Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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August 31, 2010

THE GREAT GALLUP FREAK-OUT.... Two national generic-ballot polls were published within 48 hours of one another -- Newsweek showed Democrats and Republicans tied at 45% each, while Gallup showed Republicans leading Democrats by 10, 51% to 41%. Guess which one is causing a massive freak-out in the political world?

Pollsters offered some more glum news for Democrats on Monday night: Republicans have their biggest lead ever on the question of which party voters would support for Congress. Gallup's "generic ballot" - a staple of election prognostication - shows Republicans with a double-digit advantage.

In the latest Gallup polling, 51 percent of registered voters say they would vote for the GOP candidate in their district if the election were held today; 41 percent say they would support the Democrat. That represents the biggest such lead for the Republicans in Gallup polls back to 1942, and it marks the fourth straight week they have had the edge on the Democrats, who are seeking to retain control of the House and Senate.

I suppose the historic nature of the result -- it's the GOP's biggest margin since the dawn of time -- is fueling interest, while Newsweek's even split seems less interesting.

But I'd recommend caution when it comes to the Gallup numbers -- not because I'm discouraged by the results, but because the poll itself strikes me as dubious.

Remember, about a month ago, Gallup's generic-ballot showed Democrats jumping out to an unexpected six-point lead -- and I cautioned at the time that overjoyed Dems were almost certainly overreacting to an erratic poll. I have the same concerns now. (And I'd have the same reaction if, a month from now, the same poll showed the GOP's lead evaporating.)

Looking back over the last several months, Gallup's generic-ballot has been all over the place, with no real rationale. In April, the GOP built up a big lead, which then disappeared. In late May, the same thing happened. In mid-June, it happened again. Then in July, Democrats built up their biggest lead of the year, only to see it quickly fade. This week, the results have swung back in the GOP's direction.

The point is, erratic polls with bizarre swings are necessarily suspect. No other pollster is showing these wild fluctuations. Indeed, no other pollster shows Republicans with a double-digit lead. And while we're at it, it's worth emphasizing that Gallup's generic-ballot poll isn't even a generic-ballot poll in the traditional sense -- it's "aggregated data" from tracking polls.

I'm not suggesting that Dems should just ignore discouraging data -- burying one's head in the sand is never wise. For that matter, even if the political world discounts the Gallup data altogether, it seems overwhelmingly obvious that the GOP has all the momentum with two months left before the midterms. If I had to lay odds, I'd say the smart money is clearly on the GOP taking at least the House.

But I still question the value of Gallup's results, and think the political world freak-out is an overreaction.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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but ..but polls are always accurate. Go ask Mr Rasmussen.

Posted by: John R on August 31, 2010 at 8:04 AM | PERMALINK

Don't panic, don't freak out, don't give up


Organizing for America is running canvassing operations and phone banks all over the country.

Find the one nearest you and start making calls or knocking on doors.


Posted by: Dave in DC on August 31, 2010 at 8:16 AM | PERMALINK

Nate Silver agrees with Steve.


Posted by: pol on August 31, 2010 at 8:24 AM | PERMALINK

Polls are only as good as the questions asked. And, too often, the pollsters have axes to grind.

The question to be addressed is WHY voters say they will go with the Republican this time around.

Americans have been living beyond their means, largely via their piggy bank of a house. And now they have, or are about to, lose that house. Along with their job.

And they are "mad as hell, and not going to take it anymore". So they will lash out at a convenient "cause" of their troubles, and their congressman is handy.

-It won't solve their problem, but, hey, they did SOMEthing, and it feels good!

Posted by: DAY on August 31, 2010 at 8:25 AM | PERMALINK

The Gallup poll will be viewed as a godsend by Democrats, who are on a perpetual quest of excuses to abandon their parties principles.

But somehow I don't think:

"Okay, we get it -- the Republicans have been right all along, but please vote for us anyway."

will be a winning strategy in November.

Posted by: SteveT on August 31, 2010 at 8:25 AM | PERMALINK

Even scarier, thanks to chronic misinformation and the steady drone from FOX News, 52% of Republicans believe that Obama probably wants to impose Islamic law across the globe.

Posted by: chrenson on August 31, 2010 at 8:36 AM | PERMALINK

Unfortunately for Dems, reading about loss of their popularity is unlikely to help them if they don't understand WHY they have lost popularity. Which they clearly don't.

Pretty much the only insider account of this administration that I would look forward to reading would be by David Plouffe. Just curious whether he has grasped the magnitude of Dems' failures to capitalize on the promise of 2008: No Audacity To Govern.

Posted by: square1 on August 31, 2010 at 8:43 AM | PERMALINK

Newsweek just did a poll showing the Democrats were actually leading the Republicans. So whatever, poll Schmoll.


Posted by: TyLaw on August 31, 2010 at 9:00 AM | PERMALINK

Unfortunately, Bobby Bright is still holding on to his lead, but Allen Boyd is fucking toast.


Posted by: some guy on August 31, 2010 at 9:04 AM | PERMALINK

Gallup has bounced a lot recently, and if you look at their detailed table of weekly results it appears that they fluctuate in number of Dems, Reps, and Indies included in individual weekly polls. So I'd follow Nate Silver in giving this a few grains of salt while also recognizing the Dems are in tough shape.

Another issue that I believe Steve and others have looked into is the regional distribution of this vote. For Dems seeking a ray of hope it could be that much of the shift toward the GOP is due to even greater dominance in the South, which holds out hope that some freshman and second year Dems may survive in the Midwest and Mountain West despite the ugly top-line numbers. A thin reed to be sure.

Posted by: Bill on August 31, 2010 at 9:08 AM | PERMALINK

Is there really any there there?

A nationwide poll of voters isn't going to be very useful in predicting the results of specific Congressional elections in particular districts. No kidding - I won't be voting in Florida or Nevada. I won't even be voting throughout the state of New Mexico: I live in District 1 and will vote for the candidate there. So my opinion, had they asked for it, would be meaningless on whether Rep Grayson would defeat his Republican opponent.

So there's no point in hyperventilating and hand wringing, other than to get you to contact your Democratic candidates and their party apparatus to let them know what kind of issues and rhetoric would motivate YOU; what you expect of them if elected - and if you're a political type of person, also doing everything you can to encourage other Democrats to get off their butts and vote this November.

Like the League of Women Voters says: Politics is not a spectator sport.

Posted by: zandru on August 31, 2010 at 9:11 AM | PERMALINK

Too bad for Republicans that Generic isn't running.

Posted by: Melissa on August 31, 2010 at 9:17 AM | PERMALINK

I think of this poll as a national IQ test. 51 seems about right

Posted by: Greg Worley on August 31, 2010 at 9:28 AM | PERMALINK

Don't listen to him, republican voters! You've already won! The election is OVER! The muslin usurper and his sidekick will resign and flee to Kenya before Thanksgiving! All Hail President Boner!

Sit back, relax, and start planning how you're going to spend the thousands and thousands of dollars you'll get in January when the Paul Ryan tax cuts go into effect.

Don't both going to the polls - it's already over.

Posted by: Yellow Dog on August 31, 2010 at 9:36 AM | PERMALINK

Let's take a look at the trend for Gallup, which smooths the wild weekly swings. Go to TMP, look at the congressional generic congressional. Using filters turn off all the everypoll and now turn on Gallup.

The result? The difference is 3.8% in favor of the Republicans. Not -6% or -10%. -3.8%

Note that Gallup has already begun to what amounts to a likely voter model This is the earliest ever.

Another fun game- turn on all the polls, then take out the propaganda pols, Rassmussen and Fox. The result is -4.2%.

Remove Gallup along with Rassmussen and Fox? -1.2%. The point here is it gives you an estimate of likely voter effect of about 3%. That is low compared to past years.

The hole is about -4%. That is a hurdle the Democrats can wipe out.

Posted by: OKDem on August 31, 2010 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

The only poll that matters is the one taken on Election Day in individual congressional districts and states of people who actually show up to vote.

Two months is a long time in politics, especially considering that the Dems are just starting to spend money.

Posted by: mfw13 on August 31, 2010 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

The Democrats aren't in as bad shape as Gallup makes out. I think if they clean up their message, and get down to work they will stave off the total wipe out everybody anticipates.

Where the Democrats are weak is in their willingness to engage Republicans head to head. They don't seem to stand for something. Republicans stand for crazy, but crazy beats nothing most of the time.

I have noticed that Roy Blunt has felt the need to go negative on Robin Carnahan, but I haven't seen Carnahan hit back. I wonder why?

Posted by: Ron Byers on August 31, 2010 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

I'll say it again. This week we'll see the President and Democrats come out swinging. There was no point in it over the summer. No one (except the wingers) are paying attention.

Posted by: pol on August 31, 2010 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

Gallup's numbers are REGISTERED voters-so if you add likely voters add on about 3 more points to the Republican lead. In Missouri and Michigan primaries a couple of weeks ago, twice as many people voted in Republican primary than Dem primary. In Florida, unopposed Republican Rubio got more votes in his primary than the Meek and Greene combined got in Dem primary. In Colorado, the Republican runner-up got MORE votes than either of the Dems in their primaries. Any poll especially CBS News polls always overpoll Democrats so any of their polls add 3 or 4 points on to the GOP side.

Posted by: Kevin on August 31, 2010 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

What the reaction to this poll really demonstrates is the continuing tendency of Democrats to believe the sky is falling.

Note: when that Gallup 6% Dem advantage poll came out, Josh Marshall was instantly dubious -- all "this might be okay, but no sense believing it till we see more". Yesterday, by contrast, he was trumpeting this current reading as the first sign of the Apocalypse.

Gallup had a tracking poll in 2000 that had such wild swings (Gore by 14%; Bush by 10% -- both between Labor Day and Halloween) that people started calling it the NASDAQ (dated 2000 joke). I'm guessing this poll is of that ilk. No one doubts the Dems are fighting a headwind. But highlighting doom scenarios like this will only serve to depress enthusiasm further, and should be squelched as quickly as possible.

Posted by: demtom on August 31, 2010 at 10:39 AM | PERMALINK

Those who like to bash Rasmussen do know that he was #1 out of 20 in 2008 right? Gallup was #17.

Posted by: Bill Mitchell on August 31, 2010 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK

Polling is not the science it used to be.

With the advent of Caller ID and Cell Phones, there are large portions of the population who never get polled. Would you talk to a pollster for 45 minutes at 7:00 pm? Neither would I. The type of person who would is the type answering these polls.

According to both Rasmussen and Gallup the party affiliation advantage for Democrats is down to 1-3%. However, most polls taken by MSM outlets tend to weight Democrats with as much as 23 point advantages in their sampling. In other words, the poll is cooked.

When you see wild upward and downward swings in these polls over short periods of time where there is no news to drive the cycle, you have to say the methodology no longer works.

My guess is that Gallup will have this thing back to even in about a week and everyone will be talking about the "Democratic Surge".

Anyway, Dems are gonna get their bells wrung in November of that there is little doubt. The enthusiasm gap at this point is obscene.

Posted by: Bill Mitchell on August 31, 2010 at 12:20 PM | PERMALINK

gallup 7/20/10 dems +6...five weeks later...
gallup 8/30/10 gop + 10

color me unconvinced

Posted by: dj spellchecka on August 31, 2010 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

Finden Sie günstige Ferienhäuser

Posted by: fette weiber on December 27, 2010 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK



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