One of the central questions about Herschel Walker’s Senate campaign was whether his lack of experience and (accruing) controversies would damage him with Georgia Republicans. Polling over the summer, as Democrats were improving on various electoral measures, showed that Republicans were lukewarm on Walker and Mehmet Oz, the Republican Senate candidate from Pennsylvania. Had the party crippled its chances of regaining the majority, as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) suggested, by nominating mediocre candidates?
Weeks passed. New allegations about Walker didn’t move the polls much. Things shifted back to the right. Now, polling released by CNN shows a national trend that is exactly what Republicans would want to see: voters making up their minds and opting for the GOP.
There are two important caveats before we dig too deeply into the numbers from the new poll, conducted by the firm SSRS.
The first is that the overall margin in the generic-ballot question (asking respondents if they plan to vote for a generic Democrat or a generic Republican in their local House race) is as narrow now as it was in its last poll, published a month ago. But the swing is noteworthy. Then, the generic Democrat had a three-point advantage. Now the generic Republican has a four-point one.
The second thing to remember is that assessing smaller groups within the overall number necessarily means digging into numbers that have larger margins of error. (As the number of people in a polling group goes down, the margin of error goes up.) So we should be very cautious in assessing that there was a big swing within a group.
For example, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that White women living in the suburbs had shifted 27 points away from Democrats since August … based on polling with a margin of error of plus or minus eight points. (And that’s just the margin of error, one of several factors that affect the results.) That said, the CNN poll also captures shifts among women and White voters that benefit the GOP, as we’ll see.
So, caveats in mind, here are the shifts shown in CNN’s polling.
What stands out first is probably those numbers for independents. In the poll released in early October, only about three-quarters of respondents picked a Democrat or Republican on the generic ballot. Now more than 90 percent do. Members of both parties are about where they were in the previous poll.
One interesting shift is how White and non-White voters moved since the last poll. Each shifted by double digits (again, with larger margins of error!): Whites toward the GOP and non-Whites toward the Democrats.
Men preferred the GOP by double digits in both the previous and current poll, and women preferred the Democrat in both. In the poll released last month, though, a higher percentage of women declined to pick between the two parties. Now a larger percentage did — and Republicans saw more improvement. A similar pattern is shown with voters who have college degrees, another group that overlaps with suburban White women. White Americans with a college degree preferred the Democrat by double digits in last month’s poll and now prefer the Republican.
Again, the margins of error here are large. (It’s 7.5 percent among Whites with a college degree, for example.) And the difference between a three-point advantage and a three-point deficit is, in polling terms, unimportant.
As the election nears, we’d expect to see what’s happening: more voters deciding on their vote. What the CNN polling suggests is that those late deciders are planning to vote Republican.