There is a little bit of data in that NPR/PBS/Marist poll that came out yesterday afternoon that should absolutely terrify the Democrats.
First, to people who say “Who trusts the polls?” I do trust them. They were actually right in 2016 – they showed Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote by roughly the same percentage she actually ended up winning by. Her choice in campaign strategy (WISCONSIN!) is what doomed her, not the lyin’ polls.
So, I take the polls very seriously. I’m not an expert, but there are a few things that you can look for in a poll to tell whether or not it’s going to be accurate.
The very first thing you look for is the type of voter. “Likely Voter” tends to be pretty balanced, while “Registered Voter” tends to skew a little bit to the Democratic side. The NPR/PBS/Marist poll was of registered voters.
You should also take a look at how the poll was taken. Online polling is the most inaccurate, and most major news outlets tend to avoid reporting on them as anything other than a small data point, but it certainly isn’t treated as gospel. Cell phone polling can be fairly accurate, but people will often screen calls if they don’t recognize the number, and those voters tend to skew younger – and therefore more Democratic. If you include landline polling, however, you hit everyone.
This poll was landline and cell phone. They hit everybody.
I am reminded of the Virginia governor’s race between Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli in 2014. Polling showed – I believe very accurately – that McAuliffe was going to win. He was up by a pretty solid chunk. But, by election day, he managed to just scrape by with a win. As it turns out, a last-second robocall focused on McAuliffe’s pro-abortion stances, and polling after the election shows it worked. It’s pretty likely that Cuccinelli, had he received more than the faintest support from the national GOP, would have won that race.
There is currently no data to show why the enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats is closing, but anecdotal evidence is pretty clear: The nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, and his treatment by the Democrats, is inspiring Republican voters to get more active.
That bodes well for Republicans, who have all but written off the House and are worried about the Senate. Yesterday’s poll shows that they have a fighting chance, and right now it looks like it’s very likely that the Republicans will gain ground in the Senate, even if they lose the House.