It’s a full-time job trying to keep Democrats from hyperventilating whenever a new poll comes out! Friday, I tried to calm folks down about the new Time poll; today I’ll try to do the same about the new Newsweek poll, conducted 9/2-3, which has Bush ahead 54-43 among RVs.
Here are some important points to keep in mind about the poll:
1. It is still not a true bounce poll; only one night of the two covered by the poll actually took place after the GOP convention was over. That night is highly likely to be Bush’s best post-convention night, since it was right after his big speech and the huge media splash the next day. And, in fact, Newsweek‘s data show that Bush led by 16 points in their poll on this night and by only 6 the night before. Don’t forget that Kerry did very well in polls the night right after his speech then fell off rapidly in the next few days.
So why do Newsweek and Time insist on doing their bounce polls wrong so they’re almost guaranteed to get misleading results? Simple: their publication schedule. They’ve got to have to data in time to dump it into their print publication. If they waited to do it right the poll would be too old to put in their magazine the subsequent week.
This is especially egregious since even a poll conducted entirely after the convention needs to be viewed with caution. As Charlie Cook points out:
A week or 10 days after the GOP convention, the electorate should have stopped bouncing and settled back down enough for horse race poll results to once again have some real meaning.
2. Aside from the timing, there are other reasons to be skeptical of the Newsweek poll. As has been widely reported in various blogs, the partisan distribution of the RVs in the Newsweek poll is quite startling: 38 percent Republican, 31 percent Democratic and 31 percent independent. This 7 point lead for the GOP on party ID does not comport well with other data on partisan distribution this campaign season–which have consistently shown the Democrats leading by at least several points–and can’t be blamed on a likely voter screen since there was none.
As Chris Bowers of MyDD shows, if you assume a more reasonable distribution of party ID, Bush’s lead is about cut in half. Moreover, if you assume that the differential in partisan support rates in the poll–94-4 for Bush and only 82-14 for Kerry–is, if not overstated now, highly likely to converge toward parity in the near future (as it has been for most of the campaign), even a Bush lead of 5-6 points looks very unstable.
So how did Newsweek manage to pull a sample with a 7 point GOP lead on party ID? It is certainly possible that there has been a sudden, large shift in party ID to the Republicans; the distribution of party ID is not completely stable and does indeed change over time. But a shift of this magnitude so suddenly and so off-trend (which has been toward the Democrats) strikes me as quite unlikely. I find it more plausible that there was differential interest in being interviewed by Democratic and Republican voters over the time period and that produced a skewed distribution of partisan identifiers in their RV sample.
Does that mean I favor polls like this weighting their samples by party ID? No, I don’t, because the distribution of party ID does shift some over time and polls should be able to capture this. What I do favor is release and prominent display of sample compostions by party ID, as well as basic demographics, whenever a poll comes out. Consumers of poll data should not have to ferret out this information from obscure places–it should be given out-front by the polling organizations or sponsors themselves. Then people can use this information to make judgements about whether and to what extent they find the results of the poll plausible.
3. It’s still a long time ’til election day. People should resist the urge to push the panic button and insist that Kerry launch an incendiary campaign against Bush’s and his surrogate’s personal attacks. As John Judis points out, there are interesting similarities between this campaign and the Reagan-Carter campaign of 1980. These similarities suggest that:
….just as Bush might be wise to avoid Carter’s mistakes, Kerry might be wise to consider Reagan’s successes in 1980. He is certainly going to have to answer some of the Bush campaign’s personal attacks, just as Reagan occasionally responded to Carter–although Reagan did so in a disarming manner (“there you go again”) that put the onus of disagreeability directly onto his opponent. But Kerry needs to direct the public’s attention, like Reagan did, to the underlying reality of the economy, the Iraq war, and the threat of Al Qaeda; and he needs to propose ways to deal with each that are at least plausible, if not preferable to those adopted by Bush. If he does that, and if he shows himself to be the equal of Bush in the debates, he could discover, like Reagan did in 1980, that the voters are ready to put someone new in the White House.
Amen. End of sermon.