The Difference Between Likely and Registered Voter Polls

For those who don't know, most of what I write here (but not all, so keep reading here) is cross-posted at -- a great site for following polls and election-related commentary (/plug).  In the comments over there, BobH -- who has been posting at sites I've been writing and/or posting at for four years -- writes with regard to my post about the movement in the tracking polls below:

Sean: I find it interesting to compare the results of the LV and RV polls. Using the polls currently in the RCP average, the three RV polls have Obama leading by 11, 7, and 6 (an average of 8). The LV polls have the lead at 6,2,1,4,3,8,3 (an average of just under 4). The question appears to be how accurate the likely voter screens are this year. If McCain is really within 4 in mid-October, then this thing is very winnable. If he’s behind by 8, things are a good bit dicier.

That's spot-on, and I hadn't noticed the pattern (and had completely forgotten that Gallup Tracking is an RV poll). It also brings up some good points for discussion.

As I've said before, the million dollar question this cycle is what the electorate will look like. No one really knows for sure, and I think it is less certain than even 2004 (when increased Kerry enthusiasm was supposed to lead to a blowout). I have heard all the arguments for why turnout will favor Obama this time around, and I credit them (except for the "cellphone effect" argument).

But there are also countervailing arguments. In 2004, the improved Kerry GOTV, vote registration machine was about as hyped as the Obama registration and GOTV machine. It succeeded -- but so did a much less hyped Republican GOTV machine. In short, Kerry met targets that the campaign thought if they met would make it impossible for them to lose. The GOP did better.

So when I see analysis indicating that early voting is not as record-breaking in Ohio as many would expect, I start to wonder about the polls. And when I note that Party ID among the electorate has been astoundingly level over the past twenty years, in elections that have been good, bad, and ugly for both parties, I wonder how much I can expect them to be different this year:

In 1988, Democrats had a three-point party ID advantage over Republicans (38-35). In 1992, Democrats still had a three-point party ID advantage over Republicans (38-35). In 1996, that advantage increased to four - a shift of one point (39-35). In 2000, Democrats were steady, up by four (39-35), and in 2004 they dropped to even (37-37). . . . But note that in 2006, when Democrats clearly found enormous success at the ballot box, that the advantage in party ID was only three points (38-35).

Yes, Obama has registered tons of voters. As I note above, that is an argument to certainly credit in his favor. On the other hand, likely voter screens typically ask if you have voted before for a reason. Every cycle we hear about how likely voter screens are going to be off because of an anticipated surge in Democratic turnout, and it is usually wrong, even in very good Democratic years. They tend not to be. It is one thing to meet a college kid on Franklin St. and get him to sign up to vote; it is another to get him to show up. I agree wholeheartedly that if there is a year when these voters are going to turnout, this is that year. But I also would have said 2006 was arguably that year, and young voters actually made up a smaller portion of the electorate than 2004.

And yes, Democrats had great turnout in the primaries. The likes of which have not been seen since 1988 and 1984 (the previous record-breaking years).

So the question is this: Are the likely voter polls already anticipating a surge in Democratic party ID? Some certainly are. It is suspected that there reason Battleground went from showing McCain winning to showing Obama winning is that they re-weighted from their earlier D+3 electorate. What if, as in 2004, the ballyhooed Democratic turnout machine doesn't materialize, or only adds a point or two to the electorate? How many of those new Democratic voters were Democratic-leaning independents, or voters (either R, D, or I) who registered to vote AGAINST Obama?

On the other hand, what if these likely voter polls are anticipating a 1996 electorate, and we end up with something much different? What if Hotline/FD's +5 Dem electorate (with Obama leading by only 2 in what would be the most heavily Democratic electorate in almost a generation) is actually generous to Republicans?

The million dollar question continues to revolve around what the makeup of the electorate will be. If the likely voter screens still work and McCain is only down 4, I'd feel pretty good heading into November. If the screens don't, then we're really dun-zo.

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Another possibility...

If Obama's hoping for a huge - unprecedented - youth and minority turnout to seal his win and at the same time trying to depress the GOP turnout by high poll numbers, does he potentially burst his own bubble and give McCain a chance to win?

I think McCain's - or really, Palin's - turnout's going to be pretty good for the simple fact that GOPers turn out to vote, and definitely in presidential elections.  They get it.  They know what's at stake.  So efforts to depress this vote are hopeful at best.  When GOPers don't turn out, they do it on purpose (or turn out to vote the other side).  For example, see 2006. 

But if the potential or casual voter, Obama's masses, see the election going his way, they might be more apt to say "whatever" and go sip on a latte at Starbucks.

This is all speculation, but well reasoned speculation, none the less.

Anybody disagree?

2006 Election Myths

The GOP lost HUGE in 2006 because they lost Independents HUGE over 2004. 

It was not because Republicans didn'turn out.  The 2006 Election tracked the previous midterm, 2002, pretty closely with about 40% turnout.

It's Still A Horse Race

I know the Democrats are picking out the drapes for the White House, but it's still a 3-4 point game.  Conservatives are going to turn out this election (thanks in large part to Palin), and if they come out this year like they did in 2004 for Bush, McCain will win.  I see very few people who voted for Bush in 2004 backing Obama in this election. 

Anecdotally, I know a lot of blue-collar Democrats in my family who are older, and absolutely hated Bush, but will not vote for Obama.  Contrast that to the fact that I've yet to meet one person who said they voted for Bush in '04 that is now backing Obama.

The Obama campaign is also really counting on a huge young-voter turnout to put them over the top in these swing states.  I really wouldn't want to be in a position where I was counting on 18-23 year old college kids, this hardly a reliable demographic.  We heard the same warnings about the groundswell of the youth vote in '04 against Bush, and it turned out to be a joke.  They even had Kerry running around saying there might be a draft.

There's a lot of wild cards in this race, and a Democrat President hasn't broken 50% in over 30 years.  The Electoral College also favors Republicans.  Obama will have to win traditionally Red States, like Colorado, Ohio and Virginia in order to win the White House.  McCain doesn't have to win a single Blue State, only hold on to the Red ones.

This is a volatile election, and one bad October surprise, and the two candidates poll positions could flip overnight.  Obama is no doubt narrowly leading the race, but if he does actually end up winning, I suspect it will be a razor-thin margin, he's not going to win some sort of landslide.  In this awful environment, he still can't close the deal, and I doubt he ever fully will.   Had Hillary been the nominee, this election would have been a lay-up.

A lot can happen in 4 weeks, and I expect Ayers, Wright, and Trinity Church are all going to bubble up to the surface before the election.  Regan Democrats in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan are not going to swoon for Obama if these characters are front and center.  Expect the polls to tighten in all the key states.

Game On!


Burst Obama's Bubble - Ayers, Wright

The Obama 'bubble' is the soft support that gives him that lead. The bubble is the ignorant voter who wil look at an economic crisis and put a left-liberal empty suit who is wrong on the causes and reasons for it, simply because he is 'change' from 'status quo'. That vote should apply contrawise to the Congress, but alas doesnt - I am still waiting for people to put 2+2 together and demand the firing of Speaker Pelosi and the Democrats in Congress.

 Ayers and Wright is a wakeup call to voters - hey, people, do you even KNOW this guy?!?  The fact is that later in the primary, Obama struggled to stay ahead of Clinton, after almost putting her away early on.The more you know Obama, you less you have confidence in him.

Yet Obama's genl favs remain high, I guess thanks to a fawning media that is not letting his real partisan left-liberal record out there.

Getting at the real Obama might not change the poll numbers much, but could change the LV mix. If independents get wind of how extremely liberal Obama is, how radical his pals were, how he never actually sponsored any tax cut legislation after promising it and promises it again EVEN THOUGH HE HAD A CHANCE TO SUBMIT A BILL ON IT AND NEVER DID, etc.

These are all smoke signals that this Obama guy is a consummate BS artist empty suit who is saying whatever it takes to get elected and will be someone else entirely once in the White House.

Alone it wont be enough for McCain to win, but it may be enough, if it seeps out there, to make people take a second look at their vote and support.

Atually, the low-information voters

tend to be big Palin fans and in McCain's camp.

What about the 'Early Voting' ?

i.e. registering and then immediately voting?

Polling Break Out By Age Group

Could someone dig up some of these polls and see if they are breaking them out by age group.

My quick point is. Yes Kerry did do a good job of registering voters in 2004 but I remember seeing a poll in mid-september that year where Bush was up by three or four in every age catagory except 18-25.  Kerry had 18-25 by 12+ points. I would suspect Obama might be up in  the 25-35 catagory this time but I doubt it is 12+ points.

Nonetheless I would be interested to see how the polling looks if you take out the 18-25 numbers. They didn't show up for Kerry and I really think the more reporting on Barack is up by 11 in the Media means this 18-25 segement thinks Obama has it in the bag and stays home. 

Just some thoughts.







More Election Myths

"...They didn't show up for Kerry.."


Ah, but many signs show they did.

Unfortunately, according to organizations that track youth voting like CIRCLE, the only way to guesstimate youth vote is indirectly, by exit polls, remarkably inaccurate tools.

In the Washington Post

CIRCLE guesstimated in 2004 a record 18.4 percent of the vote was youth vote, some 20.9 million votes.  That works out to over 51% of eligible voters 18-29.  The youth vote DID turn out for Kerry. 

In my view, Kerry lost because he could not find a way to win in Florida and Ohio.

My guess is Obama gets a far bigger youth turnout.

The most likely scenario:

The most likely scenario:

This election's turnout is heavy, but the D-R spread is no greater than usual (i.e. 3-4%). That means with all the polls modeling 8-15% Dem advantages are overestimating Obama's lead. Therefore, if the Independents break >48% (Bush '04) for McCain (his strategy all along), they can actually deliver a R victory.

Remember, these newly registered voters were unregistered for a reason - THEY DON'T VOTE! Actually, what Obama has to realistically hope for is that he is seen as inevitable, which ironically sways the herd mentality of "Independents" who just want to vote for the winner.