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Morning Jay: Are the Polls Skewed Toward Obama?

6:00 AM, Jul 20, 2012 • By JAY COST
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The clear answer is: they skew Democratic. In fact, every recent registered voter poll with party spreads I could identify had a Democratic advantage that exceeded the quarter-century trend. And the average of all these polls together is 35 percent Democratic to 29.5 percent Republican, or D +5.5

Importantly, these polls show Obama with an average lead over Mitt Romney of 3.5 points. But if they have a 2.5-point Democratic oversample, then what we are really talking about is perhaps a 1-point Obama lead.

Incidentally, this puts these polls much more in line with the Rasmussen poll, which has consistently found a toss-up race. Right now, Rasmussen – a poll of likely voters – sees an R+1.4 advantage in party identification. That is entirely defensible, in my opinion, given the weakness in the economy.

A final point: Presidential job approval polls are usually reported among all adults, aged 18 or over. These tend to have an even larger skew toward the Democrats than registered voter polls. For instance, the CBS News / New York Times poll had a D+6 spread among registered voters, but a D+7 spread among all adults. This means that the job approval numbers are probably overstating Obama’s position by an even larger margin. So, the CBS News / New York Times poll had Obama’s net approval at -2, suggesting that among the electorate it’s perhaps around -6. I’d link this back to my consistent argument that presidents rarely win a share of the electorate larger than their job approval to justify my sustained bearishness on Obama’s reelection prospects. I suspect that the Rasmussen poll on job approval is closest to the electorate’s true feelings, and that regularly shows a net disapproval around -5 points, a very bad position for any incumbent.

Here’s my bottom line. It is very difficult to model the turnout for a presidential election this far away from November. There are a lot of tough choices that pollsters must make, and it is not fair to single any pollster out for the decisions it ultimately goes with. Nevertheless, we can and should still be smart consumers of political polling. We need to keep the historical spread between the two sides in mind, and be cautious of polls that show a relatively wide Democratic advantage over the GOP. They are probably underestimating the GOP's electoral strength. 

Jay Cost is a staff writer for THE WEEKLY STANDARD and the author of Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic, available now wherever books are sold.

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