Gallup: Why likely-voter models may be undercounting Republicans

posted at 8:20 pm on September 2, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

We’re entering the period of the election cycle where pollsters start switching to likely-voter models to enhance the predictive value of their surveys — but that’s more of an art rather than a science.  Pollsters try to adjust for the various and unique ebbs and flows in each cycle, but usually that means adjusting existing models by increments rather than attempting to recreate them from scratch.  That works in most cycles, but when extraordinary passions arise, incremental adjustments may not work.  Gallup’s latest survey shows an unprecedented gap in enthusiasm between Republican and Democratic voters, calling into question just how to weight turnout in November:

Two months before this year’s midterm congressional elections, Gallup finds 54% of Republicans, compared with 30% of Democrats, already saying they have given “quite a lot of” or “some” thought to the contests.

This “thought” measure is an important variable in Gallup’s well-established classification of “likely voters,” which is put into use closer to Election Day. The current gulf in thought between the parties mirrors the partisan gap in Gallup’s voter enthusiasm measure that is tracked weekly.

Republicans’ current level of thought about the elections, from Gallup Daily tracking conducted Aug. 23-29, matches or exceeds that found in October/November of the last three midterm years. By contrast, Democrats are giving far less thought to the elections today than they did in the final weeks before the prior four midterms. As a result, Democrats are on par with independents in current attention levels — a sharp departure from recent years, when the Democrats exceeded independents on this measure.

The large party gap in “thought” suggests the typical Republican turnout advantage could be larger than usual this year if that gap persists until Election Day. Attention normally spikes as elections approach, and this is likely to occur among Democrats. However, it is unclear whether the Republicans have reached the limit for how much attention they will pay to a midterm election, or whether their attention will rise to perhaps a historic level by November. How this plays out will determine Democrats’ ability to catch up to Republicans on this measure before Election Day, and will in turn determine the size of the Republican turnout advantage.

The contrast is dramatic, and the historical record supplied by Gallup even more so.  Republican enthusiasm was actually higher in 1994, but that survey was taken just before the election.  In 1994 at that point, 67% of conservative Republicans had given “quite a lot of thought” to the midterms; in August 2010, that number is 63%.  However, among moderate Republicans, the level is substantially lower at the moment (50% in 1994, 34% in 2010).  Among all Democrats, the numbers are all down by double digits; only 23% of moderate Democrats are thinking about the election, far below 2006′s 49%, and liberal Democrat numbers have declined by 25 points from 2006 levels to just 32%.

The news isn’t all good.  Independent voters are showing less enthusiasm as well.  Republicans might hope to see them turning out in this cycle, as polls show them disenchanted with Democrats and could help boost GOP chances in tough districts.  However, this could also be the effect of left-leaning independents shrugging off the midterms, which would mean that those who remain will break even harder for the GOP than surveys now show.

We have already seen some evidence of underestimation.  In Missouri, for instance, despite having important primaries in both parties, far more voters chose the Republican ballot — and Proposition C, which was an effort to fight ObamaCare, got 71% of the vote in a state where even Rasmussen only detected 58% support for repeal.  In Florida, where both parties again had contentious primaries, far more Republican votes got cast in favor of Marco Rubio in a mainly uncontested bid (1,059,513) than did all three Democrats combined in their primary (910,393).

This will be a very tough election to properly poll, and it may be very easy to underestimate the impact of national momentum.


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This will be a very tough election to properly poll, and it may be very easy to underestimate the impact of national momentum.

I think this midterm is going to be very unique and one for the ages. I don’t begrudge any pollster for being wrong this election cycle. They’re facing something like they’ve never seen before.

ButterflyDragon on September 2, 2010 at 8:25 PM

Yeah, the pollsters need to start weighing the “bloodbath factor”.

SlaveDog on September 2, 2010 at 8:28 PM

see pat caddell’s take on this over at NRO. Ominous.

ted c on September 2, 2010 at 8:28 PM

OR, the Dems may just get more enthused the closer to the election we get…

ninjapirate on September 2, 2010 at 8:29 PM

Lies, damn lies, and statistics.
Hari Seldon hasn’t been born yet.

Skandia Recluse on September 2, 2010 at 8:29 PM

The gentleman in Georgia keeps on giving.

Limerick on September 2, 2010 at 8:30 PM

Bloodbath :)

Maquis on September 2, 2010 at 8:30 PM

November 2nd……don’t get overconfy!!!

PappyD61 on September 2, 2010 at 8:32 PM

Obama will be Obama and make things even worse by November.

Count on it.

(In votes, especially.)

profitsbeard on September 2, 2010 at 8:34 PM

Working all day Ed?

El_Terrible on September 2, 2010 at 8:36 PM

Obama will be Obama and make things even worse by November.

Count on it.

(In votes, especially.)

profitsbeard on September 2, 2010 at 8:34 PM

I think you’re right. He just can’t stop. It’s his nature.

SlaveDog on September 2, 2010 at 8:38 PM

Mo’mentum baby!

El_Terrible on September 2, 2010 at 8:41 PM

Let’s not start soaping each other’s back yet gentleman.

lorien1973 on September 2, 2010 at 8:43 PM

NO way to measure what is happening out here,,,all i know is people CANNOT. WAIT. TIL. NOVEMBER

winston on September 2, 2010 at 8:43 PM

Yeah, I’m really looking forward to November 2. I’m taking the day off for a schadenfreude fest at my house. I’ll be watching MSNBC and CNN all day long.

SlaveDog on September 2, 2010 at 8:51 PM

And they have factored in the Palin factor either.

She will definitely get more of the folks who will vote for the GOP (Republicans and independents) to the polls.

That is why the Left fears her.

technopeasant on September 2, 2010 at 8:53 PM

I have to say if numbers like FL and Missouri hold, 100seats and 12 in the senate would be LOW estimates. There is no way that you can add 12% GOP to every election and keep the carnage down. It’s far too early to be talking like that, but it is an interesting portent, that’s for sure.

WashingtonsWake on September 2, 2010 at 8:53 PM

IMMOLATION!

Tav on September 2, 2010 at 8:55 PM

That would be a total Refudiation!

redeye on September 2, 2010 at 9:11 PM

OR, the Dems may just get more enthused the closer to the election we get…

ninjapirate on September 2, 2010 at 8:29 PM

Enthused over what? Like if unemployment drops .1%? Or GM sales sag only 8%? Evil Bush? They got nothing, bud.

Patrick S on September 2, 2010 at 9:14 PM

Patrick S,
They have fear. Fear can be a motivator, and the idea of losing all they’ve worked so hard to steal would be a big motivator I think

WashingtonsWake on September 2, 2010 at 9:18 PM

Patrick S,
They have fear. Fear can be a motivator, and the idea of losing all they’ve worked so hard to steal would be a big motivator I think

WashingtonsWake on September 2, 2010 at 9:18 PM

Granted that every Chicken Little Leftie is scared sh!tless right now, but many others who thought the Dems were the answer know otherwise now.

Patrick S on September 2, 2010 at 9:24 PM

NO way to measure what is happening out here,,,all i know is people CANNOT. WAIT. TIL. NOVEMBER

winston on September 2, 2010 at 8:43 P

Oh I can wait. I’ve been waiting for over a year and a half now.

And voter sentiment is such that they would walk through fire, crawl naked over broken glass while being sprayed with salt water to vote these creeps out.

Yes, I can and will wait. And then I’m going to go home and watch the morons on MSNBC turn pale and vomit.

trapeze on September 2, 2010 at 9:39 PM

The left doesn’t give mid-term elections much thought.
The only elections they pay attention to are the POTUS elections because they think POTUS means KING.Most have no idea what the three branches of government do,or I should say,are supposed to do.

DDT on September 2, 2010 at 9:49 PM

This isn’t just another election. The biggest factor that I can see is people are becoming more informed, more educated … they read more history. For the first time in a long time, average people are beginning to see who and what the democrats really are and they’re shocked to find what we’ve known for a long time.

darwin on September 2, 2010 at 9:57 PM

Let’s roll.

hillbillyjim on September 2, 2010 at 10:00 PM

Good. I say let them see even bigger losses. Anything that causes them to freak.

closetgop on September 2, 2010 at 10:16 PM

This applies to the federal elections, but locally(here at least)it’s a mixed bag. Some Dems some GOP–at both the State and local levels. I think Hodes will be out but I’m not so sure about the Governor and some others. We’ll see.

jeanie on September 2, 2010 at 10:43 PM

I don’t begrudge any pollster for being wrong this election cycle. They’re facing something like they’ve never seen before.

ButterflyDragon on September 2, 2010 at 8:25 PM

Yeah. That something would be Republicans!

alflauren on September 2, 2010 at 11:01 PM

I am growing more and more impatient for November. I want to see the pale faces on MSNBC as the results begin to roll in. I plan on staying up as late as I can to savor the dismay and outright horror as reality begins to dawn on the sycophants and suck-ups on the networks that the “little people” have had another tantrum and thrown the would-be tyrants out and that Socialism has once again been rejected by a free people.

I am so tired of these people telling me that I am too stupid to understand what is best for me. My degree in Nursing means nothing, nor does all the life experience that I have managed to accumulate over all the years I have lived. I hate their patronizing attitude and their contempt. If they ever had to deal with real life on their own, I shudder to think how badly they would actually manage.

I will be there to vote on November 2, if I have to crawl across broken glass and fight my way naked through a forest of barbed wire. I want my country back from these semi-literate snobs.

hachiban on September 3, 2010 at 12:47 AM

Regarding the MSM shock: her face, at first just ghostly, Turned a whiter shade of pale.

Mojave Mark on September 3, 2010 at 1:50 AM

Consider – most of us haven’t had to think about the election for months – we have known what we were going to do since early 2009.

A few of us had some difficult choices, but not most of us.

jodetoad on September 3, 2010 at 2:24 AM

The tide is building … And it’s got a great big wash the crap out wave on top of it….

tarpon on September 3, 2010 at 7:57 AM

November 2nd……don’t get overconfy!!!

PappyD61 on September 2, 2010 at 8:32 PM

I would be willing to bet that everyone reading/posting here has voted in the last 9 of 10 local elections, even when there was “nothing” on the ballot; R, D, I, Left, Right, Conservative, Liberal or Moderate.

It is the folks to only vote in the “important” elections that are creating the big swings. Millions of people that voted for Obama have changed thier opinion and are feeling that this is an “Important” election. Those that have not changed their mind are NOT feeling that this is important and will stay home.

Or the shorter version; turnout, turnout, turnout.

barnone on September 3, 2010 at 10:42 AM

When for the first time in his life, something handed him on a silver platter is rudely yanked away, Barack Obama will not respond with grace. He was never a gracious winner, and as a loser – he will stink up the joint!

Popcorn futures – you heard it here first.

drunyan8315 on September 3, 2010 at 12:03 PM