North Star Blog

Whit Ayres, May 10

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Washington Post regarding the public’s focus — or lack thereof — on scandals:

“The proof is in the pudding,” said Republican pollster Whit ­Ayres. But, he added, “we know that most Americans simply do not care about so much of the drama that consumes the Beltway. It’s all a matter of what results are produced.”

To read the full article, please click here.

North Star Wins for Role in AAPC Campaign of the Year

NASHVILLE, TN – APRIL 13: Awards Presentation during the Best of Pollie Contest & Campaign Excellence Awards on April 13, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Jason Davis/Getty Images)

North Star Opinion Research is proud to be honored for its part in the Karen Handel for Congress campaign, recognized as the 2017 American Association of Political Consultants Campaign of the Year.

North Star provided the polling services on a team with general and media consulting from Rob Simms and Mike Shields of Convergence Media, mail consulting from Ron Butler of Creative Media, and campaign management from Micah Yousefi of Winning for Women. It was an honor to work alongside that team on behalf of a candidate who had long before established herself as a servant of the district and state, starting with her chairing the Fulton County Commission and continuing with her service as Secretary of State. We have had the honor of working with Congresswoman Handel throughout her career, starting with her first campaign in 2002.

Whit Ayres and Mike Shields accepted the award on behalf of the team from Art Hackney for the AAPC.

Whit Ayres, April 11

Whit Ayres’ comments for Frontline on the role partisanship in defending a sitting president:

Political scientists said that limited criticism is normal from a president’s own party. Some made parallels to the debate among Republicans over whether to defend President Ronald Reagan following the Iran-Contra scandal. Whit Ayres, a Republican political consultant, noted that Democrats in Congress stood by President Bill Clinton during his own controversies.

“Democrats during the Clinton impeachment rallied around Bill Clinton, defended him resolutely and defended his conduct and behavior or at least minimized his conduct and behavior,” he said.

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, February 1

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Washington Post on Nancy Pelosi’s dismissal of tax reform benefits:

Even many Democrats cringed privately at her “crumbs” comment, which they worry distracts from their larger argument over the fairness of GOP economic policies. And of course, any metaphor that involves baked goods easily lends itself to the Marie Antoinette caricature that Republicans have drawn of Pelosi.

“It sounds like something a wealthy woman from San Francisco would say,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres.

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, January 29

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Daily Caller on Republican electoral prospects in the face of changing demographics:

Republican pollster Whit Ayres points out that President Bush got 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004, including a majority of Sunbelt Hispanics. “It’s no coincidence that he was the last Republican nominee for president to win a majority of the vote (in 2004),” Ayers says. “The changing demographics of the country demand Republicans do better with Hispanics if they hope to win nationally. The numbers are the numbers.”

Trump won the presidency with 46.2 percent of the vote, less than the 47.2 percent Mitt Romney got in 2012, when he lost the presidency.

To read the full article, please click here.

Jon McHenry, January 26

Jon McHenry’s comments to The World Weekly on the economy and Republican prospects in the fall:

Republican leaders plan to campaign on economic successes. The US economy has surged in recent months, with GDP up 3.2% in the third quarter of 2017 and unemployment down to 4.1%. Messaging will particularly focus on the Republican tax plan, stressing the tax cuts for the middle class set to start next month – one Republican dubbed it the “Great American Comeback.” “While many Republican accomplishments appeal to the conservative base, more money in people’s pockets appeals to everyone,” says Jon McHenry, Republican pollster, to TWW.

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.

Whit Ayres, January 18

Whit Ayres’ quote in The New York Times regarding the state of play in the 2018 Senate map:

“The Democrats running in the 10 states that Donald Trump carried have all demonstrated an ability to get elected in Republican states, so they obviously have something going for them,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican strategist. “But having the Democratic Party veer further and further to the left makes their lives substantially more difficult.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, December 22, NPR

Whit Ayres appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered to discuss President Trump’s job approval:

To read the transcript, please click here.

Whit Ayres, December 21

Whit Ayres’ comments in Bloomberg Businessweek regarding the competitive Senate environment in 2018:

Whit Ayres, a GOP strategist advising Senate and House candidates next year, admits Republicans are going to have “the wind in their face,” but he points out that, given the 26 seats Senate Democrats will have to keep, the GOP has been “blessed with an extraordinarily favorable map in 2018.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, December 16

Whit Ayres’ comments to the Associated Press on the effect of tax reform on Republicans’ electoral prospects in 2018:

“Passing the tax bill is necessary but not sufficient for Republicans to retain control of Congress in 2018,” said GOP consultant Whit Ayres. “It does give the party a concrete accomplishment that they can take to the voters, and that’s critical.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, December 15

Whit Ayres’ comments in The New York Times regarding Senator Rubio’s efforts to expand the Child Tax Credit in the Republican tax reform bill:

“He is not ‘all of a sudden, at the last minute’ grandstanding,” said Whit Ayres, Mr. Rubio’s pollster. “This is a consistent cause of his, going back to the presidential campaign and before.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, December 14

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Wall Street Journal regarding the Alabama special election and what it means for next year’s midterm elections:

“Obviously, the primary responsibility lies with a deeply flawed Republican candidate,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres.

But he said results in Alabama—and in Virginia’s race for governor, which Democrats won—also showed that some voters were turning against the GOP under President Donald Trump’s leadership, ”particularly college-educated, suburban women.”

That trend carries “troubling implications” for the GOP in next year’s elections, he said.

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, December 12

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Christian Science Monitor on Alabama’s unique political views and senate race:

“Alabama’s always had a fiercely independent streak,” explains GOP pollster and consultant Whit Ayres. “George Wallace came from Alabama, and stood in the schoolhouse door to tell the federal government to get lost,” says Mr. Ayres, referring to the Democratic governor of Alabama who opposed integration in the turbulent 1960s, when the state was ground zero for the civil rights movement.

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, December 12

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Hill regarding the Republican tax bill:

“It makes a lot of sense in a tax-reform bill to provide some relief to those on the lower end of the income scale as well as the upper end,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster who does work for Rubio.

Ayres said Rubio is right that “it will help the overall perception of this bill if it’s perceived of helping everyone who’s working, not just those at the upper end of the income scale.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, December 8

Whit Ayres’ comments in USA Today about sexual harassment and party politics:

“It’s a huge problem with women and particularly college-educated white women if Republicans come to be perceived as the party that accepts and defends men credibly accused of assault and being sexual predators,” said GOP pollster Whit Ayres.

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, November 21

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Chicago Tribune about the Republican desire to pass tax reform:

“There’s enormous desire within the entire center-right coalition to pass a pro-growth tax reform bill,” said Whit Ayres, a veteran Republican pollster.

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, November 9

Whit Ayres’ comments to Reuters regarding Republican support and geography:

Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster based in Virginia, said the party was on a risky track. ”Republicans have traded fast-growing upscale suburban counties for slow-growing or declining rural areas. That is not a formula for long-term success.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, November 9

Whit Ayres’ comments in the Los Angeles Times regarding the political environment:

“Our politics has become so tribal that people filter new information through a lens that tends to reinforce their preexisting point of view rather than change their point of view,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres.

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, October 25

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Wall Street Journal regarding factions in the Republican party:

“Both Sens. Corker and Flake have played important roles in the governing-conservative part of the Republican Party,” said Whit Ayres, a longtime Republican pollster. “Losing them is a major problem for those of us who want a center-right coalition to function effectively.”

For now, Mr. Ayres said, the two camps in the party—the Trump forces and the party establishment—need each other and need to find a way to work together. “Neither faction,” he said, “is large enough either to win elections alone or to govern alone.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Jon McHenry, October 16

Jon McHenry’s comments in The Hill on the importance of White House leadership in the tax reform effort:

“You have to have a White House that’s engaged in the issue and is able to show with facts and figures that no, this is actually going to help the middle class,” said Jon McHenry, vice president at North Star Opinion Research, a Republican polling firm.

The middle-class messaging could also pressure vulnerable Democratic senators, such as Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), to back a GOP tax bill, McHenry said.

The White House needs to “make the case in a way that the Joe Manchins and Heidi Heitkamps of the world can support the plan,” he said.

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, October 12

Whit Ayres’ comments in USA Today regarding President Trump and Senate Republican leaders:

Whit Ayres, a veteran Republican pollster, said he’s seen “nothing in my career that has approached this level of internecine warfare.”

“Everybody’s frustrated,” he said. “The president is frustrated. Senators and congressmen are frustrated. It seems to be very difficult to develop a majority coalition for much of anything so far.”

“Donald Trump has split the Republican party in two: the people who consider themselves more supporters of Donald Trump than of the Republican Party and the people who consider themselves more supporters of the Republican Party than of Donald Trump,” said Ayres, the Republican pollster.

“But neither wing of the party can win elections or govern without the other,” he said.

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, October 11

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Hill on the role of the President in the legislative process:

But the fear among many in the GOP is that Trump’s eagerness to get into the fray ultimately hurts himself — and his party’s agenda.

“I’m sure there are a lot of people who could play their roles more effectively,” said Ayres. “But as Harry Truman said about the presidency: The buck stops here.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Dan Judy, September 28

Dan Judy’s comments in The Hill regarding presidential leadership in legislative battles:

“He came into office, really, as a Republican in name only. He has no consistent ideology, no real policy proposals — other than building a wall, which is obviously not going to happen,” said Dan Judy, a GOP strategist who worked on Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) 2016 presidential campaign.

“As hard as Republicans in Congress tried, health care was not particularly popular and there was no kind of presidential leadership,” Judy added. “If Trump can’t get off Twitter and stop acting like a little boy, the same fate might befall tax reform.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, September 27

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Washington Post regarding Donald Trump’s effect on Republican primaries:

Moore is now 70 years old and was twice suspended as the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court for refusing to obey laws he saw as at odds with his religious beliefs. Normally all this would be career-ending. But that was before the Age of Trump. “What Donald Trump has done,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres, “is embolden the Roy Moores of the world.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, September 27

Whit Ayres’ comments in McClatchy Newspapers (featured here in The Sacramento Bee) regarding the Alabama Senate primary:

“It helps to remember that Alabama is its own brand in many ways, and what happens in Alabama may not tell us a lot about what happens in a closer swing state, like Arizona or Nevada,” said veteran GOP pollster Whit Ayres. “An Alabama primary is not necessarily the same as an Arizona or Nevada Republican primary. Those three states have very different demographics, very different political dynamics. We all want to make open-and-shut cases from one contest, and you just can’t do that.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, September 27

Whit Ayres’ comments to the Associated Press regarding the Alabama primary runoff results:

Republican pollster Whit Ayres, who has worked for Senate campaigns across the country, said Trump learns the same lesson his predecessor, Barack Obama, learned watching Democrats lose control of Congress and then seeing Trump defeat his chosen successor, Hillary Clinton. “You can’t just transfer the popularity of your brand to another candidate,” Ayres said.

As for Strange, Ayres noted the freshman senator was facing voters for the first time since being appointed by a governor who eventually resigned in disgrace. “No other Republican Senate incumbent will carry that baggage,” Ayres said.

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, August 25

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Boston Globe regarding President Trump and congressional Republicans:

“I think most of the Republicans in the Congress realize that they are going to have to take the ball and run with it if they are going to get anything accomplished,” says pollster and consultant Whit Ayres, who has advised Senators Marco Rubio, Lamar Alexander, Lindsey Graham, and Bob Corker, among others.

“Most of the Republicans in the Senate are perfectly willing to do it at this point,” he continues. “Trump has attacked their leader, attacked members of the caucus. If anything, Trump has united the caucus by going after some of them so aggressively.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, August 21

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Hill regarding the differences in reactions between Senators and House members:

But in general, Trump has stronger support in the House, where GOP lawmakers tend to represent more conservative constituencies.

“Senators clearly are more visible elected officials, and almost all of them have more heterogeneous constituencies than House members. They have to appeal to a broader segment of the electorate than do House members, especially those in gerrymandered congressional districts,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres.

To read the full article, please click here.

Jon McHenry, August 16

Jon McHenry’s comments in The Hill regarding tax reform messaging:

GOP lawmakers and the Trump administration often spend a considerable amount of time discussing how tax reform will boost economic growth and business competitiveness.

Strategists suggested that it’s important for Republicans to explain how more economic growth directly affects them, and some argued that lawmakers should cut to the chase and lead their tax-reform pitches with arguments about more jobs and more take-home income.

“The most important thing is to keep it on the day-to-day things that people are focused on, which in this case is jobs,” said Jon McHenry, vice president of the GOP polling firm North Star Opinion Research.

To read the full article, please click here.