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Morning Jay: Underestimating Republicans, Newsweek Strikes Again, and Time To Purge!

6:30 AM, Oct 25, 2010 • By JAY COST
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1. Are State Polls Underestimating Republican Strength? Yes, says Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics.  He writes:

Republicans and Democrats are drawing near unanimous support from their partisans, while Democrats are drawing support from 35-40 percent of Independents.

In other words, these pollsters don't disagree on how Republicans, Democrats and Independents are going to cast their votes. Instead, they disagree on how many Republicans, Democrats and Independents are going to cast their vote.

The most relevant question is thus: what mix of Republicans and Democrats are the pollsters finding?  Trende continues:

[I]n every state except West Virginia, the pollsters are showing an electorate that is, on average, 2-3 points more favorable to the Democratic candidate than we'd expect to see in a 2004-type environment. (Incidentally, this is roughly consistent with the difference between the RCP Averages in Virginia and New Jersey in 2009 and the final results.)

Why is 2004 an important year?  It was a year in which both party bases were – to borrow a phrase – “fired up, ready to go.”  In contrast, 2006 and 2008 were years in which Democratic enthusiasm outpaced Republican enthusiasm.  This suggests that Republican strength could be systematically underestimated in these polls.  On average, if you reweight recent polls in the top Senate contests using the 2006 party spreads, a Republican advantage of 0.24 percent expands to 1.38 percent.  Reweight to the 2004 party spreads, and it grows to 2.73 percent.  

On the other hand, some pollsters that don’t make assumptions that ultimately favor Democrats have been getting criticized at establishment media outlets.  In general, it seems to me that polling itself is increasingly becoming politicized this cycle.  This is something to be aware of.

2. 54-40 or Fight!  Bad news, gang.  Newsweek says the Republican rout is off:

Despite doom-saying about Democrats’ chances in the midterms, the latest Newsweek Poll shows that they remain in a close race with Republicans 12 days before Election Day, while the president’s approval ratings have climbed sharply. The poll finds that 48 percent of registered voters would be more likely to vote for Democrats, compared with 42 percent who lean Republican... President Obama’s approval ratings have jumped substantially, crossing the magic halfway threshold to 54 percent, up from 48 percent in late September, while the portion of respondents who disapprove of the president dropped to 40 percent… However, his approval rating, which is notably higher than many recent polls of the president’s popularity, may be evidence of a closing “enthusiasm gap” more than a sea change in voter attitudes, and may not substantially affect Democrats’ fortunes come Election Day.  In 1994, NEWSWEEK Polls showed a similar steep climb in President Clinton’s approval between late September and late October, but Democrats still suffered a rout in the midterms. (Emphasis Mine)

Wow-wee!  Somebody better tell the president, as he is visiting deep blue Rhode Island today.  He needs to start pressing into conservative territory -- the GOP might be set to lose seats!

In all seriousness, though, look again at Obama’s job approval in Newsweek: 54-40.  Meanwhile, the average of the other polls of adults in the RealClearPolitics average shows President Obama’s job approval slightly under 45 percent.  It is possible that random variation alone could produce this Newsweek result, but it is quite unlikely.  This poll is not just an outlier.  It is an outlier among outliers. 

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