Pollster Neil Newhouse on the Data Underlying America’s Stark Political Divide

By Gordon Silverman

Neil Newhouse, Republican pollster and Duke alumnus (BA’74), spent much of Jan. 30 with Duke students to share perspectives on polling, contemporary politics, and Washington, D.C., careers.

Newhouse is the co-founder of Public Opinion Strategies, was the lead pollster during Sen. John McCain’s 2008 and Governor Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaigns, and has been named “Pollster of the Year” three times by the American Association of Political Consultants. His visit was sponsored by POLIS: Duke’s Center for Political Leadership, Innovation and Service.

During his two public talks on campus, Newhouse shared polling data he collected from before and after the 2016 presidential election, highlighting four keys to explain President Trump’s political ascension: economic hollowing out, loss of faith in institutions, well-earned anger at Washington, and a rise in anti-establishment sentiment.

Newhouse offered several suggestions on how Republicans and Democrats should approach 2018 midterm elections, given Democrats’ early edge in the generic ballot.

Using statistical examples, he also helped students better understand America’s stark ideological and political divide.  “Education level appears to be the new cultural divide,” he said.  All 17 states above the national average for people with advanced degrees voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.  Of the 33 states with a smaller percentage of voters with advanced degrees, 31 voted for Trump.

Additionally, Newhouse offered tips on how to land a job in Washington, D.C.  He launched this discussion by shaking each student’s hand.  “No soft grips!” he quipped.  “Learning how to shake a hand properly is essential.”

He encouraged students to “be patient and keep plugging.”  He also warned that a non-answer about a job or interview request is not a “no.”  “Folks in DC are busy,” he said. “Pursue them. Few people ever lost a job because they were too persistent.”

Finally, Newhouse highlighted ways to separate oneself from others when interviewing for a job: “Have a story to tell about yourself.  Know the story.  Rehearse it out loud again and again.  Never say it for the first time in the interview.”