Episode 53
2022 Midterms: Top Voter Issues
with Jarrett Lewis, Brian Stryker, and Neil Newhouse

March 10, 2022


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Jarrett Lewis
Partner, Public Opinion Strategies

Jarrett Lewis is a Partner at Public Opinion Strategies, a national political and public affairs research firm, whose clients include leading political figures, Fortune 500 companies, and major associations. The firm is also part of the bi-partisan research team that conducts the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. Jarrett has extensive experience conducting survey research and providing advisory services for large health systems and healthcare companies, as well as political campaigns.

Jarrett was previously Executive Director of Health Policy at The Health Management Academy, a network of executive leaders from the 100-largest hospital systems across the U.S. In that role he advised C-Suite hospital system executives on federal policy initiatives and strategy. He also created and led a business unit offering advisory services to health system executives using proprietary survey research data in areas of business development, marketing, budgeting and health policy. Additionally, he directed a quarterly healthcare survey of 1,500 consumers, sponsored and published by the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC). He regularly speaks to health system and healthcare company Boards of Directors and leadership teams on the topics of health policy and consumerism in healthcare.

Jarrett began his career at Public Opinion Strategies, providing survey research analysis to federal and state campaigns during the 2008 election cycle. He worked for Public Opinion Strategies again during the 2012 election cycle, serving as a strategist and pollster to the Romney for President Campaign from 2011-2012. In that role Jarrett provided in-depth analysis of internal survey research data to senior campaign officials, including over 300 surveys and 150 focus groups.

Jarrett is a RIVA-trained focus group moderator and has moderated or managed over 200 focus groups in his career. He has an MBA from the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University and a BA in Political Science from Clemson University, where he was a member of the men’s varsity soccer team. He lives in Alexandria, Virginia with his wife Elise and their two sons.


Brian Stryker
Partner, Impact Research

Brian is a Partner at Impact Research and manages the firm’s Chicago office. He has a specialty in Midwestern politics, having polled on successful campaigns for governor (Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan), Senate (Joe Donnelly DSCC IE 2012 in Indiana), and Congress (Haley Stevens in MI-11, Cindy Axne in IA-3, et al). He has also polled for winning ballot measures across the region and the country, and he’s worked for the DCCC to help flip and defend swing seats around the country. Brian has also done work for labor unions across the country including research on broad union branding, specific contract negotiations, worker safety/training issues, and organizing drives at public universities. This includes ballot-measure campaigns important to unions such as road funding and prevailing wage. Brian also has led much of the firm’s international work. In 2015 he was the lead advisor for now-President Muhammadu Buhari, who with Brian’s help became the first Nigerian ever to beat an incumbent President. Brian helped Buhari navigate his re-election in 2019. He also has worked in Haiti with the National Democratic Institute to elect more women, Nicaragua to make government more free and fair, and Algeria to train parties and candidates on gathering public opinion. A Seattle native, Brian lives in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood with his wife, daughter, dog, and two cats.


Neil Newhouse
Co-founder and Partner, Public Opinion Strategies

Neil Newhouse is a partner and co-founder of Public Opinion Strategies, a national political and public affairs research firm which has been described by the New York Times as “the leading Republican polling company” in the country. Neil has been named “Pollster of the Year” by the American Association of Political Consultants a record-tying three times for his work on political and public affairs campaigns. Neil has worked in public opinion research for more than 35 years and has helped elect dozens of Members of Congress, U.S. Senators, and Governors. He has served as the Republican partner in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, and he has twice been named as one of the “Money 20″ political consultants in the country who make a difference. Neil has polled for four Presidential campaigns – Senator Robert Dole, President George W. Bush, Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and he was the lead pollster for Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign. In the 2020 elections, Neil was involved in Senate races in four states and in a dozen Congressional races. Neil has won praise from both sides of the political aisle, having been described by Pennsylvania Democratic Governor Ed Rendell as “one of the most respected pollsters in the country,” and he was recruited by Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) to provide polling and strategic guidance in his successful 2006 Independent bid for U.S. Senate in Connecticut. Neil has also worked extensively in learning more about swing voter groups like “Walmart Moms” – a constituency critical to winning elections. He’s also explored how technology has changed video viewing habits of Americans, focusing on those Americans who are “off-the-grid.” In addition to Neil’s political work, he has also been sought after by major corporations and trade associations, having completed work for organizations as diverse as Procter and Gamble, Walmart, PhRMA, The American Medical Association, The Gates Foundation, Google, Stanford University, American Water Company, Duke University and the American Trucking Association. Neil is often quoted in major national publications ranging from The Wall Street Journal to The New York Times and The Washington Post, and he has appeared as a frequent “talking head” on the nightly news regarding politics and campaigns. He was a weekly contributor to John King’s CNN Inside Politics during the fall 2020 campaign, and he has also appeared on Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show.” Neil also has extensive international experience, having completed various research projects in Australia, Jamaica, Kuwait, Bulgaria, Russia, Ukraine and Venezuela. Neil and his wife Mary life in Alexandria, Virginia and they have two adult children.


This is the longest period of sustained pessimism in this country in more than a generation.


[00:00:06] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: We’ve covered health politics and policy on the Gary Bisbee Show with former Senators, Joe Lieberman, and Bob Kerrey, and former Governor and OMB director, Mitch Daniels. with the 2022 midterm elections approaching in only eight months, We invited Jarrett Lewis, partner at Public Opinion Strategies and a student of health policy, as a guest host to moderate a panel discussing the current political environment and the most important issues that voters care about. Jarrett’s guests are prominent public opinion strategists, Brian Stryker, partner at Impact Research, and Neil Newhouse, partner and co-founder of Public Opinion Strategies. They dug into hot button issues for Democrats and Republicans, and they predicted what each political party needs to drive electoral success. They discussed what factors might influence election outcomes, like inflation and the economy, former President Trump’s involvement, the Supreme Court appointment, educational masking mandates, COVID and healthcare, and the outcomes of the war in Ukraine. We welcome Jarett Lewis and his guests, Brian Stryker and Neil Newhouse.

[00:01:17] Jarrett Lewis: Welcome to the Gary Bisbee Show. My name is Jarrett Lewis and I have the privilege of guest hosting our discussion today. Joining me are two of the top political minds in America and two individuals who make a living measuring and moving public opinion, Neil Newhouse and Brian Stryker. Neil is partner and co-founder at Public Opinion Strategies. He has polled over a hundred congressional, Senatorial, gubernatorial campaigns over the course of his career, as well as four Presidential campaigns and multiple corporate and public policy campaigns. He’s been named pollster of the Year by the American Association of Political Consultants a record tying three times for his work on political and public affairs campaigns. Also joining is Brian Stryker. Brian is partner at Impact Research. He leads the firm’s Midwest practice and counts a multitude of elected officials from the Midwest, as well as from across the country as clients. He was named to the 2021 American Association of Political Consultants’ 40 Under 40 award. he’s polled in over 100 countries around the world and, like Neil, polled from multiple corporate and public policy campaigns. Gentlemen, thank you for joining me for this discussion. I’m really excited for this. So let’s dive right in. I want to have our audience get to know you both a little bit better before we move into talking about the political environment in the US. So if you would just take a minute, and Neil, I’ll start with you, and just describe how you got into politics and ultimately it’s where you are today.

[00:02:43] Neil Newhouse: Well, Jared, first of all, thank you and a pleasure to be on this broadcast with you and Brian. And I have a ton of respect for Gary and what he’s doing, and I just am so envious of Brian’s 40 under 40. I wish I could be there again, but I

passed that a few years ago. I grew up in Kansas City. I’m a Midwest guy and I ended up going to school in North Carolina, and I really wasn’t a political person until I started taking some poli-sci courses and became fascinated with the election process. I’d been a high school athlete, although a very short one and, I’m just very competitive, and I loved the competition that was involved in politics. So I ended up becoming really engrossed in some of this poli-sci stuff in, believe it or not, the 1972 election. And we had two pollsters come to campus at Duke when I was there, Peter Hart and Pat Caddell, to talk to us about the 72 election. I went there. There was like a handful of students. And I was fascinated. This was great stuff. This is something I really kind of had my eye on. I got out of college, ended up working at the Republican National Committee as an intern in the survey research department and my intern coordinator was Karl Rove. And so from there I ended up in New Jersey, a state I’d never been to before, and ran a congressional campaign. We knocked off a six term Democrat incumbent. I became the guy’s Chief of Staff, and I realized within about six months of being the Chief of Staff that this was a job I was really no good at. My heart was back in the campaign trail. So I left that. Well actually, they asked me to leave that. And I went back to campaign politics and kind of never looked back after that. I love what I do. I come to work every day thinking about how lucky I am. The old, you know, if you never have to work a day in your life, this is what you oughta do. I thoroughly enjoy it. So it’s the competition that drove me and I thoroughly like what I do.

[00:04:44] Jarrett Lewis: And Brian.

[00:04:46] Brian Stryker: Yeah. I sadly turned 40 about a month ago. So, 40 under 40, we got to throw that off the website, I guess. Maybe, 50 under 50 or something next. I don’t know. Thanks for having us. This is great. I always enjoy working with both of you and Neil and I have worked together on quite a few projects that are DNR projects. I got into politics. I was a math and science guy. I wanted to be a physicist. And then I ended up going into computer programming and wrote software for a fiber optic cable tester. And then we invaded Iraq and it felt small to me. And so I wanted to get involved. And so my first job in politics, it’s like just the dumb luck, was as a call time manager because I just happened to know someone on this race and the previous call time manager, they went to a batting cage to celebrate. They had a end of quarter. Took a fastball in the wrist, shattered the thing, and so they’re just like, hey, we need someone who can type. And so, I was just sitting there and that job, all it is just putting phone numbers in front of an aspiring candidate and having them call someone for money. And you’re doing sort of the research on who that is. So that’s how I got into it, and then kind of brought the numbers experience that I had in the nonpolitical world. And this seemed like a good fit because I like numbers and I like politics. So it was fun. It’s been fun.

[00:06:03] Jarrett Lewis: Well, that’s great. Well, let’s dive in and talk about the current political environment and looking ahead to November’s midterm elections. Brian, I’m going to start with you. What impact did the President’s State of the Union address last week have? Was it an effective speech for him and for Democrats?

[00:06:19] Brian Stryker: I think it was a good speech for him. And he’s kind of a guy in these big moments of the campaign, whether it be the debates or the conventions. Where he kind of really had to hit his marks, I think has done a really good job at it and is maybe underrated for his ability to, in a real pressure cooker situation, step up. I think the effect on the midterms is really hard to judge. First of all, this Ukraine crisis is really fast moving. It’s going to bring pain in ways that are hard to predict how it plays out. And going into that speech, his numbers weren’t very good, right? And even some of the polls that show him having a bounce, which, usually those are temporary, even those don’t show them about 50%, right? So I still think Democrats are in for a tough midterm environment here. But it’s a little unpredictable, just given that crisis and sort of the way things could potentially play out.

[00:07:10] Neil Newhouse: A lot of that I agree with. I think he left a lot on the table and I think that, if you asked voters now, a week later, what they remember about the State of the Union address other than Ukraine, I don’t think voters… had any lasting impact. And so the impact on the 22 elections is, negligible. I mean, keep in mind, voters really have very short memories. you think back a few years ago, when Trump was impeached the year before the midterm elections and it made no impact. So, I mean, if the State of the Union address isn’t going to have any impact, if it had anything at all, I think it was the beginning kind of positioning of the President on Ukraine that could serve to rally the country around taking action. I think that may be, if there’s any lasting message there, that may be it. in terms of votes for ’22, it doesn’t make much difference.

[00:08:12] Jarrett Lewis: Well, and Neil, I wanted to ask you and you sort of touched on it, do these speeches matter the way they once did, these State of the Union speeches and Big moments in a kind of, either in the Oval Office or State of the Union, do they matter the way they, it sounds like you’re saying that they don’t.

[00:08:27] Neil Newhouse: Well, it depends on the speech, but to some extent, when you’re living in the kind of social media age we do now with Twitter, with Snapchat, et cetera, any given speech, I think, doesn’t have really quite the same impact as it did 20 years ago. And so think there is a difference and Americans’ attention spans seem to have gotten shorter. So, I think these big speeches, unless there’s a precipitating event, really don’t mean as much and more difficult for a guy like the President to move. You can’t move numbers on a single speech. That just doesn’t do it. You look at these speeches as maybe an inflection point or a turning point in a campaign or a presidency. I don’t see that necessarily for last week’s speech. And I think, with the current news cycle, the way it is now and the way people get their information, I think that’s very difficult to come by nowadays.

[00:09:25] Jarrett Lewis: Well, let me ask you both this. And Brian, I’ll start with you. Both of your firms are constantly in the field in congressional districts, in states, nationally. You’re constantly in the field talking to voters, asking voters questions. What issues are top of mind for voters in the United States right now, as we look ahead to November?

[00:09:41] Brian Stryker: Well, and two weeks ago, it would have been a little bit different. So number one is the economy. That’s been pretty constant for about a year. Overwhelmingly, number one with Republicans. Pretty clearly number one with independents. And up until a few weeks ago with Democrats, it would have been sort of tied with COVID and dealing with COVID. Well, now the number one issue, at least in the one poll I’ve seen since, and again, this will just move day by day by day, it’s so hard to measure public opinion in this type of crisis. Number one with Democrats is Ukraine now. And then with independents, it’s kind of right up there with the economy. I think that if we’re being realistic about how people are going to vote in nine months, I just think the economy is going to be number one and specifically inflation, the rising cost of gas and meat and milk, and other groceries. But yeah it’s crazy. You’re in one of these moments and you can just see numbers sort of move day by day, which is normally not the case. Politics is pretty static.

[00:10:35] Neil Newhouse: Yeah. I mean, underlying this is a real and perceptual negative mood of the country. There’s a question we ask on, I mean, as you well know, on all of our surveys. do you think things in the country are generally headed in the right direction? Are they pretty seriously off on the wrong track? It is, as much as any other question, kind of like the Dow Jones industrial average of politics. When voters think things are going well, they reelect incumbents. If they think things are going poorly, they kick them out of office. And right now the numbers are around 25 to 27% right direction. This is the longest period of sustained pessimism in this country in more than a generation, more than 25 years. And there’s a relationship between right direction and presidential approval. But voters are upset. They’re pessimistic. It is, as Brian said, voters are increasingly now concerned about Ukraine, but it is, the day to day concern really focuses on making ends meet. it’s not just jobs. It is income and catching up and keeping up with inflation. So that seems to pale other issues. The supply chain issues are still there. Jobs, COVID, the overall economy, immigration, especially for Republicans. These are all significant issues. But right now, and especially if you have gas prices hitting 5, 6, $7 a gallon, it is the cost of living and kind of making ends meet so that, even though Americans wages aren’t really increasing, so they’re having a difficult time keeping up with the rate of inflation right now.

[00:12:13] Jarrett Lewis: Let me stay with inflation for just a second. To both of you, is the issue of inflation, is that in the minds of voters, is that squarely directed at whomever’s in the Oval Office or does the blame of that spread to others in their minds?

[00:12:29] Brian Stryker: Oh, I think it’s all over the place. I mean, they blame. So first of all, there is some blame for disruptions caused by the pandemic and the global supply chain process that are out of political leaders’ control. But no, they throw it pretty squarely on executives at the federal level, the President and Congress, right? And they link certain policy decisions Congress has made to inflation, right? Spending decisions, taxing decisions, stuff like that. So I think, from what we’ve seen in polling, the primary blame is at politicians, but there’s plenty to go around, right? And even when you look at more liberal voters tend to blame corporate greed and they think corporations are taking advantage of the moment, right? Eventually, it all comes to the President’s desk because he’s the President, but there’s a lot of areas they blame.

[00:13:14] Neil Newhouse: Yeah, and I was actually surprised in the fall, taking a look at this issue. And I was surprised at the number of Americans who tied the increase in inflation with overspending by Biden and the Democrats in Congress, that they went too far, that there was a sense that we were throwing too much money at issues. Now that was in the fall and through, really, Thanksgiving. Since Ukraine, I think this enables Biden to point to Ukraine as another source of the rising inflation. And so it gives him somebody else to blame. And to some extent it’s true. So I think he may have a little bit of an out there, but the original numbers we saw really had a partisan cast to it in terms of, it was falling on the President’s desk in terms of who they blame for inflation.

[00:14:07] Brian Stryker: Well and Neil, I think that’s going to be really interesting how it plays it out, I mean, interested in what you think, but people will go through some pain for patriotic sacrifice, right? And I think that they’re saying they will in polls right now. Will they in reality if gas is up to five or six? I don’t know, right? But at least right now, they’re certainly more willing to pay some more for gas if they feel like they’re sticking it to Putin rather than because of some domestic policy.

[00:14:36] Neil Newhouse: It’s really interesting to see, would you favor or oppose cutting off Russian oil if it meant that we’re going to pay 30, 40, 50 cents more per gallon and people are saying yes to that. The question is, how long will they sustain that pain? And that’s a hell of a question. I totally agree. There’s a lot, just a ton right now we don’t know. And the facts on the ground are changing by the day.

[00:15:02] Brian Stryker: Yup.

[00:15:03] Jarrett Lewis: Let me pivot and let me look ahead to the fall. Brian, I’ll start with you. It’s November 9th, the day after the election, the midterm elections this fall. Democrats have held the Senate or even picked up a seat or two, have significantly outperformed expectations in the House. I won’t put a number on that, but significantly outperformed, and at the state level, governorships and state legislative races. Walk me through how they were successful. What do Democrats need to do to be successful in November?

[00:15:27] Neil Newhouse: Yeah, Brian, tell us what the hell happened to make that happen.

[00:15:31] Brian Stryker: I think you’d have to put a lot of the credit on the pollster who won some of those races, of course. I think there are two examples in the recent years of outperforming in a midterm. One is Bill Clinton, who just had a booming economy in ’98. And the other was George Bush, who was incredibly popular off of the way he handled 9/11, right, incredibly popular. And at that point, the war in Afghanistan, not the war in Iraq yet. And so, I think you would need, frankly, an economy that is just going gangbusters, inflation having come down, wages going up, and inflation not going up, prices not going up, and you need people feeling really good about the economy, which they don’t right now. Or, a sort of military situation. As Neil said, if this was an inflection point and the President looks like a leader in a national crisis, that could do it too. But outside of that, the history says not a heck of a lot is really able to do it.

[00:16:36] Neil Newhouse: Brian’s right there. There’s gotta be a turning point, inflection point, someplace for Biden to turn things around. The number of seats that Republicans win or gain in the fall is to some extent dictated by where the President stands. And if the President’s under 50% job approval, the history of the party in power picking up seats or doing well is negligible. So, if Ukraine’s a turning point, then that potentially could happen. But if things just go on as they are right now with respect to cost of living issues, cOVID still out there as a concern, supply chain issues, ramifications from the Ukraine war, US voters, then, it’s not going to be, gee, how’d the Republicans win the House, but geez, I didn’t expect them to do all that well. The hidden story in 2022 is going to be the discrepancy in turnout between the two political parties. And in a wave election that we’re looking at potentially, the party out of power picks up seats because there’s an imbalance in who actually votes. So Republicans have energy behind them. Republicans are more negative towards Joe Biden right now than they are positive toward Donald Trump. That drives them out to vote. And Democrats are less enthusiastic about Joe Biden than Republicans are antagonistic toward him. So the energy is behind the GOP. Independents are siding with Republicans by almost two to one. It’s going to be essentially a non-story when Republicans pick up the House and Senate in November because everybody expects him to. The question is, what keeps me awake at night? And I think complacency, the fact that everybody thinks is going to happen, therefore it’s going to happen. And if our guys sit on their butts, that’s the worst possible thing.

[00:18:45] Jarrett Lewis: Neil, let me stay with you. You mentioned Donald Trump. What role does the former President, former President Trump, play this fall in your mind?

[00:18:53] Neil Newhouse: Well, he’s already playing a role. I mean, listen, he’s having a hell of an impact in Republican primaries across the country. He may not be popular among all Americans. but his numbers among Republicans are still strong, maybe not quite as strong as they were six or eight months ago, but he’s the most popular, single figure in the Republican party right now. His endorsement carries weight. Who he chooses to endorse is going to have an impact in some of these races, the Missouri Senate race, for instance, Alabama Senate race. If these candidates that he endorses don’t perform well, or if they are kind of on the edges, then it makes those races more competitive and it’s more dangerous for Republicans. The impact he’s going to have, he’s going have a hell of an impact in getting Republicans out to vote. And Brian hopes he’s going to have a hell of an impact on getting Democrats out to vote as well.

[00:19:46] Brian Stryker: Yeah, although I don’t know that he will. To be honest, I think you ask people and they think he’s running again, right? But I don’t know that they’re really, I just think every time we try and tie somebody to Trump, it just, I don’t know, it just


[00:19:59] Neil Newhouse: Hey, Brian the one example of that I thought was really interesting. Governor Newsom was on the ballot for last summer and he started running his campaign and his advertising against Donald Trump, positioning himself against Trump. and that didn’t work. And then when he finally positioned himself against a potential Republican nominee who had all kinds of warts and issues, his numbers went up in the polls But, I think a lot of people, a lot of candidates in your party, are going to want to try to position themselves against Trump because they just hate him so much.

[00:20:34] Brian Stryker: Yeah totally agree with that. But I do think you’re right. I mean, we did a Republican primary poll in Peter Meijer’s congressional district for folks that don’t follow day to day, a guy that voted to impeach Trump. And sure looks dead in the water, right, in our polling. And we see that, especially if Trump comes in there and weighs in, which he kind of has already, but does it more publicly, just going to take him out. And he’s done that to Republican after Republican. So I think he’s not even done taking down Republican incumbents would be my guess.

[00:21:06] Jarrett Lewis: Brian, let me ask you this. In 2018, the Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination and confirmation hearings, I think actually helped Republicans in a few key Senate races in a year that was otherwise pretty bad for Republicans. Do you see any parallels with the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson in a year that is looking positive for Republicans in terms of motivating some Democrats in some key places and key races?

[00:21:33] Brian Stryker: I kind of don’t. I mean, with the Kavanaugh thing, I remember we were doing a governor’s race in South Dakota, two to one Republican state, very close race for Governor though. A Democrat lost by about three. And I remember doing focus groups there right after this and hearing people in the lobby of the hotel I was staying in, not at the focus group facility, talking about Kavanaugh as like, oh, that’s not good for us. This is a big time partisan issue in a state where this is not going to help. This one, first of all, Republicans don’t seem that determined to fight her. I mean, I don’t think they’re going to vote for her, but making a big deal of it, I just think there’s no desire for a ton of conflict here. It’s pretty much a holding serve, it’s a 6-3 court staying a 6-3 court. I just don’t see a lot of energy coming out of this. Now, if the Supreme Court overturns or guts Roe v. Wade in late June, that could turn the Court into a political issue in a different way. But I don’t think this is going to be the thing.

[00:22:24] Neil Newhouse: Yeah. And Yeah Brian, I agree with you there. It doesn’t have all the hallmarks of a partisan knife fight in the Senate. And the Kavanaugh hearing certainly had that. And plus, it was just immediately prior to the election. It helped galvanize Republican support. I don’t see this as doing the same. thing

[00:22:43] Jarrett Lewis: You both have mentioned Ukraine. So let’s talk about it for a few minutes. How have Americans reacted thus far to President Biden’s actions on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And I’ll start with whoever wants to take it.

[00:22:55] Brian Stryker: We really only have one or two poll,s national public polls, and we haven’t done a ton on it internal work. I think pretty positive so far. I mean, they sort of are looking for him to be strong, looking for him to take action. It’s complicated cause you ask these questions about no befly zones, all these sort of really esoteric questions about public opinion and people are all saying, sure, this one, sure, that one and really don’t have a sense of what it means. But honestly, I think the best thing that he’s gotten out of it is he’s looked like he’s in control and looked like he’s decisive, is rallying allies, that sort of stuff. And that’s probably the flip side of what Afghanistan looked like, and that’s probably been good for him.

[00:23:34] Neil Newhouse: NATO has never been stronger than they are right now. And that’s because of, I mean, Putin has done what we couldn’t do, which is bring NATO together. And Putin has certainly done that. He’s going to have a real problem next couple of weeks, though, in terms of how far the US goes in support. And it’s just it, boy, it sure seems like Putin wants to bring us into it somehow. So I think it’s been, this has been fairly easy so far for the president. If the Russians take Kyiv, if they take over the country, that becomes much more difficult and what actions the US takes with this issue. So I think this has a long ways to go before it’s played out. I think Americans are apt to want to become more involved rather than less involved in this issue. But it’s just, time’s gonna tell. And the pictures and the stories we’re getting back from Ukraine are incredible, And the fact that our nightly news being anchored every night from Ukraine or Poland is telling. Americans are focused on this issue unlike any recent foreign affairs conflict we’ve had.

[00:24:56] Jarrett Lewis: Neil, you bring up a great point. Let me follow up with both of you guys on that. We’ve never really had a conflict, I don’t think to this scale, in sort of this hyper social media state, where we are literally seeing things kind of in real time or right after things happen. What impact do you both think that has, because you’ve seen kind of the growth trajectory of social media and its impact on politics in the United States. What impact do you think that has on. this?

[00:25:25] Neil Newhouse: Well, it’s personalized this war to Americans. The fact that we have English speakers in Ukraine talking about what this has done to them, their families. The fact that you see these women and children getting on trains leaving the country and every man under the age of 60 staying home to fight. It reminds Americans of what’s at stake in democracy and makes them proud of their own democracy. And I think it makes them want to support Ukraine. This is far from a kind of a Vietnam War Where you’d get the nightly news every night and, depending on the reporters, this is being brought to us real time by average Ukrainians. And I think it’s compelling.

[00:26:11] Jarrett Lewis: To both you guys, is this an issue that could potentially unite the country or do you think it becomes another partisan fight in the US?

[00:26:22] Brian Stryker: I think people have started in a pretty united place. I think that a lot of these wars, I think they tend to become more partisan over time. And I think, whether it’s gas prices, like we talked about, whether it’s, are we supporting an armed insurgency from a neighboring country after Russia has taken over more territory, or not? I think there’s probably places where it becomes more partisan, more likely.

[00:26:46] Neil Newhouse: It’s united right now, but, okay, so how does this end and what happens after it’s “over”? I think that becomes an issue. And that’s maybe where partisanship might come in, might be in play. But while missiles are being fired and Ukrainians are being bombed, I think it’s pretty clear that the Americans will probably, in both parties, will probably be united in standing for Ukrainians against Putin.

[00:27:15] Jarrett Lewis: Let’s come back to the US for a minute. Neil, I’ll start with you. education. has become a galvanizing issue, I would say, for Republicans in some places around the US. You saw it in Virginia last November with the election of Glenn Youngkin. You even saw it, it wasn’t exactly a Republican recall in San Francisco, but the three school board members that were recalled over how they were handling certain education things. It’s seemingly an issue that hasn’t, I would say, been a strong point for Republicans over the last decade or two, but it seems to be one right now. DO you anticipate Republican campaigns will keep their focus on education this fall?

[00:27:50] Neil Newhouse: Yeah. I mean, it’s not just education. The Democrats kind of lit the spark on this thing with critical race theory and just, in the teaching, that’s become really a hot button point. And here in Virginia, the governor talked about parental control of education, that parents should have a say in curriculum. That’s a real debate in the state about education and about the curriculum. And I think Americans or parents are extraordinarily frustrated with education over the past two years, partly because of COVID and the fact that they’ve been stuck at home and the kids haven’t had to go to school. And I think it’s a real, it’s become a sensitive point for Americans, a sensitive point for parents and Republicans. And then you get a feeling from the data that parents want to control or have more say in what the kids are taught and how they’re taught. And that’s what this is all about. It’s not just simply education They want to have more of a say in it.

[00:28:55] Jarrett Lewis: And Brian, I think you did some work right after the Youngkin election in November, I think, sort of on this topic. So what, from your point of view?

[00:29:04] Brian Stryker: Well, we were doing a lot before and then we did some focus groups afterwards among Biden/Youngkin voters. And I actually think one of the reasons the critical race theory issue works so well for Republicans right now is because the schools were closed so long and two thirds of parents think that their kids lost ground over the last year or two in education. The tests that are coming out are showing that they’re right, that the remote learning or the Zoom learning was nowhere near what in-person learning is. And in some cases, it was no better than not learning for kids. And so I think that part of it feels like a focus on something that they just want their kids to get back on track and get the math and the science and the reading and all that stuff. And that feels like a distraction. I think that’s a lot of what the San Francisco reaction was and the Virginia reaction was too. If schools continue not to close, if we start to relax the mask requirements and sort of stop having these COVID fights every day, does some of the air go out of the balloon on a lot of these education issues? Potentially. I don’t know. And I don’t know how long it takes. The parent’s memories are pretty long and it was a long two years. So that’s a question I don’t know the answer to.

[00:30:12] Jarrett Lewis: Well, Brian, let me stay with, COVID-19 for a minute. It certainly, as you both know, it’s been an extremely polarizing issue in the United States. Brian, what’s been the impact of the various COVID-19 hot button issues, things like masking, things like the vaccine. Do you think this is a partisan sticking point in November, or you think it ceases to be an issue?

[00:30:32] Brian Stryker: Well, I think there was a long time where Republican seemed out of touch on this issue and sort of playing to a base of voters in terms of some of the Trump statements on it and some of the sort of anti-vaccine stuff and sort of early on. And then I think it switched to where a lot of people felt like Democrats were playing to their base or sort of out of touch with Americans, whether it was political or not, and sort of saying, we got to get to COVID zero, we got to keep these restrictions in place, when sort of most voters had decided this isn’t possible. And I think you just have now the main of both parties sort of moving away from either of those discussions and just saying, like, we got to sort of figure out how to live our lives. So I actually think that the average Democratic politician and Republican politician isn’t that far apart on this issue today, even if their bases are slightly far apart because the median voters have just all kind of come to the same place on this thing.

[00:31:26] Neil Newhouse: First of all, it is amazing that this has turned out to be, that masking and COVID has turned out to be such a partisan issue. It’s incredible. But all our data indicates that. And it’s anti-vaxxers and maskers are anchored by Republicans and conservatives. And on the other side are Democrats and liberals. So at the beginning of this was Republicans were crazy because they didn’t take this seriously. They weren’t masking, They didn’t get their vaccines. And then the debate ended up turning towards, as things began to scale down, gee Democrats are going too far. They want to mask when there’s no need to mask, they want, so they’re, pushing it too far on the other end. I think, unless another variant hits us, unless we’ve got another wave, that this issue is going to dissipate as we get into November And not going to be, you’re not going to have candidates who are advertising about their opponent’s position on masking or COVID or mandates. Mandates maybe, but masking and COVID, probably not.

[00:32:33] Brian Stryker: I agree because I think what you have is 15, 20% of voters who think we need to do everything we can to beat COVID including future restrictions and all that sort of stuff. And then you have 15 to 20% of voters who believe it was never a big deal in the first place. And then there’s the bulk of Americans, two thirds of the country, is in this place of, okay, it was tough. We did a lot of things. Maybe they were right. Maybe they weren’t. But let’s kind of move on. And people are just tired of hearing about it. So I actually think, in some ways, it is a danger for Republicans. I think they’ve been pretty good at navigating this, but taking somebody like a Gretchen Whitmer or Tony Evers, or someone that sort of was aggressive early on and continuing to bring this issue up and just kind of making the whole campaign, because a lot of people want that, like, there’s a certain group of a segment of people who want to just talk about COVID mandates, but those people are not swing voters. So I think anyone who just focuses on this issue is just doing it at their peril by the time the fall comes around.

[00:33:36] Neil Newhouse: It’s like beating a dead horse. We didn’t talk about January 6th, but the same kind of, I felt the same way about January 6th. People have already made up their minds. They made up their minds on COVID. They made up their minds on January 6th. They are where they are and nothing new is really going to move them on that stuff. So, in order to move voters in an election, you want new information, something you haven’t heard before. New issues and these have been litigated and are already out there. There’s nothing new there. it’s not really going to move voters. I think Americans are exhausted by COVID, by every aspect of it, everything from wearing masks to keeping their kids home from school, to working from home. They’re exhausted by it. They want to move on. It’s an economic issue and a lifestyle issue right now. they want to keep going with their


[00:34:27] Jarrett Lewis: I’d be remissed if we didn’t spend a few minutes talking about healthcare given this is Gary Bisbee’s podcast and everything he’s done in the healthcare industry. So let’s shift gears and talk healthcare for a minute. Brian, I’ll start with you. The President talked a lot about healthcare policies towards the end of the State of the Union address last week. Where does healthcare as an issue rank to voters right now?

[00:34:47] Brian Stryker: It’s a little down the list. I think, to some degree, if there are places where you can cut costs and it plays into an inflation discussion, okay, now you’re talking about the most important issue to voters. Healthcare can be important in a cost frame. Healthcare became a huge issue really in 2017, 2018, 2019, where voters didn’t think it was reality that pre-existing conditions could be back on the table, right, that you could have your healthcare taken away if you got a preexisting condition. And then it became reality because we went through this whole healthcare law and they were angry and they expressed that anger in 2018 and to some extent in 2020. But I think it’s always important to people, but I don’t think they feel like there’s a big fight about it right now, there’s anything coming down the pike. And so they’re just kind of in the place where they are, which is pretty happy with their own insurance, not that happy with the American healthcare system in general, and kind of just resigned to that being their reality for now.

[00:35:44] Neil Newhouse: Yeah. If anything, I think healthcare was being, for at least the last couple of years, is being viewed through the Prism of COVID-19 and how hospitals and insurance, how everybody’s delivering with respect to COVID-19. And now with other issues really supplanting the healthcare issue, it’s not front burner. If anything, it’s, well, I mean, echoing what Brian said, yeah, people were happy with their healthcare. What they may not be happy with is the cost of their healthcare. And they don’t know who really, to point the finger at. It is not just, I mean, Democrats want to talk about prescription drugs, but it’s health insurance companies. It’s a middle man. It’s all kinds. Every step along the way is kind of driving up the cost of healthcare. There’s a sense among voters that they’re being nickeled and dimed to death by the healthcare system and that health insurance isn’t working like insurance is supposed to work, but it’s still not the front burner issue when you do focus groups nowadays. When you’d do focus groups three or four years ago, the most important problem facing you and your family, healthcare would always come up. People would always have a healthcare story. And now you’re talking about cost of living. People have that story about how much they paid at the pump or the prices going up or how their pay is not keeping pace with the price of goods. So it’s been supplanted and is now more of a back-burner issue.

[00:37:17] Jarrett Lewis: Guys, is there any healthcare or health issue that can garner bipartisan support in this polarized environment?

[00:37:25] Neil Newhouse: Yeah, what’s really interesting is Republicans spent how many election cycles beating the ever living crap out of Obamacare, and then began to seemingly embrace it to some extent. I mean, it’s the law of the land. Americans kind of liked the idea of the pre-existing conditions, kids being the age of 26 on their parents’ health care. We’ve kind of left that one alone. People always want, they want to have change in the healthcare system. They can’t identify what the hell change they want to have. I think status quo might be truthfully the bipartisan position right now,

[00:38:00] Brian Stryker: Yeah. I mean, I think that’s right. It’s one of these things that, Yeah, everybody dislikes the current system or things about it, but the only thing they like less is whatever change you’re proposing to it, right? So I think that’s, maybe the point of agreement is like bipartisan kind of detente on fighting political battles over healthcare until something else comes up and we’ll do it again.

[00:38:20] Jarrett Lewis: We’re closing it on time, but I have a couple of final questions for you both. To start, there was a lot of conversation about polling after the 2020 election, sort of similar to what happened in the 2016 elections. A little bit of surprise in some races and surprise even though, directionally, things were correct. In other races, they were a lot closer. What did the industry learn from 2020? And how did the 2020 election change how both of you and your respective firms conduct research?

[00:38:48] Brian Stryker: A few things we learned from 2020. I think that one thing we learned is we didn’t solve the polling issues from 2016. And some of the same errors that were there in 2016, we had tried to correct for things like education level. Polls tend to get too many college educated voters. We tried to correct for that. And we tried to correct for some other things around that. Didn’t really solve our problem. Now, I think there were new problems introduced specifically around, actually around COVID where people that were more concerned about COVID were more likely to be at home and were more likely to answer the phone. And we actually saw, I ran a statistical analysis that polling error was higher in states with a lot of COVID in mid October. And so it looked like there was a link there. Mid-October of 2020. The other thing that we’ve been, I think, we’re just in this fundamental place of understanding that it used to be that you’d call people and 10 people wouldn’t answer the phone and one would, but that person that answered would be basically the same as the 10 that didn’t. Now it’s more like 50 that don’t answer to the one that does. And they’re different in very specific ways. They’re more engaged in politics. They tend to be more educated. They tend to have higher levels of social trust. That didn’t correlate with voting in 2012 very much. But now it certainly does, like I’ve described a Biden voter, right? I described a lot of Romney/Biden voters actually. And then the opposite side, right, is the people we’re not getting. So one thing that we’ve done that I think has been relatively helpful, we’ve been doing a lot of our pulling on text and specifically when we call somebody and we don’t get them, we’ll send them a text. And we’ve found, in 2020, we were doing this a little bit. And we would get the interviews, and were like, gosh, these are way too Republican. These can’t be right. Well, it turned out they were. So we’ve been incorporating them into a lot more polling, which I think was one of the reasons we saw Youngkin winning before anybody else in some of our Virginia polling. The other thing that we’ve done is we’re working with a bunch of Democratic pollsters and trying to solve the problem of the 50 people you don’t get, are they different than the one that you do, by doing a super high incident survey. So that means, normally we just call people a few times and if we don’t get them, we move on. We’re calling them, we’re texting them, we’re sending them mail, and giving them money to fill out the survey. We’re going to their doors, right? This is way too expensive to do every survey, but we’re trying to find out, can we learn anything about those people that were missing? And are they different? And a little TBD on that. We’re just not done. It takes forever to field a face-to-face survey and it costs a million bucks. So we’re just not going to do it that often, but that’s what’s changed. The biggest change has been more text to web.

[00:41:16] Neil Newhouse: Yeah. And I think what we learned from the ’20 election was, after the President spent four years beating the snot out of polls every step of the way, that he basically encouraged his base not to answer polls. And they didn’t. And so when Brian and I would do our surveys and we’d wait for lower educated voters, which is more kind of the Trump type voter, it didn’t capture a lot of those other voters who just said, I’m not participating. when we did our election night survey in 2020, we asked a question about, among Trump voters, if they refuse to tell others they’re voting for Donald Trump. And a significant chunk of Trump voters simply were less willing to tell other people they were voting for Donald Trump. Now they did answer a survey, our question in the survey, but these voters turned out. They were not necessarily voters in rural parts of states. They were voters in the bluest counties, they were higher income women who lived in blue counties. In other words, they weren’t going to tell their Democratic friends they were voting for Donald Trump because it made them pariahs In their community. What we’ve found in our polling and the challenges we face are relatively short term. They have more to do with our candidates right now and specifically kind of Donald Trump and how people feel about him. I don’t think any of us would have predicted that Republicans would have picked up as many seats in the House as they did in the 2020 election as we did. We expected to lose seats, ended up winning seats simply because Trump pulled voters in and kind of pulled them in on his back. The other interesting thing in this data is, there’s a book I read back in college by Walter De Vries called “The Ticket-Splitter”. It talked about how voters would split their tickets between the top of the ticket and congressional races. And the numbers were 30 to 35% were ticket splitters. In our survey we did on election night, we found that just 9% of voters split their tickets between Congress and president. And that gives you a sense of, we are turning into almost a parliamentary system where voters are voting straight ticket. If they like Trump, they’re voting straight Republican. They like Biden, they’re voting straight Democrat. and very few voters are splitting. So that, increases the potential for a kind of a landslide election or a sweep election in ’22 because, if the wind is behind one party, You pick up everything that’s hanging there. We’ve changed the way people vote and, because of the polarization of politics in this country, people are voting kind of straight party lines.

[00:44:05] Brian Stryker: I totally agree with that. And I would even add, I think, sometimes, the worry is that, a wave election, you get all these incumbents entrenched and then it’s hard to knock them out. But I could see Republicans taking the House, taking the Senate in ’22. And then we’ll just talk about the House because they’re up every two years, taking the House in ’22. And then if Democrats win the presidency again by sort of four to five points, knocking out a bunch of Republicans that, just sort going right back and voting exactly how they voted for President. So I completely agree. It also makes it kind of depressing doing some of these congressional races where you’re so at the whim of just like whatever is going on in the national environment. It’s very parliamentary.

[00:44:45] Jarrett Lewis: Final question. You two and your respective firms, our respective firms, have worked together on a bunch of issues, a number of issues over the years. What does it take to bring that kind of collegiality and bipartisanship to the halls of Congress?

[00:45:01] Neil Newhouse: Miracles.

[00:45:05] Brian Stryker: Yeah, I think it’s, I mean, that’s exactly right. Like, because we are often working for the same goal, right? Nobody at my company is yelling at me because I’m doing a project on, I’m doing this podcast, right? But if I’m a democratic member of Congress, then you know, my constituents are yelling at me because I’m talking to Neil and his are doing the same. And so, I just think we don’tm likem it’s not that they don’t like each other and that they just need to sit down and have a beer. It’s the bases like very much don’t really want them to, they don’t reward compromise. Democrats say they want compromise. They don’t always want it. Republicans won’t even say they want it anymore. They say they want to sort of fight.

[00:45:51] Neil Newhouse: Everybody says they want compromise, but when the Republicans talk about compromise, they want Democrats to come to their position. Democrats want Republicans to come to their position. I mean 80% of Democrats think that Republicans are racist. 78% of Republicans believe that Democrats are socialists. I mean, half, 50% of partisans across the country who don’t want their sons or daughters to marry somebody from the opposite political party. Geez guys, I mean, in that kind of political environment, working across party lines, that’s not a message that really resonates with your base.

[00:46:31] Jarrett Lewis: Well on that happy note, guys, this has been terrific. really have enjoyed the chance to talk to you both. I enjoy the chance to work with you both. And I think this has been a fantastic conversation and just really appreciate it.

[00:46:43] Neil Newhouse: Thanks, Jarrett, good job. And I always like working with Brian. It’s a pleasure to work across party lines on stuff like this.

[00:46:52] Brian Stryker: Yeah, I enjoy both of you too. And thanks for having me on this. This is really fun.

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