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Morning Jay: Dueling Generic Ballots, Finding Bottom, and NRCC Ad Buys!

6:30 AM, Oct 5, 2010 • By JAY COST
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1. Generic Ballot. Conflicting numbers last night from Gallup and Rasmussen on the generic ballot. Rasmussen finds a tighter race than earlier, with the GOP holding a three-point lead.  Gallup, meanwhile, says that if the election were held today, the Democrats might be on track for a 1920-style debacle, when the Wilsonian version of the party won just 38 percent of the two-party vote.

Morning Jay: Dueling Generic Ballots, Finding Bottom, and NRCC Ad Buys!

The Gallup numbers are eyebrow raising, no doubt, and while I think a GOP victory of 10 points is a possibility, the latest Gallup numbers seem to me to be unrealistic.  In fact, I get the impression that they’re still rubbing their eyes over at Gallup:

Gallup's historical election trends suggest that the race often tightens in the final month of the campaign. In September and October 1994, 2002, and 2006, Gallup's likely voter estimates showed larger margins for the leading party than what the final estimate showed (with the final poll in 2002 moving from a slight Democratic advantage to a Republican lead in the final poll). At this point, four weeks remain until Election Day, and given the already-high levels of Republican enthusiasm, it is possible that Democrats could have relatively greater gains among likely voters over the next month. This history suggests that the likely voter model results at this point should be viewed as describing the current state of affairs, but not as predictive of the final party vote shares on Nov. 2.

Gallup has been suggesting for some time that we shouldn’t put too much stock in their generic ballot numbers – last week they were indicating that the tie among the Democrats was ephemeral.  Now, they’re hinting that the Republican lead is too big. 

What to make of this?

I’ll put it this way, you’d have to give me some killer odds to get me to bet on a GOP +18 result, or even a GOP +13 result, which is what their expanded likely voter model has (more on these dueling likely voter models in another installment). 

But beyond that, this is what I’d suggest. Put out of your mind the topline numbers, and you see something similar in both Rasmussen and Gallup: Republicans are running away with the independent vote.  The differences in their final results are due to how many undecideds are left, how well both sides are sorted, and how many Democrats and Republicans are in the sample.  My feeling, however, is that the two sides are ultimately going to be very well sorted (95 percent or so of Republicans voting Republican; 95 percent of Democrats voting Democratic), and the Democrats and Republicans should once again reach rough parity, as has happened in each of the last four midterms.  The big question for now is how the independents break, and in both of these polls they are breaking heavily toward the GOP. 

When we get closer to the election, we can start asking more fine-grained questions about whether the two sides will be evenly split in Election Day party identification (as was the case in 2004) or whether the GOP has a modest lead in party identification (the inverse of 2006).  For now, the voters to watch are independents, and both Gallup and Rasmussen are in agreement on them.

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