The Midterms From 2 Pollsters' Point Of View NPR's Robert Siegel talks to Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg, senior vice president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, and GOP pollster David Winston, president of the Winston Group, about Tuesday's midterm elections.

The Midterms From 2 Pollsters' Point Of View

The Midterms From 2 Pollsters' Point Of View

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NPR's Robert Siegel talks to Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg, senior vice president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, and GOP pollster David Winston, president of the Winston Group, about Tuesday's midterm elections.

: Welcome to both of you.



: And first, David Winston. If there is some lesson learned that might be applicable in the future, what was it in that election?

WINSTON: Pretty straightforward: independents matter. When Republicans lost in 2006, we lost independents by 18 points. In this election, we won independents by 18 points. That's the difference between being in the majority and minority. In 1994, when we won, we won them by 14 points. The political center is where you build your majority coalition. And that's the lesson to be learned from this election.

: Anna Greenberg, what would you say?

GREENBERG: I think campaigns matter. And I think the ground game matters. In races that were tight on Election Day, where the campaigns had a real ground game, Democrats won. So if you look at the Bennett race in Colorado, Harry Reid in Nevada, some of the most contested congressional races, the campaigns that really put effort into the ground game actually were able to pull off some victories.

: David, agree?

WINSTON: I think campaigns were important, but I think the overall context - look, what drove this election was one issue: economy and jobs. And the fact is the country was dissatisfied in terms of where the country stood in terms of that issue. They were unsatisfied with the president's response to that and Republicans were an acceptable alternative to go in a new direction. And that's where the public went.

: It seems, though, midterms and presidential years are just totally different ball games.

WINSTON: But the other thing that's interesting that is not always clearly understood is independents, oddly enough, play a really significant role and perhaps a larger role in off-year elections because it's those soft R's and D's that fall off letting independents play slightly larger role.

GREENBERG: But the other issue - and this is particular to this cycle, but it was also true in the 2002 cycle - this was a very conservative electorate. Forty-one percent of people call themselves conservative, that number was 32 in 2006. You also had an almost equal number of Democrats and Republicans in this electorate. So the composition of who turned out to vote on Election Day in this midterm was different than 2006.

: But when you guys - when you people are doing polling, when you see a number like that, you see, well, that tells us who has turned out for this vote or that tells us how the American people are changing in response to developments in politics and the economy? You're shaking your head. They're not changing.

GREENBERG: Okay. Well, people don't change politically overnight. In fact, party affiliation, ideology tends to be fairly lifelong, though, obviously, there can be life events that change it. What matters is who feels energized about voting. And what you had in 2006, in 2008 was more Democratic energy and more Democratic electorate. And what you had in '09, in those two gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey and then this year was more energy on the conservative side. It's not like all of a sudden the country became 10 points more conservative.

: David Winston?

WINSTON: But I have to say, if you take a look at the Republican turnout at 36 percent over the last 14 elections, Republicans have been at 36 percent nine times. It wasn't an unusual Republican turnout. I'd suggest to you what you saw was the ideological nature of this country changed. Never before have we seen in exit polls where there've been more conservatives than moderates. Always, always moderates have been larger than conservatives. The best conservatives ever done was in 1994 when 45 percent of the country was moderate, 37 percent was conservative. Seeing that flip was a huge change.

: Well, pollsters David Winston, Republican, and Anna Greenberg, Democrat, thanks to both of you.

GREENBERG: Thank you.

WINSTON: Thank you.


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