Flaccavento Campaign: Summary of Post-election Poll Results
The Flaccavento for Congress Campaign commissioned a post-election poll in an effort to better understand the reasons Anthony was defeated by a margin of nearly 2:1 by Morgan Griffith, a weak incumbent who ran a lackluster campaign. The phone poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling, based in North Carolina, on November 16/17, 2018, ten days after the election. Seven hundred voting households were contacted, well beyond the 400 HH minimum suggested for a population the size of the 9th District. All findings below pertain solely to the 9th District of Virginia.
What follows is a summary of the poll’s findings, along with some other takeaways from post-election data, including turnout rates and results in specific counties and cities.
Top line poll results:
The margin of victory for MG vs AF on election day was 65:35. This was corroborated by the poll which put the margin at 63:33 (4% were unsure or voted for someone else)
This margin also dovetails almost exactly with Donald Trump’s job approval rating in the 9th district, with 66% of poll respondents approving of his performance, more than double the 30% who disapproved
Survey respondents were asked their reasons for voting for MG, with seven choices given, along with “other/not sure”. The same question was asked twice, to allow them to give their top two reasons. Three reasons rose to the top, both as their first choice and as their top two choices:
o “Liked MG’s policies on things like abortion & guns” (First choice – 39%; first and second combined – 54%)
o “Wanted to support Pres Trump” (First choice – 25%; combined – 41%)
o “AF was too liberal” (First choice – 17%; combined – 36%)
The fourth most common choice, well behind the top three, was
o “Happy with how things are going/didn’t want to make a change” with 10%/22%)
“Wasn’t familiar enough with AF to vote for him” received only 3%/5%.
Two other choices that had very low selection rates were: “Always vote Republican” and “My church/pastor encouraged me to vote Republican”. These are likely lower than is actually the case, as many people would likely not believe, or not want to believe that they always vote the party line, or that their political choices are a direct result of their church’s influence.
Asked if they had attended any of the town hall meetings or otherwise met or spoken with AF during the campaign, a surprisingly large 20% said yes, while 77% said no.
Demographic information from the poll:
o 44% identified as Republican, 31% as Independent and 25% as Democrats
o 53% were women, 47% men
o 81% identified as rural, 14% as suburban and 5% as urban
o As with other polls, this sample skewed towards middle aged and older people, likely because of reliance on land lines, with 76% of respondents 46 and older.
Other interesting findings:
Views of Trump
o 95% of people who voted for him in 2016 still approve of his job performance, with only 3% disapproving.
o Among women in the 9th, an extraordinary 61% approve of Trump’s performance, with only 36% disapproving
o Trump also had a 21% approval rating among Democrats and an astounding 50% approval among people aged 18 – 29
o In addition to comparable rates of approval for Trump, female respondents gave the same top three reasons voting for MG, in nearly equal percentages to the overall sample.
o 93% of African Americans in the survey disapprove of Trump’s performance and 79% indicated they voted for AF (only 7% voted for MG)
o Trump’s approval rating climbed as age of respondent increased, with the highest approval rating – 70% - among people 46 – 65. Trump’s approval declined modestly to 63% among people 66 and older
o MG’s strongest base of support, surprisingly, was among people 30 – 45, with 69% voting for him, declining slightly with age, down to 60% among those 66 and older
o Millennial respondents (18 – 29) also favored MG over AF, by a margin of 54% to 46%. Note that this result seems at least somewhat skewed, given our margins of victory in Radford and Blacksburg. However, it’s worth considering that the millennial vote is far from overwhelming for Democrats in the 9th.
Those attending town halls or otherwise met/spoke with AF
o AF won among those attending a town hall or otherwise meeting AF by 50% to 47% (I guess I should have held 1000 town halls…)
o Interestingly, 49% of this group approve of Trump while 51% disapprove
Poll respondents who voted for AF
o 59% were women
o 31% attended a town hall or otherwise spoke to AF
o 18 % voted for Trump in 2016 and 14% continue to approve of his performance
o 9% identified as Republicans, 32% as independents and 59% as Democrats
As everyone knows, voter turnout increased significantly across the country and the Commonwealth, where 59% of registered voters voted in 2018, up from the mid 40% in the past two mid-terms. However, while voter turnout in the 9th increased, it was the lowest of all congressional districts at 53%. Other findings:
Comparing voter turnout in 2012 – AF’s first run and a presidential election year – with voter turnout in 2018, we expected lower overall numbers for the midterm. Nevertheless, the drop off in voter turnout between 2012 and 2018 was much higher for Democrats than Republicans
o Compared with 2012, Republican voters declined by 13%, while the decline in Democratic voters was nearly double, down by 25%
o In Washington County (AF’s home county), the difference was even more striking: Republican voters declined by 9% while Dem voters fell by 35%
Looking at counties where the campaign had a particularly strong presence – several and well attended town halls, very strong core groups, persistent activities, letters to the editor, canvassing and phone banking – the same pattern of higher Democratic voter decline persisted, in spite of what appeared to be very strong energy at the ground level. This included the counties of Floyd (Rep decline of 6%, Dem decline of 12%), Grayson (R – 1%, D – 35%), Dickenson (R – 20%, Dem – 50%), Wise (R – 25%, D – 43%), Pulaski (R – 11%, D – 23%) and others. The only exception was the city of Salem, which saw Republican voters decline at twice the rate of Dem voters, 22% vs 11%.
Discouragingly, AF lost by comparable margins across the 9th, regardless of the strength of the local effort in place
From the election results themselves, the turnout numbers and the poll results, I’d offer the following thoughts regarding the reasons behind such a resounding loss:
1. It was not due to lack of name recognition or general knowledge of me or my campaign. Fewer than 5% of people cited this on the poll, and I lost in counties with the strongest campaign presence by virtually the same margins as in less traveled spaces. And besides, I lost overwhelmingly in my home county, where I’m pretty well known (and to my knowledge, generally well-regarded).
2. I do not believe the problem was messaging or “preaching to the choir”. I hope to test this more through focus groups, but I believe our message had broad, non-partisan appeal and that it was delivered more and more effectively than MG’s message.
3. Related to the above, it’s clear from the numbers that MG’s voters were in no way confined to working and lower income working people, or to men. He also won strongly among women. To have won by 2:1, he almost surely also got significant support from professionals, middle class people and those with college education.
4. The power of Trump, combined with a fear and or loathing of Democrats around key ‘big issues’ (abortion, guns, likely immigration as well) seems the most likely reason for the loss of this proportion. At present, this appears more important to voters than local/regional issues, or the performance of their congressman.