The road to November: New poll monitors public attitudes on race, immigration leading up to midterms

August 13, 2018

A new study developed by Cornell University researchers will use three waves of surveys to show how voters' views on issues that include race, immigration and gender will influence the 2018 midterm elections in November and whether those attitudes shift leading up to the elections.

The researchers are surveying a nationally representative sample of nearly 1,400 likely voters of all political persuasions. The first survey was conducted in early July; subsequent surveys will take place in late August or early September, and again in October. The results are just in from the first survey and are available at the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research.

"We're especially interested in race, immigration and gender attitudes and the midterm elections, but we're also interested in the broader political environment, including the relationship between these issues and voters' support for President Donald Trump," said Peter K. Enns, associate professor of government and executive director of the Roper Center at Cornell. Enns is working with Jonathon P. Schuldt, associate professor of communications and a faculty affiliate at the Roper Center, on the project.

The study is unusual because its three-wave structure means the same individuals are interviewed at three points prior to the midterm election. Some questions will be repeated every survey, some will appear in the first and last, and others will be unique to each survey. The questions asked in the first and last survey are especially important, the researchers say.

"Repeating questions in July and October means that instead of simply observing whether or not racial bias or immigration attitudes are correlated with vote choice, we can observe if a change in bias corresponds with a change in vote intention," said Enns. Schuldt added, "As the congressional campaigns unfold, we will actually be able to observe what factors correspond with shifts in vote choice."

The study also is attempting to untangle racial bias against African-Americans and anti-immigrant bias, which the media and academics have routinely lumped together in the past few decades, Enns said. "Measuring those two biases through separate questions and allowing them to be separate concepts is a really important part of the survey research design."

Some questions are designed to help reveal racial attitudes, such as "Do you support or oppose the movement called Black Lives Matter?" and "[To what degree do you agree or disagree that] many groups in the U.S., like Irish, Italian and Jewish people, have overcome prejudice and worked their way up, and blacks should do the same without any special favors?"

The researchers used a standard survey question to separate Democrats and Republicans into different groups: those who say they are independent but "lean" toward their respective parties, those who identify with their parties, and those who strongly identify with their parties. They then combined this question with a unique approach that allowed them to determine how likely voters rank Donald Trump relative to other Republican politicians.

The survey found that strong Republicans rank Trump over other Republican leaders including former Presidents George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. However, the survey showed that Trump's political base might be weaker than it seems. That's because many media reports don't factor in the differing levels of party affiliation, Enns said. The team will continue to analyze implications of the results of the surveys over the next two years, they said.
Cornell University has television, ISDN and dedicated Skype/Google+ Hangout studios available for media interviews. For additional information, see this Cornell Chronicle story.

Cornell University

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