Is A Closer-Than-Expected Race In Kansas A Warning Sign For The GOP?

Republicans faced a surprisingly close call on Tuesday.
American politician and Kansas State Treasurer Ron Estes celebrates his congressional special election victory in Wichita, Ka
American politician and Kansas State Treasurer Ron Estes celebrates his congressional special election victory in Wichita, Kansas, on April 11, 2017.

Political analysts are poring over the tea leaves from KS-04. Americans are griping about the government. And partisanship is becoming an all-encompassing identity. This is HuffPollster for Friday, April 14, 2017.

REPUBLICANS’ NARROW WIN IN KS-04 COULD PORTEND MIDTERM PROBLEMS FOR THE GOP - Nate Cohn: “This season’s special congressional elections are being heralded as a test of whether newly energized Democrats will fare better with an unpopular Republican president. So far, the Democrats are passing the test. On Tuesday, Republicans won an unexpectedly close race in Kansas’ Fourth Congressional District. The Republican Ron Estes won by seven points over James Thompson, even though President Trump won the district by 27 points in November. No Democrat holds a House seat as Republican as this one, so it’s startling that the seat was even competitive…The small and imperfect lesson of Tuesday’s special election in Kansas is that the Republicans might be in quite a bit of trouble. Mr. Estes’s seven-point victory is extremely poor for this district, whether under politically neutral circumstances or an environment deeply unfavorable to the president’s party. Even with Mr. Trump’s approval rating around 40 percent, Mr. Estes should still have been considered a 20-plus-point favorite in the district.” [NYT]

...or not - Sean Trende: “To put this in context, this district is about 15 points more Republican than the country as a whole, so a Republican loss here would be a bit more extreme than a Republican winning a special election for a Senate seat in Massachusetts. So this is not a great result for Republicans, and it is consistent with a story of Republicans potentially losing the House next year.  But to suggest that ‘few districts are safe’ is an exaggeration….Estes overall ran better than Gov. Sam Brownback did in 2014, and Brownback had a Democratic opponent.  So if we use the 2014 elections as our baseline, this district actually looks pretty good for Republicans….[M]idterm elections correlate heavily with presidential approval rating, and Donald Trump’s approval rating is in the low 40s. If this state of affairs continues, Republicans will likely find themselves in real danger of losing the House. We didn’t need a special election to know that.” [RCP]

Is Trump to blame for the loss? - Harry Enten: “Democrats, of course, are proclaiming the closer-than-expected race as a referendum on President Trump and evidence that a liberal wave is building in advance of the 2018 midterms. Republicans are pointing out that this is just one election and there were local factors at play. It’s true that Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is super unpopular, and it’s difficult to know how much Brownback hurt Estes compared to Trump and his poor approval ratings….We can, though, make a rough attempt to separate the Trump and Brownback factors….[T]he four Republican candidates for the House in Kansas in 2014 did 3 to 15 percentage points worse than expected given the national environment. On average, they did 8 points worse. So let’s say there was an 8-point Brownback Drag in 2014. An 8-point drag doesn’t come anywhere close to explaining how Estes did 22 percentage points worse than would be expected in a neutral national environment….The 2017 Kansas 4 special election result probably wasn’t just about local issues.” [538]

DISSATISFACTION WITH GOVERNMENT NAMED AS A TOP PROBLEM - Art Swift: “More than one in five U.S. adults cite dissatisfaction with the government and political leadership as the most important problem in the country. This is by far the problem U.S. adults most frequently mention, followed by healthcare, immigration and the economy….The current level of dissatisfaction with the government is the highest since October 2013 to January 2014, after the partial government shutdown that October. The only other period during Gallup’s polling history when a higher percentage of Americans cited government as the most important problem was in 1973 and 1974 during the Watergate crisis….Much of the increase in dissatisfaction stems from negativity toward the president, as substantial percentages of Americans simply say ‘Donald Trump’ when asked to name the most important problem facing the country.” [Gallup]

‘PARTY AFFILIATION HAS BECOME AN ALL-ENCOMPASSING IDENTITY’ - Amanda Taub: “Why do people vote against their economic interests? The answer, experts say, is partisanship. Party affiliation has become an all-encompassing identity that outweighs the details of specific policies….For American voters, party affiliation is a way to express a bundle of identities….[W]hen people do switch, it is often because they feel that the other party has become a better representative of the groups that they identify with. Preliminary data suggests that is what happened with the Democratic voters who voted for Mr. Trump in 2016, said Lilliana Mason, a professor at the University of Maryland who studies partisanship….Everyone has multiple identities: racial, religious, professional, ideological and more. But while those multiple identities might once have pushed people in different partisan directions — think of the conservative Democrats of old in the South or all the liberal Republicans in the Northeast — today it’s more common to line up behind one party.” [NYT]

HAVING TROUBLE KEEPING UP WITH THE NEWS? YOU’RE IN THE MINORITY - HuffPollster on a new HuffPost/YouGov survey: “[A]mong respondents who say they generally try to stay informed on what’s happening in politics, just 30 percent say that they feel political news is changing so quickly that they can’t keep up. Sixty percent say they don’t have any problems doing so….Older Americans are less likely than younger ones to feel overwhelmed. Seventy percent of Americans over 65 who try to keep up with politics say they have no problems doing so, compared to just half of politically engaged Americans under age 45. Being on the winning team also seems to help. Seventy-two percent of Trump voters who try to keep up with political news say they don’t have any problems doing so, compared to 58 percent of politically engaged Clinton voters and 48 percent of those who didn’t vote in the 2016 election.” [HuffPost]

FEWER THAN BEFORE SAY GOP IS ‘TOO EXTREME’ - HuffPollster: “Fewer Americans now view the Republican Party as “too extreme” than did so a year ago, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov survey. Forty-two percent of Americans currently say the GOP is too extreme, down modestly from the 48 percent who said that in a survey last May, and from the 50 percent who held that view two years ago. Views of the Democrats have changed relatively little over the same time period ― 40 percent now say the party is too extreme, compared to 38 percent last year and 39 percent in 2015.” [HuffPost]

ECUADOREAN AUTHORITIES RAID A POLLING FIRM AFTER AN ELECTION - Associated Press: “Ecuadorean prosecutors and police have searched the office of a Gallup polling affiliate whose presidential election exit poll fueled protests by projecting a six-point win for the losing opposition candidate. An exit poll by Cedatos and two other firms showed conservative banker Guillermo Lasso winning Sunday’s race. Official results wound up showing him losing by two points to ruling-party candidate Lenin Moreno. Outgoing President Rafael Correa accused people close to Lasso’s campaign of hiring Cedatos to intentionally spread false results and sow confusion. But it’s not clear why the firm’s offices were raided Friday. Cedatos accurately predicted the results of the eight-way first round and said it has nothing to hide.” [WashPost]

U.S. and international polling organizations condemn the move - Per a press release: “The American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) and the World Association for Public Opinion Research (WAPOR) strongly condemn the reported government forced entry into the offices of the Ecuadoran polling firm CEDATOS.  The confiscation of computers and the arrest of two CEDATOS employees ― now released ― appear to have been a response to disagreements involving the findings from exit polls conducted in conjunction with that nation’s April 2 Presidential election….Exit polls and public opinion surveys in general are important facilitators of democratic society and governance. While survey results of any election may vary depending on such factors as sampling techniques and question wording, efforts to discredit particular polls and intimidate and harm their authors create a chilling atmosphere, aimed at suppressing the free flow of information. Those in positions of power in democratic governments have a responsibility to encourage, not discourage that flow of information.”

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FRIDAY’S ‘OUTLIERS’ - Links to the best of news at the intersection of polling, politics and political data:

-AP-NORC polling finds little support for tax cuts for the wealthy. [AP]

-A Morning Consult/Politico survey finds significant backing for a single-payer health insurance instance. [Morning Consult]

-Kyle Kondik stresses the danger of overinterpreting special elections like the upcoming one in GA-06. [Sabato’s Crystal Ball]

-Kristen Soltis Anderson (R) argues that President Trump’s supporters are taking their cues on policy from him. [Washington Examiner]

-Paul Djupe, Jacob Neiheisel and Anand Sokhey write that some churchgoers have changed congregations over disagreements about Trump. [WashPost]

-Tonja Jacobi and Dylan Schweers find that female Supreme Court justices are more likely to be interrupted. [HBR]

-Devin Christensen and John Curiel examine how Trump’s tweeting habits may line up with his television consumption. [WashPost]