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The Coattails Question


Everyone knows the Republican convention and subsequent events have given John McCain a significant boost in the polls. When the Democratic convention ended he was down by 8 points in the Gallup daily tracking poll, and now he’s up by four. Today’s Rasmussen numbers give him the largest lead he’s had in their polling since Obama clinched the Democratic nomination in May (though it’s still awfully tight of course).

Less noticed has been the change in the congressional numbers. For over a year, the Democrats had held a double digit lead in Gallup’s generic congressional polling (“if the elections for congress were held today, which party’s candidate would you vote for in your congressional district?”)  Just last month, the Democrats were leading by eleven points among registered voters—51 percent to 40. But in this week’s poll, as Jim Geraghty notes, the Democrats’ lead is down to three points among registered voters (48 to 45) and among likely voters the Republicans are actually leading by five points (50 to 45).

Gallup’s analysis argues that “if these numbers are sustained through Election Day — a big if — Republicans could be expected to regain control of the U.S. House of Representatives.” I think that over-reads the significance of the generic congressional numbers, which don’t actually align closely enough with final district by district results to make such a flat assertion. We’d need to see a lot more local polling in the next few weeks. But the trend is unmistakable, and is also evident in the RealClearPolitics tracking of this question, which has also gone from double digit Democratic leads to a very narrow spread. Race by race, it could still be a fairly rough year for Republicans in Congress, but if something like this trend holds, it certainly wouldn’t be nearly as rough as everyone thought just a few weeks ago.