Generic Ballot Polling

As we inch closer to November, my interest in polls increases. While my associate Mr. Jay Tea might roll his eyes, I am a confessed poll junkie. Not because I believe them–most polls have some sort of horrible bias, many are completely fabricated to create a political talking point. I do believe there is almost always information to be gleaned from any particular poll.

Today, my interested is in the generic ballot poll–the poll that asks if you would vote Republican or Democrat with no name associated with either candidate. Jay Cost takes a look at the trend in this polling from RealClearPolitics.


As typical with a Cost analysis it is long and well worth the read. His main point is that the decline in popularity of the generic Democratic candidate started with health care reform.

Reconstructing the Democrats’ meme, we can fairly say that the economy is a huge problem for the party. Of this, there can be no doubt. We can also say that the stalled recovery denied the Democrats a chance to win back the voters they lost over health care. But the process and passage of health care reform were crucial elements in the story. That’s when the party started losing the voters it needs to retain control of the government.

More recent results in the generic ballot polling have attracted attention elsewhere. Details after the break.

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Over at Powerlineblog, Paul notes that the most recent Gallup poll gives Republican candidates a 10 point advantage in its version of the generic poll.


Gallup’s weekly tracking poll of 2010 congressional voting preferences for August 23-29 has Republicans leading Democrats by 51 percent to 41 percent among registered voters. The 10-percentage-point lead is the GOP’s largest of the year and, in fact, is its largest lead in Gallup’s history of tracking the midterm generic ballot.

The “enthusiasm gap” is even more pronounced. Gallup finds that Republicans are now twice as likely as Democrats to be “very” enthusiastic about voting come November, the largest such advantage of the year.

Now Jay Cost is typically conservative and John at Powerline is decidedly so. Lest you think I’m cherrypicking my analyses, I direct you to Nate Silver, the notably liberal (and mathematically astute) analyzer of polls who founded the FiveThirtyEight blog is now writes for the New York Times. (Hat tip Ann Althouse.)

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.

Yes, things could still change between now and November. Yes, the most recent Gallup result may be an outlier. But for anyone hoping for a fiscal sanity these numbers have to be seen as encouraging.

Gibbs does the "Don't give Bush credit on Iraq" two-step
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