Let’s get specific about the generic ballot

Political Theater, Episode 246

Generic saltines, coffee, graham crackers. Is there a generic ballot poll on the shelf here? (Denver Post via Getty Images)
Generic saltines, coffee, graham crackers. Is there a generic ballot poll on the shelf here? (Denver Post via Getty Images)
Jason Dick
Posted April 14, 2022 at 12:48pm

We are in another highly competitive midterm election cycle, which means you’re going to hear a lot about generic ballot polling.

What exactly is that? Is it a poll that just has, in stark black-and-white lettering, “poll” in its packaging? Alas, “Repo Man” fans, that is not the case. It’s a series of polls from some of the usual suspects that measures whether people would vote for a Democratic or Republican candidate.

While it is a handy measure of how people feel about the parties, as well as for political reporters eager to document the horse-race nature of politics, it has its drawbacks in predicting what the actual outcomes will be in elections.

Nathan L. Gonzales, CQ Roll Call’s elections analyst and publisher of Inside Elections, joins the podcast this week to discuss generic ballot polling, specifically what to look for, what to handicap when looking at the numbers, and how history might be a better judge of these elections, even in our current, relatively unstable era of campaigns and politics.