Monday, March 25, 2013

Moderate voters skew HEAVILY Democratic in PPP's 2016 polling

Map of 2012/2008 election results among MODERATE voters only. Exit polling was only conducted in 32 states in 2012. In the 18 states where there was no survey, 2008 exit poll results were used. Red = Republican, Blue = Democrat, Green = TIE

I consider myself to be pretty moderate on a number of policy issues, mostly social: abortion, immigration, gay marriage, the death penalty, separation of church and state. But if I were asked by an exit pollster my "ideology" on a scale of very conservative, somewhat conservative, moderate, liberal, or very liberal, I'd probably put myself in the somewhat conservative side of things. My views on taxation and the role of government in the economy shove me to the right. But there's a significant portion of the country that identifies their political ideology as "moderate" (41% to be exact). Who are these so-called "moderate voters" that typically make up the plurality of the presidential electorate, and how do they vote? Even more importantly, how will they vote in 2016?

If early Public Policy Polling surveys on 2016 are any indicator, Republicans will be STOMPED by Democrats among "moderates." In fact, the GOP is poised to win the LEAST amount of so-called "moderate voters" ever (or at least since exit polling began in 1976), especially if Hillary Clinton is their nominee. The chart below documents the moderate vote for Hillary Clinton vs. any GOP opponent in every national or state 2016 poll conducted by PPP over the last month. Unfortunately, the very few polling firms besides PPP that have already started surveying the 2016 race did not provide crosstabs for ideological breakdown. So the focus will be on PPP's results:

If you operate under the assumption that Conservatives vote Republican, Liberals vote Democrat, and Moderates split their vote, you'd be wrong, according to PPP...dead wrong. Hillary Clinton leads Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, Newt Gingrich, and Scott Walker among moderates in every state & nat'l poll over the last month, by MASSIVE margins. In fact, the best that any Republican is able to do against Hillary among moderates is Paul Ryan's 57-32% deficit in the state of Pennsylvania. But even then, Hillary leads by 25 points. The WORST any Republican does with moderates is Marco Rubio in Michigan AND his home-state of Florida. Hillary leads him with moderate voters in both states, 65-16% and 71-23% respectively. That's border-line embarrassing for Rubio. To make it worse, Hillary has averaged a 63-25% lead over Republicans with moderates in PPP polling over the last month.

What makes Hillary's numbers among moderates so miraculous is found in the final column of the chart above. In every state PPP polled over the last month, as well as nationally, Clinton outpaces Obama's 2012 result among moderates by phenomenal margins. The most extreme example of this from the chart above is seen in their Louisiana polling. John McCain carried self identified "moderate" voters in Louisiana by 9 points (54-45%) in 2008 (there were no exit poll surveys conducted in Louisiana in 2012). Hillary carries them by an average of 65-27% in hypothetical 2016 match-ups with home-state Governor Bobby Jindal, Paul Ryan, and Marco Rubio. That's a 47 point shift, which can only mean 1 of 2 things: Either moderates prefer Hillary over Obama by drastic margins, or statistical error. The problem with the latter assumption is that if it's true, PPP's been making that error for a very long time now.

The chart below documents the moderate vote in every PPP survey on the 2012 presidential race from the time Mitt Romney clinched the Republican nomination (May 29, 2012) until election day (Nov. 6, 2012):
Information compiled from Pollster, TPM Poll Tracker, and

As you can see, an average of PPP's 2012 surveys shows that moderate voters supported Obama over Romney by a 60-33% margin. The actual result on election day?

Via CNN 2012 Exit Poll
In 2012, Barack Obama carried moderate voters by a 56-41% margin. Compare that to PPP''s findings in the chart above, which frequently found Obama leading Romney with moderates by over 30 points, reaching percentages as high as the mid-60s. Their final election poll found Obama leading Romney by 29 points (63-34%) with moderates, whereas he only won by 15. But even that figure fails in comparison to Hillary's average 63-25% lead with moderates in early 2016 PPP polling. That figure, if accurate, should give Republicans great cause for concern. Why? No other election in the history of exit polling has seen Democrats OR Republicans with the kind of lead among Moderate voters that PPP finds Hillary Clinton enjoying. Consider the chart below:

Information found at

As you can see, while Moderates tend to vote more Democratic than Republican, they don't do it by 30 point margins. In fact, the largest victory ever among Moderates was Bill Clinton's 57-33% trouncing of Bob Dole in the 1996 election, a battle he won overall by 49-41%. In 2008, as Barack Obama rode a wave of popularity to an impressive 7 point popular vote victory over John McCain, the Democrats captured the moderate vote by 21 points. Last November, Obama won another popular vote victory of 51-47%, and carried moderates 56-41%; not quite the 29 pts PPP found him winning them by, and certainly nothing like Hillary's average 63-34% lead.

Suppose, however, that PPP's findings are genuine, and Hillary really could win moderates by historical, 30 point margins. Republicans really wouldn't have a prayer in such a situation. Of the 10 elections that have occcurred since exit polling began, the GOP has won 4 of them, and Democrats 6. In 8 out of 10 of those elections, the winner among moderates was the winner overall. So while it's possible for Republicans to win elections while still losing the moderate vote (its happened twice since '76 - in 1988 and 2004), it just doesn't happen often.

At first glance, it appears from the chart that Republicans can take comfort in the fact that Moderates are decreasing as a percentage of the overall electorate, despite making up the largest ideological voting block (after peaking at 50% of the electorate in 2000, they have declined each election since, and made up just 41% of voters in 2012). But that would only be true if Moderates were abandoning their "ideology" for conservatism, not liberalism, and that doesn't appear to be the case. From 2008 to 2012, the percentage of the electorate identifying as "conservative" increased from 34 to 35%. But the percentage of the electorate identifying as "liberal" jumped from 22 to 25%. Obviously, liberals benefited more from the drop in moderate voters.

Over the course of every election cycle during the exit polling era, Conservatives could boast of greatly outnumbering liberals in the turnout race. Problem is, if PPP is right about Hillary's 2016 advantage with moderates, then the GOP is dealing with a much less friendly electorate than it may appear.

Just remember: Hillary is either a superstar among self-identified moderates, or PPP's numbers are simply wrong. Both are real possibilities. (Click here for Nate Silver's rankings of 2012 pollsters to see how PPP compared to the rest)

NOTE: Public Policy Polling was not alone in finding Obama with larger advantages among moderate voters than the final exit polls ultimately found, though they were the most off. While there were many pollsters in the 2012 election, only a few of them released full cross tabs on the results by ideological identification. The charts below illustrate how Obama performed among moderates in 2012 polling from Pew, IBD/TIPP, ABC/WaPo, and CNN.

Information compiled from Pollster, TPM Poll Tracker, and

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