Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Personhood Ballot Measure is Toxic in Colorado

To:           Interested Parties
From:     Project New America
Re:           Personhood Ballot Measure is Toxic in Colorado
Date:      August 7, 2012 

The Personhood ballot initiative, which looks poised to appear on the Colorado ballot for the third consecutive cycle, is widely unpopular in Colorado, according to recent polling from Project New America (PNA).  The initiative, which was losing by a 2-1 margin when PNA polled in late May, also has the potential to hurt candidates who support it.

PNA, which has conducted polls on Colorado Personhood initiatives since 2008, conducted a survey of 601 likely Colorado voters from May 21-24. Respondents were asked whether they would vote for the exact language of the Personhood initiative as it will appear on the ballot. 60% said they would vote against the initiative.  Just 30% said they’d vote for it.

Personhood is even less popular among unaffiliated voters, who oppose the measure 65% to 27%.

Importantly, Personhood’s unpopularity appears to have the potential to turn key voters away from candidates who support the initiative. In the same poll, PNA asked voters whether they’d be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports the measure described, or one who supported it. Among unaffiliated voters, 47% say they’d be more likely to vote for a candidate who opposes the measure. Just 19% say they’d be more likely to vote for one who supports it.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Romney's Latino Problem: Not Resolved by Hispanic VP

There's an unfortunate tendency in politics today to make assumptions about the Hispanic community as a monolithic bloc that can be won by nominating Latino candidates or having Latino leaders, elected or otherwise, endorse Anglo candidates for office.  A new poll Project New America (PNA) conducted with Public Policy Polling reinforces our point by taking a look at potential Hispanic Republican Vice Presidential running mates.  It should be noted, that this same analysis could be applied to other demographics groups in America.  On Sunday, an article written in the Washington Post about women voters pointed out that women voters don't automatically vote for women candidates.  And in this year's GOP primary race, we saw Catholics in many states vote in larger margins for Mitt Romney (an active Mormon) over Rick Santorum (an active Catholic).

But, let's keep our focus on Hispanic voters and their independence from identity politics.  It was most pronounced in 2010, when exit polling showed that Hispanic voters supported Nevada Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rory Reid over Hispanic Republican candidate Brian Sandoval by a 64-33 margin. Although Sandoval went on to win the election in a strong Republican year, it was a strong performance among Anglo voters, not Latinos that propelled him to victory.

We saw a similar story unfold in New Mexico, where our exit polls showed a majority of Hispanic voters cast their ballots against Hispanic Republican gubernatorial candidate Susana Martinez, and for Democrat Diane Denish.

Despite this, both Sandoval and Martinez--along with Cuban-American Florida Senator Marco Rubio--are widely rumored to be on the short list of Republicans who might be selected as Mitt Romney's running mate to shore up fledgling national support among Latinos.

In order to gain a better sense of the effect that one of these three candidates might have on Hispanic presidential preference PNA and PPP tested the complete Democratic presidential ticket of Barack Obama and Joe Biden versus a Republican ticket consisting of Romney-Rubio in Florida, Romney-Sandoval in Nevada and a Romney-Martinez New Mexico among Hispanic voters.

In each state, the presence of the home-state Hispanic Republican has a negligible effect on Hispanic presidential preference.

In Nevada, Hispanic voters support Obama over Romney in a head-to-head matchup 66 percent to 26 percent.  When asked in the very next question whether they would support an Obama-Biden ticket or a Romney-Sandoval ticket, Hispanic voters still prefer the Democrats 64 percent to 27 percent.

In New Mexico, Obama leads Romney 66 percent to 27 percent among Hispanics, and an Obama-Biden ticket bests a Romney-Martinez ticket 65 percent to 28 percent.

In Florida, Hispanic voters prefer Obama over Romney 52 percent to 44 percent, and the Obama-Biden ticket over a Romney-Rubio ticket 51 to 44.

The results confirm that Romney's problems with Hispanic voters--he starts off with high unfavorables among Hispanics in each of these states--cannot be solved with by simply associating with prominent Latino political figures.  Digging deeper into the numbers, it's pretty clear why.

As is the case in most polls, over 50% of Hispanic voters in each of these states said the economy was the most important issue in deciding how they'll vote.  Meanwhile, 53% of the said that Romney's stance on the housing crisis (that we should "[not] try and stop the foreclosure process and let it hit the bottom" made them less likely to support Romney.

While immigration was generally not one of the most important issues to Hispanic voters, 54% said Romney's statement that Arizona's immigration law represents a "model for the nation" makes them less likely to vote for him.

Given these results, it's clear that Romney's problems with Hispanic voters are rooted in policies and rhetoric that don't comport with the values of Hispanic communities. It's a problem that will take more than simply nominating a Hispanic VP to overcome.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Education as a Core Voter Priority in 2012

“If you start cutting on education, you are starting to reshape our future.”

That’s what a registered independent woman in Las Vegas told us during a 2010 focus group, and it’s a sentiment we’ve seen echoed in polls and focus groups throughout the country, particularly during the recession.

The fact that education has become a larger priority during the recession speaks to the intrinsic connection that voters make between education and the economy. That connection represents one of the most effective and authentic way of talking about economic issues.

Across the country, voters of all ideologies and backgrounds see a strong and innovative education system as a major point of hope. They are keenly aware that we are now competing directly with workers in other countries for jobs, and they have a strong sense that our education system is falling behind.

We’ve seen this over the years as voters in focus groups display a very strong sense of where their states’ education systems rank compared with other countries and other states.

The concern over global competition for jobs translates directly into support for maintaining or increasing school funding at state and local levels. For example, we asked Arizona voters in May of 2011 which methods they thought would be effective for improving the state’s struggling economy. We presented three options: cutting taxes on individuals, cutting taxes on businesses, and stopping cuts to schools and investing in children.

Voters overwhelmingly thought the latter would be most effective. 69% agreed that investing in education would be effective for improving Arizona’s economy, while only 23% disagreed. Meanwhile, just 39% thought cutting taxes on businesses would be effective.

This is not unique to Arizona, either. The belief that education is essential to a thriving economy is illustrated by strong, across-the-board opposition to budget cuts in education, especially those that result in job losses for educators and increased class sizes. Slight majorities in many states even favor raising their own taxes to prevent further education cuts or restore funding.

Importantly, these trends are especially pronounced among Hispanic voters. Effectively communicating with Hispanic voters on education issues represents an important opportunity to boost turnout in a year where many races will hinge on whether Latinos come out to vote.

For example, in our recent survey of Texas Hispanics, "ensuring that our children have the education they need to succeed in a worldwide economy" was one of the strongest messages to motivate Hispanics to vote.

These facts demonstrate voters’ highly nuanced and evolved opinions on the issues of jobs and the economy. We expect winning candidates in 2012 to be those who can effectively convey a vision for creating jobs, not just in the short term, but for future generations as well. To that end, an effective and innovative education message will be a boon to candidates this year.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Shortsighted Republican Strategy to Win Hispanic Voters

In a recent New York Times article, Colorado Republican officials expressed optimism that their economic message would be enough to win over Hispanic voters in the state.

While it’s true that our polling—and recent public polls—show that jobs and the economy are the most important issues for Hispanics, there are two fundamental flaws in the Republicans’ strategy.

The first is that our recent polling shows Hispanic voters in Colorado actually trust the Democrats more to handle economic issues. Our most-recent polling in Colorado shows that Hispanics in the state trust Democrats in the state legislature to create jobs more than Republicans.

That same poll shows that 75% of Hispanic likely voters are more likely to vote for a Congressional candidate who supports “raising taxes on people earning more than one million dollars a year to help balance the budget and create jobs.” 78% say they’re more likely to vote for a candidate who supports “ending corporate tax loopholes to help balance the budget.”

The second flaw in the Republicans’ strategy is that even the best economic messaging won’t help them if they continue their vitriolic rhetoric on immigration. While few Hispanics list immigration as the most important issue facing the country, the heated and extreme rhetoric we’ve seen in the Republican primary has cemented the image of an outwardly anti-Latino GOP in the minds of many Hispanic voters.

Over the last few months, we’ve seen prominent Republican candidates refer to Spanish as “the language of the ghetto” and embrace a policy of “self-deportation,” which aims to make life so miserable for immigrants that they choose to leave. Mitt Romney has even launched a campaign attacking Rick Santorum for voting to approve Sonia Sotomayor (the first Latina Supreme Court justice and an icon in the Hispanic community) to the U.S. Circuit court years ago.

These attacks transcend simple policy debates. They strike at the heart of the Latino community, and they will make it exceedingly difficult—if not impossible—to win back Hispanic voters this fall.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Trends to Watch in the Arizona Republican Primary

1) Turnout in the Arizona primaries will be an important indicator for the general election. In Colorado, we saw a low turnout for the recent caucuses, particularly in wealthier suburban and exurban counties where Republicans tend to be more moderate. Turnout stayed pretty steady, or even jumped, in the most conservative parts of Colorado, which suggests that the candidates' efforts to play to the party base may have alienated moderate voters. Keep an eye out for similar trends in Arizona, as the candidates' focus on social issues has only intensified since the Colorado caucuses. Arizona has been hit harder than most states by the recession and housing crisis, and we know from recent PNA polling that Republicans in Arizona want their government focused on job creation, just like the rest of the Arizona electorate. The perceived focus on distracting social issues could be at the heart of low turnout on Arizona.

2) Arizona has semi-open primaries, meaning registered independents can vote tomorrow, but not registered Democrats. According to CNN exit polls, 18% of GOP primary voters were registered independents in 2008. It will be interesting to see whether Republicans can match that number this year. If they don't, it's likely an indication that independents are sour on the GOP field compared with '08.

3) In 2008, 8% of GOP primary voters described themselves as liberal. 26% called themselves moderate, and 66% ID'd as conservative. Look to see how these numbers compare to '08. An increase in the percentage of self-Identifying conservative voters could be indicative of moderate Republicans' lack of enthusiasm for the Republican field. It also could signify the Republican party's move to the right since 2008.

4) In 2008, 7% of GOP primary voters were Hispanic. It will be interesting to see whether Hispanic participation in the Republican primaries decreases even further in the wake of SB1070 and its aftermath. We know that Hispanic voters were a crucial factor in the defeat of Russell Pearce, voting against him by a 3-1 margin. That 3-1 margin represents a larger percent voting against the Republican than we're used to seeing for Arizona, and the Republican Presidential candidates have largely embraced Pearce's positions on immigration. It will be interesting to see whether Hispanics shy away from participating in the GOP caucuses.

5) Also keep an eye on the Mormon vote. In 2008, exit polls showed Mormons were 8% of GOP caucus-goers, and they voted heavily for Mitt Romney . Early projections show that the LDS vote will be higher than in 2008, and that's something to keep in mind. Mormons make up only a small portion of the overall electorate in Western battlegrounds like Arizona and Nevada, but they are high-propensity voters, and their enthusiasm could be a factor in November.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Beyond the Enthusiasm Gap: What the Caucuses Tells Us About the Political Environment in Colorado

In the wake of Tuesday night's surprising Colorado caucus results, many are wondering whether frigid temperatures should be blamed for a lower-than-expected turnout. However, taking a look at the numbers behind Rick Santorum's victory in Colorado, it becomes clear that the results actually reflect moderate Republican voters cooling on the Republican field, and that bodes poorly for the GOP in a state where moderate voters hold the keys to the kingdom.

Following an embarrassingly low turnout in Nevada last week, Colorado Republican officials predicted a turnout exceeding 70,000. As it turned out, turnout fell about 4,000 short of those projections, leading to widespread conjectures from national pundits over whether the low turnout was indicative of a lack of enthusiasm for the GOP field, or whether some other factor -- like the weather -- was responsible.

To answer that question, these pundits should be looking beyond the overall turnout number at where turnout numbers changed since 2008.

That Republicans did not meet their turnout goal is attributable in large part to underperformance in Arapahoe, Jefferson, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver and Douglas counties in the Denver-Boulder metro area. In Denver, for instance, over 4,000 Republicans caucused in 2008. This week, just over 3,200 Denver Republicans caucused. In Arapahoe County, turnout declined by about 20 percent. These counties -- populated largely by moderate, affluent Republican voters -- also happened to vote most-heavily for Romney.

That turnout was low in these moderate counties is consistent with our polling, which found that likely Colorado voters describing themselves as moderate or liberal Republicans were less enthusiastic about voting in 2012 than conservative Republicans, moderate Democrats, or liberal Democrats.

To the extent that any Colorado counties actually saw an uptick in voter turnout, these districts were largely rural, traditionally conservative communities, and they generally voted for Rick Santorum.

Mesa County on Colorado's Western Slope, for example, saw an uptick in turnout of over 50 percent from 2008. The traditional conservative stronghold also went for Rick Santorum by double digits this week.

The small rural counties on the Eastern Plains, which voted most heavily for Mike Huckabee in 2008, also saw increases in voter turnout. Kit Carson County, for example had a 27 percent increase in turnout, and voted nearly 4-1 for Santorum. Prowers County, on the border with Kansas, had a 34 percent increase in turnout from '08, and voted over 2-1 for Santorum. This trend held, for the most part, across the state's rural Eastern Plains.

It's worth noting that turnout did not increase in every county that voted for Santorum, but the fact that surges in caucus turnout were so concentrated in conservative areas does suggest that the party's right-wing base is far more enthusiastic and engaged in the primary process than moderate Republicans.

We've seen this haunt Colorado Republicans in the recent past. In 2010, the party's right wing propelled Ken Buck to the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate. Buck's support for the Personhood ballot initiative, which will be on the ballot again in 2012, and his conservative credentials endeared him to Tea Party groups and Evangelical voters, but his ideological rigidity turned off moderate independent voters and ultimately lead to his defeat.

If Republicans plan to win in a state like Colorado, where independent voters are a third of the electorate, their nominee will need to pass muster with moderates. The fact that moderates largely stayed home this week means the party's right wing will have a greater say in Republican party politics this year, and that's a cold hard truth for Republican officials.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Winning the Conservative Battle, Losing the West: Mitt's Quandary

Despite eeking out the narrowest of victories in Iowa last week, GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney still appears unable to rally the Republican electorate behind him. Polls continue to show the former Massachusetts governor garnering about a quarter of the vote nationally, while his more conservative rivals hover in striking distance despite comparatively fewer resources and smaller name ID. One of the important stories to watch in the ensuing weeks will be whether Romney chooses to tack to the right in order to endear himself to the GOP base. If he does, he risks alienating moderate voters in key western swing states like Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada.

Importantly, Romney's chief rival now appears to be Rick Santorum, an authentic culture warrior who rode evangelical support to a surprising near-win in Iowa. Santorum is already billing himself as "the conservative alternative" to Romney, who has failed to win over many social conservatives despite changing his views to adopt some extreme right-wing positions. Santorum's success going forward clearly depends on his ability to parlay his anti-birth control, anti-gay rights, views into support in upcoming primaries in states like South Carolina and Florida, where conservative Christians constitute an influential portion of the GOP electorate.

Romney, who has already moved to the right on several social issues, may be tempted to highlight his more extreme positions on issues such as abortion and gay rights. This is a risky strategy, though, as general election voters in key states -- particularly in the West -- strongly disagree with the GOP consensus. Our recent polling in Nevada, for example, reveals that just 12% of voters in Nevada want to see abortion banned. In a recent Colorado poll, we found that 79% of voters in the state favor some legal recognition for same sex couples, while just 18% say there should be no recognition.

Nationally, Project New West has found that 80 percent of voters nationwide agree with the statement that "government should not be getting involved in the decision to end a pregnancy, it's better left to a woman, her family and her faith."

Social issues aren't the only place where Romney is facing rightward pressure, however. Libertarians and right-wingers within the GOP are also working to peg Romney as a "timid Massachusetts moderate" on issues like taxes, social security and welfare reform.

The broader electorate, however, is unlikely to respond to right-wing red meat on these issues. In a six-state regional poll conducted in AZ, CO, MT, NM, NV and WA, 60% of all voters responded that they were less likely to vote for a candidate who called social security a "monstrous lie." In Nevada, we found that 55% opposed a proposal to cut Medicare funding and eliminating Medicare for those under age 55.

The GOP electorate is clearly still looking for a candidate who they feel shares their values and ideals. The problem for Republicans is that those ideals are likely to turn off the most important voters in the most crucial swing states come November.