Thursday, November 03, 2016

Most Voters Haven’t Changed Their Minds All Year

Nov 2, 2016 at 5:33 PM
By Dan Hopkins

For many Americans, and not a few journalists, this election can’t end soon enough. Fifty-nine percent of Americans reported that they were “exhausted” by election coverage — and that was in early summer. Since then, those following the campaign have been drinking from a fire hose of election news: the conventions, the Khan family, Hillary Clinton’s pneumonia and stumble, Donald Trump’s taxes and the Access Hollywood tape, and James Comey’s latest announcement, to name just a few.

But how much have these story lines actually changed the race? That’s a hot topic these days, with some polls showing dramatic swings toward Trump while others have hardly budged. Writing at YouGov, Ben Lauderdale and Doug Rivers make the case that a lot of what we are seeing is driven by changes in who responds to surveys, not in who voters intend to support. If so, this presidential race might be more stable than you would think by looking at polls on a given day.


I’ve been conducting the Institute for the Study of Citizens and Politics panel, a survey which has asked the same respondents questions about politics over almost nine years. So we know what our respondents thought, both in January/February 2016, just before and after the Iowa caucuses, and in mid-October, when our last wave of the survey was fielded. (One caveat: Since the panel began more than eight years ago, we are missing any Americans who are now under age 26, making this poll likely to skew slightly against Clinton.)


There is very little movement between the two major-party candidates. 0.5 percent of respondents were with Clinton in January and are now with Trump, while only 1.5 percent of our respondents moved from Trump to Clinton. There is far more movement from not supporting either candidate to backing one than from supporting one major-party candidate to supporting the other. That, in turn, stabilizes the horse race to some degree: Voters who can be persuaded to switch sides are twice as influential, since they affect both candidates’ tallies simultaneously.


Of course, this evidence does not imply that people’s preferences have remained fixed since January. It could well be that all of the negative news cycles surrounding accusations of sexual assault and poor debate performances by Trump meant that our mid-October survey caught him at his low-water mark, one that happened to match opinions at the outset of primary voting. It’s also key to acknowledge that the people who remain in a panel for years may differ from others, and that, too, could lend their views a stability not found in the broader electorate. But from these respondents alone, we see an electorate that appears surprisingly stable.


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