Opinion Polling and Elections – Today and Into 2012

It has been an exciting election year in Ohio! Issue 2 garnered national attention, as voters had the chance to repeal Senate Bill 5, which, among other provisions, eliminated collective bargaining rights for all public sector workers. Senate Bill 5 ignited a movement that organized protests at the Statehouse in the spring, collected almost a million petition signatures to get the issue on the ballot, and resulted in the largest voter turnout in an off-year in two decades ultimately overturning the bill by a 61-39 margin. What does this defeat mean for politicians in Ohio, specifically Governor John Kasich who championed the bill, and for potential Republican presidential candidates, and thus President Obama in 2012? A recent public opinion poll conducted among 2011 Ohio voters provides some clues.

The news is not good for Republicans. An opinion poll conducted by the Democratic firm Hart Research Associates offers insight into who voted against Issue 2, as well as how voters perceive Governor Kasich and potential GOP Presidential candidates. As expected, Democrats voted overwhelmingly against Issue 2 (94% voted no), but 57% of independents and 30% of Republicans voted no as well. Responses to additional questions reveal that Kasich’s approval rating among those who voted for him in 2010, but voted against Issue two, is a dismal 28%. In the GOP Presidential arena, 49% said they would be less likely to support Mitt Romney, and 51% said they would be less likely to support Rick Perry after hearing that both Romney and Perry strongly supported Issue 2, (these percentages rise to 73% and 78%, respectively, among only those who voted against Issue 2).

However, all is not lost for the GOP. A somewhat less publicized outcome of this election was the passage of Issue 3, an amendment to the Ohio constitution championed by conservatives. The amendment is intended to exempt Ohioans from any “individual mandates” to purchase healthcare, part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed by the Democratic Congress and considered a significant achievement of President Obama’s administration. The language of the amendment has been criticized by progressives as being dangerously vague, and the vote is viewed by many as symbolic because the legality of the ACA will be decided by federal courts, very likely the Supreme Court. Nonetheless, Issue 3 passed by a whopping margin: 66 to 34.

As it stand in Ohio today, a majority of voters favored one cause championed by Democrats, and another championed by Republicans. Surely, public opinion polls in the coming months will attempt to uncover what issues are most important to voters and how these attitudes and emotions relate to their voting intentions. When conducted properly, opinion polls can predict voters’ actions quite accurately, as well as determine what messages are most persuasive, and thus are a valuable tool for political candidates and organizations. Today both parties appear to have opportunities, and it will be up to them to harness the key issues in ways that will successfully win over voters. And at least in Presidential elections… “as Ohio goes, so goes the nation.”