Rasmussen Retorts
The pollster chats with NRO about the midterms and more.


Jim Geraghty

GERAGHTY: Rasmussen doesn’t poll primaries or non-statewide House races very often. Is there a reason for that?

RASMUSSEN: The reason we don’t do most House races is simply that we’ve committed to polling every Senate and governor’s race in this cycle, and that’s where our focus has been. We’ve been pretty consistent over the years. We may have done a couple of House races in 2004, I can’t remember, but I don’t think we did anything in the 2006 or 2008 cycles, other than the statewide races. But remember, we are a media polling organization, not a political organization.

There are two different audiences that read our material. One audience is political junkies — an audience we share with you — and they have one view on things. The other is local and state media coverage. You know, we actually get more people introduced to Rasmussen Reports through our state polls than through any of our national data. A state poll about a general election gets a tremendous amount of interest generated. It also lets us poll on other issues: If we’re polling statewide on a general-election race, we can ask what people think of health care, the economy, or whatever else the issue of the day is, and it gives reporters in that state lots of things to write about.

GERAGHTY: Is it easier to get a clear reading on the percentages of a close, hard-fought race than on a blowout?

RASMUSSEN: One of the reasons that the margins are different in lopsided races is that they’re not polled as frequently. It’s also harder to determine turnout, because you have to allow for people who end up saying, “Our guy’s going to win by 50 points, so why bother showing up?” You tend to do a lot of polling in tighter races. You want to make sure you get the partisan mix right. So, generally, the more competitive races are easier to call, or easier to get results closer to the final levels of support.

Still, it looks a whole lot different if you’re projecting a candidate to win by two points and he loses by a point, than if you have an 18-point race in your poll and it turns out to be a 27-point race.

GERAGHTY: What do you see happening between now and November? Volatility? Swings? “October surprises” that could change all this?

RASMUSSEN: When you talk about an “October surprise,” it would have to be something on a really significant scale. I can’t imagine what it would be. We know from lots of polling that when the American people get bad news about the economy, their confidence drops right away. If they get good news, it takes five or six months of good economic news to make up for that one bit of bad economic news. What that tells me is that if there is a really bad unemployment report at the end of September, that could be really bad for the Democrats. If there’s a moderately good report, it probably won’t change things all that much.

The question is going to be how individual campaigns play in the larger environment, which is friendly to Republicans. The environment is going to continue to change, become a bit more or less friendly than it is today, but still stay generally friendly to Republicans. Democratic candidates are going to try to find ways to localize those races and get away from that trend, and how successful they are at doing that will determine the final numbers.

GERAGHTY: Any under-the-radar race you’re keeping your eye on? Any upset special?

RASMUSSEN: The race that I would potentially put in that category right now is the West Virginia Senate race. We have one poll out showing it a very competitive race. It’s clear that President Obama is not a welcome figure in West Virginia politics. But [Democratic nominee] Joe Manchin is so popular as governor that it was thought to be a safe seat. So that’s a potential upset special.

The one thing that’s being underreported in this election cycle is not a race but something about the economy. It goes like this: People today are less pessimistic about the economy in general, far less pessimistic than they were a year ago. However, they have not seen any improvement in their own personal finances. People are feeling worse about their personal finances than they felt a year ago and worse than they felt two years ago, and they continue to believe that their own finances are getting worse. Only half of homeowners believe their home is worth more than the mortgage. We can talk all we want about grand issues and economic indicators, but when people aren’t feeling good about their own personal finances, it creates a sour mood for all politicians.

— Jim Geraghty writes the Campaign Spot on NRO.