The 2010 Election

Polling and Analyses

Frederick Weil, LSU

Guide to this page

Students in my "Political Sociology" class: As you read this material, watch for 4 important factors:

  1. Which candidate do the different social groups support (gender, religion, race, region, party loyalists, etc., etc.)? Plus how big is each group?
  2. What percentage of each group actually votes: what's their turnout? How good is each campaign's "ground game" of getting out the vote?
  3. How do the different issues play? Which issue helps which candidate, which social groups respond to which issues, and how do the campaigns maneuver to bring "their" issues to the forefront?
  4. Are the polls giving us accurate readings of voter preferences and turnout? There are various factors that may distort their accuracy.
  • Note: I'm building this page from my 2008 elections page. Some bits may simply repeat the 2008 material till I can update it with info for 2010. There could also be some broken links. I'll try to catch those, or let me know.



Final 2010 Exit Polls and Election Maps

NY Times - Portrait of the Electorate - Table

NY Times - Portrait of the Electorate - Table

New York Times, November 6, 2010, ELECTION 2010, Rightward, March: The Midterm Exit Polls

How bad was it for Democrats last week? By nearly every demographic measure, the party lost ground, significantly in some cases.

The result was the largest reshuffling of the House of Representatives in 50 years.

For the first time since 1982, when exit polls began measuring support for Congressional candidates, Republicans received a majority of women’s votes. Two years ago, House Democratic candidates won women by 14 points.

Catholics, independents and voters age 60 and older also sided with Republicans by margins not seen since 1982.

Independent voters, a key to President Obama’s election two years ago, turned sharply to the G.O.P. Republicans also won more support than usual from reliably Democratic constituencies: less affluent and less educated voters, urbanites and voters from the nation’s East and West. A notable exception was black voters, who continued to support Democrats in strong numbers.

The generational divide exposed in the 2008 election was more pronounced. Voters under 30 were the only age group to support Democrats but made up just 11 percent of the electorate, typical for a midterm election. By contrast, voters aged 60 and older represented 34 percent of voters, their highest proportion in exit polls since 1982.

Experts said that about 42 percent of voters had cast ballots, which is typical for a midterm election. — Marjorie Connelly

  • Interactive Maps at the NY Times:
  • Some NY Times graphics by the great Amanda Cox & others:


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The Big New York Times Exit Poll Chart for 2010

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Post-Election Analyses

  • NY Times, November 5, 2010, Latinos Reached Milestones in Midterm Races. PHOENIX — There was plenty of grim news for Latinos in Tuesday’s election results: three Latino congressmen were voted out, the odds of an immigration overhaul appeared to diminish and — here in the state that gave rise to the strictest immigration measure of all — hardliners were re-elected amid vows to continue cracking down on illegal immigrants. But 2010 also signifies a milestone of sorts for Latinos, the country’s largest minority: their overwhelming support for Democrats in the midterm elections is credited with helping to keep the Senate Democratic. And Latinos won an unprecedented voice in the Republican Party with the election of more Latino Republicans than ever before — sometimes without the support of Latino voters, who tend to put issues before ethnicity. ...A poll by the Pew Hispanic Center showed Latinos demoralized in the weeks before the election, and turnout numbers are still being compiled to gauge how many cast ballots nationwide. But it is clear that Latinos in some Western states provided decisive votes.
  • Center for American Progress, Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin, November 4, 2010, Election Results Fueled by Jobs Crisis and Voter Apathy Among Progressives. Experts and pundits will float many interpretations of the 2010 midterms over the next few weeks, each of which progressives should consider carefully. But the most parsimonious explanation of how 2010 unfolded in terms of lessons for progressives going forward lies in a few fundamental factors: the poor state of the economy; the abnormally conservative composition of the midterm electorate; and the large number of vulnerable seats in conservative-leaning areas. These trends cost the Democrats their House majority but were not strong enough to sweep them out in the Senate. Independent voters, white working-class voters, seniors, and men broke heavily against the Democrats due to the economy. Turnout levels were also unusually low among young and minority voters and unusually high among seniors, whites, and conservatives, thus contributing to a massively skewed midterm electorate. The Democrats therefore faced a predictable, and arguably unavoidable, convergence of forces. Incumbent Democrats suffered a genuine backlash of voter discontent due to a weak economy with considerable concerns about job creation, deep skepticism among independents, poor turnout among key base groups, and strong enthusiasm among energized conservatives.
  • The New Republic, William Galston, November 4, 2010, It's the Ideology, Stupid. The ideological composition of the electorate shifted dramatically. In 2006, those who voted were 32 percent conservative, 47 percent moderate, and 20 percent liberal. In 2010, by contrast, conservatives had risen to 41 percent of the total and moderates declined to 39 percent, while liberals remained constant at 20 percent. And because, in today’s polarized politics, liberals vote almost exclusively for Democrats and conservatives for Republicans, the ideological shift matters a lot. ...Over the past two decades, moderates have trended down as share of the total electorate while conservatives have gone up. In 1992, moderates were 43 percent of the total; in 2006, 38 percent; today, only 35 percent. For conservatives, the comparable numbers are 36 percent, 37 percent, and 42 percent, respectively. So the 2010 electorate does not represent a disproportional mobilization of conservatives: If the 2010 electorate had perfectly reflected the voting-age population, it would actually have been a bit more conservative and less moderate than was the population that showed up at the polls. Unless the long-term decline of moderates and rise of conservatives is reversed during the next two years, the ideological balance of the electorate in 2012 could look a lot like it did this year.
  • NY Times, November 4, 2010, Democrats Outrun by a 2-Year G.O.P. Comeback Plan. The balance of power shifted in a campaign marked by Republican plotting, Democratic miscalculations and a new political dynamic out of both parties’ control.
    • Comment on this in the New Republic, November 4, 2010, The Logic Of Republican Total Opposition. It's probably always been true that the fundamental role of the minority is to oppose the majority and pave the way to winning reelection. America's long history of ideologically amorphous parties...created a tradition of cross-party cooperation. Those social norms persist, and both Washington elites and many Americans expect the two parties to work together as if they aren't engaged in zero-sum political conflict. But the truth is that, when the minority party cooperates with the majority party president, it generally makes the president and his policies more popular. The difference is that the Republican Party of 2009-10 is probably the first opposition party to fully recognize the dynamic and make this the core of its legislative strategy from the very outset. Here is how Mitch McConnell explained the dynamic in March: “It was absolutely critical that everybody be together because if the proponents of the bill were able to say it was bipartisan, it tended to convey to the public that this is O.K., they must have figured it out,” Mr. McConnell said about the health legislation in an interview, suggesting that even minimal Republican support could sway the public. “It’s either bipartisan or it isn’t.” In the media you're seeing a lot of familiar claims that the two parties need to work together. There is no incentive for the Republicans to do so. Even on issues where they can get a pure win, handing a win to Obama reduces their ability to gain the presidency in 2012. So why would they pursue an ancillary part of their agenda and reduce the chance to achieve the core elements of that agenda?
  • NY Times, November 4, 2010, Deep Rifts Divide Obama and Republicans. A day after Democrats got what the president called a “shellacking,” both parties explored the reshaped political terrain.
  • NY Times, November 4, 2010, G.O.P. Expands a Base From South to Midwest. A string of Republican victories left the Democrats with lonely bastions on the coasts and with reason to fear redistricting based on the 2010 census.
  • NY Times, November 4, 2010, Decisive Gains at State Level Could Give Republicans a Boost for Years. Republicans won a majority of the nation’s governorships and legislative chambers, giving them the upper hand next year as states begin the once-a-decade process of drawing Congressional districts.
  • NY Times, November 4, 2010, Palin’s Endorsements Lay Base for a 2012 Run. Sarah Palin’s work for successful candidates suggests that she will have many well-placed allies if she runs for president.
  • NY Times, November 4, 2010, In Republican Victories, Tide Turns Starkly. The apostle of change became its target, engulfed by the same discontent that vaulted him to the White House.. Obama Is Expected to Urge Cooperation on Economy and an End to Vitriol
  • NY Times, November 4, 2010, Tea Party Comes to Power on an Unclear Mandate. The movement has a stated distaste for the compromises of legislating and a wary relationship with G.O.P. leaders.
  • NY Times, November 4, 2010, Independents Fueled G.O.P Gains. Democratic candidates have lost significant support among independent voters since 2008, according to exit polls.
  • Washington Post, November 3, 2010, By E.J. Dionne Jr., And now for the next battle. President Obama allowed Republicans to define the terms of the nation's political argument for the past two years and permitted them to draw battle lines the way they wanted. Neither he nor his party can let that happen again.
  • WS Journal, November 3, 2010, Unaligned Voters Tilt Rightward En Masse. Election Day turned out to be Independents Day for Republicans. A massive swing by independent voters propelled the Republican Party to a series of key victories, bringing the GOP back from a near-death experience just two years ago, and delivering a rebuke to the president who rode the same independent wave into the White House.
  • NY Times, November 3, 2010, In Republican Victories, Tide Turns Starkly. Somewhere along the way, the apostle of change became its target, engulfed by the same currents that swept him to the White House two years ago. Now, President Obama must find a way to recalibrate with nothing less than his presidency on the line. The verdict delivered by voters on Tuesday effectively put an end to his transformational ambitions and left him searching for a way forward with a more circumscribed horizon of possibilities. Facing a hostile House with subpoena power and a diminished majority in the Senate, he will have to figure out the right blend of conciliation and confrontation to reassert authority and avoid defeat in 2012.
  • CBS, November 3, 2010, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio Results: Why Midwest Swing States Flipped to the GOP. Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin are key swing states in the presidential election. In 2008, President Obama won all three of these critical Midwest battlegrounds over John McCain. In 2010, however, these states swung to the Republican column in their Senate races which could portend problems for President Obama in 2012. What happened in the two years that caused these states to turn from blue to red? The key change has been in the independent vote. In 2008, President Obama won the independent vote in all three states. However, this year the Democratic candidate for Senator lost the independent vote by 36 points in Ohio, 8 points in Pennsylvania, and 12 points in Wisconsin, according to preliminary CBS News exit poll results.
  • Real Clear Politics, November 3, 2010, Exit Polls: Unprecedented White Flight from Democrats. Democrats performed worse with whites on Tuesday than in any other congressional election since the Second World War. Democrats' white problems stretch back nearly a half-century. Political white flight changed course with the implosion of George W. Bush's presidency, the Republican Party and the economy in September 2008.
  • Pollster, November 3, 2010, Michael P. McDonald, Post-Election Turnout Rate Estimates. Prior to the election, I forecasted a national turnout rate among those eligible to vote of 41.3%. Now with actual election results available, I estimate the national turnout rate is 41.4%.
  • Pollster, November 3, 2010, Mark Blumenthal, How Did The Polls Do? How did the polls do this year? And who was the most accurate pollster? While crowning a polling "winner" can be a dubious proposition on the day after the election, some immediate lessons are apparent: On average, the final statewide pre-election polls once again provided a largely unbiased measurement of the outcomes of most races, Congressional District polling had a slight Democratic skew, national polls that sampled both landline and cell phones measured national Congressional vote preference more accurately than those that sampled only landline phones and the venerable Gallup Poll took one on the chin.
  • Pollster, November 3, 2010, Brendan Nyhan, A First Take on Election 2010. There's no question that the GOP outperformed expectations for the House last night by picking up more than sixty seats. The Douglas Hibbs model, which doesn't include contemporaneous political factors, predicted a 45-seat pickup (PDF); the median pre-Labor Day forecast among political scientists compiled by John Sides was 43 seats; and the median pre-Election Day forecast among 538, Stochastic Democracy, and Sam Wang was 54 seats. Personally, I expected substantial Democratic losses but not a 1994-style wave in the fall 2009-spring 2010 period before revising my expectations downward in April and again in September. Senate forecasts are more difficult due to the small sample sizes, but going into last night the GOP was predicted to gain approximately seven seats; they appear likely to pick up six. To put the historic nature of the House seat change in perspective, here are post-WWII seat losses by the president's party in midterm elections (I'm using the 538 estimate of a 65-seat loss when all the votes are counted):

    The number of seat losses is a record in the postwar era.

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Pre-Election Articles

  • [One last shot before election day! It will go down in history as ... right or wrong!] NYTimes/FiveThirtyEight, November 1, 2010, 5 Reasons Democrats Could Beat the Polls and Hold the House. While our forecast and a good deal of polling data suggest that the Republicans may win the House of Representatives on Tuesday, perhaps all is not lost for the Democrats. Here’s one possible scenario for how things might not end up as expected.
  • Gallup, October 31, 2010, Republicans Appear Poised to Win Big on Tuesday. Lead in generic ballot large enough to give Republicans solid majority control of U.S. House. The final USA Today/Gallup measure of Americans' voting intentions for Congress shows Republicans continuing to hold a substantial lead over Democrats among likely voters, a lead large enough to suggest that regardless of turnout, the Republicans will win more than the 40 seats needed to give them the majority in the U.S. House. ...Gallup models the number of seats a party will control based on that party's share of the national two-party vote for the House of Representatives, using historical voting data in midterm elections from 1946 to 2006. ...Taking Gallup's final survey's margin of error into account, the historical model predicts that the Republicans could gain anywhere from 60 seats on up, with gains well beyond that possible. It should be noted, however, that this year's 15-point gap in favor of the Republican candidates among likely voters is unprecedented in Gallup polling and could result in the largest Republican margin in House voting in several generations. This means that seat projections have moved into uncharted territory, in which past relationships between the national two-party vote and the number of seats won may not be maintained. ...Turnout Holds the Key. To the extent Tuesday does bring about a strong Republican wave, it will be to a significant degree the result of turnout. Republicans have a slender 4-point advantage in the preferences of registered voters, which expands to 15 among likely voters. ...The structure of the vote among subgroups of the American population follows typical patterns. Republicans do best among the following groups: men, whites, those living in the South and West, higher-income households, those who are married, and those who attend church frequently, with Democrats generally doing better among the demographic counterparts in each instance.
  • NYT, October 30, 2010, Election 2010: Worry, Blame, Anger — and a Little Optimism. In the spectrum of voter emotion, anger has gotten the most press this election cycle. And there is plenty to go around, with low opinions of politicians past (the second President Bush) and present (just about everyone, including President Obama). But the country is by no means of a uniform mood, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll released last week. Dividing the electorate by political philosophy, age, income, gender, race and education yields at least one positive for the president: Many of these groups, unhappy as they may be, nonethless express optimism about the second half of his term. Herewith, the poll’s findings on the contours of the national mood.


Pre-Election Articles, cont.

  • Gallup, October 29, 2010, One in 4 Say Congress Accomplished More Than Usual This Year; Fewer than half of Democrats agree. Despite the 111th Congress' passage of a lengthy list of legislation, including a massive healthcare bill, 37% of Americans say it has accomplished less this year than in the past few years, and a smaller 23% say it has accomplished more. This question is particularly relevant this year because the current Democratically controlled Congress has passed a series of high-profile legislative bills, including the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, and others. Nevertheless, the large majority of Americans do not perceive that what Congress has accomplished is more than it has done in previous years. These results may partly reflect the antipathy Americans have toward Congress in general, and may also reflect the weak approval for the content of these bills.

    ...Although current assessments of Congress' accomplishments are not positive in an absolute sense, they are more positive than responses to the same question in October 1994.

    ...The fact that well under half of Democrats say Congress has accomplished more than usual may be related to the finding that Democrats to this point have shown lower levels of enthusiasm or involvement in the election than have Republicans.
  • NY Times, October 27, 2010, Obama Coalition Is Fraying, Poll Finds. Critical parts of the coalition that delivered President Obama to the White House in 2008 and gave Democrats control of Congress in 2006 are switching their allegiance to the Republicans in the final phase of the midterm Congressional elections, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. Republicans have wiped out the advantage held by Democrats in recent election cycles among women, Roman Catholics, less affluent Americans and independents. All of those groups broke for Mr. Obama in 2008 and for Congressional Democrats when they grabbed both chambers from the Republicans four years ago, according to exit polls.
  • PBS, October 28, 2010, Patchwork Nation: Mapping Voter Anger, Foreclosure Rates By District. If much of the electorate is driven by anger, much of that anger is driven by foreclosures. As Patchwork Nation has measured the number of tea party "meetups" in the last four months, one type of congressional district has stood out - those that have witnessed great population growth in the last decade. Looking at foreclosures since January, it is precisely those districts that have faced the toughest times. There are 38 foreclosures for every 1,000 homes in those places. And remember, those figures are just the beginning. They equal lost home values that prevent moving for some, and lost nest eggs that mean delayed retirement for others. In short, many in these districts are angry because there is a lot to be angry about. And these 56 districts, which are pretty evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, are likely to make an anti-incumbent shift toward the GOP next Tuesday.

  • PBS, October 28, 2010, Poll Numbers Show Voters Turning Away From Democrats. [Good description of electoral volatility & protest voting.] J. ANN SELZER, Selzer & Company, Inc.: Well, there's no strong endorsement for the Republicans. They have made a lot of noise -- the candidates have -- about how they're going to cut the budget. Maybe that's in deference to the Tea Party movement. But, in our poll, voters are not at all saying that that's the lead thing that needs to happen. And it's just bare majorities that would endorse really any of the initiatives that the Republicans have put forward. So, there's no mandate that would come with a Republican change in control of the House. ...ANDREW KOHUT, director, Pew Research Center: What Ann was just talking about is one of the most bizarre things I have ever seen in a midterm election. This is a wave election, that is, there's a Republican trend. We have done four national polls in four months, and they all have Republican leads. Yet, the image of the Republican Party isn't any better than the image of the Democratic Party, and the confidence in both of the parties is pretty low. So, this Republican wave is predicated upon, we're angry at the people who are in charge, and it's the Democrats who are in charge. But there's no sense that this is a movement toward the Republican Party. And why? Because this is being -- this change is being driven by the views of independent voters, who favor the -- the Republicans by a 49-to-30 percent margin. Two years ago, they favored the Democrats, and -- and elected Obama, and, two years before that, the Democrats in '06. And the independents have voted against the party in power for what looks like three successive elections, because they don't feel the powers that be are getting it right.
    [Background: Gallup's Party popularity:]
  • NYT, October 18, 2010, Democrats’ Grip on the South Continues to Slip. The Southern white Democrat, long on the endangered list, is at risk of being pushed one step closer to extinction. From Virginia to Florida and South Carolina to Texas, nearly two dozen Democratic seats are susceptible to a potential Republican surge in Congressional races on Election Day, leaving the party facing a situation where its only safe presence in the South is in urban and predominantly black districts. The swing has been under way since the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, when President Lyndon B. Johnson predicted that his fellow Democrats would face a backlash of white voters that would cost the party the South. It continued with Ronald Reagan’s election and reached a tipping point in the Republican sweep of 1994, with more than one-third of the victories coming from previously Democratic seats in the South. ...Should a large number of Democratic candidates lose, it would mark a significant step in one of the most fundamental, if slow-moving, political realignments in American politics.
  • Gallup, October 18, 2010, Republicans, Democrats Shift on Whether Gov't Is a Threat. Republicans more likely to view government as threat now, Democrats more likely in 2006. Overall, 46% of Americans believe the federal government "poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens," little changed from the prior reading in 2006. However, during that time, Republicans' and Democrats' views of the government as a threat have shifted dramatically.
  • The New Republic, Thomas B. Edsall, October 20, 2010, Limited War, How the age of austerity will remake American politics. The Tea Party has expertly articulated a widespread grievance: that the government is redistributing money from hardworking Americans to the idle and undeserving. Of course, this is hardly a new charge. But it takes place in a new context—an age of growing austerity, where this complaint will acquire an ever-sharper edge and battles over the scarce resources of the state will erupt in spectacular skirmishes.
    ...This year’s elections offer a preview of how Republicans intend to use the vulnerability of these programs to attack Democrats. That is, there’s some indication that they will return to the racially tinged backlash politics of the ’70s and ’80s. Newt Gingrich, who has re-emerged as a particularly active rhetorician for the Tea Party, has supplied a large number of phrases redolent of that era. He has described the Democrats as the “party of food stamps.” That’s a slightly softer version of the line trumpeted by Glenn Beck that explicitly decries Obama for acting out a “deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.”
    ...Republicans understand that one axis of the resource war will be generational. All of their vows to defend Medicare are coupled with attacks on Obama’s health care reform. They implicitly portray Democrats as waging an age war—creating a massive new government program that transfers dollars to the young at the expense of the elderly. Republicans have cleverly stoked the fear that Obama is rewarding all his exuberant, youthful, idealistic supporters by redistributing resources that are badly needed by the old.
    ...But the voters over 65 that Republicans are pursuing are largely a subset of their most important voting bloc: whites. Republicans have staked the entirety of their electoral future on them. And just as they have exploited seniors’ anxiety about scarcity, they have done the same with the white population as a whole. In fact, whites may be the most anxious group this political season. (Only 59 percent of whites believe “Americans will always continue to be prosperous and make economic progress”—while 81 percent of blacks and 75 percent of Hispanics continue to profess faith in the future.) This anxiety is the reason that Republicans have spent so much time talking about the menace of immigration—even though many of them once viewed Hispanic voters as a potential pillar of their future coalition.
    ...The rise of illegal immigration as an issue this cycle doesn’t correspond to material facts. The number of aliens pouring across the border is not increasing. On the contrary, the recession and improved enforcement have drastically reduced it. What is increasing is anxiety about resource competition. And that’s exactly why immigrants cause so much agitation: They are perceived by many voters as one giant, undeserving resource suck. In June, Gallup asked, “Which comes closer to your point of view, illegal immigrants in the long run become productive citizens and pay their fair share of taxes, or illegal immigrants cost taxpayers too much by using government services like public education and medical services?” Among all voters, 62 percent perceived immigrants as a resource drain. Among Republicans, the number concurring with that dim assessment rose to 78 percent. You’ll often hear Republican immigration proposals—rewriting the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of citizenship, for instance—dismissed as political suicide. I would argue that it shows the GOP’s astute understanding of the new zeitgeist.
    ...All of which is to say that the age of scarcity poses it own risks to Republicans. They are relying on a group in long-term demographic decline (whites) and pursuing policies on behalf of a group that hardly seems deserving of limited resources (the affluent)—and are attempting to woo another group (the elderly) with demagoguery that betrays their core principles about limited government.
  • NYTimes, October 16, 2010, Black Turnout Will Be Crucial for Democrats. A flood of black voters in North Carolina’s Eighth Congressional District two years ago helped Barack Obama become the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry this state since Jimmy Carter and lifted the party’s Congressional challenger, Larry Kissell, to victory. Without Mr. Obama atop the ticket this year, Mr. Kissell and a number of other vulnerable Democrats, mostly in the rural South, face the challenge of reviving the spirit of 2008 for black voters without alienating right-leaning white majorities in their districts.
  • NY Times, October 13, 2010, Midterms Are a Test for Obama’s Ground Game. There’s a reason that President Obama decided to broadcast his meeting with college students on the Internet on Tuesday night, taking sympathetic questions by way of Facebook and Skype and Twitter. (About the only hip thing the president didn’t try was to break out the Guitar Hero and start playing “Revolution.”) The midterm campaign has now entered its final phase, and Mr. Obama is focusing his attention on the younger voters and volunteers he inspired in 2008. For Mr. Obama, re-engaging Organizing for America, or O.F.A., his vaunted network of phone-bankers and door-knockers from the presidential campaign, is a crucial mission in these closing weeks — and not just because it is probably the Democrats’ best chance of staving off electoral catastrophe. It is also because a volunteer organization is a little bit like a vintage roadster: you may not need to use it for stretches of time, but it’s important to rev the engine now and then. Mr. Obama’s online organization, originally known as Obama for America, raised up a virtual army of volunteers in 2008, most of whom had not previously been involved in party politics. After Mr. Obama took office, his aides decided to merge the organization into the party, essentially by taking over the Democratic National Committee’s field operation. The thought was that Mr. Obama’s personal appeal could be translated into support for his legislative agenda as well as for the party’s other candidates. But there is little evidence so far to suggest that the new volunteers and voters who coalesce around a candidacy in the Internet age can be made to care very much about off-year elections
  • Gallup, October 13, 2010, Americans Choose Middle Over Extremes on Gov't Functions. Views lean toward "more responsibility" rather than less for 7 of 11 functions tested. Americans are more likely to choose middle-ground responses rather than extremes when asked about the degree of responsibility the federal government should take for a number of social and economic functions it could in theory perform. For only two functions -- protecting Americans from foreign threats and protecting consumers from unsafe products -- does a majority say the government should be totally responsible.

    ... Today's political environment is highly partisan, making it less than surprising to find sharp partisan differences in views on the responsibility that the federal government should have for the 11 functions tested in this research.
  • Gallup, October 13, 2010, Majorities in U.S. View Gov't as Too Intrusive and Powerful. Independents largely side with Republicans in denouncing big government. Record- or near-record-high percentages of Americans are critical of the size and scope of government, as measured by four Gallup trend questions updated in September. This sentiment stretches to 59% of Americans now believing the federal government has too much power, up eight percentage points from a year ago.

  • Gallup, October 12, 2010, Americans' Views Vary on How Active Government Should Be. Party and ideological groups also show range of opinions about government. Americans are essentially equally divided in their views of the role of the federal government, with one-third tilting toward a preference for a government that actively takes steps to improve the lives of its citizens, one-third preferring a limited government that performs mostly basic functions, and the remainder in the middle.
  • Gallup, October 11, 2010, Republicans Maintain Strength Among Likely Voters. Race generally stable; independents remain key benefit for GOP. Republicans continue to benefit in the race for control of Congress not only from their higher representation among likely voters, but also from significantly higher identification with the GOP among independent voters. Democrats have two general ways to close the gap with the GOP in the remaining weeks before the Nov. 2 election. First, Democrats could seek to shift the voting intentions of the electorate -- and more specifically, independents -- in a more Democratic direction. Second, they could work to increase enthusiasm and turnout among Democratic voters. President Barack Obama is out on the campaign trail -- and apparently will continue to be there between now and Election Day -- exhorting Democratically inclined voters to ratchet up their interest in voting on Nov. 2. The success or failure of these efforts will be a key determinant of the ultimate election outcome.
  • Washington Post, Sunday, October 10, 2010; Beyond the tea party: What Americans really think of government. If there is an overarching theme of election 2010, it is the question of how big the government should be and how far it should reach into people's lives. Americans have a more negative view of government today than they did a decade ago, or even a few years ago. Most say it focuses on the wrong things and lack confidence that it can solve big domestic problems; this general anti-Washington sentiment is helping to fuel a potential Republican takeover of Congress next month. But ask people what they expect the government to do for themselves and their families, and a more complicated picture emerges. A new study by The Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University shows that most Americans who say they want more limited government also call Social Security and Medicare "very important." They want Washington to be involved in schools and to help reduce poverty. Nearly half want the government to maintain a role in regulating health care. The study suggests that come January, politicians in both parties will confront a challenging and sometimes contradictory reality about what Americans really think about their government. Although Republicans, and many Democrats, have tried to demonize Washington, they must contend with the fact that most major government programs remain enormously popular, including some that politicians have singled out for stiff criticism. The new survey also shows that although Democrats and Republicans have rarely seen eye to eye, the gap between the two has widened significantly over a decade of partisan polarization.

  • Gallup, October 8, 2010, Likely Voters Demographically Typical, but Skew Conservative. Majority of likely voters are conservative and identify as or lean Republican. Gallup's first sketch of what the electorate may look like on Nov. 2 indicates that the enthusiasm gap favoring Republicans all year -- as well as the "thought" gap evident in a late August survey -- may well translate into highly disproportionate turnout among Republicans and conservatives on Election Day. That is a key reason Gallup's latest polling finds Republican candidates leading Democrats by 13- and 18-point margins, depending on turnout, in two estimates of the vote. Another is that political independents are aligning themselves with the Republican Party to a degree unprecedented in recent history. In contrast to these extraordinary political patterns, the demographic composition of likely voters looks fairly normal relative to the profile of the electorate in 2006, as well as consistent with the trends seen since 1994 toward an older, more well-educated, and less substantially white, electorate.
  • Pew, October 7, 2010, Lagging Youth Enthusiasm Could Hurt Democrats in 2010. Millennials continue to be among the strongest backers of Democratic candidates this fall, though their support for the Democratic Party has slipped since 2008. But young voters have given far less thought to the upcoming elections than have older voters, and this gap is larger than in previous midterms.

    ...Yet younger voters remain far more supportive of Obama than any other age group.
  • Pew, October 7, 2010, Latinos and the 2010 Elections: Strong Support for Democrats; Weak Voter Motivation. In a year when support for Democratic candidates has eroded, the party's standing among one key voting group -- Latinos-appears as strong as ever. ...However, Hispanic registered voters appear to be less motivated than other voters to go to the polls.
  • NYTimes, October 5, 2010, Obama Strains to Get Liberals Back Into Fold. With four weeks until Congressional elections that will shape the remainder of his term, President Obama is increasingly focused on generating enthusiasm within the base that helped put him in the White House two years ago, from college students to African-Americans.
  • NYTimes, October 5, 2010, Latino Vote Turnout Likely to Lag, New Poll Finds. Arizona’s immigration law has prompted denunciations, demonstrations, boycotts and a federal lawsuit. But it may not bring the protest vote that many Democrats had hoped would stem a Republican onslaught in races across the country. That is because although many voters are disillusioned with the political process, Latino voters are particularly dejected, and many may sit these elections out, according to voters, Latino organizations, political consultants and candidates. ...The results of the poll released Tuesday, by the Pew Hispanic Center, suggest that the raging debate over Arizona’s law and the lack of Congressional action on immigration overhaul may have turned off many Latinos. Latinos have usually voted in lower percentages than non-Latinos, but the current gap between their enthusiasm to vote and that of the general population is wider than in the last midterm election. ...Matt A. Barreto, a political science professor at the University of Washington who is a pollster for Latino Decisions, a research group, said, “Latinos feel that on many of their key issues, promises were made and not delivered on” by the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats.
  • Gallup, October 4, 2010, GOP Well Positioned Among Likely Midterm Voters. Voting preferences remain close among registered voters. Gallup's generic ballot for Congress among registered voters currently shows Republicans with 46% of the vote and Democrats with 43%, similar to the 46% to 46% tie reported a week ago. However, in Gallup's first estimates among likely voters, based on polling from Sept. 23-Oct. 3, Republicans have a double-digit advantage under two separate turnout scenarios.
  • Gallup, October 1, 2010, In Midterms, Dems Gain With Young Voters, Slip With Hispanics. Barely half of Hispanics in September planned to vote Democratic.
    President Barack Obama's efforts this week to stir young voters to turn out in November on behalf of his party's candidates come as Gallup finds support among this group -- so important to the Democrats' success in 2008 -- improving. Gallup's September polling suggests that young voters remain in the Democrats' corner, and show increased support at a time when seniors have shifted more to the Republicans. The key question is whether young adults will vote in big enough numbers to offset the impact of the senior vote. The most recent indications on this from Gallup polling are not promising for the Democrats.
    Hispanics present a different problem for the president's party. While they voted strongly for Obama in 2008 and were supposed to be one of the building blocks of Democratic victory in 2010, Gallup's recent polling suggests their support for Democratic congressional candidates is slipping. This is in line with Hispanics' dwindling approval of Obama as president, with the initial decline seen in May possibly linked to the Democrats' failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

  • NY Times, September 29, 2010, Delaware Race Is Bellwether: All Politics Is National. One of the great truisms of 20th-century politics, attributed to the legendary House speaker Tip O’Neill, is that all politics is local. If this year tells us anything, though, it’s that O’Neill’s adage may now be as much a part of history as he is. As money and news media coverage cross state borders more easily than ever, driven by fiery commentators and online groups, we are bound to see politicians who are popular vehicles more than they are actual candidates, instruments of resentment whose grass-roots support may emanate mostly from states they have never visited. A Web appeal can now raise more money from around the country overnight than any number of arduous receptions at local hotels. Personalities like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin may propel more like-minded voters to the polls — at least in a primary — than a local party apparatus can muster. Anti-establishment vehicles like Christine O’Donnell aren’t new in American politics, of course. What’s different now is that the vehicle doesn’t seem to need an insurgent party behind her, or even an actual campaign, to upend the old order. Democrats saw the first effects of this in 2006, when Ned Lamont, a Connecticut cable executive with a personal fortune, found himself adopted by bloggers and Hollywood celebrities as a vehicle against Senator Joseph I. Lieberman and the Iraq war. Ms. Palin emerged as a similar kind of vehicle after the 2008 election, quitting her job as governor of Alaska and using conservative and social media to build her national following without an office to campaign for.
  • Pew, September 23, 2010, Independents Oppose Party in Power ... Again. For the third national election in a row, independent voters may be poised to vote out the party in power. The Republican Party holds a significant edge in preferences for the upcoming congressional election among likely voters, in large part because political independents now favor Republican candidates by about as large a margin as they backed Barack Obama in 2008 and congressional Democratic candidates four years ago.

  • Gallup, September 21, 2010, On the Role of Government, Parties' Ratings Look Like 1994. Americans more likely to see Republicans than Democrats representing their views and values. Bottom Line:Americans' views on how well the two major parties reflect their views on the role of government and their values more broadly make clear that the Democrats' image has suffered since they won back control of Congress in 2006. Republicans have not made comparable perceptual gains in these areas, but largely as a result of the Democrats' losses, Republicans are now leading on both dimensions, similar to their standing in 1994.

  • Gallup. September 20, 2010, Congress Only Growing Less Popular With Americans. Fewer than 20% now approve, similar to August reading. Public approval of Congress remains in short supply in September, with 18% of Americans now approving of the job it is doing, similar to the 19% approving in August. Congress' approval rating has not been above 20% since May, and has not surpassed 30% since September 2009.
  • Brendan Nyhan/Pollster, September 16, 2010, Will the GOP Brand Make a Difference in November? Is this really true? Will the poor state of the GOP brand limit the party's gains in November? I made this argument months ago, but the Republican party's image hasn't prevented it from taking a substantial lead in the generic ballot. The GOP's net favorability ratings relative to Democrats are still worse than any opposition party in the previous five midterm elections (the closest comparison is 1998, when Republicans were seeking to remove Bill Clinton from office). At this point, every other major factor (the high number of seats Democrats currently hold, the fact that it's a midterm election, and the generic ballot) points toward big GOP gains -- the predicted result of most House forecasting models. Unfortunately for Democrats, midterm elections are a referendum, not a choice.

  • New York Times, September 15, 2010, G.O.P. Is Using Obama’s ‘Otherness’ as Campaign Tactic. With every new swipe at President Obama’s exotic background or cultural influences, a contingent of Republican leaders are signaling that they believe the coming elections are more than just a referendum on the administration’s economic policies. Rather, to a degree that is striking, conservatives are also trying to make the fall campaign about the president himself and the kind of societal change he actually represents.
  • New York Times, September 15, 2010, The Morning After: Whose Party Is It? The Republican establishment sought this morning to come to grips with further evidence of a growing insurgent movement inside their ranks, as Christine O’Donnell, the newly-minted Delaware Senate nominee, offered no apologies for dispatching one of the party’s stars, Representative Michael N. Castle.
  • New York Times/Douglas E. Schoen, September 15, 2010, Can the Tea Party Win in November? Democrats Shouldn't Celebrate Yet. Republican primary voters yesterday again sent a clear, unmistakable message to America that they remain angry and frustrated with the way the political process operates. The victories of Christine O'Donnell in Delaware and Carl Paladino in New York over more visible, favored opponents indicate that the trend, which has been evident all year in states like Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Nevada and Utah, shows no sign of abating. Already Democrats are celebrating -- indicating that Republicans have once again nominated a number of ethically challenged, extreme candidates. But they should not begin popping the corks on the champagne too quickly. One of the main reasons why pollsters are seeing such an enthusiasm gap between Democratic and Republican voters is that the Tea Party movement has stimulated an exceptional level of interest and excitement because of its commitment to fiscal discipline and limited government.
  • Gallup, September 10, 2010, Nine Years After 9/11, Few See Terrorism as Top U.S. Problem. One percent see it as the top problem today, down from 46% in 2001. Nine years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, 1% of Americans mention terrorism as the most important problem facing the country, down from 46% just after the attacks.
  • Gallup, September 10, 2010, Americans OK Allowing Tax Cuts for Wealthy to Expire. A majority of Americans favor letting the tax cuts enacted during the Bush administration expire for the wealthy. While 37% support keeping the tax cuts for all Americans, 44% want them extended only for those making less than $250,000 and 15% think they should expire for all taxpayers.
  • NYTimes/FiveThirtyEight, September 10, 2010, G.O.P. Has 2-in-3 Chance of Taking House, Model Forecasts. Republicans have a two-in-three chance of claiming a majority of House seats in November, the FiveThirtyEight forecasting model estimates. And their gains could potentially rival or exceed those made in 1994, when they took a net of 54 seats from the Democrats. On the basis of indicators like these [generic Congressional ballot, President Obama’s approval ratings], it is easy to envision Republican gains of 50 to 60 seats, or perhaps more, as some academic models that rely on these indicators do. But FiveThirtyEight’s prediction model does not look solely at these national indicators. Instead, it evaluates the outcome in each of the 435 Congressional districts in which voters will cast ballots this fall.
  • Washington Post, September 9, 2010, E.J. Dionne Jr., Obama raises stakes and redefines debate for the midterm election. Suddenly, there's a point to this election. Obama is late to this game, but at least he's finally playing it. The New Obama (or, rather, the resurrected Old Obama) will be up against a media story line whose self-sustaining quality was brought home by the treatment of Gallup poll findings over the past two months. The media largely ignored a mid-July survey giving Democrats a six-point lead, then devoted huge blocks of print and airtime to last week's Gallup survey dramatizing conventional wisdom by showing Republicans ahead by a whopping 10 points -- only to have Gallup come out this week with a poll showing Republicans and Democrats tied. All this raises the question of whether the only polls that matter are ones that reinforce preconceptions.
  • Gallup, September 7, 2010, Parties Tied at 46% in Generic Ballot for Congress. Latest weekly update shows more competitive contest. Republicans and Democrats are tied at 46% among registered voters in Gallup's weekly tracking of congressional voting preferences, marking a shift after five consecutive weeks in which the Republicans held the advantage. Republicans Maintain 25-Point Lead on Enthusiasm. There has been no change in the advantage Republicans hold over Democrats on motivation to vote in the fall elections. Republicans remain twice as likely as Democrats to be "very enthusiastic" about voting, tied with the previous week's measure as the largest such advantage of the year.
  • PBS, Sept. 7, 2010, Obama to Unveil Business Tax Cut Plan Amid Souring Poll Numbers. [David Chalian speaking to Jim Lehrer] You and I have looked all year long at sort of this volatility, almost anger, actually, that exists inside the electorate. Take a look at these numbers, because this is fascinating when you look at it through history. Today, 78 percent of respondents say they are dissatisfied or angry with government and how government works, vs. 22 percent who are satisfied or enthusiastic. Compare that, Jim, to November 1994. You remember, Bill Clinton was president, Newt Gingrich, the Republican revolution and the takeover of the House of Representatives. You are seeing more dissatisfaction and anger in the electorate now than you did when Republicans won 54 seats and took over the House. ...You have four different options. Are you dissatisfied, satisfied, angry, enthusiastic? It's sort of the spectrum. And so they combine dissatisfaction and anger. And -- but let me tell you, when you separate it out, and you look just at the anger, this is where you see the intensity gap. This is actually what is giving Republicans their fuel this campaign season, because that anger portion is growing larger and larger. And that's why, in Kwame's piece, when you saw likely voters, how they plan to vote, 53 percent say a Republican; 40 percent say a Democrat. That 13 percent gap, Jim, is the largest since 1981, when The Washington Post and ABC News began that poll.
  • Pollster/Mark Blumenthal, September 6, 2010. Political Scientists Forecast Big Losses For Democrats. With the midterm elections now just nine weeks away, a group of political scientists gathered for a conference in Washington D.C. this weekend forecast significant losses for the Democrats. Three of the five forecasts predicted that Republicans will gain majority control of the House of Representatives. The annual meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA), which featured nearly 5,000 participants and close to 900 panel and roundtable sessions, was about far more than election forecasting. Those most interested in the 2010 campaigns, however, gravitated to a Saturday session in which five political scientists presented the latest results from their forecasting models, some of which have been in development for 30 years or more.
  • NYT, September 4, 2010, Democrats Plan Political Triage to Retain House. As Democrats brace for a November wave that threatens their control of the House, party leaders are preparing a brutal triage of their own members in hopes of saving enough seats to keep a slim grip on the majority. In the next two weeks, Democratic leaders will review new polls and other data that show whether vulnerable incumbents have a path to victory. If not, the party is poised to redirect money to concentrate on trying to protect up to two dozen lawmakers who appear to be in the strongest position to fend off their challengers.
  • Gallup, September 3, 2010, Blacks, Young Voters Not Poised for High Turnout on Nov. 2. Republicans -- and conservative Republicans in particular -- are already tuned in to midterms. Minority and young voters made a significant mark on the 2008 presidential election with their high turnout; today, however, these groups appear to have reverted to previous levels of interest in voting in the context of midterm elections.

  • Gallup. September 3, 2010. Anti-Democratic Sentiment Aids GOP Lead in 2010 Vote. Many Republican voters say they are voting "against the Democrat." The Republicans' lead in the congressional generic ballot over the past month may be due as much to voters' rejecting the Democrats as embracing the Republicans. Among voters backing Republican candidates, 44% say their preference is "more a vote against the Democratic candidate," while 48% say it is "more a vote for the Republican candidate."
  • New York Times, September 2, 2010, Fewer Young Voters See Themselves as Democrats. The college vote is up for grabs this year — to an extent that would have seemed unlikely two years ago, when a generation of young people seemed to swoon over Barack Obama. Though many students are liberals on social issues, the economic reality of a weak job market has taken a toll on their loyalties: far fewer 18- to 29-year-olds now identify themselves as Democrats compared with 2008.

Pre-Election Articles, cont.

  • Larry J. Sabato, September 2nd, 2010, The Crystal Ball's Labor Day Predictions. 2010 was always going to be a Republican year, in the midterm tradition. It has simply been a question of degree. ...But conditions have deteriorated badly for Democrats over the summer. The economy appears rotten, with little chance of a substantial comeback by November 2nd. Unemployment is very high, income growth sluggish, and public confidence quite low. ...Obama’s job approval ratings have drifted down well below 50% in most surveys. ...Given what we can see at this moment, Republicans have a good chance to win the House by picking up as many as 47 seats, net. ...In the Senate, we now believe the GOP will do a bit better than our long-time prediction of +7 seats. Republicans have an outside shot at winning full control (+10), but are more likely to end up with +8. ...Overall, though, a strong bet is that 2010 will generate a substantial pendulum swing from the Democrats to the Republicans. It is not that Republicans are popular—most polls show the party even less liked than the Democrats. Many observers find it amazing that the less-liked party is on the verge of triumphing over the better-liked party. Nevertheless, in the time-honored American way, voters will be inclined to punish the party in-power by checking and balancing it with more members from the opposition party.
  • NYT/Nate Silver, August 31, 2010, How Did Democrats Get Here? The reasons for the Democrats’ decline are, as we say in the business, overdetermined. That is, there are no lack of hypotheses to explain it: lots of causes for this one effect. The economy? Sure. Unpopular legislation like health care? Yep. Some “bad luck” events like the Gulf Oil spill? Mmm-hmm. The new energy breathed into conservatives by the Tea Party movement? Uh-huh.
  • 9/2/10, Gallup, Republicans Hold Wide Lead in Key Voter Turnout Measure. Gallup finds 54% of Republicans, compared with 30% of Democrats, already saying they have given "quite a lot" or "some" thought to the upcoming congressional elections. That 24-point gap on this key indicator of voter turnout is much larger than Gallup has found in the final days before past midterm elections.
  • 9/1/10, Gallup, Republicans Remain Disproportionately White and Religious. American political parties remain sharply differentiated by race and religion. Republicans are disproportionately likely to be white and highly religious. Democrats are more racially and ethnically diverse, with proportionately fewer highly religious whites.
  • 9/1/10, Gallup, Americans Give GOP Edge on Most Election Issues. Americans say the Republicans in Congress would do a better job than the Democrats of handling seven of nine key election issues. This includes a 49% to 38% advantage on the economy, which 62% of Americans rate as extremely important to their vote.
  • August 30, 2010, Gallup, GOP Takes Unprecedented 10-Point Lead on Generic Ballot. The Republican leads of 6, 7, and 10 points this month are all higher than any previous midterm Republican advantage in Gallup's history of tracking the generic ballot, which dates to 1942. Prior to this year, the highest such gap was five points, measured in June 2002 and July 1994. Elections in both of these years resulted in significant Republican gains in House seats. ...Republicans are now twice as likely as Democrats to be "very" enthusiastic about voting, and now hold -- by one point -- the largest such advantage of the year.

  • Pew, August 10, 2010, Republicans Faring Better with Men, Whites, Independents and Seniors. Major shifts in sentiment among key voting blocs account for the improved GOP standing in 2010. The Republicans now enjoy advantages among typically loyal voting blocs that wavered in 2006, notably men and whites. The GOP is also now running better than four years ago among three key swing groups in recent elections – independents, white Catholics and seniors. The Republicans also continue to enjoy an engagement advantage over the Democrats, which at least in part reflects the greater disposition to vote among these voting blocs that have swung their way. In contrast, groups such as young people and African Americans, who continue to support the Democrats by comparable margins as in 2006, are relatively unenthused about voting.

  • August 7, 2010, NYT, I’m American. And You? By MATT BAI, Nativist politics may well yield short-term advantages for the Republican party. History suggests, however, that the long term may be more problematic.
  • August 9, 2010, Gallup, Avg. Midterm Seat Loss 36 for Presidents Below 50% Approval, Presidents above 50% lose average of 14 House seats in midterm elections
  • April 18, 2010, Pew, Distrust, Discontent, Anger and Partisan Rancor. By almost every conceivable measure Americans are less positive and more critical of government these days. A new Pew Research Center survey finds a perfect storm of conditions associated with distrust of government – a dismal economy, an unhappy public, bitter partisan-based backlash, and epic discontent with Congress and elected officials.

    Historically, confidence in government corresponds with broader measures of satisfaction with the state of the nation and economic stress. The low points in government trust over the past half-century have occurred during the nation’s economic struggles in the late 1970s, the early 1990s, and over the past few years. And confidence in government recovered in the late 1980s and late 1990s, when economic growth was strong and satisfaction was high.

    As with many other aspects of American politics, partisan divisions in trust in government have grown larger in recent decades.

    In general, when trust falls steeply incumbents are more likely to lose – and the president’s party tends to lose the most.

  • April 14, 2010, NYT, Poll Finds Tea Party Backers Wealthier and More Educated. Tea Party supporters are wealthier and more well-educated than the general public, and are no more or less afraid of falling into a lower socioeconomic class, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

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General Sources of Polling & Analysis

  • FiveThirtyEight - Nate Silver started his meta-analysis site in 2008. The New York Times now presents it.



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Basic Press Sites

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Other Sites that Synthesize available polling
... and some of them try to predict the Electoral College Vote outcome

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Background Polling & Analysis

  • Polling Report - a collection of recent surveys from all sources; updated daily (see the current horse races here.)

  • Gallup's Daily Trends - Three-day rolling averages on a variety of indicators of well-being: economic, health, mood, etc. These images give insight on what voters are experiencing now, and help explain voter dissatisfaction with the current administration.
    • The images here are from 10/26/2008 and don't auto-update. Thus, any statement about "voter dissatisfaction" is only valid through that date & could still change. ...Click on each image to go to the current data on the Gallup website.

Personal Finance

Economic Conditions

Economic Outlook

Consumer Confidence

Standard of Living


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Problems & Debates about Polling Accuracy

  • Gallup, October 4, 2010, Understanding Gallup's Likely Voter Models. Since 1950, Gallup has used likely voter models to identify Americans who are most likely to vote in a coming election. These models involve asking poll respondents a series of questions about their interest in the coming election, their past voting behavior, and their current intention to vote in the election.
  • Pollster/Mark Blumenthal, 10-5-10, 'Likely' Voters: How Pollsters Define And Choose Them. We have seen the "likely voter" polling problem rear its head several times in recent weeks, but few examples have been as vivid as three national surveys released in the last 24 hours.
  • FiveThirtyEight - Nate Silver started his meta-analysis site in 2008. The New York Times now presents it.
    • October 14, 2010, Bypassed Cellphones: Biased Polls? On Wednesday, Pew Research issued a study suggesting that the failure to include cellphones in a survey sample — and most pollsters don’t include them — may bias the results against Democrats. Pew has addressed this subject a number of times before, and in their view, the problem seems to be worsening. Indeed, this is about what you might expect, since the fraction of voters who rely on cellphones is steadily increasing: about 25 percent of the adult population now has no landline phone installed at all. Clearly, this is a major problem in survey research — and one that, sooner or later, every polling firm is going to have to wrestle with. What isn’t as clear is how much of a problem it is right now. I have written about this in the past, and I encourage you to review those articles. But let me try and come at it from a couple of fresh directions.
    • October 4, 2010, The Uncanny Accuracy of Polling Averages*, Part IV: Are the Polls Getting Worse? There is another type of argument, however, that is potentially more troubling. It could be that, irrespective of the character of this political cycle, polling itself is in decline. This is a widely held view among political elites and many polling professionals — and quite a few of the readers of this blog, I might add.
    • October 3, 2010, The Uncanny Accuracy of Polling Averages*, Part III: This Time, It’s Different? In Part III, we take up one type of critique that I encounter frequently — that 2010 is an unusual political cycle, and that its idiosyncrasies may render the polling less accurate. While this is not an unreasonable hypothesis, we found it does not have any grounding in the evidence: the polls have done no worse in “unusual” political cycles like 1992, nor in “wave” years like 1994 and 2006, than in routine-seeming ones like 1996 and 1998.
    • September 30, 2010, The Uncanny Accuracy of Polling Averages*, Part II: What the Numbers Say. In Part II, I demonstrated, by contrast, that a simple average of polls has performed very well over the past six election cycles in determining the winner of the contest. For example, Senate and gubernatorial candidates who have trailed by 6 to 9 points in the polling average with a month to go until the election have won their races only about 10 percent of the time in recent years.
    • September 29, 2010, The Uncanny Accuracy of Polling Averages*, Part I: Why You Can’t Trust Your Gut. In Part I, I explored why our intuition may mislead us when it comes to forecasting the outcomes of elections — for a variety of reasons, we may tend to assume that there is more uncertainty in the forecast than there really is.

  • ABC/Gary Langer, The Numbers, A Run at the Latest Data from ABC's Poobah of Polling, Gary Langer

    • ABC/Gary Langer, August 30, 2010, This I Believe. It’s quickly mushroomed into the summer’s hottest data point: A boatload of Americans believe Barack Obama’s a Muslim. Except that, maybe, they don’t. Consider this instead: They’re just willing to say it. This not-so-subtle difference is useful in understanding public opinion and its measurement. Yet the punditry and pronouncements that have followed the Obama/Muslim numbers mainly have missed the point, falling instead into the trap of literalism. They say, so they believe. Not necessarily so. People in fact may voice an attitude not as an affirmed belief – a statement of perceived factual reality – but rather as what my colleagues and I have taken to calling “expressed belief” – a statement intended to send a message, not claim a known fact.

  • See the big section in our 2008 election page, here, with topics like:

    • Some methodological statements from Gallup (their methods are typical of industry standards)

    • Debate on factors that may distort polling's accuracy

    • The "Bradley Effect" - do survey respondents lie about race?

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The "Ground Game:" Turning out the Vote
Plus: Defense against Voter Fraud & Vote Suppression

  • NYT, August 25, 2010, Shaping Tea Party Passion Into Campaign Force, By KATE ZERNIKE. On a Saturday in August when most of the political class has escaped this city’s swelter, 50 Tea Party leaders have flown in from across the country to jam into a conference room in an office building on Pennsylvania Avenue, apparently unconcerned that the fancy address does not guarantee air-conditioning on weekends. They have come to learn how to take over the country, voter by voter. ...This is a three-day “boot camp” at FreedomWorks, the Washington advocacy group that has done more than any other organization to build the Tea Party movement. ...The goal is to turn local Tea Party groups into a standing get-out-the-vote operation in Congressional districts across the country.
  • WP 8/23/10. Primary turnout shows big GOP enthusiasm edge. By Aaron Blake.Three-quarters of the way through the 2010 primary season, the so-called "enthusiasm gap" appears to be playing out across the country with turnout in GOP contests exceeding previous highs and beating Democratic turnout by unprecedented margins in many targeted states.
Background on Karl Rove's successful "Ground Game"
that worked for George W. Bush ... until it didn't

    The Hamburger/Wallsten Explanation
    of the Rove/Bush Strategy

    • "One Party Country: The Republican Plan For Dominance in the 21st Century" at Amazon
    • A September 28, 2006 article in Harpers (here) tries to answer these questions:
      1. The G.O.P. still raises more money than the Democrats, but the Democrats are hardly short of cash. How significant is the G.O.P. advantage in terms of sheer dollars? Are they simply raising more money, or are they also doing a better job of spending it?
      2. How successful has the G.O.P. been in eating away at Democratic support among core constituencies like African Americans and Hispanics?
      3. You say that Republicans have surpassed the Democrats in mobilizing their voters on election day, in part by using databases such as Voter Vault, which allows party activists to track voters by personal hobbies, professional interests, and even by their favorite brand of soda. How does that bank of personal data translate into an advantage on election day? Are Democrats responding with similar programs of their own?
      4. Whatever structural advantages the Republicans have, hasn't the G.O.P. also sought to gain an electoral advantage by suppressing Democratic turnout? How significant are those efforts on the part of the G.O.P., and are we likely to see new and improved methods down the road?
      5. Republicans would no doubt argue that their policies and ideology are simply more popular with the public than Democratic policies. Do ideas still play a role in electoral success or is it all about money and organization?
    • Diane Rehm show, 27 July 2006, here
    • Fresh Air with Terry Gross, July 24, 2006, here
    • BuzzFlash, 08/28/2006, here
  • NYT, November 15, 2005. By Jim Rutenberg, Voter Profiles for Bloomberg Went Beyond Ethnic Labels. Throughout this year's mayoral campaign, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's spending records included something called "voter list development." It looked ominous to Democrats - especially as Mr. Bloomberg poured millions into it. Lists like this usually include voters' personal data - the magazines they buy, the cars they drive, their political affiliations. But as the cost of compiling Mr. Bloomberg's list inched up toward $10 million, not even aides to President Bush, who perfected this sort of voter identification last year, could figure out where the money was going.
  • Los Angeles Times July 24, 2005. By Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten, Parties Are Tracking Your Habits. Though both Democrats and Republicans collect personal information, the GOP's mastery of data is changing the very nature of campaigning. COLUMBUS, Ohio — At first glance, Felicia Hill seems to fit the profile of a loyal Democrat: She is African American, married to a General Motors union worker and voted for Dukakis, Clinton and Gore in past presidential elections. But in the weeks before election day 2004, the suburban mother of two was deluged with telephone calls, invitations and specially targeted mailings urging her to support President Bush. The intense Republican courtship of Hill, 39, was no coincidence. A deeper look at her lifestyle and politics reveals a voter who might be persuaded to switch sides. Among the clues: she is a church member uneasy about abortion; she lives in a growing suburb and she sent her children to a private school. ...For the first time, she sees the GOP as a place where black women can be comfortable. "I saw people I could relate to," she said, describing conversations she had with Republican professional women during telephone outreach calls and at party events. ...Hill and millions of other would-be Bush backers in closely contested states were identified by a GOP database that culled information ranging from the political basics, like party registration, to the personal, such as the cars they drive, the drinks they buy, even the features they order on their phone lines. The "micro-targeting" effort was so effective that the party credited it with helping to secure Bush's reelection.
  • NYT, December 6, 2004. By Katharine Q. Seelye, How to Sell a Candidate to a Porsche-Driving, Leno-Loving Nascar Fan. After the 2000 presidential campaign, strategists for President Bush came to a startling realization: Democrats watch more television than Republicans. So by buying millions of dollars' worth of television advertising time, Republicans were spending their money on audiences that tended to vote Democratic. What to do? With the luxury of four years until the next election, the Bush team examined voters' television-viewing habits and cross-referenced them with surveys of voters' political and lifestyle preferences. This led to an unusual step for a presidential campaign: it cut the proportion of money that it put into broadcast television and diverted more to niche cable channels and radio, where it could more precisely reach its target audience.
  • NYT, November 19, 2004. By Adam Nagourney, Bush Campaign Manager Views the Electoral Divide. After two years of polling, market testing and up-close demographic scrutiny of American voters, the manager of President Bush's re-election campaign, Ken Mehlman, offered another way Thursday to view the divide between the American electorate. "If you drive a Volvo and you do yoga, you are pretty much a Democrat," Mr. Mehlman told an assembly of the nation's Republican governors here. "If you drive a Lincoln or a BMW and you own a gun, you're voting for George Bush." ...Rather than dispatching troops to knock on doors in neighborhoods known to be heavily Republican, Mr. Mehlman said, the Bush campaign studied consumer habits in trying to predict whom people would vote for in a presidential election. "We did what Visa did," Mr. Mehlman said. "We acquired a lot of consumer data. What magazine do you subscribe to? Do you own a gun? How often do the folks go to church? Where do you send your kids to school? Are you married? "Based on that, we were able to develop an exact kind of consumer model that corporate America does every day to predict how people vote - not based on where they live but how they live," he said. "That was critically important to our success."
  • Washington Post, November 7, 2004. By Dan Balz and Mike Allen, Four More Years Attributed to Rove's Strategy. Despite Moments of Doubt, Adviser's Planning Paid Off. Admired, disparaged, respected and feared, [Karl] Rove joins an elite cadre of political strategists who can claim two presidential victories. Bush's adviser can now look toward the goal he has pursued since he was an obscure direct-mail specialist in Texas: the creation of a durable Republican majority in Washington and across the country.
  • Washington Post, November 4, 2004. By John F. Harris, Victory Bears Out Emphasis on Values. GOP Tactics Aimed At Cultural Divide. ...The results appeared to validate several of the pet theories of [GOP campaign director Karl] Rove, including his belief that politics is as much science as art. Presidential stops in swing states, and the route of campaign bus trips, rarely included the largest cities. That was because Rove chose them scientifically, using three criteria that he explained to reporters in the waning days of the campaign. Rove said his targets were areas where Bush had underperformed in 2000, whether Republican or Democratic, and where the campaign's target for votes was higher than the number that showed up. Second were fast-growing exurban areas or Republican places where there were a large number of people who ought to register to vote and do not -- what Rove calls "a large gap between participation and potential." Third, he said, he paid attention to areas "that have a significant number of swing voters, and swing wildly from election to election."
  • NYT, November 4, 2004. By Elisabeth Bumiller, Turnout Effort and Kerry, Too, Were G.O.P.'s Keys to Victory. In the closing hours of President Bush's campaign for re-election, Karl Rove, his chief political adviser, was obsessed with turning out Republican votes. Late on Monday night, Mr. Rove stood in the cold at a rally in Albuquerque and pulled scraps of paper from his pocket covered with numbers that reassured him that his ground army was in full assault.
  • NYT, July 18, 2004. By Jim Rutenberg, Campaigns Use TV Preferences to Find Voters. When deciding where to run his television advertisements, President Bush is much more partial than Senator John Kerry to crime shows like "Cops," "Law & Order" and "JAG." Mr. Kerry leans more to lighter fare, like "Judge Judy," "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and "Late Show with David Letterman." Those choices do not reflect either man's taste in television, but critical differences in the advertising strategies of their campaigns, which are spending more money for commercials than any other campaigns in presidential history. Crime shows appeal to the Bush campaign because of its interest in reaching out to Republican men who are attracted to such programming. By contrast, the Kerry campaign is more interested in concentrating on single women, who tend to be drawn to shows with softer themes.
  • NYT, April 7, 2004. By Joyce Purnick, Data Churners Try to Pinpoint Voters' Politics. There's this great story making the Washington political rounds about the Conservative Party in Britain. It is that fund-raisers in London found a strong correlation between Conservative Party donors and people who buy garden bulbs by mail. Far-fetched? Maybe not, because people who plant spring bulbs tend to be more suburban and rural than urban, more wealthy than poor and, with time to garden, older. Hence, a likely Conservative, right?
  • NYT, April 6, 2004. By Joyce Purnick, Foraging For Votes: One-Doorbell-One-Vote Tactic Re-emerges in Bush-Kerry Race. They call it the ground war. And as anticipated, it is back after a long hiatus, subtly changing politics as we know it. Or trying to. After decades of playing poor relation to television advertising, grass-roots politics has become a campaign star this year, as many political pros predicted it would be in the aftermath of the Bush-Gore face-off of 2000. And today it ranges from old-fashioned shoe leather to Web technology that can make a precinct captain of anyone with a computer.
  • Washington Post, November 10, 2002. In GOP Win, a Lesson in Money, Muscle, Planning. [Karl] Rove, [Rep. Tom] DeLay and others concluded that Republicans had lost the turnout battle in recent elections by focusing too much on paid advertising and too little on the ground war that Democratic allies such as the AFL-CIO do so well: getting potential voters to the polls. Beginning in early 2001, the party registered thousands of new Republican voters, particularly in fast-growing states. It invested heavily in a program, dubbed the "72-hour project," that would later help spur record turnout in key regions. The Republican National Committee spent millions of dollars honing a system to identify voters, down to specific households, and contact them repeatedly with phone calls, mail and visits from party activists.


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Analyses of Turnout

  • United States Elections Project - Michael P. McDonald at George Mason University: includes information and analysis of turnout.
    • Voter turnout rates presented here show that the much-lamented decline in voter participation is an artifact of poor measurement. Previously, turnout rates were calculated by dividing the number of votes by what is called the "voting-age population" which consists of everyone age 18 and older residing in the United States (the yellow line to the right). This includes persons ineligible to vote, mainly non-citizens and ineligible felons, and excludes overseas eligible voters. When turnout rates are calculated for those eligible to vote, a new picture of turnout emerges, which exhibits no decline since 1972 (the green line to the right).

  • NYT, 11/6/08 (scan from print edition), turnout chart from Michael P. McDonald at George Mason University

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2008 Exit Polls


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The Big New York Times Exit Poll Chart for 2008

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