Idaho Democrats are buoyant over a new poll showing they are rebounding in the state. The poll, conducted by Dan Jone’s for Zions Bank finds that “voters are shifting away from the GOP.” But are they really? Many aspects of the poll used to defend this analysis are fairly thin.
Exhibit A to defend this analysis is Jone’s survey finding Independents now outnumber Republicans and Democrats. According to the last surveys before the election Republicans made up around 40%-50% of voters and outnumbered Democrats significantly (Yougov and PPP). In Jone’s survey 38% now identify as Independents compared to 32% Republican and 16% Democratic. Jones sums up the data thusly, “Many independents might be voting Democrat by 2018.” Technically true, and the world could end by then as well. Neither is likely.
First off, fewer voters identifying as belonging to a political party after an election is fairly common. Consider results from the recent 2014 midterms. On the eve of the midterms Gallup found Republicans outnumbered Democrats nationally and in numerous individual states. But a mere two quarters later and the electorate has returned to normal where Democrats outnumber Republicans and far fewer voters ID as true Independents. This partly is a result of voters identifying with individual candidates and their party before and after the election. But once that feeling fades voters fall back on the Independent label.
Secondly. just because a voter ID’s as an Independent does not mean they really are. It has been well documented since 1992 that many Independents when pushed will identify as “leaners” to one party or the other. These leaners will actually behave in some cases more partisanly than actual partisans. Short of the GOP nominee advocating for genocide it is hard to see many right leaning Independents voting Democratic. In a state as red as Idaho Democrats need some sort of cross-over support to win statewide races (paging Jana Jones).
Lastly, new variables will be involved in the 2018 elections. We will have a new GOP nominee (no more Butch Otter) and a new Democratic nominee (most likely). The state of the economy, the political mood, etc. all will have changed from today. To make a blanket statement “Many Independents might be voting Democratic in 2018” is like saying their might be water left in the oceans by the same time-frame. It’s an analysis that lacks analysis.
Jone’s survey does have enlightening tidbits for both parties. Only 44% of Idahoans believe the state is headed in the right direction and it is easy to see why education dominated the 2015 session when 17% of voters identified it as the most important issue facing the state. Republicans answered it in part with Tiered Licensure and no offense to those who advocate a Democratic takeover they could not take down a two-term incumbent plagued by scandals and allegations of underfunding schools. He still won. A new Republican in 2018 won’t feature that baggage.
I have written before on the weakness of the Democratic bench in the state. When you only hold 21 legislative seats, a handful of County Commission seats and not a single, statewide Executive or federal office your bench is pretty weak. Republicans face no such issues and have their choice of many top tier, battle-tested candidates. Democrats can only hope for the same.