The Campaign Spot

Thinking of Recent Polls and Partisan Breakdowns

Judging by the direction, not necessarily the exact numbers of recent polls, I’d say the McCain-Palin ticket is having a rough week (after last week’s dissipation of the post-convention bump) compared to Obama-Guy Who Thinks Franklin Roosevelt Went On The Television In 1929.

As I’ve said, I’m not one of those guys who demands perfect proportion in a pollster’s voting samples. It was nearly-even in 2004, the Democrats returned to their traditional advantage in 2006, and I think the voter pool on election day will be somewhere between those two. (A key difference between 2006 and this year is Sarah Palin energizing the conservative base, as opposed to the last cycle when the base got to watch the GOP House leadership argue with each other about who knew what about Mark Foley and when.)
When I noted ARG’s 14-point margin in favor of the Democrats in a recent Pennsylvania poll, a couple readers noted that current voter registration in that state is skewed heavily to Democrats. But I suspect that partially reflects the significant number of folks who registered as Democrats to vote in their all-important primary on April 22, not to mention Rush Limbaugh’s Operation Chaos voters. On Election Day, I expect the voter pool in Pennsylvania to include more Democrats than Republicans. But I don’t think the margin will be 14 percent. Something akin to 2006′s 43D, 38R, 19I sounds about right.
This is all a lead-in to note that two recent polls that show Obama doing fabulously have some pretty wide margins in terms of party ID in their voter pool. Gallup’s got a sample that is 49 percent Democrat, 39 percent Republican, and the ABC/Washington Post poll that is generating buzz has a sample that, with leaners, is 54 percent Democrat, 38 percent Republican.
Look, if the electorate in November is going to be 16 percent more Democrat than Republican, and 54 percent of the voting public identifies themselves as Democrats, then it’s a foregone conclusion that Obama’s going to win in a landslide, and we can all go home now.
Kirsten Soltis laid out why there isn’t much historical precedent for this:

In 1988, Democrats had a three-point party ID advantage over Republicans (38-35). In 1992, Democrats still had a three-point party ID advantage over Republicans (38-35). In 1996, that advantage increased to four – a shift of one point (39-35). In 2000, Democrats were steady, up by four (39-35), and in 2004 they dropped to even (37-37).
During presidential years, over the last five presidential elections, the biggest party ID gap was four points, and the greatest swing was four points as well.
Arguments can certainly be made that in this environment, Democrats should be expected to have a huge partisan shift in their favor. But note that in 2006, when Democrats clearly found enormous success at the ballot box, that the advantage in party ID was only three points (38-35). Polls leading up to the election showed party ID gaps as big as eleven points (Newsweek’s poll on Oct 5-6, 2006), rarely showing party ID gaps of less than +5 for the Democrats.

That’s worth repeating — in the best year for Democrats in congressional races since 1974, the partisan makeup of the electorate was 3 percent, and every major poll overestimated the party ID gap. (I can see the liberal response now – if polls show the current partisan breakdown is three to five times better then 2006, then the new Democratic House majority should be in the range of 699 to 1165 seats! Out of 435!)
This isn’t to say that recent polls aren’t bad news for McCain-Palin. But I just don’t think the voter ID split that they’re using will be the same as the voters who show up on Election Day.

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