The Public Opinion Presidential Cycle Switchover

In looking at the impending struggles over immigration policy and health care policy and Lord knows what else directly on the horizon as Congress returns for its lame-duck session, it’s important to keep in mind that we are now in a presidential election cycle. That’s true not just because events in Washington will affect the presidential nominating process (especially on the Republican side, given the GOP’s vast field and the conservative-activist-base-dominated early contests), but because the relevant “public opinion” in terms of the battle between the parties will be the expanded universe of a presidential election.

In every cycle (especially low-turnout midterms) there’s a moment often called the “switchover” where polls stop measuring the opinions of “registered voters” or “adults” and begin deploying likely-voter screens which usually push the numbers a few points to the right. It’s a good idea to assume the reverse phenomenon the day after a midterm election. The “audience” for whatever antics the GOP pulls won’t just be the early Caucus-and-primary voters who all pretty much regard Obama as the Antichrist, and not just the shrunken older-and-whiter midterm electorate, but something more closely approximating the country as a whole. Remember that next time you hear a conservative media type talk about how “America” repudiated Obama and the Democrats in November. Even if you ignore the existence of a minority of Republican general election voters who don’t gnaw on political red meat all day long, Democrats were “repudiated” at most by 52% of the 37% of American who voted. A larger audience is forming as we speak.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.