018 is a ways off, but with support weaker even than Obamacare was, it’s easy to see how this could work against Republican gains in 2018.

It’s hard for Trump to twist many arms on such an unpopular bill when his own approval numbers are so low. Indeed, Trump seems already to be distancing himself from the effort, and throwing House Speaker Ryan under the truck. Trump has given Congress an ultimatum: vote today, or be stuck with Obamacare. Polls show the public may prefer the latter.

The Crosstabs

Trump’s approval rating is still historically low. Here’s Gallup (39 percent), and the Huffpollster average (43 percent).

This neat tool from The Crosstab lets you compare Trump’s approval to that of past presidents at the same point in their terms. Here’s what that looks like right now.


Credit: The Crosstab

More from that Quinnipiac poll: A majority of voters in each party say no, Trump should not keep tweeting from his personal account.

That same poll shows that 70 percent of Americans do not believe Trump’s so far unsupported wiretap claims. Republicans are split nearly evenly on the matter.

Pew finds that 91 percent of the 115th congress describe themselves as Christian, and a majority of states have delegations that are entirely Christian. Fun Fact: What do you get when you bring together two Buddhists, one Hindu, and a Jew? The Hawaiian congressional delegation.

Pew also finds a growing ideological gap between generations; Millennials and Gen Xers have large numbers of liberal Democrats, while Boomers and the Silent Generation lay claim to the most conservative Republicans.

Researchers at Yale have developed a model that estimates public opinion on climate change down to the state, congressional district, and county levels. The New York Times took this data and pulled out six very colorful maps detailing how Americans feel about climate change.

Huffpollster rounds up the polling on the French presidential election, which shows Marine LePen winning the first round but losing in the run-off.

Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, pollsters did pretty well in catching populist Geert Wilders’ late slide in support — a drop some linked to the unpopularity of Donald Trump.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, moderate Republican whose numbers have echoed Charlie Baker’s, is showing weaker reelection numbers against a generic Democrat. There has not been any public polling on Baker since February, so we don’t know if the trend will hold here.

Welcome to Pollsters: The Next Generation featuring Ms. Porter’s second grade class. Sadly this survey is now closed (but not before this writer determined she is a soup/lion/non-farmer…)

—————————Nerd Alert Tearline————————-

Because we know you haven’t had enough health care yet: Nate Silver at 538 has estimated support for the GOP’s American Health Care Act down to the congressional district level. Using figures derived from a YouGov poll, he found only 80 out of the 435 districts where modeled support for the bill led opposition. At the end of the article is a searchable, sortable table of estimated AHCA support in each district. Surprising nobody, estimated opposition greatly outpaces support in all 9 Massachusetts congressional districts.

Credit: FiveThirtyEight



The Topline: Massachusetts is #1, but not for everyone

We’re the best. Number one. The greatest of all time. That’s what the US News and World Report told Bay State residents last week, naming Massachusetts the  best state in the union in their first annual Best States rankings. The news prompted Gronk-level football spiking up on Beacon Hill this week, as well as scattered hilarity on social media.

But before we hoist another in an increasingly tiresome string of championship banners, there are a few things to discuss. Not surprisingly, Massachusetts was ranked #1 in education and #2 on health care, and that helped push us to the top spot overall. But Massachusetts is terrible in a lot of other areas. Like, Colts fake punt, bottom-of-the-barrel dreadful. The things we are bad at are related to one another, and are hitting some of us worse than others. They add up to a picture of a state where lots of people are doing very well at a lot of things, but many are being left far behind with little chance of catching up.

Particularly on issues of equality and racial justice, we are near the bottom, placing 45th on income inequality and 40th in terms of racial income gaps. The data on Boston helps illustrate why. In the most unequal city in America, the median white family has amassed $265,500 in assets, compared to $700 for black households, and less than $15,000 for Hispanic households. Gleaming office and condo buildings rise downtown, but prosperity is not evenly shared. The average income for the top fifth of households is 18 times higher than of the lowest fifth, and getting worse.

The story is no better in the state’s other urban areas. In the state’s Gateway Cities, home to a large share of the state’s minority population outside of Boston, the figures are sobering. Together, they are home to 30 percent of the state’s poor, 45 percent of welfare cases, half of incarcerated youth, and 71 percent of students attending “chronically underperforming” schools. Put the Boston and Gateway Cities data together, and the yawning gulf of racial inequality comes into focus. The rankings bear it out. US News ranked Massachusetts 31st in educational equality by race, 19th in employment equality, and 46th on racial equality in juvenile jailings. We failed to crack the top 15 on any items related to racial equality.  

Massachusetts is also behind when it comes to basic quality of life and cost of living issues that touch all residents. Our transportation network is rated 45th out of 50, pulled down by our 47th-place rankings for both commute time and road quality. There are racial disparities here, as well. Black bus riders in the Boston area spend, on average, 64 more hours a year commuting than white bus riders, and 31 hours more on the subway. We are ranked ranked 47th for affordability — 45th for cost of living and 44th for housing costs. Given the racial inequalities in wealth and income, these cost issues are also closely tied to race issues.

Voters know where the overall problems are. Our January poll for WBUR found that most Massachusetts voters were satisfied with the state of education and the economy, but far fewer were happy with the transportation system or the cost of housing.


So while lawmakers are taking their victory laps, they should be aware that voters think there’s more work to be done. And for many Massachusetts residents who aren’t feeling the boom, #1 is just a number on a website.

The Crosstabs

Snap polls taken after President Trump speech to Congress Tuesday were largely positive, prompting a rare praise bit of praise for CNN from White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

Important caveat: Huffpollster points out, most presidential speeches to Congress poll well, in part because fans of the President speaking are more likely to watch therefore and to appear in the poll samples.

Trump may be happy with the polls, but he’ll likely be upset that the ratings for his speech failed to match those for Barack Obama’s first address to Congress.

Trump’s joint address to Congress does not appear to have moved his job approval numbers, at least as tracked by Gallup. But Gallup also notes that, historically, Presidential addresses to Congress do not move job approval numbers very much. Indeed, other trackers have not seen much of a bump post-speech.

Politico/Morning Consult finds support for the Affordable Care Act (AKA Obamacare) is on the rise as Republicans draft its repeal and replacement somewhere in the Capitol.

Obamacare might be up, but the Democratic Party’s ratings are down. Democrats have been seen as more favorable than Republicans for several years, but that margin has now all but disappeared.

Gallup finds that Republicans and Democrats have flipped positions on NAFTA, while the NBC/WSJ poll finds similar movement on the broader question of free trade. The Pollsters podcast has a good discussion of this trend this week.

A YouGov/Huffpost finds that the world is a scary place –  nearly two-thirds of the public are at least somewhat scared about the state of the world. Those numbers are actually down from last fall, and a Democrats and Republicans have flipped in terms of which party is “very scared”.

Gallup finds the percentage of Americans who are worried ticking upward, driven by a 9-point spike among Democrats.

Pew finds a huge gap between Trump voters and Clinton voters on whether a free press is essential to democracy, but more agreement on other features tested.

– – – – – – –  – #NerdAlert Tearline – – – – – – – – – –

FiveThirtyEight launched their Trump approval rating tracker yesterday. In a Twitter exchange, Nate Silver said they will be adding approval poll data for every President going back to Harry Truman. Once that happens, we’ll be unavailable for a while while we geek out on decades old polling, so don’t bother calling. Seriously.

While we’re on the subject, we have a small issue with the way FiveThirtyEight grades pollsters. But if we get to look at approval numbers for Dwight Eisenhower, we’ll let that slide.


New poll: Here’s how many Massachusetts voters know their top lawmakers voted to raise their own pay

Gintautus Dumcius writes:

If the lawmakers were hoping to fly under the radar as they rammed through the raises amid Trump’s flurry of controversial executive orders and the Patriots’ Super Bowl victory grabbing headlines, they weren’t completely successful. At least, that’s according to a new poll from the MassINC Polling Group.

Read the whole article on MassLive.


The Topline: Winter Storm Trump hits Massachusetts

Welcome back to The Topline! Now that we’re through Election 2016, we decided to reboot the newsletter. Every two weeks we’ll round up the latest in national and Massachusetts polling, politics, and data.

Non-presidential years are usually about state and local politics. We have a Mayor’s race in Boston this year, and next year Governor Charlie Baker and Senator Elizabeth Warren are both up for reelection. It’s likely that a proposal to increase the state’s income tax on incomes over $1 million will also go before voters in 2018.

But the state and local concerns risk being snowed under by a blizzard coming up from Washington D.C. Three weeks in, it seems that local politicians’ reactions to the Trump administration may matter as much, or even more, than what they are doing for the Commonwealth.

To that end, this week we asked registered voters to rate several Massachusetts political figures’ reactions to Trump: are they being too critical of the new administration, not critical enough, or have they been pretty much on target so far? Our WBUR poll in January showed 41 percent think Trump will have a negative impact on the state, with just 20 percent seeing positive impacts. It may be hard to avoid confrontation if his policies start showing local impacts.


Voters are split on Governor Charlie Baker’s approach to handling Trump.  A plurality of voters think Charlie Baker has threaded the Trump-GOP needle pretty well so far. But a quarter overall, and a third of Democrats, think he hasn’t been critical enough. Another 19 percent are undecided, meaning these numbers could continue to shift as their complicated relationship unfolds.

Voters have been divided on Elizabeth Warren even since they got to know her in the 2012 campaign.  As would be expected, three-quarters of Republicans think she’s going too far in her dealings with Trump, while 61 percent of Democrats approve of her hardline stance. Warren’s #ShePersisted moment happened while this poll was in the field, so these figures don’t capture the fallout, positive or negative, of that moment.

Attorney General Maura Healey and Congressman Seth Moulton’s reactions to the Trump administration have not registered to the same degree. Far fewer express an opinion on their actions, despite the Healey joining a lawsuit against Trump’s travel ban, and Moulton calling Trump a draft dodger. It won’t stop insider speculations about who’s positioning themselves for what and when, but these acts of resistance haven’t broken through to the same extent as Baker and Warren’s actions (or lack thereof).

Not all state-level politics have been buried by Trump news. Nearly two-thirds of voters know that lawmakers voted to increase their pay. Republicans (82 percent) are particular tuned into this issue. This high level of awareness suggests that voters have not been completely distracted by the Trump administration. So there’s some hope that local issues will emerge from the snow and matter over the next couple of years.


This poll was conducted by The MassINC Polling Group. Live telephone interviews were conducted February 6-8, 2017 among 704 registered voters in Massachusetts. Click here for crosstabs..


Speaking of Trump, Steve Koczela argues in Commonwealth that, despite misses in 2016, polling matters now more than ever. It’s a conduit for the voice of the people, and brings those voices to powerful people in ways nothing else can match.

Our latest poll for WBUR, keyed to the inauguration, found that Massachusetts voters were not very confident in the new president, and looked ahead to Baker and Warren’s prospects for reelection.

And last month, as Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson announced his run for Mayor, we examined his prospects for unseating Mayor Walsh.


The Gallup daily tracker has Trump still underwater; 43 percent approve of his job performance, while 52 disapprove. That’s the worst start of any president where comparable polling exists.

Despite railing against them, it turns out Trump can’t quit polls – even, to quote Sean Spicer, “the whole crosstab thing.”

HuffPollster notes there’s considerable variation across different pollsters, but overall Trump’s approval numbers are getting worse, not better.

There’s variation on Trump’s travel ban as well, driven largely by how the question is worded. POLITICO’s Steve Shepard looks at how these different polls are being used by both sides in the debate over the policy.

Americans view Islam less negatively than they did a year ago. “Last March, Americans were 42 points more likely to view the religion negatively than they were to view it positively. That gap dropped to 33 points by June, and to 20 points in the most recent survey, the lowest it’s been since HuffPost/YouGov surveys first asked the question nearly two years ago.”

Gallup finds that two-thirds of Americans think other world leaders don’t have much respect for the new President.

On the other hand, the London-based Chatham House finds a majority of Europeans would “support a Trump-style ban on further migration from mainly Muslim countries”.

Master troll-pollster Public Policy Polling is out with their latest national poll. One highlight: 51 percent of Trump voters think that the non-existent Bowling Green Massacre is a good justification for the Trump administration’s travel ban.

According to a recent Washington Post poll, 25 percent of adults are intending to become more involved in politics. Thirty-five percent of Democrats, and 40 percent of Democratic women, say they will increase their involvement.

The closely watched Onion Poll finds that at least the cockroaches think things are moving in the right direction.

——————Nerd Alert Tearline: SCOTUS Special Edition—————–

Politicians live and die in the court of public opinion. So can SCOTUS nominations.

A recent Forbes article looks at how Ronald Reagan’s failed nomination of conservative Robert Bork marked a turning point in the use of polling around Supreme Court nominations.

Morning Consult and POLITICO find 59 percent of registered voters believe Supreme Court nominees should be required to receive 60 votes to be confirmed. The sentiment was strongest among Democrats (72 percent) is also shared by 45 percent of Republicans.

CNN finds that 49 percent of Americans think Trump’s nominee Neil Gorsuch should be confirmed. That’s just below the 52 percent that blocked Obama nominee Merrick Garland received when his name was put forward.


Polling matters now more than ever

(via Creative Commons/Flikr by Gage Skidmore)

Polling is a form of political resistance.

This is the argument Steve Koczela makes in the wake of Trump calling negative polling “fake news” – a mild insult, Koczela says, compared to what other power players have thrown at him. Acknowledging the need of pollsters to rebuild their credibility following failures in a few key states during the election, Koczela emphasizes the power of polling to collect the public voice and push back against the political trend of voter disenfranchisement.

Read the whole article on Commonwealth Magazine here.


How Many Marched?

The massive Women’s March protests on Saturday swept through cities across the country, and professors from the University of Connecticut and University of Denver are trying to get a head count – the best estimate currently ranges from 3.3 to 4.6 million.

Rich Parr, Research Director here at MPG, turned the data into a map showing the relative size and locations of the protests.

Check out the interactive version here.


WBUR Poll: Republican Gov. Baker More Popular Than Democrat Sen. Warren


It’s one thing to be liked; it’s quite another to have people vote for you.

Elizabeth Warren may be facing this dilemma in her run for re-election in 2018. According to a new statewide WBUR pol, 51 percent of Massachusetts voters view her favorably – but only 44 percent think she deserves to keep her seat. (Topline, Crosstabs)

Charlie Baker, a republican governor in a blue state, does not have this issue. With a favorability rating of 59 percent, only 29 percent of respondents think it’s someone else’s turn.

Read more at WBUR