With the midterm elections only 13 days the Democrats are getting mixed signals from the most recent polls. The nation-wide polls which sample the general mood of the entire country still favor Republicans, but the polls for individual races show tremendous gains for Democrats in a very short time. The two sets of polls are very hard to reconcile.
First let us look at the set of polls which survey the national mood in the country.
– Rasmussen Reports has Republicans with a nine-point lead in the generic congressional ballot (48%-39%). That lead is actually a six-point gain for Republicans from Rasmussen’s poll from just two weeks ago.
– Gallup actually has a more pessimistic picture for Democrats. According to their generic ballot polls, Democrats trail Republicans by eleven points in a high-turnout scenario, and by seventeen points in a low-turnout scenario.
– Finally there is an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll which has Republicans with a seven-point lead among likely voters (50%-43%). According to that poll Republicans have doubled their lead over the past month.
If an analyst just looked at the above polls he or she would think that Democrats were not getting beaten soundly in the key toss-up races across the country. However, to the contrary, Democrats have received great news from Senate races in Missouri, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania over the last few days. In some cases, the Democrat in these races has gone from shrunk the Republican lead in half, or even taken the lead. Here is a list of the polls in question.
– Public Policy Polling now has Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) leading his opponent Rep. Pat Toomey (R-PA) in the race for Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate Seat. The last poll from PPP had Toomey with a ten-point lead (46%-36%). Now Sestak actually has a one-point lead (47%-46%).
– In the previous month Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO) had opened up a double-digit lead over Democrat Robin Carnahan in the Missouri Senate race. Many analysts believed the race to be out-of-reach for Carnahan. However, PPP’s most recent poll has Carnahan within just five points of Blunt (41%-46%). That puts Carnahan well within striking distance of Blunt in the final weeks of the campaign.
– Similarly, in Wisconsin many believe that Senator Feingold (D) was too far behind his Republican challenger Ron Johnson. Polls from just one week ago had Feingold trailing by nearly ten points. Today a poll released from St. Norbert College/Wisconsin Public Radio has Feingold trailing Johnson by just two points (45%-47%).
– In late September Rasmussen Reports had Republican candidate Rand Paul leading his Democratic opponent Jack Conway by eleven points (49%-38%). Now Rasmussen Reports has the race much closer, with Conway only trailing by five points (42%-47%). That is a dramatic turnaround for Conway who has recently attacked Paul with a controversial ad.
– Finally, in West Viriginia every poll has Democratic Governor Joe Manchin gaining ground on his rival John Raese. One poll now has Manchin with a ten-point lead. Another poll from PPP has Manchin with a three-point lead. A Fox News poll has Raese with a three-point lead, which is still smaller than the five-point lead the same poll had for Raese weeks before.
So what explains the contradictory nature of the national and local polling? More polling would be needed to provide a definitive explanation, but we can make some educated guesses based on the data we already have.
Public Policy Polling has released the internals of their polls to explain how they have Democrats making such significant gains from their previous polling. According to PPP, Democrats and independents are getting more “engaged” in the midterm elections as November draws near. Republicans are largely maintaining their support among their own voters, but losing their support among independents and Democrats. It seems that as voters learn more about Paul, and Blunt, and Toomey (among others) they are cooling on the idea of actually voting for them. It is also possible that Democrats are beginning to face the reality of what a strong Republican majority would look like next year, and they are now beginning to react to prevent the worst-case scenario from happening.
Another explanation (and this one is pure speculation) could be that respondents are simply lying in the national polls. The national polls are likely accurate in showing a Republican lead among their respondents. The polls are from three independent organizations with fairly good reputations in the polling business. However, no poll-taker can account for a survey respondents who simply lie. It could be that many voters are saying they will vote Republican this fall when asked about a “generic Republican”, but then the same voters change their mind and vote Democrat when they are given the choice between a named-Republican and named-Democrat.
The good news for Democrats is that the United States elections system does not operate by a national poll. Even if Republicans do gain more votes nationally, it will matter little if they do not have more votes in the majority of the House individual House races and Senate races. The fate of Senator Feingold, for example, will be decided by the vote within the state of Wisconsin, not any national vote. On that note, the polls of the individual races are looking much better for Democrats of late.
Like this article? Subscribe to this website or follow me on Facebook.
See the latest polls for key Senate races in the 2010 midterm elections.