Pre­ma­ture prog­nos­ti­ca­tions

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Don­ald Lam­bro

Most elec­tion fore­cast­ers, based on the generic polls, pre­dict an anti-Repub­li­can wave in Novem­ber that will pro­duce big Demo­cratic gains in the House and Se­nate.

But sum­mer polls, like con­ven­tional wis­dom, can some­times be wrong, or at least ex­ag­ger­ated, of­ten be­cause of the way ques­tions are phrased to get a de­sired re­sult. For ex­am­ple:

A main­stay of elec­tion year sur­veys is the right track or wrong track poll to mea­sure how peo­ple feel about the over­all di­rec­tion of the coun­try. This ques­tion has rou­tinely elicited an over­whelm­ingly wrong track re­sponse in the 60s to 70s per­cent­age range.

An As­so­ci­ated Press-Ip­sos poll of 1,001 Amer­i­cans, that in­cluded 813 reg­is­tered vot­ers, re­ported two weeks ago that 71 per­cent be­lieved the coun­try was mov­ing in the wrong di­rec­tion. Only 26 per­cent thought oth­er­wise. A Zogby poll, us­ing about the same word­ing, showed vot­ers say­ing wrong track by 59 per­cent to 34 per­cent.

Such num­bers fed into the an­a­lyt­i­cal hard-drive of the top elec­tion fore­cast­ers pro­duce a deeply pes­simistic, anti-in­cum­bent spread­sheet on com­puter screens.

Vet­eran po­lit­i­cal fore­caster Char­lie Cook writes that when this month’s pri­mary up­sets, in which vot­ers dumped three in­cum­bents (two Democrats and

one Repub­li­can)

are “com­bined

with Congress’

abysmal job-ap­proval rat­ings

and ex­tremely

high ‘wrong

track’ num­bers,

[they] in­di­cate a

very volatile,

tur­bu­lent elec­tion year, the

kind that in­cum­bents hate for

good rea­son.”

But CNN found out ear­lier this month that when poll­sters ask the vot­ers es­sen­tially the same ques­tion about the mood of the coun­try, only with dif­fer­ent word­ing, you get a dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer­ent re­sult. In a sur­vey of 1,047 Amer­i­cans by Opin­ion Re­search Corp. of Prince­ton, N.J., on Aug. 2-3, CNN asked, “How well are things go­ing in the coun­try to­day?” A com­bined 55 per­cent said things were go­ing “fairly well” (47 per­cent) or “very well” (8 per­cent), com­pared with those who said “pretty badly” (29 per­cent) or “very badly” (15 per­cent).

CNN’s polling di­rec­tor Keat­ing Hol­land told me the ques­tion’s word­ing was fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent from right track/wrong track lan­guage which he said he did not use, but de­clined to say why. He said the ques­tion he prefers yields “a mea­sure­ment of how well Amer­i­cans think things are go­ing in the coun­try to­day.” “Dif­fer­ent ques­tions get dif­fer­ent an­swers,” he said. CNN has used this phas­ing be­fore be­cause, pre­sum­ably, it pro­duces a much more ac­cu­rate read­ing of the pulse of the coun­try. Vir­tu­ally all other polls use the “wrong track” ques­tion whose pe­jo­ra­tive word­ing yields more neg­a­tive re­sults.

There are enough anom­alies and con­tra­dic­tions in the polls to sug­gest the fore­casts of steep Repub­li­can elec­tion losses could be a tad pre­ma­ture. For one thing, polls tell us that what­ever the vot­ers think of Repub­li­cans, they aren’t that crazy about the Democrats, ei­ther. More­over, some polls have found a large per­cent­age of Demo­cratic vot­ers say they could change their mind.

“Only 41 per­cent of Amer­i­cans be­lieve that Demo­cratic lead­ers in Congress ‘would move the coun­try in the right di­rec­tion,’ “ CNN’s po­lit­i­cal di­rec­tor, Mark Pre­ston, writes on the cable news net­work’s Web site. That is less “than the 43 per­cent of Amer­i­cans who be­lieve Repub­li­can lead­ers in Congress ‘would move the county in the right di­rec­tion.’ “ What this means, Mr. Pre­ston writes, is that “Democrats need to do a bet­ter job of con­vinc­ing vot­ers they are bet­ter equipped than Repub­li­cans to lead the Congress.”

When the AP-Ip­sos poll found 51 per­cent said they would vote for the un­named Demo­cratic can­di­date in the con­gres­sional elec­tion, an­other far less re­ported ques­tion was asked that cast that 51 per­cent in a dif­fer­ent light:

“Will you def­i­nitely vote for that can­di­date, prob­a­bly vote for that can­di­date, or do you think you could change your mind be­fore the elec­tion?” A siz­able 18 per­cent of Democrats said they could well “change their mind,” hardly a strong vote of con­fi­dence for the op­pos­ing party.

Then there are the in­de­pen­dents, the fastest-grow­ing bloc of vot­ers, who will likely de­cide this elec­tion. Sur­pris­ingly, most still do not know how they’ll vote in the con­gres­sional races. Zogby found an as­ton­ish­ing 41 per­cent were un­de­cided, com­pared to 32 per­cent who said they would vote for the Demo­crat and 20 per­cent who fa­vored the Repub­li­cans.

A re­cent Newsweek poll gives us one more rea­son to take the generic vote with a grain of salt: It found “68 per­cent of reg­is­tered vot­ers say they have only given the Novem­ber elec­tions ‘a lit­tle’ or no at­ten­tion.”

With more than two months to go, there is still enough flu­id­ity and doubt in th­ese num­bers to sug­gest this elec­tion is far from set­tled.

Don­ald Lam­bro, chief po­lit­i­cal correspondent of The Wash­ing­ton Times, is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.