Here is a fact that is worth reflecting on when looking at national polls that give Barack Obama a significant lead over Mitt Romney: In 2008, the year of hope and change and Bush burnout, 40 percent of voters identified as Democrats and 33 percent as Republicans — a seven-point Democratic advantage.
In contrast, yesterday’s Fox News poll gave Democrats a nine-point edge — and Obama a nine-point lead. A Pew Research Center poll released at the beginning of the month gave Democrats an eleven-point edge. Not shockingly, Obama led by ten points in the poll. In a July NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, Democrats had an eleven-point advantage. Obama’s lead? Six points.
Yes, Romney will lose the election if the Democratic advantage among voters ends up being even greater than it was in 2008. But these polls don’t reflect all of the pertinent details.
For example, Republican enthusiasm is higher than Democratic enthusiasm: A July Resurgent Republic poll found, for instance, that 62 percent of Republicans were extremely enthused about voting, while only 49 percent of Democrats were.
Furthermore, the 2008 gap itself was highly unusual. In 1984, the Democratic advantage was three points, according to exit-poll data collected in a 2010 Winston Group report. In the 1986 midterms, it was six points. But since then, the Democratic voter advantage has ranged from nonexistent (the percentage of Republican and Democratic voters was equal in both the 1994 and the 2010 midterm elections) to four points, with the exception of 2008. And that four-point year was 1996, when the economy was booming and Bob Dole was not exactly energizing Republicans to mob the polls.
And even with some of the polling samples being skewed, Obama remains under 50 percent in the Real Clear Politics average of polls, with 48 percent support to Romney’s 44 percent.
“Anyone who’s been in this business a long time will tell you that in an incumbent reelection campaign, undecided voters rarely break for the incumbent, and undecided voters rarely break evenly,” says Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster. “They usually — not always, but usually — break against the incumbent,” he adds, “especially at a time when three-quarters of the country is dissatisfied with our direction, according to Gallup, and three-quarters of the country still thinks we’re in a recession, according to Resurgent Republic.”
However, even when the skewed samples are taken into account, there are polling data that should concern the Romney campaign. A Reuters poll out this week gave Democrats only a two-point advantage, and yet Obama still led Romney by seven points. A poll by Democratic firm Democracy Corps also gave Democrats only a two-point advantage, yet found Obama ahead by four points. Yesterday’s Fox News and CNN polls both showed Obama leading by eleven points among independent voters.
Scott Rasmussen, whose Rasmussen Reports is polling daily on the presidential contest, says that he is finding Romney slightly ahead generally, usually by a point or two. He thinks his polling results are different from those of his competitors because Rasmussen polls only likely voters. For instance, Rasmussen remarks, the Fox News poll out yesterday that showed Obama leading Romney by nine points had a very different result when Fox included only “extremely interested voters.” Among that sample, Obama and Romney were tied at 48 percent.
Rasmussen says his partisan sample tends to give Democrats a two-point advantage. But he notes that his firm asks people if they consider themselves Democrats or Republicans, while other pollsters will ask what party the person is registered with. The different ways the question is phrased could have an impact.
And as far as polling data go, Rasmussen cautions that it’s still early. Around 8 to 10 percent of likely voters, he observes, haven’t made up their minds yet on whether to vote for Obama or Romney. But in that crucial bloc, “only 13 percent of them are following the campaign.”
“I think there’s going to be lots of volatility between now and the conventions,” Rasmussen adds, “and I think most people should take a deep breath, enjoy the rest of August, and wait until after Labor Day, when all the polls are using likely voters, and then you’ll have a much better handle on where things are.”