THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C. (Virtual)
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, and welcome to the launch of the Washington Foreign Press Center’s 2022 U.S. Midterm Elections briefing series. I’d like to welcome our regular Foreign Press Center members, as well as our overseas journalists who were nominated to participate in this series by U.S. embassies around the world.
My name is Jen McAndrew, and I am the moderator. First, I will introduce our briefer and then I will give the ground rules. The topic for today’s briefing is understanding the American voter, and our briefer today is Dr. Bradley Jones, a senior researcher at Pew Research Center.
This briefing will help journalists understand the unique demographic factors and voting blocs in the American electorate today. It will also explore key findings from Pew Research Center’s 2021 political typology report, which analyzes the diversity of views that exist within both Republican and Democratic partisan coalitions. I’d like to thank Dr. Jones for sharing his expertise today with the foreign press.
And now for the ground rules. This briefing is on the record. The briefer is an independent expert, and the views expressed by briefers not affiliated with the Department of State are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of State or the U.S. Government. Participation in Foreign Press Center programming does not imply endorsement, approval, or recommendation of their views.
We will post the transcript of this briefing later today on our website, which is fpc.state.gov. And if you publish a story as a result of this briefing, please share it with us by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Dr. Jones will give a presentation, and then we will open it up for questions.
At this time, we would like to ask all the participants to rename your Zoom profile with your full name and the name of your media outlet. You can do this by right-clicking on the blue button associated with your profile. Then if you’d like to ask a question, you can use the raise hand button. If you are called on we will ask you to unmute yourself to ask your question. Please keep your question concise, as we’d like to get to as many today as possible. Once you are finished asking your question, remember to mute yourself again.
Participants can also submit a question using the chat feature and it may be selected to be read by the moderator. Questions that directly relate to the topic today and our briefer’s expertise will be prioritized. Today’s briefing will conclude at 1:00 p.m., and due to limited time we may not be able to get to all the questions.
And with that, I will pass it over to Dr. Jones. Over to you.
MR JONES: Great. Thank you. Yeah, I’m happy to be here, and it’s an honor to be able to present to such a great and varied group of journalists. This is really cool.
So I will bring up my screen here. And here we go. All right. Yeah, so my topic today is on political polarization in the United States, and we’re going to be touching on the midterms as well. And like was mentioned, I’ll also be talking a little bit about our political typology work from last year.
But I wanted to start today with just a high-level overview of the political environment in the United States. This is probably familiar to many people, but I think it’s helpful to situate what we’re talking about here. So the slide here, what we’re looking at, is the average ideological score of the Republican and Democratic parties. This is in the House. And the estimates come from some political scientists who use role call voting to estimate these things. And what I like about starting here is that it gives us a broad, historical sweep for what we’re looking at.
So if you look here, this plot begins in 1881 and it goes up to 2021. And you can see the sort of widening gap, especially in the last 30 or 40 years, between the two political parties at the congressional level. They look very much the same in the Senate, where the distance between the average senator and the average – the average Republican senator, average Democratic senator has increased pretty substantially. And this plot just shows that distance now over time rather than the average positions.
And so over the last – since the 1950s really, there’s been a pretty steady divergence of the two parties in the United States, and that is certainly reflected in the public opinion data that we’re going to be looking at.
So when we’re talking about the public, like I say, we’ve seen this same pattern emerge. So these – what you’re looking at here are the distributions of an ideological score that we came up with based on ten items that sort of span a lot of different substantive areas in the United States. And you can see in 1994, when we first asked this question, there was actually – or asked these questions and came up with these measures, there’s actually a fair amount of overlap between the two parties. So you have many Republicans that are to the left of the average Democrat and the same thing on the other side where you have a fair number of Democrats that are actually to the right of the average Republican in 1994. Fast forward – the last time we did this in 2017, you see that there’s basically no – there’s very few people who remain to the right or the left of the average Republican and Democrat. So this slide sort of highlights that more clearly.
So in 2017, 97 percent of all Democrats were more liberal than the average Republican, and 95 percent of all Republicans were more conservative than the average Democrat. So these distributions have really separated over the last 30 years we’ve been tracking it, and it goes back, like I was showing you in that first couple of slides, even before that.
Another way to look at this is to compare the average difference across these groups by different demographic categories. So we’ve looked at the difference between men and women, for example, in this kind of gray line, and the difference between white people and black people in this darker line. And you can see over this time period there is very little difference. The gap hasn’t changed much when we look across these 10 different items.
So in 1994, the average difference between men and women was 9 points, with women being a little bit more likely to take liberal positions than men. And I should clarify also, given the international audience, in the U.S., right, when I say liberal I mean on the political left and conservative on the political right. And by the time we get to 2019, that gap has really not changed much. It’s increased a little bit to 11 points but not substantially.
We can look at the same thing across other categories. So religious attendance, education, age: people who attend church regularly versus those who don’t, people with a college degree versus those who don’t have a college degree, and people over 50 versus those 50 and under. And we can see across all of these different demographic categories there’s basically been no major trend in the differences in terms of their politics.
What has changed over this period is party. So when we look at the difference between Republicans and Democrats, in 1994 it wasn’t much different than if were looking at the difference between white people and black people. Today it stands apart as the main cleavage in American politics. There has been a real sorting of the two parties where Republicans have become – have adopted positions on the political right and Democrats have adopted positions on the political left. And part of that is changing their own views. Part of it is generational replacement. Part of it is people changing their party affiliation to match their views. But it all adds up to this – to partisanship becoming the single dominating factor in American politics.
This is just another way of looking at this across a range of different issues. So this – the data I was showing you before comes from our telephone surveys. We’ve basically discontinued our telephone surveys and moved to internet surveys, which I can talk about more if people are interested in, but we see the same thing when we look at that data. So across a range of different policy positions and issue areas, we see enormous gaps between Republicans and Democrats. Those gaps are largest in things like gun policy and racial attitudes and climate. They’re a little bit smaller when it comes to foreign policy and religious values. But across the board, we see big political differences between Republicans and Democrats in basically every policy area, and those differences dwarf differences by any other demographic category. So again, when we look at differences by race, religious attendance, or gender or age, partisan stands apart as the single most important cleavage in American politics.
So that brings us to our political typology. So given so much of the work that we do shows those enormous differences, our typology work, what it tries to do is look a little more in-depth within the parties and try to understand important divisions among Democrats or among Republicans. So for – this is a project that we have done in previous years, and they all kind of have the same goal. In 2021 we came up with nine different groups. You can sort of see them on the screen. I’m not going to go into enormous detail on these. I’m happy to go talk more about them for people and these reports are available if you’re interested in more depth on any of these topics.
But what we did was we took their answers to 26 different questions, and we used those to sort them into different groups. And critically, like I was saying, it shows divides within the parties which are – it’s almost a given that there are differences between the parties. When you can see divides within the parties, that’s where a lot of politics happens these days, right. So if you’ve been following debates about the Build Back Better bill in Congress and the kind of internal problems that the Democrats face, some of that is reflected in these different divisions within the parties.
So the parties are arrayed – this is showing them on two dimensions. On the horizontal axis we have their ideological self-description, people who call themselves liberals – which again, in the United States, means on the political left – and people who call themselves conservatives on the political right. And then the vertical axis here is showing the share who say they follow what’s going on in politics. And we see this kind of U-shaped pattern, which is another important thing to understand about American politics – that the people on the polls also tend to be the people who are most engaged with politics, which, again, I think explains some of what we see in the contemporary United States.
So I want to go over again just pretty quickly the divisions that we see on the right and on the left. So on the right we identified four groups that are predominantly Republican in their identification, and you can see how they kind of break down in the general public here on the left part of this graphic and among the Republican Party on the right side of the graphic.
So we identified a group we called the faith and flag conservatives. These are people who are basically conservative down the line. They have a deep connection with Donald Trump; they’re extremely enthusiastic about him remaining a part of politics and being – are happy with the things that he did during his presidency.
We have a group we call the committed conservatives, which are, again, very conservative but they have some reservations when it comes to Trump. They tend to be focused a little bit more on economic issues, and they depart from some of our other conservative groups in their views of immigration and immigrants, and are maybe what some people think of as more traditional Republicans before the age of Trump.
We have a group we called the populist right, which is a really interesting group. They have very hard-line views when it comes to immigration, but they endorse some broader skepticism of the economic system, which is unusual for Republican groups. So they tend to think that the economy is unfair, they’re okay with taxes on the wealthy, they adopt some of these more economic populist attitudes. Again, that is a little unusual for groups on the right.
And then the last group that we’ll talk about here is the ambivalent right. This is the youngest Republican-oriented group, and actually a fair share of these people aren’t Republican identifiers. This is the group that was most mixed of our political typology groups. They’re younger. They seem less fixed in their attitudes. There’s a lot of – they depart from some of the more traditional conservative groups in terms of their views about race and gender and some other social issues, but they still lean towards the Republican Party in most of their views. The lion’s share of this group voted for Trump, but they – they’re a little different from the others.
On the Democratic side, we have a group we call the progressive left, which kind of has a mirror in that faith and flag conservative on the right. These are people who are down-the-line left in their views. This is the group that is the widest group among our political typology groups on the Democratic side, so I think it was the only group that’s actually majority white. These are highly educated white liberals, for the most part, and they tend to take a pretty extreme view in terms of endorsing rapid change in – across a lot of different areas. So they – when we ask about environmental issues, they’re ready to just abandon fossil fuels, and they say that the U.S. institutions need to be completely rebuilt because they have racism baked into them, and other issues like that where some of the other Democratic groups tend to take a more cautious approach.
We have a group called – we called the establishment liberals. This is a group that is kind of core in its commitment to the Democratic Party. They tend to have a greater support for compromise, and at least when we asked them when we conducted this survey in 2021 they were optimistic. That may have changed in recent views. I’ll show you some data that shows a kind of increasing pessimism on the left. But this group in many ways looks like the progressive left but differs in terms of how quickly they would like things to change.
We have a group we call the Democratic mainstays. This is an older group. It’s the group where the plurality of black Democrats reside. They also stand out for some of their foreign policy views. They tend to be a little bit more hawkish there. They take – they’re less enthusiastic about immigration and have a maybe more moderate stance there, and on some social issues take more traditional positions reflecting their age and demographics a little bit.
And in the final group here, we – on the Democratic side we call the outsider left, this was a really interesting group as well. They are very liberal in their positions but they aren’t enthusiastic about the Democratic Party. They voted overwhelmingly for Biden, those who voted. They tend to be a little bit less likely to turn out and vote. But in the primaries, they were much more enthusiastic about Bernie Sanders, and they are on the political left but are sort of discontented with the party. So we can return to this and I’ll probably reference it later on, but our typology project is really an effort to dive into the parties and try to understand divisions within them as well as between them.
All right. So I do want to talk about the midterms because I think that’s on many people’s minds coming up this year. So I’m going to lay a little bit of groundwork that, again, may be not new to some people, but I think important context for a lot of this.
The first point here is on turnout. So in the United States we have presidential elections every four years but members of the House and a third of the Senate are up for election every two years. And so we have these midterm elections that come halfway through a president’s term and they tend to draw a lower turnout consistently as far back as we have reliable data here. So going back to the 1950 elections compared to the 1952 and 1954 presidential election, you see, like, a 10 percent gap in turnout that basically holds, maybe has grown a little bit over time, I think shrunk in 2018. We need to update this graphic with more recent elections.
Turnout has generally been increasing on both sides and I’ll show you some more recent data in the next slide, but this is an important thing to understand, that there is just always a drop-off between the midterm years and the presidential years. Turnout in the United States is already low comparatively to other kind of peer countries in Europe and other places that have – some places have compulsory voting and have fewer barriers to registration in voting, and so that drives a lot of it. But it’s especially low in midterm elections, and if we were to look at local elections, it would be even lower. So we can expect in the 2022 elections to see a drop-off in turnout compared to 2020.
That said, turnout in the 2018 election increased and it increased across the board and it increased especially among young people. So I think there was a – one of the advanced questions that was shared with me was interested in this point. So we see among the youngest generations a big – there is a pretty consistent turnout gradient that you can see by age where the – as people get older, they become more likely to participate in elections, but – and so the youngest generations, millennials and Gen-Z here, turn out at lower rates than their kind of older counterparts.
But there was a huge jump-up in 2018 compared to 2014. In 2014, Gen-Z was too young to vote, but they kind of came into the scene in – a little bit in 2016 and 2018. These are the youngest voters. They – and they came into it at a higher rate than when millennials, for example, first started to vote in midterm elections. So 23 percent of millennials voted in the 2006 election, but 30 percent of Gen-Z voted here. And you can see among – and the same is true of presidential voting if we were to look at that data, that it’s been increasing and increasing among young people as well.
So the other thing to keep in mind about the midterm elections is this phenomenon of midterm loss. So this graphic is showing united and divided government over time and you can see back in – at the turn of the century we would have these sort of long periods of time of united government with one party or another in the United States. In the last couple decades, it’s been flipping back and forth really quickly, right? So we went from, at the beginning of Obama’s term, you have the trifecta, a Democratic majority in the Senate and the House. In the midterms, lost the House, kept the Senate, and by the end of his presidency had lost the Senate as well. Trump comes into office with majorities in the Senate and the House as well, loses the House majority in the 2018 midterms, and then Biden comes into office with majorities again in the Senate and the House.
And so this is something that is a pattern in American politics where, almost without exception – there are a couple of exceptions – the incumbent party loses seats in the midterm elections. So the exceptions there are Roosevelt’s election in 1934 – this is after the Great Depression, so an unusual election by many standards. Interestingly, the 1998 election was also an exception to this rule, and this was when Clinton had been impeached, so it was maybe some backlash to the impeachment trial. Also the economy was doing very well in the late ‘90s for many people and surely contributed to that.
Also immediately following the 2001 terrorist attack, there was a big “rally around the flag” effect for the George W. Bush administration, and they actually gained seats in those midterm elections in a way that, again, is unusual historically. So almost always the incumbent party loses seats in the midterm elections, and that is what is most likely to happen in the 2022 election. And you can see that from the retirements and different things that have been happening in the House.
So heading into the 2022 midterms, there are sort of a number of reasons to think, again, that the Democrats have a little bit of trouble ahead of them. We just released this report yesterday, looking at kind of a one year in how the Biden administration is viewed by the American public. So like most other public opinion data, we’ve shown a decline in his approval ratings over time. So I think our estimate is a little bit higher than some, but the important thing is the trend here. It went from a clear majority support immediately following his election to now only 41 percent of the public approving of Biden’s job in office.
On the right side of this graphic, we see the confidence in Biden to handle the COVID pandemic. So after he was elected, 65 percent of the public expressed at least some confidence that he could do well handling it, and that’s decreased like basically every other thing that we’ve asked about. So when you ask about the coronavirus outbreak, or making good decisions in economic policy, or immigration policy, or bringing the country closer together, or handling criminal justice issues, or dealing with China, we see declines basically across the board, and among both Republicans and Democrats.
So this gap remains, right. So Democrats – it’s not like majorities of them are sour on the administration, but the enthusiasm is waning. And Republicans, from their already low point, have dropped even further.
And that’s reflected a little bit in views of the parties overall. So this is a little bit of a counterpoint. So if anything the Democrats have going for them it’s that they have generally more positive views in the country as a whole, although people don’t like either party. So only 35 percent of the public has a favorable view of the Republican Party. Democrats score a little bit better, but still kind of underwater with a 43 percent favorable rating. And we can see among partisans on both sides, those ratings have been declining over time. Republicans and Democrats alike have slipped in terms of their views of their own party.
Another place where the Democrats have possibly a little bit of an advantage is that in general the public sees – says that they agree more with the Democratic Party on issues than they do the Republican Party. The two exceptions are economic policy and gun policy. These aren’t statistically different from each other, but Republicans have like a slight edge in this, basically even tie.
When it comes to economic policy, that’s a difference from the past, where Republicans in the past have had – have generally fared better than Democrats on economic issues, but there’s been kind of a souring on both parties. You can see in a lot of cases across the board there’s a quarter or a third of the public that says neither party has a good position on any of these issues.
But when it comes to climate change, healthcare, COVID, abortion, the public significantly sides with the Democrats, although again there is a harder – again, this is going to be a harder road for the Democratic Party just because of those historical factors.
All right. I think that is the end of what I’ve prepared. I want to leave time for – plenty of time for questions. I have a few other slides if people are interested in stuff, but I am happy to take your questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Dr. Jones. We will now begin the Q&A for today’s briefing. As a reminder, if you would like to ask a question you can please use the raise hand button or you can submit it in the chat. To kick us off, I’d like to start with an advance question submitted by one of our overseas participants from Trilce Villalobos who writes for Delfino in Costa Rica. And her question is: Can you share data related to the voting behavior of young people over the last 20 years? Are they more or less interested in voting? Which states are more dynamic in this regard?
MR JONES: Yeah. So like I was showing in that figure before, there is – where is it? Yeah, here it is. This is a kind of ironclad finding among people who study U.S. politics, that turnout increases with age. But we can see in recent elections a big jump up among younger people. There’s also more pessimism about the parties, so when we look at our typology groups, for example, our groups that are sort of least connected to the parties, the ambivalent right and the outsider left, are also the youngest groups. So they have lower levels of participation and they just have a general distrust of the party system in most cases. They tend to vote for – when they vote, they vote for their party’s candidates, because there’s really only two candidates that have a reasonable chance of being elected, but they’re not terribly enthusiastic about it, which probably also contributes to lower levels of engagement among these groups.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We’ll now take a live question from Ville Hupa from YLE Finland. You can unmute yourself and ask your question.
QUESTION: Thank you. Can you hear me?
MODERATOR: Yes, we can hear you.
QUESTION: Okay, you probably can’t see me. Sorry, I’m using the dock, but I hope you can hear me. I just wanted to thank you for the presentation and I wanted to react to something that I found a little surprising in one of the last diagrams, which was public approval on gun policy. If I didn’t misinterpret it, I saw that a slight majority or more people actually are in favor of the Republican position on gun policy – correct me if I’m wrong – than the Democrats.
On the other hand, I recall seeing polls saying that most Americans favor stricter gun laws. Correct me if I’m wrong again. So how would you explain this question? Thank you.
MR JONES: Yeah. I mean, so gun policy in the United States is complicated, and we have entire reports that go into this, and we have findings that show that overwhelming majorities of the public support a set of more restrictive gun policies that the Republican Party certainly doesn’t support institutionally. And so it is a little bit of a puzzle.
There are, I think, a couple of things going on. So there’s an asymmetry of – in terms of intensity, so the people who support less restrictive gun policies do so very – they’re very enthusiastic about those positions. They hold those positions very strongly, whereas the opponents less so as a whole.
And then this is one of those areas that is also a little bit in flux. So if you were to – if you go back to some of our historical data on this, you’d see the Republican Party enjoying a big lead when it comes to gun policy just because of their sort of reputation as one of their issues, where right now it’s basically tied between the two parties.
So this may be an issue where these trends are starting to diverge and may continue that trajectory. It’s hard to tell. Gun policy seems to be kind of stubborn to – in terms of its impact by real world events. We don’t see big changes even with really high-profile shootings and different things that happen on a pretty regular basis in the United States. And so it’s one of those issues that is – does take a lot to – it’s hard to understand. And we’ve tried to do some – we can refer you to some of our in-depth reporting on that issue. But that’s a great question.
MODERATOR: Thank you. There was a question submitted in the chat, and this is from Jana Ciglerova, Denik N, Czech Republic. Her question is: “Do you have data showing whether or what role race plays in political affiliation of Americans?”
MR JONES: Yeah. So we have done a fair amount of work on this. Race is a really central piece of the story in U.S. politics. So like I referred to earlier, there is only one group among our Democratically oriented groups that’s majority white. All of the Republican groups are overwhelmingly white, and that’s a pattern that has been true in the United States as well – I should say it’s true that there have been big racial divides between the parties going back to the 1960s with the passage of the Civil Rights Act and kind of realignment of the parties on those issues. And in recent years the Republican Party – or the Democratic – excuse me, Democratic Party is – has been sort of majority minority, as we say, meaning that whites make up a smaller share than do other racial and ethnic groups.
And that – there are historical reasons for that, and it’s just become part of the coalitions of the two parties. So it has deep roots. Of course, if you were to go back all the way to the Civil War, you’d see the opposite pattern, where black Americans following the Civil War were overwhelmingly affiliated with the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln, and Democratic – the Democratic Party was sort of the stronghold of southern segregationists. And so that – there’s been a really pretty dramatic reversal on that front. We don’t have data that goes back that far, but this is what the picture looks like today.
MODERATOR: We have another question submitted via the chat function, and this comes from Alexis Buisson from Le Croix, France. The question is: How do you think the voting restrictions that have passed in various states will impact voter turnout in the midterms?
MR JONES: Yeah. This is a good question and it’s a difficult one to really fully answer. I think there are a couple of things that are going on. So there is an – there has been and there probably will be a backlash against some of those policies that could be motivating in some ways and could sort of spur people to vote that may not have otherwise or increase the stakes in some ways.
We’ve seen – we saw in 2020 when during the middle of the coronavirus pandemic where many states rolled out mail voting and sent ballots to all registered voters, different states approached it differently. But we saw a big increase in turnout and take-up of those modes of voting in a way that many states have made it more difficult. So this is a long way of saying that I don’t really know, but it’s definitely something to look at.
But one thing that you can see in a lot of places is that these policies that are enacted also tend to be related to the politics of the state, and so it’s sometimes hard to separate those two things, so it can look like places that have very kind of open voting systems – they’ve enacted policies to make it easier, but they already had high turnout to begin with, and places that have made it more restricted had lower turnout to begin with, and so it’s sometimes hard to, like, separate out the causal effect of implementing these policies.
But it’s certainly something that divides the parties and has become a big point of contention between the Republicans and the Democrats in terms of views of whether all people – whether we should make it easy to vote or people should have to kind of prove that they want to vote by putting in some more work on the front end. That’s become a big divide between the two parties and will continue to be in the future. I think it’s probably too early to say exactly what the effect will be, but it’s certainly something that we’ll be looking at.
MODERATOR: There is a follow-up to this question in the chat, which is from Alexandre Martins, Publico, Portugal, which is: “Do you expect the debate about voting reform acts in Congress to be an additional factor for the Democratic turnout comparatively to previous midterm elections?”
MR JONES: Yeah. I mean, I think we’ve seen Democrats make the – Biden gave a big speech about voting rights, and there’s – a lot of Democrats are taking this up as a really key pillar of what it means to be a Democrat and how important it is for – putting it in these kind of existential terms, which is surely going to trickle down into the public and sort of widen those gaps between the parties. And so I think it is certainly a motivating factor for many voters and will only become more so as the parties dig in their heels about those issues.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We have a hand raised from Alex Raufoglu, Turan News Agency, Azerbaijan. Alex, you can unmute yourself and ask your question.
QUESTION: Yes. Thank you, Jen. Great to see you. And Mr. Jones, thank you so much for a very good presentation, very helpful. My question is about October surprises. I get the sense that we could be heading for a red wave, particularly given the fact that Democrats lost in the Virginia governor’s race last year and also given their surprising narrow win in the New Jersey governor’s race.
But if there’s one thing I have learned by covering the U.S. elections over the years is that we should never discount the October surprise. I’m wondering, what are some of the things that you will be watching going into our midterms? Thank you.
MR JONES: Yeah. There’s always something that’s – there can always be changes that happen sort of at the last moment, these October surprises. Increasingly in U.S. politics it seems like partisans are locked into their sides. So we saw this. Some of the revelations in the 2016 election were extraordinarily surprising, but it didn’t seem to sway many voters in terms of their positions. And so that can have some impact on the margins, maybe, in terms of enthusiasm or turnout, but in the 2016 elections people who were Republicans voted for Trump and people who were Democrats voted for Clinton, and so – regardless of the various surprises that came up during that campaign. There are fewer and fewer voters that I think are able to be swayed by those things.
It may be the case that because there’s a little bit more of a margin for increases in turnout, because the turnout is sort of at a lower threshold in these midterm elections, that they could have a larger impact, but there are also sort of less attention being paid to them, so it sort of runs in both directions there. The historical pattern shows that this is going to be a difficult election for the Democrats, and the data that I showed you from our report yesterday just backs that up. But another thing that we’ve seen is this kind of crystallization of the two parties and less crossover voting and these different kinds of things.
So I think it will be – it almost is hard to imagine something that could be more surprising than some of the things that we’ve seen in these past campaigns that didn’t seem to move voters much, so if there were some event like that, yeah, it would be a surprise to me.
MODERATOR: Thank you. And I’ll go back to that chat, a question submitted from Jeanelly Vásquez González from La Hora in Guatemala. Her question is: “Which would be the voting group most interested in the politics and issues with the Northern Triangle of Central America?”
MR JONES: So the short answer to that question is there is probably very little attention, actually, to foreign policy issues. In most cases and generally speaking, Americans don’t spend a lot of time thinking about foreign policy, and to the extent they do, it tends to be framed in these sort of bigger conflicts – the rivalry with China or Russia or some of these bigger geopolitical things.
When it comes to a – there are going to – always going to be groups that are intensely focused, so there’s a large immigrant population in the United States that retains their ties to their country of origin, and so there are constituencies within the Democratic Party mainly that would probably be interested there, and from time to time there are groups on the right that are intensely interested in immigration issues, and that will become an issue for them, these various caravans and things that get talked about in the media.
But in general, I think the attention to specific areas of the world is quite low among the U.S. public. And you’d find it mostly in these kind of specialized communities of interest, immigrants from that area, or if there’s some event that happens.
MODERATOR: Next I’d like to call on Pearl Matibe from Swaziland News. Pearl, you can unmute yourself and ask your question.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you very much, Jen. And Brad, I really appreciate you doing this for us. My question is – and you – I don’t know whether you’ve already started polling or pulling these numbers, but as we are looking into this – the midterms this year, we are hearing reports that there are more Americans ideologically that are beginning to trend and lean further to the right and that they are less leaning towards the Democrats.
Are you pulling any of those numbers? These will be eventual voters. Are you seeing any trends like this? Is this just something new post a Trump administration, or have you seen something like this in the past? Maybe if you could speak to that. Because it might – is it a significant pointer or marker to say that we’re going to see a larger Republican or right-voting ideological voter come November?
MR JONES: Yeah. So I think like I was saying before with that midterm loss phenomenon, it’s to be expected that the Democrats will lose seats in the House in the 2022 elections. It would be remarkable if they didn’t. So the question then is sort of the size of that loss, and that that will – there’s a lot of factors that go into that.
There has been – there was a report the other day that came out that showed an increase in the number of Republicans in the United States, the number of people who call themselves Republicans. I think there’s some dispute about the – how real that finding is, and we are – we’re very interested in tracking trends like that with the data that we have. So that report was based on telephone interviews, these kind of repeated interviews with a cross-section – repeated cross-section surveys. And like I was saying, I alluded to at some point in my presentation, we now have a panel of people that we go back to and interview repeatedly over time.
So the next time that we get on there, my group does, we’re going to ask that party question again and we’re going to look for changes there. I think there have been sort of conflicting data points on that, so one – depending on the source that you see, you’ll see kind of a flatline versus this decline that was documented in one report.
It is definitely the case that public mood shifts depending on the party in power. So in general, when Democrats are in power, the mood of the country shifts in a rightward direction, and the reverse is true when Republicans are in power. Some people call it this thermostatic model of public opinion if you’ve heard that before, so there tends to be this kind of natural balancing that is struck by the public. So it’s a pattern that we’ve seen in the past. I would be a little bit surprised if there were a big movement in the actual partisan identity of the public, but that’s – nothing’s impossible, for sure.
MODERATOR: There’s a couple questions in the chat related to the Supreme Court, so I’ll combine them.
The first is from Alexandre Martins from Portugal: “How big of an impact on the turnout and results will be the decision of the Supreme Court regarding Roe v Wade?”
And the second is from Claude Porsella from Medi 1 Radio in Morocco: “Do you think the replacement of Justice Breyer by a black woman will help Democrats in the midterm?”
MR JONES: Yeah. So we haven’t – it’s yet to see what the nomination will be and how that will be received in the Senate. But certainly, the court is a motivating issue. We have some questions from our most recent survey that haven’t been released yet, so stay tuned in the next couple of days or week or so. We should have a – some fresh data on that, not specifically the Breyer retirement – we were in the field before that was announced – but in general views of the court.
So that is certainly something that can be very motivating for voters. It was something that Republicans told us repeatedly in the 2016 election was very important to their vote. The Supreme Court nominations and – is also a motivator for Democrats. That’s just to say that it’s going to energize or it has the potential to energize both Republicans and Democrats in advance of the midterms.
On the abortion issue, that’s a complicated one. It’s become – there has become more divides, greater divides between the parties, although you still see a fair amount of ambivalence about abortion rights among Democratic groups. If we’re looking at our typology set, we’ve got our Democratic mainstays, which are probably the group that would be sort of most conflicted on the abortion issue, and that – abortion politics are hard to predict how it will come out. But increasingly Democrats have become united around that issue, but there still remain parts of the party that are – like I say, have expressed some ambivalence about it.
And so again, I’m not going to speculate about what exactly the impact will be, but again, it will have – it will likely have a mobilizing effect among both sides, right? So there will be surely – if Roe vs. Wade is overturned, there will be many Democrats who are very energized by that and see it as a need to really get out and organize and different things to get legislative action or longer-term sort of court appointments. But it’s a complicated issue in the United States.
MODERATOR: We’re coming to the end of our time, so I’d like to have one final question that was submitted in advance from Chandani Kirinde from Daily Financial Times, Sri Lanka. The question is: “Is there a decline in voter interest or voter apathy in the electoral process in the U.S. in light of the recent happenings such as the January 6th attack on the Capitol?”
MR JONES: So yes, that is one that we’re going to be unpacking. Again, we have data on this from our most recent survey that should be releasing next week. I was just working on it this morning. So more to come specifically on that, but we’ve shown on that issue, the January 6th attack, a big divide between the two parties and a sort of asymmetric response there, where it’s something that is very motivating for Democrats who see it as this kind of unprecedented attack on the Capitol, whereas Republicans tended to downplay that and you see that reflected in the public opinion data.
So I think it’s going to be – the big thing to watch there is what comes out of the – out of committee and how big of an emphasis Democrats place on that. I would not be surprised to see it show up in a lot of midterm advertisements, so statements that various candidates made either in support of the riot or they maybe objected to it and then turned around on the Republican side. But it’s one of these issues where the parties are sort of digging in their heels and it seems to be maybe more a thing about motivating the base of the Democratic Party rather than turning around votes among Republicans, although we do see some Republicans who are conflicted about those attacks and assign blame to Trump and other things for the violence and destruction. So that would be one thing to look at, how big a deal that is made of in the 2022 elections.
MODERATOR: And with that, we will conclude today’s briefing. On behalf of the Department of State and Washington Foreign Press Center, I’d like to thank Dr. Jones for speaking to the foreign press today. The next briefing in our Election 2022 series will be with the Gallup organization next month, which will cover analysis of key issues in the 2022 midterms. I saw there were some questions in the chat about inflation, the economy, and race relations, and we expect the editor in chief of Gallup to be able to address some of those. Thank you all for your participation and good afternoon.