Whit Ayres, November 4

Whit Ayres’ comment in The New York Times on President Trump’s appeal to base voters in the midterm elections:

Mr. Trump, who promised after his victory in 2016 to be a president for “all Americans,” has been fixated this year on visiting states that were critical to his Electoral College win and doubling down on nurturing his homogeneous base in those places. Many Republicans privately worry that in terms of the future health of their party, the outreach and agenda they are pursuing feels a lot like the president’s travel footprint: provincial and small.

“No one has repealed the long-term demographic trends in the country,” said Whit Ayres, a prominent Republican pollster. “At some point, Republicans are going to have to reach out beyond the base if they hope to win a majority of the popular vote in the future.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, November 1

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Atlantic on President Trump’s focus during the midterms:

Trump’s closing emphasis on culture may, in fact, represent a kind of triage for the GOP that effectively concedes large suburban losses in the House, but tries to protect more rural and blue-collar districts, as well as GOP Senate candidates in states fitting the latter description. “That’s not an unreasonable interpretation of it,” Republican pollster Whit Ayres said. Trump’s cultural messaging, he added, “may help in some rural blue-collar districts, but it sure doesn’t help in the suburban districts that are so important to help keep the House.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, October 4

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Los Angeles Times regarding partisan views of the Kavanaugh hearings:

“Like so many events today, people view this through their partisan filters to reinforce what they already think,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster. “The main difference we’ve seen since the Kavanaugh hearings is an increase in Republican enthusiasm. It doesn’t quite match the sky-high Democratic enthusiasm, but they have helped to close the gap in intensity.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, September 28

Whit Ayres’s comments in The Los Angeles Times on the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings:

“It’s depressing watching this because both of these people have been seriously and permanently damaged,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres, who has worked with one of the main conservative groups backing Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

“It reminds me of a Shakespearean tragedy, where everybody dies in the end.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, September 24

Whit Ayres’ comments to the Associated Press on the Tennessee Senate contest:

“A lot of conservatives in Tennessee really like Phil Bredesen and really don’t want (New York Democratic Sen.) Chuck Schumer to be majority leader,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster. “How they wrestle with that tension likely determines the outcome of the Senate race.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, July 31

Whit Ayres’s comments in The Hill regarding strong economic growth and the midterm elections:

GOP strategist Whit Ayres highlighted the most recent, bullish data on employment and economic growth and praised Trump for having sought to make the most of that news.

“It would be helpful if the president continues to pound that message, and it would make it far easier for down-ballot Republicans to win reelection or for candidates for open seats to win election,” Ayres said.

“We have a very good story to tell, but it is difficult to tell that story if it is constantly obscured by the latest controversy,” he continued.

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, July 27

Whit Ayres’s comments to the Associated Press on President Trump, presidential job approval, and the midterm elections:

“Donald Trump is a non-traditional president and he has severed the traditional tie between economic well-being and presidential job approval,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican consultant and pollster.

“People are not evaluating Donald Trump based on the state of the economy,” he added. “They’re evaluating him based on his conduct and behavior in office. It appeals to Republicans and doesn’t appeal to independents and Democrats. And no change in the economy will alter his job approval so long as that relationship changes.”

The president’s approval rating is of significant concern to his party: Largely because of Trump, Republicans face even more threatening political headwinds than is typical for the party in power as they head into November’s midterm elections.
For nearly his entire presidency, Trump’s approval rating hasn’t fluctuated much outside a six-point range between 38 percent and 44 percent. It was 41 percent on Friday, according to the average of polling data by FiveThirtyEight, a web site of statistical analyses, as the president stood on the South Lawn and credited Republicans’ tax cuts and his regulatory rollbacks and tariffs for “an economic turnaround of historic proportions.”

“If he did a lot more of what he did this morning in touting the strong economy, it would make it easier for Republican down-ballot candidates to win re-election or to be elected to open seats,” Ayres said. “There is a very good story to tell. But it’s hard to tell that story if the news is being drowned out by the latest controversy.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, June 28

Whit Ayres’ comments in USA Today regarding the political impact of Justice Kennedy’s retirement:

Whit Ayres, a veteran GOP pollster, said quickly confirming a new justice before the Nov. 6 midterms could prove crucial to Senate Republicans.

“It will make even more compelling the Republican argument that they have delivered on their promises and future control of the Senate is critical to accomplish conservative goals,” he said.

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, June 19

Whit Ayres’ comments on the Trump Administration border detention policy was cited as The New York Times‘ Quote of the Day:

“Somehow I don’t think that putting kids in cages is likely to go over very well with suburban moms,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster uneasy about running on the culture wars. Mr. Ayres said his party should campaign on “the concrete accomplishments of a Republican-held government.”

“A fabulously strong economy, a record stock market, ISIS defeated and a world without any major wars that are killing lots of Americans on a weekly basis,” he said, laying out the case.

To read the full article, please click here.

The Virginia Election in Six Charts

Democratic nominee Ralph Northam won the 2017 election for Governor of Virginia by the unexpectedly large margin of nine percentage points, 54 to 45 percent. Unlike the Rustbelt states voting for President in 2016, few counties switched from Democrat to Republican since the last Virginia gubernatorial election in 2013. Instead the surprising margin was caused by presidential-level turnout in formerly-Republican suburban counties. Tens of thousands of new gubernatorial voters driven by college-educated women, millennials, and minorities supported the Democratic candidate. Six charts tell the story.

Two rural counties in the Shenandoah Valley are typical of other rural counties throughout Virginia. Augusta County continued its strongly Republican voting pattern, and generated more votes for Republican Ed Gillespie than even for the victorious Republican Bob McDonnell in 2009, or for Gillespie when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2014.

The same pattern holds for Roanoke County farther south in the Valley (the City of Roanoke is not included in these numbers). Gillespie received more votes in 2017 in Roanoke County than any Virginia Republican ever in a non-presidential election.

Gillespie did not lose because of lack of Republican enthusiasm for his candidacy. Despite fears of some critics that Gillespie keeping his distance from Donald Trump would depress Republican turnout, that clearly was not the case. So why did Gillespie lose? The next three charts paint a vivid and, for Republicans, challenging picture.

Fairfax County in northern Virginia is far and away the largest county in the state, home to over one million people. In years past it was a competitive but reliable Republican county. Republican Bob McDonnell won the county in 2009 by 4,466 votes. Fairfax switched to supporting the Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe in the 2013 governor’s race by 68,065 votes. But in 2017 turnout exploded, and Northam swamped Gillespie in Fairfax County by 138,059 votes.

Loudoun County, just west of Fairfax in northern Virginia, has surged in population since 2010, and is now the fastest growing county in the state. Loudoun used to be a reliably Republican county that McDonnell carried comfortably in 2009 by 14,566 votes. Gillespie won the county narrowly in 2014 in his Senate race against Mark Warner. But in 2017 Loudoun followed Fairfax with an explosion of Democratic votes. Gillespie actually won 896 more Loudoun votes in 2017 than he did in 2014, but he was crushed by the surging Democratic turnout, losing Loudoun in 2017 by 23,392 votes.

Because the counties where Democrats surged are so much larger than those that continued to vote Republican, the statewide trends reflect those of Fairfax and Loudoun. In only eight years Republicans have gone from winning the Virginia governor’s office in 2009 by 344,614 votes to losing it in 2017 by 233,444 votes. Ed Gillespie won more votes than any Republican gubernatorial candidate in Virginia history, including 12,208 more than the victorious McDonnell in 2009. Yet he was swamped by the historic Democratic turnout.

Who are these voters who surged to the Virginia polls in 2017? It’s hard to imagine the bland candidacy of Ralph Northam generating this level of enthusiasm. Exit polls indicate that the surge came from voters who were trying to send a message to Donald Trump.

Gillespie won overwhelmingly–56 to 41 percent–among the 47 percent of Virginia voters who said Trump was not a factor in their vote. In other words, Gillespie won by double digits among voters who were choosing between the two candidates for governor.

The remaining voters used their gubernatorial ballot to send a message to Donald Trump. Twice as many–34 to 17 percent–sent a message of opposition rather than support. And among those opposing Trump, Northam won 97 percent of their votes. Ed Gillespie lost the governor’s race not because of his campaign, but because one-third of Virginia voters were trying to send a message of opposition to Donald Trump.

What does this mean for Republican candidates in 2018?

It means that every Republican candidate in 2018 will be viewed through a Trump filter. That will not be a problem in districts where Trump enjoys majority job approval. The strategy in these districts writes itself–the Republican is running to support the President, and the Democrat is running to oppose him.

But viewing Republicans through a Trump filter creates a real challenge for Republicans in states and districts where a majority disapprove of the President’s job performance. In those districts, Republicans will need a relentless focus on localizing the race. Republican candidates in districts opposing Trump need to increase the proportion of the electorate that makes a decision between the two candidates on the ballot, not use their ballot to send a message to the President.

Mid-year elections are almost always difficult for the party in power. The 2017 results in Virginia indicate that Republican candidates need to run particularly strong and well-funded races to withstand the headwinds they will face in many states and districts in 2018.