COLUMBUS, OH — APRIL 23: Former President Donald J. Trump shakes hands with U.S. Senate candidate J.D. Vance at the Save America Rally, April 23, 2022, at the Delaware County Fairgrounds, Delaware, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for the Ohio Capital Journal.)
A pre-primary poll designed by six political scientists and the actual results of the election seem to show that former President Donald Trump’s endorsement was a decisive factor in the Ohio Republican Primary for U.S. Senate. The analysis also seems to show that GOP Gov. Mike DeWine has some work to do if he wants the full support of his party in the November General Election.
But, one of the political scientists said, it’s important not to over-read the analysis.
Twelve states have now conducted at least partial primaries and with some big ones already in the rearview, political junkies are eager to interpret the results. Does George P. Bush’s loss to an indicted incumbent in the GOP primary for Texas attorney general mean the end of the Bush political dynasty? Does the trouncing of Donald Trump’s endorsees for governor and secretary of state after his Georgia “revenge tour” mean he’s lost his mojo?
It will be years, of course, before those kinds of questions can be definitively answered. But the Ohio analysis by the team of political scientists offers some partial insights. They hired YouGov to conduct an online poll of their design and asked questions of 500 likely Republican voters and 440 likely Democratic voters between April 27 and May 2.
“It was pre-election and post Trump endorsement,” said Paul Beck, an Ohio State political science professor emeritus.
Beck said the point of the exercise wasn’t to predict the outcome of the primary. Rather, he and colleagues Ned Foley, Chris Gelpi, Tom Nelson and Gillian Thompson, also of Ohio State — as well as Charles Stewart III of MIT — had varying research interests they pursued.
One was to not only ask people for whom they intended to vote, but also asked for “thermometer ratings” of various candidates. The ratings ask how respondents felt about candidates on a scale of 1 to 100.
“It’s a gauge of how people feel about candidates, straight up,” Beck said.
Those ratings allowed the researchers to correlate voters’ feelings about Trump with their feelings about Ohio primary candidates — and how they intended to vote.
Unsurprisingly, Republican respondents mostly had good feelings for Trump, on average giving him 75 degrees out of 100 on the thermometer rating.
Meanwhile, the four top GOP candidates for the U.S. Senate seat now occupied by Rob Portman were clustered closely together — and significantly beneath Trump: Former Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel was at 60 degrees, “Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance at 59 degrees, state Sen. Matt Dolan at 58 and investment banker Mike Gibbons at 57.
When respondents’ feelings for those candidates were correlated to their feelings for Trump, Vance, Gibbons and Mandel were about equal, while Dolan did much worse. That means Republicans who really liked Trump also liked the first three, while Dolan, who surged late in the campaign, was attracting support from Republicans and independents who weren’t so keen on the former president.
While three candidates’ thermometer ratings were close, Trump endorsed Vance, who ended up winning with 32% of the vote. Meanwhile, Mandel got 24%, Dolan 23% and Gibbons 12%. For Beck, that leads to an obvious conclusion.
“They were so packed together, the candidate Trump endorsed was going to win,” he said.
But that doesn’t make Trump political kryptonite for Republican primary candidates, Beck said.
In Georgia, he endorsed former U.S. Sen. David Perdue over incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp as revenge for Kemp’s refusal to overturn Trump’s 2020 loss in the Peach State. But unlike Ohio, that race was never close, with a lackluster Perdue trailing by 14 percentage points in the final pre-election polls.
The actual results were far, far worse for Trump’s pick, who was trounced by 52 percentage points. That suggests that Georgia Republicans felt good about Trump, but they also felt good about Kemp, Beck said.
Ohio GOP governor primary
In the GOP primary for Ohio governor, the thermometer readings tell a difficult story for incumbent Gov. Mike DeWine. At 53 degrees, his thermometer rating lagged Trump’s by 22 and was lower than all four front-runners for the Senate seat. And when correlated with Republicans’ feelings for Trump, DeWine did far worse than even Dolan, suggesting that the Republicans who pulled the lever for DeWine were even more opposed to the former president.
In the end, DeWine won, but with just 48% of the vote, while his two main challengers got a combined 50%.
It’s not a great sign when you’re an incumbent governor and you can’t even get a majority of the vote in your own primary, and it’s likely good news for Democratic nominee Nan Whaley.
But Beck said it’s important to remember that the group polled — likely primary voters — is particularly passionate and not the same as even voters who show up for general, midterm elections. Some of them might not be as passionate about Trump and Trumpism.
In addition, many Republicans who don’t particularly like DeWine might hold their noses and vote for him anyway.
“I think people who identify as Republican are going to want to vote Republican in the general election, even if they don’t want to vote for DeWine, they’re going to be dragged into the polls and will probably vote for him,” Beck said.
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