Pollster Jay Leve has a keen eye on the upcoming congressional elections. Founder and CEO of the nonpartisan Clifton-based SurveyUSA, Leve has been tracking races and public opinion for 20 years. He takes a critical view of how many pollsters are skewing what is supposed to be objective social science research to fit their own partisan political agendas.
Along with Stephen Engelberg, managing editor of the investigative reporting website ProPublica, Leve will speak about the elections on Friday, Oct. 29, after a Shabbat service at Bnai Keshet, the Reconstructionist synagogue in Montclair, where both are members.
NJJN spoke with Leve on Oct. 24.
NJJN: What do you see happening in this election cycle?
Leve: It is unknowable. The best pollsters are blinded by their inability to know exactly what’s happening among young people and cell phone-only respondents. There are people who are between 18 and 35 who don’t have a home telephone and will probably never in their lives have a home telephone. They are impossible to reach.
NJJN: Can you say with any authority that the Republicans are going to win control of both Houses of Congress?
Leve: There is a lot of evidence the Republicans will take the House of Representatives. We’ve polled 25 districts and there are an awful lot of incumbent Democrats who are in trouble. But there is going to be an enormous shift, and it would be the betting man’s bet to say the House will go to the Republicans.
NJJN: Do you see any House incumbents losing in New Jersey?
Leve: None jumps off the page at me.
NJJN: How about the Senate?
Leve: You could argue it is going to be 51-49 Democrat, or 51-49 Republican, or maybe 50-50. The Democrats are in less danger of losing control in the Senate than in the House, but nevertheless it could happen.
NJJN: Do you have a sense of the influence of the Tea Party? Is it helping or hurting candidates who have its backing?
Leve: There is some evidence that it depends on the individual candidate. We are watching in Delaware, where the Republicans have a Tea Party candidate, Christine O’Donnell, with as much national prominence as anyone. And yet she is trailing her Democratic opponent, Chris Coons, enormously.
Sharron Angle may win in Nevada against Democratic House Majority Leader Harry Reid, and I’m not sure whether it is because she is a Tea Party candidate. The Tea Party is a real political phenomenon, and we ask in a lot of polls, “Do you typically not vote in congressional elections?” A lot of people say, “Yes, but I am uniquely motivated to vote in 2010.” Those people are voting Republican. These are non-voters. That’s the key thing. They are pretty worked up. They are saying, “I’m pretty apolitical, but I’m going to get off my butt and actually vote in 2010 to register my protest.”
NJJN: Does this suggest a fickleness among American voters? Two years from now, should the Republicans take both Houses, will the voters want to throw them out?
Leve: I don’t know if fickleness is the right word, but the hypothesis is exactly right. There is an impatience, certainly. There were a substantial number of people who may have thought if we elected Obama, he would have been able to fix the country’s problems with a magic wand. That mindset will always lead you to have these wild swings every two years. It’s almost like a baseball game, with the manager bringing in a new pitcher after every batter.
NJJN: Is part of the opposition to Obama because he is black?
Leve: It is not as simple as racism. There is a fear of foreign everything. For those who are fearful, Obama is the constellation of everyone’s fears: “Is he an immigrant — because I’ve got plenty of concerns about immigration? Is he a minority? I have plenty of concerns about whites being in the majority in America.” There is every opportunity to imprint upon Obama all of people’s fears, and many Americans, sadly, are doing so.
NJJN: Is there a way to determine how Jews vote?
Leve: It’s very tricky. In a survey of 600-1,000 voters with a handful of Jewish voters, it is hard to extrapolate from that. But I would imagine there is less consensus among Jews in 2010 than perhaps there was in previous years. There may be a few more Jewish people drifting into the conservative column from what I hear anecdotally, but that’s not science. Then there are voters on the Left; many of them hoped Obama would do things he has failed to do — ending wars he didn’t end, closing prison camps he didn’t close.