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


Jim Geraghty

This week began with several big-name polls showcasing dire news for Democratic incumbents. But the results weren’t all that surprising to those who have been following the much-discussed surveys of Scott Rasmussen. By 10:00 a.m. most mornings, the fantastically prolific firm has already brought news that will probably ruin some candidate’s day. Rasmussen took a few moments to talk with National Review Online about polling in the current environment.

JIM GERAGHTY: For much of this cycle, your polls have seen things a little bit better for Republicans than those of a lot of other pollsters. This seems to stem in part from your polling likely voters; many other pollsters survey registered voters and some, simply adults. Do you feel vindicated by the fact that seemingly every pollster has now come out with ever-worsening doomsday scenarios for Democrats?

SCOTT RASMUSSEN: I reject the notion that we have seen things more favorably for Republicans. It’s just that if you were to take a poll of registered voters and compare it to a poll of likely voters, the raw numbers of the registered-voter poll would look better for Democrats. Now that they’re all switching to a likely-voter model, sure, they’re going to end up pretty much in the same place. A great example of that was this morning’s Washington Post poll. I think it showed Republicans plus two on the generic ballot among adults, but plus 13 among likely voters. And that’s the kind of gap we have been seeing all through the year.

GERAGHTY: Are pollsters wasting people’s time when they give the registered-voter numbers and let people think they’re getting a good sense of how the electorate’s going to look on Election Day?

RASMUSSEN: There are valid reasons to poll different samples. I think what needs to be clear is just what it is you’re doing. We poll all adults for our consumer- and investor-finances polls, because whether you’re a voter or not, you have an impact on economic trends. There are people who would argue that you can’t do a likely-voter poll until after Labor Day, because you don’t really know what the turnout is going to be, so a registered-voter model is preferred in their mind. That’s not a bad argument, except that it implies too much precision. We didn’t know earlier in the year precisely what turnout would be; we still don’t know precisely what turnout will be. We knew that a likely-voter model would be more favorable to Republicans than a registered-voter model — partly because it’s a midterm. I would think that anybody covering those races would acknowledge that as part of the coverage of a poll.

GERAGHTY: In the coverage of these numbers, certainly in the cases of the two big polls out this morning [ABC News/Washington Post and NBC/Wall Street Journal], there seems to be a tone of shock. Is the sense of shock so intense because some people spent much of the year looking at polls of registered voters and getting an erroneous sense of where the electorate is?

RASMUSSEN: I think there’s been shock because people can never really believe that things are going to turn out differently than they have in the past. In 2006, Republicans looking at the polls that were coming out had a hard time believing that they really were going to be in that much trouble. They could look at their team and say, You know, I know that George Allen shouldn’t have said “macaca,” but here’s why he could pull it out. They would have all of these reasons. But at some point, there begins to be a change.

You’ve got to remember, if you go all the way back to the beginning of this year, we had a shock factor in the Massachusetts Senate race. People just couldn’t believe that. In the middle of 2009, Talking Points Memo did a story saying it was inappropriate for us to measure the strongly approve and disapprove numbers of the president rather than just his overall approval. My response was that it measured the intensity, it gave you an indicator of what was going to happen. And it worked out to be that way.