August 24, 2006

Gallup Generic Congressional Poll: Not "Mr. Lonely" Anymore

Hatched by Dafydd

When Gallup released its generic congressional poll on Monday that showed the Democrats with only a statistically insignificant 2% lead over the Republicans, we questioned whether it might be just an "outlier" -- a poll that, however well conducted, was not actually representative of the electorate.

One reason was that no other poll conducted around the same time showed such a narrow gap. But today, Hotline, one of the best pollsters around, released a poll taken over the same period as the Gallup poll; and it showed -- wait for it -- Democrats and Republicans dead even on the generic congressional question, 40% to 40%.

Another question we looked at was the Gallup poll's job-approval rating for President Bush:

But I'm somewhat cheered by the concomitant increase found in President Bush's job-approval numbers on the new Gallup poll -- from 40% last time to 42% this time -- because that is similar to the other two polls conducted at the same time, which showed similar increases.

All right; make that four polls that show the identical number for Bush's job approval: 42% from Gallup, CNN, Rasmussen, and Hotline. At this point, the CBS-New York Times poll is clearly the outlier, with Bush at 36% and dropping, and the generic congressional at a 15% advantage for the Democrats and rising. Every other national poll shows better numbers for the GOP and a trend in their direction, the polar opposite of CBS-New York Times.

Hotline is great, because they give you many more "internals" than most pollsters do (at least for non-subscribers, where "subscriber" usually involves paying -- I rib you not -- hundreds of dollars). Let's take a look at a few...


Here's one you almost never see from other pollsters; Hotline actually gives you the party breakdown of their pool of respondents!

Party ID breakdown: 32% D, 28% R, 40% I/O. W/leans: 38% D, 33% R, 29% I/O.

LV party ID breakdown: 39% D, 37% R, 24% I/O.

That's pretty accurate to current measures of actual party registration, though I still think they're overpolling "independents." But note what happens when "leaners," independents who say they lean towards one of the two major parties, are pushed: they split almost evenly between Republicans and Democrats. That accounts for why independents typically fall between Republicans and Democrats on most issues.

Similarly -- and this is the most important point -- when Hotline looked only at likely voters (typically that means respondents, Rs, with a history of voting who also say they definitely plan to vote), the Rs broke down into near parity again: 39% Democratic to 37% Republican; the independents dropped to where I think they actually are in the country among actual voters. (The "independent/other" category scoops up all the minor parties: Libertarian, Green, American Independent, Constipation Party, etc.)

In other words, Republican turnout is likely to be higher than Democratic turnout, completely erasing the slight advantage the latter enjoys in registration.

Note that "Rs" means respondents to the poll, not "Republicans."

So we know we're dealing with a poll that is not overpolling or underpolling any political party; that makes it much more reliable than, say, CBS, which historically overpolls Democrats and underpolls Republicans, yet stubbornly refuses to weight its sample to bring it in line with the national registration lists or the historical turnout statistics. By the way, from now on, every statistic I cite from the Hotline poll will be of "likely voters," unless I specify otherwise.

A generic Congress - how I wish!

Start with the generic congressional question, since the upcoming elections don't involve the president. The current (August 24th, 5:00 pm PDT) Real Clear Politics average shows an advantage to the Democrats of only 6.8%. This is absolutely remarkable, considering that they had nearly a 20% advantage just a few months ago. That is a huge and unmistakable surge for the Republicans.

If you remove the clear outlier CBS poll from the mix, then the average shows a Democratic advantage of only 4.8%. Considering the built-in Democratic bias of most polls (not Hotline), this is almost parity... which is, not coincidentally, exactly what Hotline found.

Typically, because incumbents have such an advantage in the actual election, you need to see a very big disparity in the generic congressional vote in order to see any significant movement in the House or Senate; for example, in the final polls of the 1994 election, Republicans had about a 10% to 12% advantage over Democrats on the generic congressional poll. If Democrats have a similar advantage in late October 2006, that would be grim indeed for the GOP; but at the moment, the trend is in the Republicans' direction.

(Wouldn't it be amusing if, sometime in September, it was the Republicans who had the advantage on the generic congressional poll? Even if it were statistically insignificant -- 2%, say -- it would be worth it just to watch the "reality-based party" squirm itself into denouncing all polling as meaningless!)

Here is a really interesting question. When Hotline specifically asked Rs whether they would vote to reelect or replace their own representatives, they found parity: 33% to reelect, 32% to replace.

But -- when they broke it down by party, they found something remarkable:

  • Democrats were are parity, with 30% to reelect and 29% to replace;
  • Independents really didn't like their representatives -- only 16% will vote to reelect, while a whopping 30% want to replace him;
  • But Republicans definitely like their representatives: 37% want to reelect, and only 24% want to replace.

I wonder: how does the 29% of Democrats who want to replace their reps break down? How many live in Republican districts -- and how many live in districts represented by a congressional clone of Joe Lieberman? That is, do they want to get rid of some Republican -- or do they want to get rid of a moderate Democrat in favor of a nutroots candidate endorsed by Michael Moore and Howard Dean?

Right track/wrong track for the nation as a whole: 18% right to 72% wrong; but substitute "for your area," and it becomes 54% right track, 34% wrong. Wow. So voters really are saying, "things are fine where I live, but the rest of the country sucks!"

No clear winner for most important issue; nationally, the Iraq war has the plurality, but it's only the most important issue for 28% of Rs. Next up is terrorism at 14% and the economy at 11%. Nothing even reaches 30%; there is no overriding issue dominating the election. In the R's local area, it's even more fractured, with taxes (14%) and the economy (13%) splitting the top slot.

And on the question of whether local or national issues would most affect Rs' votes -- 33% national, 13% local; only a third of Rs say any national issue at all will most affect their votes. And the Democrat's biggest trump card, the Iraq war, is cited by only 15% of Rs.

Big Lizards analysis: the Democrats have failed to nationalize the 2006 midterm elections. Thus, by their own gameplan, they are currently losing.

Bush, Bush, and more Bush

President Bush has a 42% job approval in this poll, as noted; but he still has room for growth, as GOP respondents only support him by 79%, while Democrats oppose him by 87%. As the election looms, I expect we'll see parity between these two measures as more Republicans support the Republican president. With a party breakdown as in this poll, that alone would raise his job approval to 45%.

And this appears to be happening; the percent of Republicans who "strongly approve" of Bush has risen from 33% in May to 40% now; if it heads back to the normal 46% to 47%, that would likely mean that Bush's approval among the GOP would rise to about 88% to 90%, as the ratio among Republicans who approve of Bush has been pretty steady: half approve strongly, half approve moderately.

Bush gets low marks by all likely voters on the Iraq war, 38% support and 58% oppose; in this case, it's mostly because of Republicans, who only support him by 72%, while Democrats oppose him by 90%. But an issue question later found that of the 28% of people for whom the Iraq war is the top issue, more than a fifth support the war. If we assume that nearly all of those are Republicans, then of the 24% of Republicans who disapprove of Bush's handling of the war -- likely well over half of them support the war himself, hence they probably think Bush isn't fighting the war hard enough.

These Republicans are likely not "Ned Lamont" voters. Thus, Big Lizards does not believe the Iraq war will be much of a drag on the GOP vote in November.

Jots and tittles, dribs and drabs

  • Joe Lieberman has a 10-point lead over Lamont, but more than 20% are still undecided; this is anybody's race.
  • In the McCain/Hillary favorability matchup, McCain kills with 59% favorable, 22% unfavorable. Hillary Clinton, despite many months of trying to please all sides, remains mired exactly where she was a year ago: split dead even, 46% to 46%. She cannot win the general election with a 46% disapproval rating; and Big Lizards stands by our earlier prediction that she will not even be the nominee in 2008. (If she doesn't get it in 2008, she has no chance of ever getting the nod.)
  • Asked whether Rs think we are safer or less safe today than we were before 9/11, likely voters said "safer" by a margin of 50% to 21% less safe, with 23% saying we're about the same. Asked whether Bush's policies have made us safer, it drops to parity: 38% safer, 36% less safe, 24% the same. Methinks thar be some poly-ticking going on hereabouts...!
  • If the Democrats controlled Congress, we would be safer (23%), less safe (29%), the same (38%). This reverses for the question of a Democratic president: 29%, 24%, 38%.

    If John Kerry were president, it flip-flops right back: 25% say we would be safer, 37% say less safe, and 28% think it would be the same. And if Algore were president, he splits the tank: 35%, 33%, 23%.

  • If Hillary Clinton were president, only 25% of Rs say we would be safer, while 39% say less safe (28% the same). Hillary is considered a worse candidate for national security than even John Kerry! Note that every single specific Democrat underperforms the generic Democratic president.
  • Contrariwise, John McCain, the only specific Republican presidential candidate mentioned, slightly outperforms President Bush, but only if you take the "less safe" and "just as safe" answers into account: 34% safer, 15% less safe, 40% the same.
  • By a significant margin, Rs see the Iraq war as "part of the global war on terrorism," 53% to 42%. Even among Democrats, 34% see it as part of the GWOT (60% do not); among Republicans, it's 79% to 17%; and independents split, 45% o 48%.
  • Finally, when asked what is the best way to protect us from terrorism, Rs voted to "implement 9/11 Commission's recommendations" over "withdraw troops from Iraq" by a whopping 53% to 22%. Among all registered voters, it's still 46% to 26%. Among Democrats, an astounding one third prefer the former over withdrawing from Iraq, and only 41% think cutting and running is the best option. Bizarrely, 12% of Republicans think the best thing to do is to pull out. Yeesh!

All in all, this is a very, very good poll for the GOP; if it remains this good to the election, then there is no question that the Republicans will hold both houses -- and may not even lose as many seats as many feared.

But if the current trend continues, and if it lifts the numbers in individual races at the same pace that the generic GOP numbers are rising... then they might not lose any seats at all. In fact, they could even see a net increase... which is exactly what happened in 2002, the last midterm election.

At the moment, Big Lizards does not endorse the rosy scenario; but we do predict that the GOP holds both houses, and I (Dafydd) predict that the losses will be no more than a net 9 seats in the House and 2 seats in the Senate.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 24, 2006, at the time of 5:25 PM

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Tracked on September 11, 2006 8:20 PM


The following hissed in response by: TBinSTL

I'm still convinced that in the privacy of the voting booth, the security issue will move to the front and many will vote Republican even though they entered the polling place with another intent. I know there is no real way to quantify or prove this but this is a purely unscientific "hunch" kind of thing.

The above hissed in response by: TBinSTL [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 24, 2006 11:25 PM

The following hissed in response by: Terrye

I have to admit that when I see a CBS/NYT poll, I just ignore it.

I think it could go either way.

The above hissed in response by: Terrye [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 25, 2006 3:31 AM

The following hissed in response by: Big D

I always envision the CBS/NYT poll consisting of a copyboy running around the newsroom asking the reporters how they like Bush.

I remember a normally rational friend of mine saying after the last election "Bush must have stolen the election, because nobody I know voted for him...". I suddenly remembered an appointment to avoid laughing in his face.

The above hissed in response by: Big D [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 25, 2006 10:06 AM

The following hissed in response by: MarkD

The problem with the generic polls is that there are no generic candidates. My rep is a RINO - I'd have voted against him in a heartbeat if there had ever been a viable alternative.

There never is. Dems run the retread local pols who couldn't get re-elected to the city council, academics, and the odd business person who thinks he/she should be in Congress.

The Republicans deserve to loose. They won't, because the Democrats don't deserve to win.

The above hissed in response by: MarkD [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 25, 2006 3:27 PM

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