September 1, 2010

SITUATION NORMAL, REPUBLICANS UP:

The Democrats’ New Normal (NATE SILVER, 8/31/10, NY Times)

[E]ven if the poll is an outlier, that doesn’t mean it should simply be dismissed. Instead, the question is: an outlier relative to what? If the Democrats’ true deficit on the generic ballot were 5 points, it would not be all that unusual to have a poll now and then that showed them trailing by 10 points instead, nor would it be so strange for a couple of polls to show the race about tied. Indeed, that seems to be about where the generic ballot sits now. No non-Internet survey has shown the Democrats with a lead larger than 1 point on the generic ballot for over a month now, whereas their worst results of late seem to put them in the range of 10 points to 11 points behind.

This is not the situation the Democrats faced earlier this summer, when the generic ballot was closer to even. Back then, a 5-point Republican lead on the generic ballot would have been pretty big news; now, it seems to be the new normal. I don’t say this cavalierly: FiveThirtyEight tracks the generic ballot pretty obsessively, as it’s used in several ways in our forecasting models, and the Democrats’ numbers have almost certainly undergone some further deterioration over the past few weeks.

Making matters worse still for Democrats, Gallup’s survey — and some other generic ballot polls — are still polling registered rather than likely voters, whereas its polls of likely voters are generally more reliable in midterm elections. At FiveThirtyEight, we’ve found that the gap between registered and likely voter polls this year is about 4 points in the Republicans’ favor — so a 10-point lead in a registered voter poll is the equivalent of about 14 points on a likely-voter basis. Thus, even if this particular Gallup survey was an outlier, it’s not unlikely that we’ll begin to see some 8-, 9- and 10-point leads for Republicans in this poll somewhat routinely once Gallup switches over to a likely voter model at some point after Labor Day — unless Democrats do something to get the momentum back.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at September 1, 2010 5:43 AM
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