Uh-oh! Another Poll Shows Late GOP Surge; Will Media Notice?

Another poll was released on Sunday showing a late surge of support for Republicans in the upcoming midterm elections on Tuesday (grateful hat tip to NB reader American Infidel). This time it’s the Pew Research Center defying conventional wisdom (emphasis mine throughout):

A nationwide Pew Research Center survey finds voting intentions shifting in the direction of Republican congressional candidates in the final days of the 2006 midterm campaign. The new survey finds a growing percentage of likely voters saying they will vote for GOP candidates. However, the Democrats still hold a 48% to 40% lead among registered voters, and a modest lead of 47%-43% among likely voters.

The summary article continued:

The narrowing of the Democratic lead raises questions about whether the party will win a large enough share of the popular vote to recapture control of the House of Representatives. The relationship between a party's share of the popular vote and the number of seats it wins is less certain than it once was, in large part because of the increasing prevalence of safe seat redistricting. As a result, forecasting seat gains from national surveys has become more difficult.

The article refuted many of the claims made by media representatives in the past couple of months, in particular, that Republicans were so disenchanted that they weren’t going to vote:

Republican gains in the new poll reflect a number of late-breaking trends. First, Republicans have become more engaged and enthused in the election than they had been in September and October. While Democrats continue to express greater enthusiasm about voting than do Republicans, as many Republican voters (64%) as Democratic voters (62%) now say they are giving quite a lot of thought to the election. About a month ago, Democratic voters were considerably more likely than GOP voters to say they were giving a lot of thought to the election (by 59%-50%). As a result, Republicans now register a greater likelihood of voting than do Democrats, as is typical in mid-term elections.

I bet you haven’t heard any media members make such a claim in the past three months. Another common meme by the press has been that a vast majority of Independents have been leaning Democrat. That also is changing:

The Republicans also have made major gains, in a relatively short time period, among independent voters. Since early this year, the Democratic advantage in the generic House ballot has been built largely on a solid lead among independents. As recently as mid-October, 47% of independent voters said they were voting for the Democratic candidate in their district, compared with 29% who favored the Republican. Currently, Democrats lead by 44%-33% among independent voters.

What's that saying about counting one's chickens before they've hatched?

With the Washington Post/ABC News poll released this morning as reported by NewsBusters, this once again raises the question as to whether the media are going to report these results, ignore them, or behave like CBS and dispute them.

Stay tuned.

Read the full report at people-press.org

Update: The full report produced some more interesting results:

President Bush's political standing has improved in the final week before the election. Bush's job approval rating among registered voters has risen from 37% in early October, to 41% in the current survey. Mirroring the GOP's gains among independent voters, Bush's rating among this crucial group of swing voters now stands at 35%, its highest point this year.

The final pre-election survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted among 2,369 registered voters from Nov. 1-4, finds that voter appraisals of the national economy also have improved. In the current poll, 44% rate it as excellent or good, compared with 36% who held that view in mid-October. Republicans and independents have a much better view of the economy than they did just a few weeks ago. Among independent voters, 41% rate the economy as good or excellent, compared with 29% in mid-October.

Despite conventional wisdom, Pew found that Kerry's recent gaffe could have some impact on Tuesday:

In addition, Sen. John Kerry's "botched joke" about the war in Iraq attracted enormous attention. Fully 84% of voters say they have heard a lot or a little about Kerry's remarks ­ with 60% saying they have heard a lot. By comparison, just 26% say they have heard a lot about President Bush's statement that he will keep Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense until he leaves office in 2009. Most voters say Kerry's statement is not a serious consideration in their vote, but 18% of independent voters say it did raise serious doubts about voting for a Democratic candidate

Control of Congress also a huge issue with voters:

While Republicans have become more engaged in the campaign in recent weeks, an increasing number also say that the issue of which party controls Congress will be a factor in their vote. Currently, 65% of Republicans say partisan control of Congress is a factor in their vote, up from 58% in early October and 54% in June. The percentage of Democrats who view partisan control of Congress a factor in their vote has remained more stable; 73% say that, up slightly from early October, but largely unchanged from June.

Compared to past campaigns, many more voters, regardless of party affiliation, say partisan control of Congress matters in their vote. Fully 61% of registered voters now express this view; fewer than half did so in November 2002 (48%) and November 1998 (46%). 

Update II: The following paragraph from the full report conceivably best described why most of these late polls are depicting a different story:

Republicans have gained ground in recent weeks on measures aimed at assessing a voter's likelihood of voting. So while Pew polls in early October and mid-October showed virtually no change in the Democratic advantage between all voters and those most likely to turn out, the current survey shows the Democrats' eight-point lead among all registered voters narrowing considerably among likely voters. In this regard, the current campaign more closely resembles previous midterm elections since 1994, when Republicans also fared better among likely voters than among all registered voters.

Voila. There is a HUGE difference between registered and likely voters. When are pollsters during an election year going to exclusively question such folks? After all, the opinion of some guy sitting at a bar that hasn't voted in twenty years might make for some much-needed chuckles, or some solace if that's what you're looking for. However, if the goal is to, as best as possible, forecast what might happen on Election Day, why would anybody care about the opinions of those that are not likely to vote?  

The reality is that we are never going to get accurate data during major election cycles if polling organizations continue to survey folks that are not going to the ballot box.

Update III: For real poll junkies, the actual questionnaire is here. And, for those that are interested, the breakdown of respondents by Party affiliation was 31 percent Republican, 35 percent Democrat, and 29 percent Independent. I wonder if Stuart Rothenberg is going to be unhappy with this sample. 


Noel Sheppard's picture