Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Gallup Poll Asks Voters The Wrong Question About Divided Government (again) and Arrives at a Wrong Conclusion About Voter Attitudes Toward Divided Government (again)

2020 Gallup Poll on divided government
Graphic Credit: Gallup
This is becoming an election year tradition at The Dividist Papers. Every year Gallup publishes this poll and every election cycle the Dividist explains why there is far less than meets the eye in any conclusion based on this poll. The latest iteration is the absurd headline/conclusion in the 2020 edition of this Gallup Poll - "New High Favors One-Party Control of U.S. Federal Government":
41% of Americans favor unified control of federal government
23% want divided control
52% of Republicans, 43% of Democrats favor one-party control"
"WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A new high of 41% of U.S. adults say it is better to have a president and Congress from the same political party. Twenty-three percent would rather have one party control the presidency and the other control Congress, while 32% say it makes no difference to them."
Here is the problem. Since there is no realistic possibility of the GOP establishing unified one-party control of the government this cycle, the only realistic choice in 2020 is between divided government and unified Democratic one-party control of the government.

The Dividist is sympathetic to their plight. Gallup's intent is to use the same poll question year after year in order to divine trends over many election cycles. To do that, they obviously must ask the identical question every time. The problem is that the question they've asked every year since 2002 is deeply flawed as it has absolutely nothing to do with the actual choice facing American voters when they go to the polls.

As explained in the last election cycle (paraphrased):
Gallup will always struggle to find a meaningful conclusion in this poll for the simple reason they have been asking the wrong question for 18 years. This is the question that Gallup asks:
"Do you think it is better for the country to have a president from the same political party that controls Congress does it make no difference either way or do you think it is better to have a president from one political party and Congress controlled by another?" 
The question poses a choice that does not exist. The question poses a non-existent, non-partisan, apolitical unified government alternative to divided government. It's kind of like asking "Do you prefer divided government or The Council of Elrond?" 

The question poses a fantasy apolitical alternative to divided government that is never found on a real-world ballot. 

The Right Question
A better question to understand the dividist quantum of voters in the middle would be to offer the actual real-world choice that Americans find in the voting booth. To whit, "Do you think it is better for the country to have...
A) Divided Government
B) Unified One Party Democratic Government
C) Unified One Party Republican Government
D) Don't Care / No Preference
In this election, like most elections, not all of the alternatives to divided government are realistic. In 2020, the only realistic choice for voters is between Divided Government and Unified Democratic One Party Rule Government. As explained elsewhere on this blog (and confirmed by recent polling) the House majority is a lock for the Democrats (per the "O'Neill Exception" the House almost never flips against a divided government), while the Senate is a coin flip. Unified One Party Republican government is simply not a realistic possibility this cycle. So in 2020, we would expect the quantum of committed dividist voters to align with partisan Republicans in opposition to the potential Unified Democratic One Party Rule Government. 

That still leaves three feasible iterations of divided government on the ballot. But this cycle the voting heuristic is made more complex for Never Trumpers (like the Dividist), as that eliminates two of the three feasible divided government outcomes. 

Below are the only reasonably probable outcomes for 2020 voters when choosing between divided government and Unified Democratic One Party Rule Government. One of these will be our 2021 federal government:

A) Divided Government 1: D President, R Senate, D House
Plausible 2020 Divided Government Outcome

B) Unified Democratic Party Rule: D President, D Senate, D House
Potential 2020 Unified One-Party Rule Government Outcome

C) Divided Government 2: R President, D Senate, D House
Potential 2020 Divided Government Outcome

D) Divided Government 3 (Status Quo): R President, R Senate, D House
Potential 2020 Divided Government Outcome

E) Not On The Ballot: Gandalf - POTUS, Elrond - Senate Leader, Frodo - Speaker 

The point is this: "E" is not an option. Voters in 2020 are not choosing between divided government and the Council of Elrond. If you are a "Never Trumper" the choice is between A or B. Given that current polling indicates that Joe Biden will likely win the presidency (2016 notwithstanding), we would expect independent dividists (those who prefer divided government) to support and vote with partisan Republicans to maintain a narrow GOP Senate majority as opposed to Unified Democratic One Party Rule Government. Option A is the Dividist's preferred outcome.

Jeffrey Jones almost arrives at the right conclusion in his summary of the Gallup poll:
"As such, when Republican Presidents George W. Bush (2001-2008) and Trump (2017-2020) have been in office, Republican Party supporters were more likely than Democratic Party supporters to favor one-party government. When Democrat Barack Obama was in the White House, Democrats were generally more likely to favor one-party control of the federal government. 
In nearly every year, independents have been less likely than both Republicans and Democrats to want the same party to control the White House and Congress. And while the typical pattern holds this year, the 32% of independents wanting one-party control is the highest measured for that group to date."
So close. This graphic almost gets to the point. If Gallup identified which "unified one-party rule" the respondents prefer, they'd see that a clear plurality of Americans have a preference for divided government over Unified One Party Republican Rule, and a different plurality of Americans have a clear preference for divided government over Unified One Party Democratic Rule. 

Gallup Poll Divided Government Trends
Graphic Credit: Gallup

Which is to say there is a small independent dividist minority vote that swings elections on a consistent basis to maintain a divided government state more often than not. Asking the question correctly would always show a plurality preferring divided government to either unified republican or unified democratic party government in almost every election. That explains why Americans vote so consistently for divided government in the modern era despite their frustration with the accompanying partisan wrangling and gridlock. 

Look at that gray "Independent" line. That is the only relevant line in this graph and it's mostly irrelevant. It shows a remarkably consistent baseline of about 30% Independent voters who prefer single party government. But it does not show which party they prefer to run everything. That's kind of important. More interesting would be a graphic showing the trend and breakdown of the 70% who do not think unified one-party rule is a good idea.  It would be useful to see a trend of how many don't care, and how many think divided government is always preferable. That quantum of voters are the ones that determine whether the government is divided. That trend should be the "lede" headline and conclusion about this poll. 

Whether or not that independent dividist voting block is making the divided government choice consciously is a separate question.  Making the case that some of us should always vote for divided government is the raison d'ĂȘtre for this blog.

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