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Thursday, September 09, 2004

Bush Fires Up the Base

Why are the polls going crazy? First there was the Time magazine poll that showed Bush with a 9 point lead, then the Newsweek Poll that showed an 11 point lead. OK, maybe the samples were biased since they were taken during the Republican Convention. After, all the Newsweek poll showed a 7 point Republican lead in Party ID, which would be a big change from the usual Democratic lead. (Time didn't report a party ID breakdown at first).

There is the little matter that the Newsweek Poll was taken during the final night of the Convention and also the day after. But the day after was the Friday before Labor Day weekend, which is an unusual day. Maybe Democrats are more likely to be out of town. Could be.

Poll Watchers Ruy Teixeira and Chris Bowers reassured us that the polls could be ignored. "Bad weighting!" they cried. Too many Republicans! Look at the the Zogby and ARG polls, they said, which showed Bush with only a 1 or 2 point lead. But these polls were also taken during the convention, so it's not immediately obvious why these polls should have had a better mix of Republicans, Democrats and Independents. A mystery.

(I know I'm not being entirely fair to these guys. I do think they let their partisan inclinations override their better judgement sometimes, but they did mix in plenty of healthy wait-and-see with their interpretations.)

Since then, more polls have come out, showing Bush with leads ranging from 1 point (Economist magazine and Rasmussen) to 8 or 9 (ABC and CBS). What the hell is going on?

I'll tell you what's going on: the Republican Convention led a lot of independents to decide that they're really Republicans. That's what the Newsweek Poll that everybody wanted to dismiss found: a 7 point Republican lead in party ID, a big jump from a more normal 4 point Democratic lead. Time has since reported their internals: it shows a 4 point lead in party ID for the Republicans. Today, ABC came out with a new poll showing a 6 point Republican lead. The outlier is CBS, which shows a 1 point Democratic lead.

I'll tell you why Zogby, Rasmussen, and the Economist show a much tighter race than Time, Newsweek, ABC, CBS, and Gallup: it's because the first three weight by Party ID, and so don't allow the spike in Republican loyalty to affect their results. (I'm just guessing about the Economist, but it's an internet poll, so they've got to be weighting pretty aggressively). The others, as far as I can tell, don't weight by party ID. Fox is an outlier, showing a tight race, even though they "usually" don't weight at all. Table 1 sums up some recent poll results.

So it looks like Kerry is 7 or 8 points down, and Zogby and Rasmussen are missing it because they're adjusting away the upswing in Republican Party ID. Is there any hope? Well, beside the fact the the campaign traditionally only really begins around Labor Day, when the last 20% start paying attention, there's also the possibility that Bush is only firing up his base in the red states, and isn't gaining much ground in the swing states. A lot of Bush's surge in the polls might be wasted piling up huge majorities in places like Texas and Mississippi. (Again, in fairness, the critics like Teixeira who've been dismissing Time, Newsweek, etc. have also been emphasizing this point).

Table 2 shows figures from recent polls that reported results for independents and swing states. For these crucial groups the race is very tight -- pretty much a tie. So it looks like spending the Republican Convention tossing red meat to the base may not be playing that well with the swing voters.

Table 1: Recent Polls
Organization Dates of polling Bush Kerry RV/LV Weight by Party ID?
Rasmussen 9/7-9/04 48 47 RV? Yes
Zogby 8/30/04 - 9/2/04 46 44 LV Yes
The Economist 9/6-8/04 47 46 LV Yes?

ABC News/WaPo 9/6-8/04 52 43 LV No
FOX 9/7-8/04 47 45 LV No?
CBS 9/6-8/04 50 42 RV No?
Time 8/31/04 - 9/2/04 53 43 LV No
Gallup/CNN/USA Today 9/3-5/04 52 45 LV No?

Table 2: Recent Polls With Rep/Dem/Ind Breakdown

Independents Swing States

Bush Kerry
Bush Kerry
Fox 40 42
44 46
CBS 48 39
-- --
Gallup 46 49
45 50
Newsweek 45 40
51 42
ARG 43 46
-- --

Average 44 43
47 46


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