• Actual voter turnout could test how committed voters really are
    • Angry talk about politics is tiring people out, they say
    • Health care rises to the top of the list again as an important issue
    • Trump’s job approval just over 42 percent
    • Respondents weigh in on ease, accuracy, and reliability of voting methods

ST. LEO, FL – As November midterm elections approached, more than half the respondents to a national survey conducted by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute (http://polls.saintleo.edu) told the institute they have been or are being very active or somewhat active on behalf of their preferred political party or candidates. In the important swing state of Florida, the proportion was more than two-thirds of the registered likely voter base.
The Saint Leo University Polling Institute surveyed 1,167 respondents across America from October 11 through October 17 specifically to get a sense of the level of public engagement with the political process, the mood of the electorate, and thoughts on the actual voting process and its strengths and weaknesses. The margin of error for results collected nationally is plus or minus 3 percentage points. The same survey was conducted in Florida among 698 registered likely voters to attain a 3.5 percent margin of error for the results. The survey was administered in Florida starting a few days later, from October 16 through October 22, just to allow for the restoration of electricity in areas hurt by Hurricane Michael.

The polling institute asked specifically whether people were being active by doing things “such as staying informed or attending events, posting on social media, volunteering, and donating.”  Nationally, 20.5 percent said they are being very active and 35.5 said somewhat active, for a total of 56 percent. In Florida, where voters are electing a governor and choosing a U.S. Senator, 30.7 percent said are very active and 39 percent said they are somewhat active, for a total of 69.7 percent.

An additional question was placed in another section of the survey to ask people about political donations In response to questions about household charitable giving trends for 2018, just over one in five people nationally (22.6 percent) and in Florida (23 percent) said they had to reduce their typical nonprofit giving this year to be able to increase giving to candidates in the midterm elections.

“It remains to be seen whether the enthusiasm voters displayed in the survey will translate to higher turnout,” said Frank Orlando, director of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute and a political scientist. “Citizens tend to be very optimistic about their chances to vote. As it is, it seems like Democrats would benefit the most from this increased engagement.”

In a typical midterm-election year, national voter turnout has been about 40 percent.

The level of activity reported by respondents does not mean that people are enjoying everything about this political season, though. The survey asked if respondents strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree with this statement about political talk. (Note: The survey was completed before the pipe-bomb incidents during the week of October 22 and the subsequent mass shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue.)

   “I’m tired of the angry political discourse that is commonplace in this election.”

Reaction National – % Florida – %
Strongly agree 54.2 61.3
Somewhat agree 26.8 29.4
Combined level of agreement 81.0 90.7
Somewhat disagree 6.9 3.9
Strongly disagree 2.5 2.0
Combined level of disagreement 9.4 5.9
Don’t know/unsure 9.6 3.4

It may seem statistically odd that the vast majority is unhappy with the tone of ongoing political speech—it is unclear from findings if people hold themselves at all responsible for this. Orlando explained that “There are a few explanations for this seeming contradiction. First, the large number of citizens are not contributing to the angry discourse. That is being driven by people on each flank who have an increased voice because of social media. Second, people are likely to believe that those who disagree with them are being angry, while those who agree with them are well within their rights to make strong political arguments.”

Issues Particularly Hot This Year Among Constant Policy Concerns

There are many topics the polling institute asks about in each regular survey to determine how important they are at that moment to voters. For instance, respondents were asked to name from a list of 18 persistent issues the single most important matter facing the United States that day. Jobs and the economy have often been at the top during the past year, selected by anywhere from 17 to 19 percent nationally. But in October, health care, often the issue to rank second, moved up to the top slot with 18.2 percent nationally citing that as the single most important matter. In Florida, health care also came out on top, selected by 19.5 percent of respondents, followed by immigration and jobs and the economy basically tying for a second-place rank.

“Democrats,” Orlando observed, “have made health care a big issue in this campaign as a strategy to counteract Republican gains among lower-income voters. The approval of Obamacare has increased every year, and we see Democrats now running on its success, rather than seeing people run against it.”

President Trump’s Approval Rating

Even though President Donald J. Trump is not up for re-election this year, American voters can use midterm elections to display support for a president’s policies—or the opposite. This is a point that Trump himself has often made in recent months, and has encouraged voters to show support of him by voting for Republican candidates.

His most recent approval/disapproval rating in the Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey shows 42.2 percent approve of the job he is doing (18.2 percent strongly approve and 24 percent somewhat approve, and 49.5 percent disapprove (36.6 percent strongly disapprove and 12.9 percent somewhat approve). His national approval rating has persisted in the 40-percent range in the institute’s surveys, though in Florida, he reached 50.4 percent approval in August 2018, the month of primary elections.

“President Trump’s approval has been relatively stable,” Orlando said, “and that is a by-product of our polarized environment. It takes a lot to change people’s valuations of the president these days. With his approval in the low 40s, we’re set up for gains in the midterms by the Democrats.”

Added Topics That Might Inspire or Aggravate

The polling institute introduced into this survey to see whether eight other newsworthy  incidents or possibilities to see if any of them were on respondents’ minds. Those responding were allowed to select multiple possible influences. Their results are shown in this table in descending order, according to the national sample, and indicated as many as one-fifth to one-quarter of people are looking at governance at the federal level. The Florida survey differed somewhat from the national survey in how high or low some issues ranked.

Motivating Factors in 2018 Vote National – % Florida – %
My concern or displeasure over the Brett Kavanaugh hearings and nomination process 29.0 36.4
Supreme Court nominations this year and over the years ahead 28.8 37.2
My desire to rebuke President Trump 27.0 32.8
Unsure / None of these 24.2 9.5
My support for President Trump 22.8 32.1
A desire to impeach President Trump 21.7 27.1
Wanting to have the Democrats in control of Congress 20.8 34.2
Preventing the Democrats from taking control of Congress 19.4 27.1
A desire to stop efforts to impeach President Trump 11.1 18.2

“It shouldn’t be surprising that voters are so motivated by national concerns, as our politics becomes less and less local,” Orlando said.

Nuts and Bolts of Voting

The survey also included a number of question to find out about voter confidence in the way votes are tallied and secured now and alternative approaches.

The national survey indicated that 65.6 percent of American feel somewhat confident or strongly confident “that my vote will be accurately recorded in my polling place.”

Orlando, the political scientist, reflected that, “It is concerning that a substantial number of voters lack confidence in the voting process. The legitimacy of democracy relies on voters’ confidence in the system.”

The older the respondent, the more likely he or she is confident. Confidence was reported by 70.1 percent of those in the age group of 45 to 64 years, and was measured at 84 percent among those older than 65 years. On the other hand, among African-Americans confidence was reported by a much smaller proportion—44.9 percentage. That is more than 20 percentage points lower than the overall average.

Those taking the survey were also asked about whether they have confidence in “the integrity and security of voting machines/systems in this country.” In the national survey, 50.7 percent reported feeling at least somewhat confident. That struck Dr. Marwan Omar as high. He is a Saint Leo University faculty member and assistant professor of computer science and information systems. “I believe this is either because respondents do not fully understand the security vulnerabilities that have been discovered in the voting machines, or they just simply do not believe the news media [regarding reports on alleged Russian attempts to meddle in 2016 elections].’’

Regarding other possibilities, 49.2 percent from the national survey said they might use or would use a software “app to voter in this or future elections, if available.” The convenience aspect of apps to the general public is completely understandable, noted Omar, the computer science professor. But he said the public should be aware of security risks “for such a critical civic process. There has not been a system or app that is risk-free, which means that all apps are vulnerable to a degree, and we should be extra cautious when we talk about using apps for elections.”

About the Poll
METHODOLOGY: This national survey was conducted October 11 through October 17, 2018 among a base of 1,167 respondents, using an online instrument. Politically, the composition of the sample was 24.9 percent Republican, 24.9 percent Democrat, 26.9 percent independent (or unaffiliated); and 8.7 percent from another party. The remaining 14.7 percent indicated they are unsure. The survey has a +/- 3.0 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level on a composite basis.

In Florida, the survey was used to sample opinions of 698 registered likely voters across the state. The survey was conducted October 16 through October 22, 2018, using an online survey instrument. The political composition of the voter base was 35.5 percent Republican, 38.1 percent Democrat, 24.4 percent unaffiliated, and 1 percent from another party. The remaining 1 percent indicated they were unsure. The Florida poll has a +/- 3.5 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level (on a composite basis).

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute conducts its surveys using cutting-edge online methodology, which is rapidly transforming the field of survey research. The sample is drawn from large online panels, which allow for random selections that reflect accurate cross sections of all demographic groups. Online methodology has the additional advantage of allowing participants to respond to the survey at a time, place, and speed that is convenient to them, which may result in more thoughtful answers. The Saint Leo University Polling Institute develops the questionnaires, administers the surveys, and conducts analysis of the results. Panel participants typically receive a token incentive—usually $1 deposited into an iTunes or Amazon account—for their participation.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey results about national and Florida politics, public policy issues, Pope Francis’ popularity, and other topics, can also be found here: http://polls.saintleo.edu. You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.

Media contacts: Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications jo-ann.johnston@saintleo.edu or (352) 588-8237 or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text).     

Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Communications mary.mccoy02@saintleo.edu or (352) 588-7118 or (813) 610-8416 (cell/text).

More About Saint Leo University
Saint Leo University (www.saintleo.edu) is a modern Catholic teaching university that is firmly grounded in the liberal arts tradition and the timeless Benedictine wisdom that seeks balanced growth of mind, body, and spirit. The Saint Leo University of today is a private, nonprofit institution that creates hospitable learning communities wherever students want to be or need to be, whether that is a campus classroom, a web-based environment, an employer’s worksite, a military base, or an office park. Saint Leo welcomes people of all faiths and of no religious affiliation, and encourages learners of all generations. The university is committed to providing educational opportunities to the nation’s armed forces, veterans, and their families. Saint Leo is regionally accredited to award degrees ranging from the associate to the doctorate, and the faculty and staff guide all students to develop their capacities for critical thinking, moral reflection, and lifelong learning and leadership.

The university remains the faithful steward of the beautiful lakeside University Campus in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, where its founding monks created the first Catholic college in the state in 1889. Serving nearly 12,000 students, Saint Leo has expanded to downtown Tampa, to other sites in Florida and beyond, and maintains a physical presence in seven states. The university provides highly respected online learning programs to students nationally and internationally. More than 93,000 alumni reside in all 50 states, in Washington, DC, in three U.S. territories, and in 76 countries.