The poll question every expert is obsessed with in 2022

的 2022 midterm elections are just more than three months away. Most signs suggest it’s going to be a good election year for Republicansincluding the so-calledgeneric ballot.But why do political pros put so much faith in a single question? And is it really as predictive of future outcomes as everyone seems to think?

I put those questions and more to Ariel Edwards-Levy, the polling and election analytics editor at CNN. Our conversation, conducted via email and lightly edited for flow, 在下面. (Sidebar: Ariel has the best Twitter feed on the internet. Not kidding.)
Cillizza: Let’s go back to basics: What is the generic ballot and when did pollsters start asking about it?
    Edwards-Levy: 的 “generic ballotis shorthand for a type of survey question that asks generally about which party voters would prefer in an upcoming congressional election, rather than specifically about the candidates running in their district (hence: generic). The most common versions either ask respondents which party’s candidate they’d be more likely to vote for, or which party they’d rather see take control of Congress.
      The question dates nearly as far back as polling in general: the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, which archives historical surveys, includes a Gallup poll from 1937 那, alongside questions on whether Americans owned cars (56% [object Window]) or telephones (half did), also asked: “What candidate for Congress from your district do you think you will vote for in the next Congressional electionDemocratic candidate, Republican candidate, or some other party candidate?” (45% said Democratic, 27% 共和党人, the rest other or no opinion.)
        Cillizza: Has it been a useful predictor of outcomes in the past? Why or why not?
        Edwards-Levy: Like any survey result, it’s not a precision tool, nor is it a crystal ball. And given that there’s no national vote to determine which party controls Congress, the generic ballot question is, 最好, something of a proxy. But as tools for understanding the political environment go, it doesn’t have a bad track record. As CNN’s Harry Enten has written in the past, generic ballot numbers have, 历史上, been strongly correlated with each party’s vote share in November.
          Cillizza: Some say the generic ballot leans Democratic. 真的? 为什么?
          Edwards-Levy: Another way of framing that might be to say that Democrats typically need a healthy lead on that metric to translate into winning numbers in the House. As a bit of perspective, 在七月 2014, ahead of a good midterm year for Republicans, Democrats had a 4-point edge on the generic ballot in our polling; 在六月 2018, Democrats led by a more substantial 8 points ahead of a much better result for them. That’s because members of Congress are elected from individual districts, not allocated based on national preferences, and Democratic voters tend to be a bit more concentrated in fewer districts than Republicansthe structural reasons for this are a whole separate discussion in themselves, but suffice it to say that’s partly because of 重新划分, and partly because Democratic voters tend to live in more densely populated areas. 今年, Democrats are also the ones fighting against the laws of political gravity: the President’s party is nearly always at a disadvantage in a midterm.
          Another thing to watchmost polls right now are surveying all registered voters, regardless of how likely they are to turn out. Later this year, we’ll see pollsters make an effort to identify who’s actually likely to vote, which could have an effect on the topline numbers. A number of polls have shown Republicans starting out with at least a modest enthusiasm advantage, 虽然 our recent polling found less of a gap on how motivated voters described themselves as being.
          Cillizza: With the country (and its congressional districts) becoming more and more polarized, does that change how we should view the generic ballot?
          Edwards-Levy: It’s certainly a consideration! I’ll turn this one over to PRRI’s Natalie Jackson, who made precisely this argument in a recent column: “Democrats have long needed to maintain an advantage on the generic-ballot question to overcome the reality that more districts favor Republicans than Democrats. The new part is how few competitive races are actually left, as the number of competitive districts has been trending downward for the last 30 年份. … [一个]ll approaches to guessing exactly how many seats will change hands need to account for the reality of gerrymandering and polarization.
          combination of increased polarization and gerrymandering could mean that the reduction in competitive individual races is here to stay. Long term, it could weaken the relationship between the generic ballot and the outcome of the election.
          Cillizza: Finish this sentence: “The generic ballot’s best use in election handicapping is _____________.” 现在, 解释.
            Edwards-Levy: “…giving us a big-picture view of the current political environment.
            Reliable, public horse-race polling is often scarce in individual districts, and the generic ballot is a broad-strokes look at where voters stand, how that compares to the past, and which blocs of the electorate may be worth watching.

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