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‘They Became Blinded by Ideology’: Richard Baris Talks Midterm Predictions and the Weaponization of Polling

“The overwhelming sentiment is a sentiment that things cost too much, things are out of control, and that we need to make a change,” says Big Data Poll director Richard Baris, a data journalist and host of the “Inside the Numbers” podcast. Going into the midterm elections, “half of the electorate or more is citing economic issues” as their top concern, Baris says.

Baris tells us what he sees on the ground in key battleground states and why a lot of polling these days is simply inaccurate.

“So many [pollsters] no longer even understand the people that they’re trying to learn about. … And polling is essentially attempting to predict human behavior. It’s very much almost a behavioral social science. How could you do that if you don’t know that much about the subject, right? And maybe even dislike them?” Baris says.

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Jan Jekielek:

Richard Baris, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.

Richard Baris:

It’s great to be here, Jan. Thanks for having me. I’m happy to be here.

Mr. Jekielek:

I’m going to do something today with you that I almost never do, which is talk about polling. I’m one of these people that really does not trust the polls. I almost see them as a way to manipulate public opinion, and I’m definitely going to ask you about that. But all that said, there’s all this talk as we speak right now about this big shift in suburban women. What is the real significance of this, and is it something that we can actually seriously count on?

Mr. Baris:

I’ve always been a big believer in aggregate, looking at polling in the aggregate, but we can get into this a lot, because polling has done so poorly in recent cycles. The last four cycles in particular were horrible. Then, I generally take a look, and I trust myself more than I trust anybody else, but there are a few others that I at least take note of, and I trust them to attempt to do the best job that they can. 

But generally, the consensus right now—even though some of us are on some of the low end of the swing, some of us are on the higher end of this swing—is that there is a swing right now among independents who have college degrees. That just happens to make up as well a lot of suburban women, which is fueling overall a lead for the Republican party on the generic ballot. That is pretty historic in terms of that independent margin.

With some of the polls that were released today, it’s around 18 points. We had them around 17, so we’re all right in that ballpark. It is significant, because it opens up different opportunities for pickups for the GOP that they thought they wouldn’t have again for a while. In the era of Trump, they squeezed so much vote out of these rural areas, but they had a lot of problems trying to break back into excerpts and metro suburbs, areas like that. 

Those are the regions right now that are moving so fast away from Democrats. We’re going to find in a few days here that it’s hard to keep pace with that swing. It’s likely to be very understated, and the impact is likely to be greater than we think.

Mr. Jekielek:

Richard, I’m going to say this for the benefit of our audience here, there aren’t many pollsters that I follow. I follow you for multiple reasons, because I do believe that you’re actually trying to get at the truth, which is obviously very significant and something at a premium these days, it would seem. As a testament to that, your Pennsylvania polling last run was pretty spot on. I thought that was remarkable.

Mr. Baris:

Pennsylvania is a difficult state to poll. Thank you for that. In 2016 and 2020, we did very well. We did just poll the Senate races as well. With some of that national polling, we were just talking about some of that swing. We’re just now starting to see that when we poll some of these states. The national polling tends to be a leading indicator. As you go into battlegrounds, honestly Jan, it’s more difficult to poll battleground states. 

If you conduct a national poll, it’s a larger sample size, and you’re going after a bigger target population. The sampling error for subgroups can be lower. When you’re polling states, especially diverse states, or states like Pennsylvania that have a big chunk of working class vote, they don’t want to talk to pollsters. It creates this potential for such a big error, not just a small one, “I missed it by a few points,” but big errors.

We saw that in 2020. The president had leads in excess of seven to 15 points in that state, and at the end of the day, he barely defeated the former president, Donald Trump in that state. It was much closer. Really, what it comes down to is that we have certain minimum requirements for different subgroups that other pollsters just don’t implement. I know that the white working class is going to be very difficult to reach in that state. There’s Appalachian regions that look more like eastern Ohio and West Virginia than they do Philadelphia. And those regions are incredibly difficult to poll. Even in parts of what we call Dutch country, it’s extremely difficult.

You’re not going to reach somebody who’s got a horse and buggy in Lancaster, you’re just not. To pretend, because you spoke to 250 educated white Democrats in Montgomery County, that now you know that region of the state is going to vote, honestly, it’s pretentious, and it’s extreme. The industry needs a little bit more empathy toward who they’re trying to poll, number one, but also they think too highly of themselves. They think too highly of themselves in their ability, and they need to have a little bit more humility.

Mr. Jekielek:

It’s funny because this is exactly what I was thinking. On one side, empathy, and on the other side, humility, that would probably be valuable now. You said with some confidence earlier what you feel about this shift. I asked you if we can count on the validity of the polls actually seeing this shift. You’re saying that you think it’s understated, and you’re saying you think it’s going to grow. Why do you feel so confident about saying that?

Mr. Baris:

History—this idea of a first term incumbent midterm, especially when we’re dealing with issues like economics. The party that’s in power, even when the party has a victory, it’s not an affirmation of that party in a first term incumbent midterm. It’s always a referendum on the party that people are feeling unease with. You’re governing, you’re in power, but things are spinning out of control. Right track, wrong track is historically negative right now, and the spread is historically large. 

The president’s approval rating is not good. Historically, we do have all of these benchmarks and indicators that are predictive that tell us how these things go. Far more likely than not, we’re looking at a last minute break that probably most people will miss, and the party that’s in power is going to pay the price. They’re going to pay the political price.

There’s only one first term incumbent midterm where we could look back in modern history and say that the president’s party basically bucked the curse of the midterm. That was George Bush and Republicans in 2002. But that was a very different situation. We had just had 9/11, and people were afraid. And what was the number one issue back then? 

It was national security and voters overwhelmingly trusted Republicans more to keep them safe, despite Democrats best attempts to repeat that environment. I do believe with the January 6th commission, they were trying to recreate this environment of fear and terror. There are signs everywhere for Democrats, that it’s not about inflation. They’ve even started to tone back on the abortion narrative.

Now there are signs everywhere that say vote Democrat, because democracy depends on it. They’re trying to recreate, only in their own way, the 2002 environment. Unfortunately, for them, that’s just not what voters want to vote on. Voters are voting on cost of living, inflation, economy and jobs. There will be, of course, peripheral votes for abortion, things like that. 

We do have people when we poll that say, “I’m voting Democrat, because my number one issue is some threat to democracy.” You and I had spoken about this before, but it’s peripheral, it’s marginal, very marginal. The overwhelming sentiment is a sentiment that things cost too much, things are out of control, and that we need to make a change.

Mr. Jekielek:

There was this recent really bizarre attack on Paul Pelosi. This has been amplified in the corporate media as a evidence that Republicans are extremists, or something like that. You’re telling me you don’t think that’s going to go very far?

Mr. Baris:

They’re talking to themselves. They are. This has been a problem that they have had now for years, post-COVID environment. They tried polling a few things like this as a campaign strategy, as really a national campaign strategy. With their victory in 2020, at least at the White House level for the president, they fell into that very same trap I was talking about before, that it was an affirmation of their politics and how they think about things. 

A lot of swing voters, A, didn’t like the turbulence of the Trump presidency. We called them the seasick voter. It wasn’t that they didn’t approve of how Trump handled the economy, just the boat was rocking every day, and they were getting nauseous from it. And Trump was not a comforter.

Instead of holding their hand and saying, “Everything’s going to be alright, we’re going to make it through this storm, We’re going to sail through the storm together.” Instead of doing that, he was Trump. He’s like, “Suck it up. We’re going to fight and that’s it. We’re going to fight on.” Some voters weren’t like that. 

Democrats made the mistake of thinking between that and COVID, that people were repudiating the Republican message and repudiating Donald Trump and affirming them. That’s really not what happened. So, post-2020, the president takes office, and all of these measures they’re passing are unpopular. Afghanistan happens. He doesn’t shut down the virus.

Remember he would say, “I’m going to shut down the virus, not the economy.” That was Joe Biden’s promise. Well, something happened and people began to say to themselves, “These promises were a little bit outlandish, and honestly I’m a little disappointed in myself for believing them. I don’t like this. I think we need to correct course.” 

But Democrats never listened. It was just one thing after the other, whether it was January 6th, or now we’re here with this, like you said, bizarre attack on Paul Pelosi. They expect Americans to just drop everything, not care that they can’t fill up their grocery cart, not care that they can’t fill up their gas tank, not care that they can’t purchase new clothes for their kids, or at least maybe they can, but it’s a lot more than it was two years ago.

They want them to drop all of those concerns, and look at their latest distraction, and Americans just aren’t doing it. I think Democrats now are honestly starting to come to that conclusion, but it’s too late.

Mr. Jekielek:

I’ve got this thing in the back of my mind that I want to ask you, and I don’t know if you’ve seen any information around this, but sometime after the 2020 election, there was a poll done. I can’t remember who did it now, but basically the poll was something to the effect of,  “If you realized that the Hunter Biden laptop was a real thing and not purported Russian disinformation, would you have voted differently?” 

The suggestion was that there were enough Americans that would’ve voted differently at the time. Now, we’re in this situation where a significant portion of the population understands that the cover up of the Hunter Biden laptop was the disinformation.

Does that actually play into this at all? I’m actually going to get you to tell me what the top five or 10 issues are, you mentioned economy and inflation, but first let’s cover this. Does the Hunter Biden laptop misinformation fit into this in any way?

Mr. Baris:

It does add to this general feeling that they were duped. This is something we’ve been hearing, now we’re coming up on the holiday season again. We really started to be able to see this and hear it from voters the previous holiday season. People were telling us maybe if you voted for Joe Biden, anywhere between eight to 15 per cent in any given rematch poll we did would say that they would change their mind now, and vote for Donald Trump because of a laundry list of stuff. 

This Hunter Biden laptop is certainly one of them. If you voted for Donald Trump, it’s statistically insignificant, less than 2 per cent in most of the polls that we have done, less than 2 per cent of Trump voters say they would vote for someone else or vote for Joe Biden. That’s it. The former president, Donald Trump, has lost nobody. 

There is this pretty significant, easily measurable voter remorse out there. On the Hunter Biden laptop story, and really the pay-to-play stories that go along with that, we polled states like Minnesota, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania. We polled all of these battleground states and asked them if they were aware of those news reports. 

In truth, only between 72 and 75 per cent in any one of those states told us they were aware of them. That compares to 2016, when we would ask people if they were aware of the email story or the WikiLeaks, it was over 90 per cent in most places. In most battleground states it was in the 90s. There was a universal awareness of these stories.

Whereas, the media and social media did a great job burying the Hunter story, the pay-to-play questions, and the Tony Bobulinski interviews. They buried them. You’re looking at about a quarter of the electorate to a fifth of the electorate that didn’t know, and now they know. It definitely has had an impact. 

I’ve seen several polls like the one you’re talking about, asking it in different ways. It’s very clear that had American voters been aware of that story, we would probably be looking at a very different administration right now.

Mr. Jekielek:

Let’s go through what the top issues are for voters right now. I was going to say top five, but just give me the ones that you feel are really major and important, and that actually will have an impact.

Mr. Baris:

That’s a great question. The battleground states pretty much do mirror what we see nationally, although some states have local things that have gone on. For instance, in Arizona, election integrity is a lot higher than it is nationally, and it’s often in the top five, but it’s always the same order for the top three to four. I would say the number one issue is cost of living and inflation. 

Anywhere between a third to almost 40 per cent will cite that outright—inflation is their number one voting issue. Another 10 to 15, 16 per cent will cite the economy and jobs, and sometimes it’s even higher than that. When you combine them, half of the electorate or more is citing economic issues. That is a catastrophe for Democrats, because the Republican leads with these two issues are huge.

Nationally, abortion and immigration tend to battle for number three, abortion has risen and that has fueled. We’ve shown this in a lot of graphics that we’ve put up for people to see. It’s being fueled by Democrats themselves. When we do side-by-side charts to show people that the independents are much more closely aligned with Republicans with what they’re citing as their issues, that number is always much closer to the Republican share than it is to the Democratic share.

With Democrats, about 20 per cent will still say inflation is their top issue, but the overwhelming number for abortion is just packed with Democrats. When it comes to independents, almost the same amount of independents will cite illegal immigration and border security as their number one issue, as the percentage that cites abortion.

It’s not an issue that’s going to do anything for a persuadable voter. It’s just not. I would round that out as the top four in general. And crime is number five. Sorry about that. I should have mentioned that. 

Mr. Jekielek:

Right. That was actually exactly what I was going to ask. Today I was looking at this video, and it’s stunning to me today. Someone cut a clip from The View, and Joy Behar is basically saying crime is not on the rise. What are you guys talking about? That’s not what every indicator, including what common sense tells me while walking on the streets of New York. How can that be?

Mr. Baris:

It can be worse in some states than it is in others. In Washington it is an issue, a fairly large one. In New York we see the governor’s race there incredibly close, which is stunning. That really should tell us all that we need to know. Hochul is a bad candidate, but it’s a 30-point Democratic state. And so, if it’s close folks, we should know what kind of an election this is shaping up to be. In the Senate race in Pennsylvania, it has risen as a concern there. 

Even nationally, it was generally almost tied with abortion and immigration. It really shot up from the low single digits, because I think Republicans are focusing in on it. Because the reality on the ground supports it, whether you’re in Phoenix, Arizona, you’re in Philadelphia, you’re in New York City and the five boroughs, everybody knows crime is on the rise. The stats back it up, and you can experience it, you can see it.

It’s something that you experience. It’s not something that’s ethereal, it’s tangible. You can see it with your own eyes. No matter what the media says, it’s one of those things where, “What are you going to believe, your own eyes or the media. People like Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, have done a really good job using that issue in their favor. Because I really do think that people should understand when we poll, we always ask people to pick their top issue, but then we get a laundry list. 

This litany that’s like a barrage from the voter. “It’s inflation, it’s bad, but really I got to tell you, crime too. Everything’s just messed up.” They give you this laundry list and they pack it in. Sometimes we like to use something called rank distribution, where will actually ask people, choose your number one issue, but then rank them in the order of importance.

When we do that, you can see crime may come in number five in a state or nationally, but when you do rank distribution, you can see that it’s actually ranked number three or two. By the way, abortion falls every time in rank distribution, because it’s not cited broadly, it’s only cited by Democrats. That’s how rank distribution works. 

It gives you a feeling of the intensity of these issues. Then, whether or not a voter picked another issue as their top issue, they still have other peripheral issues in their minds that are driving their vote. It’s a really good tool, a really good gauge to be able to show us what are those issues that are driving them. Again, those crime issues, definitely the economy and jobs, the labor market, they’ll rise up, and abortion will fall down.

Mr. Jekielek:

You mentioned election integrity as something that pops into the top five in Arizona, and perhaps a few other places. This is actually a question, because there was all sorts of talk about illegitimacy of the 2016 election, and then again in 2020 there’s all sorts of talk of illegitimacy of the 2020 election. 

There were certainly these activities like Hunter Biden laptop disinformation, which puts a lot of things into question, right? How big is this an issue for people right now, nevermind even these votes being shifted and all that kind of thing?

Mr. Baris:

Again, that does depend state by state, but it is a big issue, especially to Republicans and some independents, whether the media wants to admit it or not. We’ve asked this question in Arizona, and we’ve asked it in Georgia, a series of questions about election integrity. Generally, one of them is whether or not you thought it was intentional or not. “Do you believe that election officials count a ballot with only carefully matched signature, or do you believe that they look the other way and count a ballot with mismatched signatures? 

Then, the other is very simple. “Do you believe that lack of integrity certainly impacted the outcome of the election?” In states like Arizona, those numbers are really high. Georgia is another one. A majority in Arizona told us, “No, I definitely believe they counted ballot that didn’t match, they didn’t verify them properly.

Same thing in Georgia. Doesn’t matter whether or not the media thinks that’s true, that’s the way they feel. Now there’s an initiative on the ballot in Arizona that really, I don’t think could have helped out Republican candidates any better if they tried if they engineered this. But it’s a ballot initiative that basically removes the ability to use two alternative forms of identification to vote on election day. Also, there’s a voter registration number that must be matched with mail-in votes along with the signature. 

That’s a simple yes or no, Jan. That’s going to pass, and it’s going to pass overwhelmingly. We’ve polled it three times now. But it goes to show you Republicans are overwhelmingly a yes on this referendum and independents agree with them, so they’re going to vote yes as well. In a state like Arizona, it’s certainly driving a large part of the argument. It is.

Mr. Jekielek:

I want to talk about this very briefly. Essentially, in Georgia a law was passed, a Georgia election law. It was basically touted by some incredibly high profile people as a voter suppression law. What I’ve been hearing is that there is record turnout. What’s the reality over there? How is that law working out?

Mr. Baris:

There is no evidence that any of these proposals, or even some reforms that were enacted ever suppressed the vote. Obviously, those allegations are always made trying to anger, especially African American voters in urban areas, because that’s who they’ll say are targeted. Minorities. But minorities themselves don’t believe that. 

Of course, you have activists that you’ll see on TV touting it, but when we poll, it doesn’t matter whether the voter is white, black, Asian, Hispanic, it doesn’t matter. They don’t understand what the fuss is about. And they overwhelmingly support measures like this. Now we look at the actual data, though. Look at early voting in Georgia. Is that suppressing anybody? The vote is enormous.

In the primary, more people voted in that primary than ever. On both sides they had very, very good turnout. Republicans outvoted Democrats, but there are more Republicans there than there are Democrats, so, that’s not shocking. But the bottom line is there never was evidence to suggest that. 

The share of minority vote has consistently gone up. It’s not just a share of the overall electorate, it’s their share of the eligible population. Their turnout rate has been higher year after year after year. It doesn’t seem that any of these allegations are true. There’s just no evidence to support it, and turnout keeps rising.

Mr. Jekielek:

Is that something that’s also replicated in other states?

Mr. Baris:

There is really no state that I could point to that implemented it. Another one is Florida. By the way, there was a lot of debate over several of the changes that we had made in Florida. At the end of the day, turnout in Florida has been high. It’s a very high-participation state. In Texas there was another law similar to Georgia, Democrats ran out and got the domain Jim Crow 2.0 for Georgia. 

They had something very similar, and said that turnout in Harris County would be down, it would be abysmal. Just before the show, I was reviewing the early vote in Texas and the areas where Democrats are lagging are not even high minority areas, they’re whiter areas. There is no state where I could point and say that that argument makes sense. There just isn’t one.

Mr. Jekielek:

Let’s talk about the battleground states, and maybe let’s look at the governor races. You had stated very recently that you feel Florida’s no longer competitive. You feel DeSantis is basically in. That’s interesting. But let’s go state by state through the battlegrounds. In Florida, you’re not seeing it as a battleground anymore.

Mr. Baris:

After 2020, I looked at it and I know people think with a little over three points, three and a half points, a president wins the state, it’s still close. Three points is close, but it’s not in the state of Florida. That’s not a close race really. It’s just a very high population state. You can squeeze another quarter million votes out of South Florida, which is an area that really Democrats have only three high population areas that are strongholds for them. 

Now it looks like they’re losing one of those three. In Broward County, which is the most Democratic, the Republican share of the vote, post-Brenda Snipes, who used to be the supervisor of elections, in the post-Brenda Snipes era, the Republican share of the vote has actually increased quite a bit.

Alachua County is home to Gainesville, it’s a liberal area, and of course Democrats do well there. Miami-Dade is one of the bigger areas that was once their stronghold, and they’re going to lose it. Donald Trump almost carried it in 2020. It is getting more Republican. There are now more Hispanics who are registered as Republicans in Miami-Dade than there are Democrats. The white liberal is the only thing keeping Miami-Dade slightly Democratic at this point as far as registrations. 

You’re going to see with the independent and the Republican vote, both Ron DeSantis and Marco Rubio are likely to carry Miami-Dade. This is going to continue for the foreseeable future, because I’ve argued that if the governor and the Senator didn’t do it this time, and if Donald Trump was the nominee in 2024, he absolutely would.

We hear a lot about the Cuban vote, and they’re so crucial to Republican support in South Florida, but there was a new block of newly naturalized and eligible voters that were coming from Venezuela. The media and other media polls never saw them coming. We saw them on the voter file, immediately started to poll them. This is going back years, and they were a 70-plus percent Trump group. 

As long as the party stays the new Right, and doesn’t go back to the party of Mitt Romney, Florida is no longer really a battleground state, with all things being equal. If there wasn’t a flawed candidate or something, a truly flawed candidate, then I think it’s just going to be very difficult for Democrats to be able to overcome that. They’re not winning Hillsborough County by 30 points. That’s not happening. I just don’t know where they would get the votes from, especially if they lose Miami-Dade, which I think they’re going to.

Mr. Jekielek:

Let’s jump to Pennsylvania where you’ve shown good ability to predict.

Mr. Baris:

That’s the one bright spot on the map for Democrats this cycle. Not so much at the Senate level, but at the gubernatorial level, I do think the Republican nominee, Doug Mastriano absolutely could pull out what at this point would be an upset, but I think he can do it. We had him down, but he wasn’t down by an enormous margin like some of the other media polls have showed, he was down about four points. 

And the reason is simple. There are just some Trump voters and Oz voters who are older, and he got out spent so badly. There’s a lot of people who really don’t know anything about Doug Mastriano, other than what they have heard about in Josh Shapiro’s ads and what the media has told them. The Republican Governor’s Association (RGA) never helped Senator Mastriano. They abandoned him like they did the governor’s candidate in New Jersey who had a chance to win.

They didn’t particularly like either one of those guys, so they didn’t help them. That’s a sad reality of the RGA. They do this. They pick and choose who they want to support and they are very establishment. When you’re getting outspent basically 50 to one, it’s very tough. The Democrats are smart enough to know that Pennsylvania is the keystone state for a reason. If you can control Pennsylvania during a presidential election, you can deny someone the presidency. 

That’s a reality. You can choose not to enforce laws. You can choose to unilaterally propose new things to election procedures, which we saw in 2020 quite a bit. And there’s a Supreme Court decision about undated ballots. This is a great example. If it’s a Democratic governor, they’ll choose just not to listen to the Supreme Court, who’s going to stop them? And that’s what they’re doing.

Democrats really put a lot of money into this race, and I think that’s the one bright spot. And again, it is possible that Oz has a lifting up effect, because our poll did show a significant shift to Oz. It’s possible we didn’t catch it all. If Oz does win by several points, maybe he can get Doug closer. But as of right now, there is a voter that we see, that’s a problem for Doug Mastriano, which tends to be the older voter.

Mr. Jekielek:

Interesting. Okay.

Mr. Baris:

It is.

Mr. Jekielek:

We’ve got Florida, we’ve got Pennsylvania, let’s jump to Arizona.

Mr. Baris:

In Arizona, we’re polling again right now, and I got to tell you, we had a very close Senate race. But for the governorship we had Kari Lake up by several points, about just under four points. It’s not looking good for Katie Hobbs, the Democrat, because Kari Lake is doing so much better with some of the same voters that we spoke about in the beginning of the segment. The independent voter typically goes Democrat in Arizona now, especially in modern elections where the Republicans outnumbered Democrats. 

But if the independent vote breaks enough for Democrats, they can win. Kari Lake has been consistently stronger among those independent voters than recent Republican candidates statewide. It’s conceivable she actually wins them by a few. I just don’t see how it could possibly go to Katie Hobbs this time. I’d be highly, highly surprised.

Mr. Jekielek:

And what about Blake Masters in the Senate race?

Mr. Baris:

That margin between the two of them has always been around five points, four points. It does look like to me now that the difference between Lake and Masters is more like two. Let’s say if Kari Lake wins by three or more, I think Blake Masters is going to win. Right now the libertarian candidate has dropped out and endorsed Blake Masters. 

That’s where some of that vote was going. He’s still on the ballot, so that’ll be tricky to see. But of the people we polled that said they would vote for Marc Victor, they hadn’t submitted their absentee ballot yet. Some of them had, but the lion’s share of his vote was still on the table. And now early voting is almost over.

The early voting does not look good for Democrats there, and that’s the X factor. And Blake Masters was in a surge, he really was. In the pre-date poll we had him trailing Senator Mark Kelly by about four points in Maricopa. And after the debate, the first poll that we did, he was actually leading Kelly by one. So, if in this poll he maintains that lead in Maricopa, then he’s going to pull it off.

Mr. Jekielek:

Fascinating. Well, let’s go next door to Nevada then. How are things looking there?

Mr. Baris:

In our first poll in the state of Nevada, we actually had Adam Laxalt, who’s running for Senate against the Democratic incumbent Cortez Masto, doing a little bit better than Joe Lombardo who’s running for the governor, and he’s running against the Democratic incumbent, Joe Sisolak. This poll’s a little bit different. Adam Laxalt lead is growing a little bit, but Lombardo’s lead has basically tripled. It doesn’t surprise me because there have been Republican governors who have won that state and won it pretty easily. 

Whereas a senatorial election is much more like the presidential election in voting patterns and behaviors. Again, this is a state where the shift among the Hispanic vote, especially working class Hispanics is real and is going to have a big impact, because some people want to look at the early vote in Clark County. I think they’d be making a big mistake to make assumptions about who those people actually voted for.

When I think about the state, I constantly recall this middle aged Hispanic voter. He is a registered Democrat. He didn’t really think of himself too strongly as a Democrat. And in fact, he wanted to call himself an independent. He didn’t even consider himself to be a loyal Democrat. Just years ago he registered as one, has been voting for them all of these years. This year he’s going to vote for Adam Laxalt and he is going to vote for Joe Lombardo. 

He just flatly told us on the interview, “I don’t have time to worry about learning new pronouns or whatever it is that they think is important and whatever they think I should think is important. What’s important in my life right now is that I live in Clark County, Nevada, and inflation here is double the national average, and that’s what I’m voting on this year.” That guy to me, he said it all. Some of these people stick with you, Jan.

Mr. Jekielek:

Absolutely. What other races would you flag here for us to be looking at then?

Mr. Baris:

In New Hampshire, General Bolduc, for the Senate has a real shot to defeat Maggie Hassan, despite what some of the public polling shows. The internal polling on both sides is very close. And Maggie Hassan has some problems. She has never been like Jeanne Shaheen, where Jeanne Shaheen was always pretty well liked, had a positive approval rating, an approval spread that was positive. When people were asked whether or not they believed she deserved to be reelected when she was up for reelection, they gave her the nod. More people would say, “Yes, I do.” 

That is not the case for Maggie Hassan, and it’s never been the case. Now, since we’re looking at such a potential move in counties like Nashua and Manchester, there’s a big working class contingency in that county.

But there’s also those very educated independents we were talking about and with those women in New Hampshire. This a very textbook example of a state where that swing is going to have some very serious implications. New Hampshire one is a congressional district  that’s very competitive. There’s a Republican governor who’s going to win in a landslide. He is very popular. I think he’s going to help Bolduc. That’s going to be a surprise. 

And I also do think in Washington state with Patty Murray, her share of the vote in the primary was very low, very weak for an incumbent. She fell to 52. We’re just not going to know for about five or six, maybe seven days, because they count their votes incredibly slowly.

It’s almost all universal mail-in voting. But people do still have an election day vote and they come and they bring their ballot in and they submit it there. And those batches of votes take a very long time for that state to verify and process. It’s going to look like a resounding Democratic victory. And then, over number of days, as more election day vote is counted, it will chip away and get tighter and tighter and tighter. Kind of a reverse effect of what we’re going to see in some of these other states like Pennsylvania.

Mr. Jekielek:

That’s actually very interesting, because that’s what I would like to know actually ahead of time. This is something we’ll do on our election night broadcast too, is to actually assess exactly which states aren’t going to be able to call immediately, and which ones you actually might be able to, and spell that out front to the audience as well. I always found it so shocking, because you don’t know ahead of time and maybe someone will tell you here and there, but it’s not spelled out in black and white for people.

Mr. Baris:

Again, the cable and network news, they don’t do a good job of it at all. If you did that, you’d be doing a great service to your viewers, because we try upfront to let people know as much as possible for two reasons. One, they deserve to know how they’re conducted, because election day is not election day anymore. And in a lot of these places things are happening that’s not common to them, it’s even silly. 

Then, that also breeds distrust, doesn’t it? When people don’t really know what’s going on, it breeds distrust. I think that’s a great thing to do and we’ll try to do that as well. States like Arizona, we’re going to get a lot of that mail-in vote first, but then we can safely say most of the election day vote will be counted that night after the first big batch of mail-in vote is reported.

Unfortunately, there’ll be people who drop them off on election day and we’re going to be waiting on for those votes to be verified in Maricopa County. That’ll take four or five days. 

In North Carolina you have three days after election day if it’s postmarked before, but it arrives within three days, it’ll still get counted. I think that Senate rates will be called on election night. I do. I don’t think it’s going to be that close. And if it is, then that’ll be as one of the surprises that we always know are in store for us. 

Pennsylvania’s the flip side. We’re going to get some early vote, a lot of it, and then we’ll move to counting the election day vote. And then people like me will spend countless hours on the phone with officials trying to find out what estimated share of absentee ballot vote still remaining.

And believe me when I tell you, these people aren’t the most confident people in the world. One day you’ll get one answer, and one hour you’ll get one answer, the next minute you’ll get another. It’s very chaotic. I always think the more information you provide people, then the better. And the more they understand what is happening, then maybe the less inclined they are to think something’s wrong or going on, or something nefarious is happening.

Mr. Jekielek:

Rich, I should have asked this earlier in the interview, but some people, and frankly myself to some extent to be perfectly honest, view polling as having been weaponized as part of the political process, as a means of convincing people, bringing them over to particular viewpoints. How do you respond to that, and how do you prevent yourself and your outfit from falling into that?

Mr. Baris:

I sadly have to concede that’s true. Net polling is used for propaganda, for information warfare. There’s a lot that polling can do. It can depress a vote, it can excite a vote, it could make a vote complacent. Also it could raise money. This is what we hear a lot. 

It’s just why I don’t like taking a lot of private candidate work. I never did. And if I believe in somebody, I’ll work for them. For the most part you’re hired as a pollster, and they want something they can show donors. 

That’s just not what I do. That’s not the business I want to be in. And of course, I get it. There are some people, it’s always part of the game, but there are those who take that work on just to do that, to provide that service to a client.

Media used to be the safeguard against the misuse of polling as a weapon of information war. Unfortunately, now I think it’s very clear big media has become one of those abusers, and they’re the repeat offenders of it. It’s sad because the United States is supposed to be the gold standard of democracy, and yet we’re no better than Brazil or some of these other Latin American countries, polling has been weaponized for a long time. There’s actually a documentary on Netflix about it playing right now. It’s pretty interesting actually if people want to see it. 

I wish I could tell you otherwise, but I can’t because it is true. The most supposed credible news outlets out there are the very ones that are doing this time and time again. But how do I guard against it? I’m competitive. “Here’s the truth.” I would love give this speech about how I have all these ethical boundaries, and that’s true.

But what really this comes down to is that I’m competitive and I want to be right. I don’t like being second best. I don’t like being third best. I don’t like being wrong. And I think somewhere along the way most pollsters were like that. And somewhere along the way they lost it. 

They became blinded by ideology and very much like what I was saying earlier, that so many of them no longer even understand the people that they’re trying to learn about, and they’re trying to gauge. Polling is essentially attempting to predict human behavior. It’s very much almost a behavioral social science. How could you do that if you don’t know that much about the subject, and maybe even dislike them? And that’s the truth. Most people in my field dislike them.

So, they feel that it’s just not that big of a deal to weaponize their work against those people. I wish I had a less dire outlook to project to you about the industry, but I think we have really, really serious problems, ethical and methodologically. 

And until people get back to the basics and the drawing board, maybe even separate some of these relationships that are sadly really intertwined with each other, they’re almost incestuous between media and candidates and the pollster—until that has better boundaries or there’s accountability like we’re seeing RCP do, then I don’t think it’s going to change. Hopefully we’re moving in that direction, but we’ll see.

Mr. Jekielek:

But this is a funny question, right? 

Mr. Baris:

It’s a sad one.

Mr. Jekielek:

It is. But it comes down to incentive structures. If you’re incentivized to give the wrong information, then you’ll keep giving the wrong information, If you’re incentivized, perhaps like you are to give the right information, you have people like me following you and wanting to know what you think, as you know in your text messages, perhaps too often, that is also an incentive. We all believe that that would be the incentive for everybody, but it doesn’t seem to be anymore.

Mr. Baris:

It’s not. There’s a lot of money in it. I don’t often just broadcast people out there to put them up, to shame them. But you really could see this dynamic at work with the release of the New York Times polling, which was very different. He made no bones about the fact that the way he polls is much more expensive, even though he didn’t really particularly care about how poorly his track record is. So, to him it’s more about prestige and he knows what the New York Times wants him to find, right? 

Let’s be honest. He knows what the New York Times wants. They don’t want to publish a poll that says Democrats are going to lose all four of these Senate seats. They don’t want to do that. There’s no good incentive, because there’s no fear of repercussion at all. He’s never going to lose his job, never.

New York Times is not going to fire him because he had Hillary Clinton winning the state of North Carolina by seven, Biden winning the state of North Carolina by six, across the board I could go on and on and on. He has no punishment. The American Association of Public Opinion Research, they’re supposed to be somewhat of a watchdog. There have been good, honest pollsters who have called on them to do something, come up with a censure program or system of some kind that goes after people that obviously are doing this on purpose year after year. 

They have done nothing. Because the truth is they’re dominated by Leftists too. They don’t have any incentive to, I don’t know if the proper word is punish, but to highlight and showcase those who repeatedly overestimate the support of one party over another year after year. And it’s a shame.

It’s all because George Gallup loved this work. He is obviously very much a founder and a pioneer of American Public Opinion Research. I believed, and I still do believe what George Gallup believed, which is that public polling serves a really important function in any self-governing society. If you cannot rely on them for elections, because they’re constantly putting out either garbage or propaganda, intentional garbage, then has serious implications for the rest of what polling means to a democracy. 

Congressmen who are thinking about passing a bill, how do they know whether their constituents truly support the bill or not? They’re looking at some public polling. But believe me folks, if the polling on elections is wrong, the polling on how people feel about certain issues and policy standpoints, that’s wrong too.

If you can’t trust a pollster to get the horse race right, then you can’t trust that any of the other work that they’re doing is accurate either. It’s sad, because it takes away a tool from representatives and what is supposed to be a representative government. That’s what Gallup wanted.

Mr. Jekielek:

Richard, as we finish up, just give us a quick shot at what we can really expect based on your numbers come election day.

Mr. Baris:

More times than not, these things do break at the last minute the way that we’re seeing them, and the more likely outcome is that it ends well for the incumbent party. That being said, there are always those surprises. Our modeling takes into consideration that maybe not every single one of these competitive Senate races go, but the most likely outcome is that Republicans take the Senate with at least 52 seats. 

In the House, I really do think if they are on the high end of 19 points to 17 points with this group of independents, then they have a very good chance of breaking their historic cap in the house, which is 247 seats. So projecting that the Republicans would gain 33 to 38 seats would be an average moderate projection. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 to 45, where they’re now crossing the 250 line, that I would say is on the higher end of the forecast. But it’s not impossible.

It really could end up that not only do they get that in the House, they’re at 247 or 252, but that the Senate is just a complete wipe out. New Hampshire falls. North Carolina, I don’t really believe it’s that competitive anymore. It can be, but not this cycle. Ted Budd is strongly favored there. Warnock is not going to avoid a runoff in Georgia. 

Now that we look around this map and we’re seeing that Democratic incumbents are themselves in real trouble, they have no pickup opportunities, or at least it gets very slim. Even if they do, they would still have to use one of those to offset losing two or three of their own incumbents. That’s why, again, the most likely outcome is 52, but it could be higher. It could go to 53, even 54. It could, without a doubt. It’s possible.

Mr. Jekielek:

Richard Baris, it’s such a pleasure to have you on the show.

Mr. Baris:

It was great to be here. Thanks for inviting me. I had a great time.

Mr. Jekielek:

Thank you all for joining Richard Baris and me on this episode of American Thought Leaders. I’m your host, Jan Jekielek.

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