There has been a bit of discussion about the polls and turnout in this year’s general election. Jeffrey Anderson writes at the Weekly Standard blog that the wave will likely be bigger than thought because many polls are over estimating the Democrat turnout. William Kristol posts a comment from a reader and thinks that Anderson may be optimistic (which means a tsunami wave is in the offing). Throwing water on everyone is John Hood at the John Locke Foundation. He cautions any definitive conclusions from generic ballots that Anderson invokes.
So what is going on? Essentially, Anderson taps into the likely voter assumptions the pollsters are making this election. We have already noted that PPP oversamples (and/or overestimates) Democrat turnout this election. PPP assumes, and so do others, that turnout will be along the lines of 2008. That, as I have maintained, is a fantasy. So, Anderson argues that turnout is more likely to be along the lines of 2004:
Second, in terms of party affiliation (aside from the growth in independents), we’re right back where we were in 2004. Both Gallup and Rasmussen now show Democrats enjoying an edge in party identification of just 1 to 2 percentage points — a spread that’s almost identical to what both polls registered in 2004. In that election, according to exit polls, turnout was split evenly between the two parties: 37 percent apiece.
But by 2008, things had changed dramatically, as exit polling from 2008 showed a 7-point advantage in turnout for Democrats over Republicans.
Since the Democratic advantage in turnout was 7 points higher in 2008 than in 2004, and since party identification is now essentially identical to 2004, a reasonable guess is that (all other things being equal), this year will be about 7 points worse for Democrats, in terms of turnout margin, than 2008 was.
Thus, by adjusting the margin in each state by 7 points in the Republican direction, we can approximate the party split of 2004. And by increasing the percentage of independents by 10 percent, we can approximate their increased impact.
Now the interesting thing about W.Va. in this regard, is that the 2008 results do not matter anyway because the state is trending Republican against the national average of 2008 that saw an increase in Democrat numbers. W.Va. is an outlier because it does not follow national trends in favor of the Democrats. Check out Gallup’s poll from yesterday. Republicans nationwide have a clear advantage:
Gallup’s recent tracking of the generic ballot for Congress has shown the Republicans with substantial leads over the Democrats among likely voters, in part because the underlying registered voter population leans Republican in its vote choice. Compared with previous elections, that tilt is an extraordinary positioning for the Republicans, who typically do no better than tie the Democrats among registered voters. The GOP’s position is further enhanced by the generally strong proclivity of Republicans to turn out to vote, which appears to be even greater than usual this year.
In some important demographic respects — namely, gender, age, and education — 2010 midterm voters will be quite typical of past electorates. However, should the figures reported here hold through the final poll conducted this coming weekend, this will be only the second time in the last five midterm elections in which the majority of voters on Election Day were Republican in their party identification or leanings, likely exceeding the 51% found in 2002. Much of this is explained by a surge in Republican-leaning independents.
This means that the Senate is clearly in play if the Republican advantage holds. The House is gone. The Senate could be in deadlock, but W.Va. needs to break for Raese, and it seems that Manchin has closed enough to make it a toss up race at the moment. In W.Va. it is still unclear what will happen. Angle will likely win in Nevada, and reports have it Toomey is pulling away from Sestack. That leaves only a few states to pick up a Republican Senator. Delaware is not going to be in play–O’Donnell has proved to be a poor choice for Republicans. If the Republicans in Delaware would have voted strategically, I would be talking about how there will be a 50-50 split in the Senate. But, they didn’t.
In the end, Anderson writes:
The expectation that Democrats will come anywhere close to matching their 2008 turnout, while independent turnout will suffer, is not rooted in reality. In truth, turnout should look very much like it did in 2004, except that independents will make up a higher percentage of the voters.
Fortunately, many of the polls show each candidate’s level of support by party. So we can see, for example, that the latest CNN/Time poll for Colorado shows Republican challenger Ken Buck with 89 percent support among Republicans, to 6 percent for Democratic incumbent Michael Bennet; 6 percent support among Democrats, to Bennet’s 90; and 49 percent support among independents, to Bennet’s 36. Using the projected turnout figures explained herein (and more or less mirroring 2004), these tallies would mean an 11-point lead for Buck. Because of its radically different turnout projections, CNN/Time calls it a 1-point lead for Buck.
On the whole — using every poll from the past ten days that breaks down support by party (and in Washington, Florida, Delaware, and Wisconsin, where such polls are more scarce, going back a bit further) — here are the tallies that these polls would yield if they were to use the turnout projections outlined herein (with the actual RCP averages for each state listed alongside):
—California: Boxer (D) by 1 (RCP average: Boxer by 6)
—Colorado: Buck (R) by 8 (RCP: Buck by 2)
—Connecticut: Blumenthal (D) by 12.5 (RCP: Blumenthal by 12.5)
—Delaware: Coons (D) by 16 (RCP: Coons by 17)
—Florida: Rubio (R) by 10, over Crist) (RCP: Rubio by 12, over Crist)
—Kentucky: Paul (R) by 12 (RCP: Paul by 8)
—Illinois: Kirk (R) by 4 (RCP: Kirk by 3)
—Nevada: Angle (R) by 3.5 (RCP: Angle by 2)
—Pennsylvania: Toomey (R) by 5 (RCP: Toomey by 3)
—Washington: Rossi (R) by 1 (RCP: Murray (D) by 2)
—West Virginia: Manchin (D) by 1.5 (RCP: Manchin by 5)
—Wisconsin: Johnson (R) by 10 (RCP: Johnson by 6)
In all but Florida and Connecticut, the polls appear to be inflating the Democratic candidates’ prospects by inflating Democratic turnout.
In all likelihood, however, Republican candidates have a shot of doing slightly better on the whole than even the above tallies suggest, for the turnout projections that inform these tallies really only take into account party identification, not party enthusiasm. And party enthusiasm certainly seems to favor the GOP. In this year’s primaries, according to American University researcher Curtis Gans, Republican turnout outnumbered Democratic turnout for the first time in 80 years.
On the whole, Republicans look like they have a reasonably good chance to maintain their advantage in the races where they’re leading by at least three or four points in the tallies above, which means they would need to take two out of three among West Virginia, Washington, and California — all nearly toss-ups — to become the majority party in the Senate.
So what do we make of all this? I am with Hood: projecting on the numbers from a generic ballot or party ID is tricky. Anderson makes a plausible case for a 2004 turnout. If Anderson is correct, though, Raese is actually ahead in W.Va. because W.Va. is trending more Republican, and thus the Senate will go to the Republicans. I think the RCP average that he uses to too skewed because of the Marshall poll, and because PPP’s over the top model. But, this is all speculation. The only poll that really matters is the vote on November 2nd.