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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.”
Governmental entities, nonprofit agencies, or their private-sector communication partners often want to learn 1) the psychological “hot buttons” that may generate a desired response (e.g., “Give time/money!” “Vote yes on Issue X!”) and 2) the psychological “red flags” that may generate an undesired response.
We find this type of research fascinating and oddly exciting. However, confidentiality agreements limit our ability to talk about most of the work we’ve conducted in this capacity.
Just last week, however, we became aware of survey results from the independent Quinnipiac University Polling Institute regarding a highly contentious issue in Ohio: Senate Bill 5. These results have the potential to guide communications strategy, and because we are a neutral party to the issue*, we are able to comment on it.
For those who may be unaware, Senate Bill 5 calls for major changes to Ohio’s labor laws. As may be expected, the passage and eventual signing of Senate Bill 5 led to a strong outcry from those who are most likely to be negatively affected by the legislation, including state and municipal employees and teachers. Over the past few months, hundreds of thousands of Ohioans have signed a petition with the intent to repeal this law, with a major political fight brewing for November 2011.
In Quinnipiac’s poll of registered voters, we noticed there were two questions asked of respondents that demonstrates how research has the potential to affect communications strategy.
Half of the 1,600+ respondents were randomly selected to hear the following question:
As you may know, there is a new law in Ohio that would limit collective bargaining for public employees. Do you support or oppose limiting collective bargaining for public employees?
The other half of the respondents were asked a slight variation of the same question:
As you may know, there is a new law in Ohio that would limit collective bargaining rights for public employees. Do you support or oppose limiting collective bargaining rights for public employees? (emphasis added)
How much difference can one word make? As shown in the chart below, including the word “rights” leads to changes in the percent of individuals who say they oppose this law – changes that approach statistical significance (meaning the difference is unlikely to have been caused by chance alone). This effect is strongest among registered Democrats, most of whom report a desire to oppose the legislation.
Although this pattern is small, it shows how quality research has the potential to influence communications strategy. In other words, if these polling patterns remain stable or become stronger through the rest of the summer, I would expect those groups that oppose Senate Bill 5 (and who favor its repeal) to position the repeal issue in terms of worker rights that are threatened. Time will tell.
* The Strategy Team, Ltd. has not been retained by individuals or groups on either side of this issue. Like the majority of Ohioans, we’re interested observers.
A recent Cincinnati Enquirer/Ohio Newspaper Poll reveals Republican John Kasich is ahead of Democrat Ted Strickland by 4 percentage points in the race for Ohio’s governor. Why the dramatic difference between this poll and the Columbus Dispatch poll published September 5th, which found Kasich ahead by 12 points? No extraordinary news event has occurred since then to potentially harm Republicans or help Democrats.
As discussed in our previous post, nonresponse bias, a particular problem in mail surveys, likely played a role in inflating Kasich’s lead in the Dispatch poll. The new poll was conducted over the phone – utilizing both landline and cell phone numbers – with a representative sample of 852 likely voters. I’d be more confident in the numbers produced by the latter methodology than a mail survey.
Plenty of time remains between now and November 2nd for Kasich to widen his lead or Strickland to build a comeback. But for now, it seems both candidates still have a chance to win the race.