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35 Days Out: Polling Summary

As of today, there are 35 days to go until Election Day.  Each Monday—as we did in 2010—WPA will summarize the key trends from public and internal polls in an attempt to help clients and friends make sense of often contradictory reports regarding various races.

First, the Presidential Race

Things are bad, but not as bad as you might think.

No matter how you look at the race, Mitt Romney now trails Barack Obama.  Depending on which poll you review (more on this later), that deficit is anywhere from two points to seven but no polls are showing a Romney lead.

This is despite an economic environment that fundamentally should make Barack Obama an easy target for defeat—8.3% unemployment and a worse-than-that job growth climate that is being masked by drop-offs in workforce participation.

So why is Romney behind?  We see three key reasons:

1)      Romney just isn’t well liked.  Again, there are differences among polls, but Romney’s unfavorable ratings generally outpace his favorable ratings by around five points.  Some of this is due to recent gaffes such as the “47%” comment, but some of it is a more consistent issue that something about Mitt Romney just doesn’t connect well yet with average voters.

2)      Republicans didn’t make their case against Obama at their best earned media opportunity—the Republican National Convention.  Part of this was probably the lost day due to the hurricane, and part of it may have been the need to re-introduce Mitt Romney (see point 1 above), but in an election where we have to make the case for change, Republicans haven’t really laid our argument beyond a series of 30-second ads.

3)      When asked “are you better off…” voters say, “maybe.”  In general, voters say they aren’t better off than they were four years ago.  But when the question shifts the timeline a little, the data begins to show an electorate who think things might be improving.

 

Are you better off than you were?

Better

  • off

Worse

  • off
Four years ago?[1]

25%

28%

At the beginning of 2009?[2]

43%

33%

A year ago?[3]

44%

39%

 

Now, about those polls…

One of the big stories of the past week has been the extreme levels of bias in some widely reported polls from major news outlets.  Jay Cost did an excellent job laying out the case, so we’ll just summarize it here.

The problem that Cost and others, including us, have observed is that the polls of major media outlets are reporting samples that are skewing increasingly Democratic.  Many of these major polls are now reporting partisan gaps that would re-create the “Obama Wave” of 2008, or in some cases even surpass it.

But the situation with the national polls is a relatively small thing compared to last week’s polling in Ohio and Florida.  Widely reported as showing that Obama was pulling away with the race by moving into commanding leads in two critical states, the polls released by both Quinnipiac University (on behalf of CBS News and the New York Times) and the Washington Post take partisan skews to almost laughable levels.

 

Poll & State

Republican %

2008 Exit Poll Republican %

How Much Worse is the Poll than 2008?

Quinnipiac,FL

27%

34%

-7%

WaPo, FL

29%

34%

-5%

Quinnipiac, OH

26%

31%

-5%

WaPo, OH

27%

31%

-4%

 

There’s nothing in the data that we see every day to suggest that even just sticking with the 2008 turnout percentages will be an accurate representation of what will happen in November.  But, beyond that, there’s absolutely no justification anywhere for polls that suggest that 2012 will be even better for Democrats in terms of turnout than 2008 was.

Make no mistake about it, Mitt Romney still trails in this race, but recent reports of his demise are greatly exaggerated.

Congress, in brief

I’ll spend more time on the Senate and House contests in later updates, but for now here are some brief observations:

  • There remains a narrow window for Republicans in the Senate, but the truth is that Olympia Snowe’s (ME) retirement and Todd Akin’s (MO) rape comments and the subsequent withdrawal of external support for his campaign made the task of retaking the chamber very difficult.
    • I’ll detail race-by-race data next week, but at this point it looks like Democrats (and Democratic-caucusing Independents) would be almost certain to hold 48 seats if the election were held today compared to 43 for Republicans.
      • Of the remaining nine seats, the Republican does either lead or tie the race in at least one recent poll in all but one, but the need to sweep eight-of-nine close races to control the chamber outright shows the map has gotten more challenging for Republicans.
  • The Republican majority in the House is safe.
    • The generic ballot data (Democrats plus a point or two among likely voters) suggests very little change in the make-up of the chamber.  Coupled with a redistricting that generally ended in a stalemate between states where each party drew maps to lock-in big gains and resulted safer incumbents in most states, we currently expect little change in the balance in the House.

[1] CBS/NYT Poll of n=1,306 adults, 9/8-12

[2] Bloomberg Poll of n=1,007 adults, 9/21-24

[3] Fox News poll of n=1,056 likely voters, 9/9-11

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