In the week before the vote (March 5-11, 2018) we ran an under-powered survey in Pennsylvania’s 18th district (using Pollfish’s polling mobile-app-based audience and our standard analytics). Since we were just shy of 150 responses, we cannot put much stock in the headline number: We have Democrat Conor Lamb up by 1 percentage point over Republican Rick Saccone. We have an unusually high percentage of voters are who are still undecided: 28 percent! So, we are happy to say: toss-up. (That being said, the Republicans have, in many respects, already lost the special election in Pennsylvania: they are spending millions to hold a seat in a district that President Trump carried by 20 percentage points in 2016.)
The entire point of doing our own polling is to move past the horse-race into more substantive questions. We have been following four issue clusters particularly close this year as they appear likely to dominate the 2018 public policy debate (hopefully wishing there is a public policy debate, rather than it just being a referendum on President Trump, or about IT security, like 2016): taxes (which Republican passed), healthcare (which Republicans did not pass, but continue to sabotage), immigration (which Republicans are still trying to address), and guns (an issue forced on the national spotlight due to the gun massacre at a high school on February 14, 2018).
When it comes to public policy questions, there are some overwhelming results that we believe would certainty hold up with hundreds or thousands more responses. Pennsylvania 18 is an incredibly Republican district: Republican President Trump beat Democratic Clinton by 20 percentage points! Almost by definition, due to voters avoiding cognitive dissonance, Republican policy is popular in heavily Republican districts. Yet, Republicans have a problem in 2018: with control over the presidency and congress (not to mention the courts), their actual policy proposals have moved from abstract to salient. When they were abstract, they could shade the impact of the policy to fit the district or just completely make up fantastic policy that defies the laws of math (you cannot gut healthcare spending and provide people to have cheaper, more abundant healthcare).
In 2017 the Republicans passed a massive corporate tax cut, moving the marginal rate from 35 to 21 percent: they thought this would play well in Pennsylvania 18, but it did not so they stopped talking about it. This should not be surprising. It was effective for Republicans to say they were going to create tax cuts that favored everyone (and not cuts to spending, magical!), but then they created a tax cut aimed at big companies and rich people. I doubt there is a single congressional district in the country that does not overwhelmingly hate the key elements of this tax cut. In the Pennsylvania 18, a clear majority of voter want tax increases on corporations and people earning over $250,000 per year polls above 60 percent.
Similarly, the failed Republican healthcare push in the spring of 2017 is very unpopular with voters. The vast majorities now back ObamaCare and over 65 percent would back the ability, an option, of anyone to buy-into Medicare or Medicaid. I doubt there is a single congressional district in the country that does not overwhelmingly back the option to buy Medicare.
Even on gun policy voters are way to left of the Republican policies. About 50 percent of voters would back restricting magazine sizes and 65 percent back a universal gun registry. Gun safety is a much tighter and fluid topic than healthcare and taxes, but still lean very far from the Republican elite policy position.
Republican policies on immigration are a stark exception: this is playing well in Pennsylvania 18. President Trump’s plan to provide amnesty to Dreamers, but then severely curtail future legal immigration should be very popular. A majority of voters favor limiting legal immigration, while, at the same time, just short of a majority favor a path to citizenship for Dreamers, with over 65 percent supporting either a path to citizenship or permanent legal status.
This is a weird election, as the district is being redrawn for 2018 by the state Supreme Court. But, do not expect too many tears over the old method of drawing districts, just 13 percent of people claim that the best way to draw Congressional districts are “partisan elected officials”.