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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

So What’s Going on in Pennsylvania?

There’s been a shocking amount of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth in Democratic circles considering that most polls still show Kerry ahead. Indeed, the just-released ICR poll (see below) has Kerry ahead by 7 points among RVs, a greater margin than the same poll had three weeks ago.
But it’s hard to cheer people up when they’re determined to be gloomy. Indeed, there’s a tendency to seize on “evidence” that supports a gloomy viewpoint without looking at it very closely.
Take the case of Pennsylvania and recent polling data. Democrats seem to be convinced the race there has seriously tightened (see this post by Josh Marshall which is otherwise terrific and level-headed but buys into this particular meme).
What’s the evidence for this tightened Pennsylvania race? Disregarding the recent poll by the very Republican Strategic Vision firm, the most recent reputable poll in PA is the Gallup poll of 8/23-26. That poll shows Kerry trailing Bush by a point among likely voters (LVs). I emphasize that this result is among LVs because most PA polls that people have heard about have been conducted among registered voters (RVs). Therefore, comparing these earlier PA polls to Gallup’s current LV result is not an apples to apples comparison and tells you nothing about whether and how the race has changed.
Especially when we note the following: the same Gallup poll that has Bush ahead by a point among LVs in the Bush-Kerry matchup has him behind by 5 points among RVs!
In fact, check out the last three reputable poll results from PA among RVs:
8/23-26 (Gallup): Kerry, +5
8/13-21 (Issues PA): Kerry, +2
8/11-16 (Quinnipiac): Kerry, +5
Conclusion: there is no tightening in the PA race once we do an apples to apples comparison.
This is only the latest example of confusion being sown by Gallup’s LV model, which has been producing consistently pro-Bush results lately. Indeed, Gallup did a WI poll at the same time as their PA poll and found Bush ahead by 3 points among LVs in WI, but Kerry ahead by the same margin among RVs.
I continue to believe these LV results should be de-emphasized until later in the campaign. It is still too early to put much faith in likely voter screens/models as representing very accurately the voters who will actually show up on election day. There is reasonable evidence that careful likely voter methodologies work well when it is quite close to an election and do fairly accurately capture that pool of voters. But there is no such evidence for LV samples drawn this far out.
Indeed, my understanding is that Gallup, in particular, does LVs throughout the campaign not so much because they believe they are capturing election day voters all along, but more so that they can avoid having to explain sudden shifts in the horse race question as LV data replaces RV data. There have apparently been some problems with this in the past, so reporting both from the very beginning of the campaign eliminates any potential embarrassments along these lines. But that doesn’t mean the LV data is any better at this particular point in time–it merely means they’re providing it.
In fact, since the sample size for LVs is smaller and since the composition of the LV sample will shift depending on how political developments are affecting interest and intensity levels among different groups of voters, additional volatility and potential bias is built into the LV samples that is not there with the RV samples.
The issue of bias can particularly be a problem if it’s true that, say, Democratic-leaning voters tend to tune into campaigns later and are therefore more likely to be screened out of the likely voter sample until close to the election (especially with a tight screening procedure, which Gallup definitely has). If that’s true, then an LV sample could perform reasonably well close to election day, as a greater proportion of Democratic-leaning voters finally get screened in, but be quite biased toward the Republicans until then.
That could be what’s happening today.
So take a tip from me: always check those RV results. It’ll help keep a smile on your lips and song in your heart!

32 comments on “So What’s Going on in Pennsylvania?

  1. Brian on

    i really don’t think bush has a chance in PA (my state). i read that a gop strategist said that bush must win the philly suburban counties of bucks, montgomery, delaware, and chester by 8-10 points to win the state (i live in bucks, work in montgomery). while registration data favors the gop, these counties have been trending more and more democratic, and they voted for al gore by huge margins in 2000, relative to registration data. i work with the pharma industry, and bush is not even liked among my colleagues. i put together a good spreadsheet analysis of voter registration trends (http://brg6.dyn.dhs.org/voter.xls) and the 2000 race (http://brg6.dyn.dhs.org/prez.xls). notice the dems gain even more in the urban areas, and lose more in the rural areas, but the difference is that the dems are winning the suburban areas which had been in gop hands from 1960-1988, except for 1964.

  2. scott on

    What absolute tripe…
    The difference between “likely” voters and “registered” voters is that “likely” voters tries to measure who actuallyhas an established history of showing up on election day.
    I guess you can always pray that this year will be an significant aberation in the fifty year trend on overall voting participation.

  3. Bel on

    Kerry answered his critics with a blistering statement.
    “For the past week, they attacked my patriotism and my fitness to serve as commander in chief,” Kerry said. “We’ll, here’s my answer. I’m not going to have my commitment to defend this country questioned by those who refused to serve when they could have and by those who have misled the nation into Iraq.”
    “It doesn’t surprise me that the vice president of the United States spent most of his speech talking about John Kerry because you know he doesn’t want to talk about what they’ve done to this country,” the North Carolina senator said.
    The above responses belong to Kerry and edwards respectively. I think these are good beginnings to an agressive next 60 days.

  4. ed on

    Just saw some of the transcript of The Bush Speech. Sounds powerful, pushing all the right buttons. Trying to pull that old tired dog of compassionate conservatism isn’t going to work this time. I can’t believe he trying that again……….

  5. alice on

    goethean, “the media” is corporate owned and has an agenda, supporting corporate interests, widly seen as being best seved by republicans. As an example I give The NY Post which loses millions each year.

  6. AndyS on

    I take away from your excellent analysis the message that it’s all about GOTV. We’d better work our butts off on that.
    BTW, got a flier from BC-04 urging me to vote absentee. Maybe I’ll take them up on it, sounds like they might know something about how votes will be counted, or not.
    I’m a registered Indy who usually votes D, as is my wife dunno why they mailed us.
    Good to have you back, Ruy.

  7. speakingcorpse on

    i don’t want good morale. i want to see kerry doing what he has to do to ensure victory. he’s not doing it.
    panic is useless. so is pretending that kerry has done anything but harm to himself by avoiding national security issues on the stump, until now.

  8. John Eaton on

    Keep up the great work. Take a look at this new Website called http://www.us-election.org. It allows people who are not US citizens to vote in the next American Presidential election and is filled with information about all of the candidates.
    The results can be viewed immediately on the site and right up to the election day of November 2. They can be viewed country-by-country as well as region-by-region. All you have to do is go to
    and register your vote. It’s easy.Then, once you have voted, pass this letter on to as many of your friends as
    have access to a computer and the Internet, especially those living outside the country. Make our voice as loud as you can, because America needs to know that we are here and watching.
    John Eaton

  9. RW on

    When things don’t look good, rely on the RV data (when it looks better, which it always does for Democrats)?
    Whatever makes you sleep better…..

  10. soup nazi on

    bruce b. I think it’s possible for both you and Ruy to be right. More dems are involved in the campaign at this point and that is why the race is so close (at least in the RV polls) but don’t forget that there is a very large pool of people who vote infrequently (maybe 40% of the electorate) who can opt into the process as the election draws near. And these people tend to vote democrat overwhelmingly. It all depends on voter turnout and all indications are that this year will be the highest in history.

  11. jake on

    “goethean” has a GREAT point: Two can play the media game. Has this occurred to the Demo’s braintrust, yet?
    We need the equivalent of the old-fashioned “Hymn Book” of talking points. Seriously…Think what could happen if everyone from the national level to the local level repeated the same meme-set for a week…
    KERRY CAMAIGN: “This week’s talking points are #45, #128, and #101. Everybody, go!”

  12. Diane on

    Dude. as a favor. I am sure you have a family and all, but would you mind NOT taking a vacation in 2008? See what happens when you disappear? It all goes to hell.
    What mainepirate said.

  13. Bel on

    true gothean… but any organisation can create a market… so from time to time, the media will dictate what they need you to hear and see. and when you buy into it, then its off to the bank they go.

  14. Preston on

    Why do you advocate not using LV numbers until close to the election? Does the determination of who is a likely voter change throughout the election? How is it determined?

  15. goethean on

    alice, “the media” don’t have an objective, other than to sell newspapers or ads or whatever they’re selling. They are not part of the Republican party. If terrorism sells, they’ll run with it. If Kerry puts out a meme that sells, they’ll run with that, too.

  16. Jay on

    Thanks, Ruy. The Bushies love to play the confidence game, it’s one of their best tricks. Act like a winner, and the other side will freak out, and people will think your a winner. So as was said upthread, the gnashing of teeth plays into their game plan.
    In addition, I’d say that Democrats need to learn how to take a punch. Honestly, I think the whole country needs to. I feel we, in the end, overreacted to 9/11, kind of freaked out. It’s understandable, since we haven’t had to deal with anything of this magnitude in a generation. Things went against us in August. But not that badly. Shake it off and keep fighting.
    Oh, and by the way, I don’t think Bush takes a punch very well either. I think he’s freaked out over the MoveOn campaign.

  17. Solon on

    Hey Ruy,
    Your emphasis on the problems with the likely voter vs. registered voter samples is great, but I find that people are a bit confused about how to put this in simple language. When is an apple an apple?
    Maybe you have done this before, but can you explain to people exactly how these organizations separate the LV sample from the RV sample? Why should people believe that one sample is a better representation of future results than another? Are there some screens that work better than others. Maybe there are certain campaigns that make one of the samples more reliable than the other etc. In short, how do we spread this story your telling?

  18. alice on

    Maybe I’m paranoid but I see the media’s gloom in a more sinister light. I fear that it is a ruse, so when Kerry wins they can change the vote count in the no record Diebold machines, and people will accept it. If people expect Kerry to win, it would be much harder for them to fix the election.

  19. bruce b. on

    Ruy, I almost always agree with you, and I certainly agree that the “conventional wisdom” gloom and doom has been herd mentality overstatement.
    However, I can’t agree that it is a possibility that the Democratic voters are paying LESS attention to this election than the Republican voters. All evidence is to the contrary, including small contributions, the size of the anti-Bush demonstrations, and the crowds Kerry and Edwards were getting in their post-convention bus tour.
    However, an argument that supports your basic point (that RVs polls are a better gauge at this point than LV polls) is that the anti-Bush sentiment might be bringing many new, usual non-voting Kerry voters to the polls. The posting from NC above tends to support this thesis. I would doubt that these voters would show up in many LV screens.

  20. theCoach on

    The things is that there will be a lot of events between now and the election. Many things can happen. A former Democrat might give a keynote at the RNC looking insave and embarassing himself.
    The debates will happen. Slurs and attacks will be thrown. Unfortunately, there will be some foreign policy news (very rarely is FP news good during a W administration). The election is very close, and if too many of these things break against Kerry he will have trouble (he needs to look strong, determined, tougher and more knowledgeable than GWB). But what we do know at this point is that Bush is terrified to bring up his record. They are avoiding talking about that as much as they can. When this election gets into full swing, about three weeks from now, it is going to be much, much harder for them to avoid talking about Bush’s string of failures. They will do their best to come up with excuses, but a month’s focus on their record makes it clear that there is nothing but failure.

  21. Bel on

    Thanks Jake.. I share your sentiments and I hope others will rally to the cause.
    Personally, I cant afford to think of having bush in the house for another 4 minutes and hence, everything has to be done to ensure a change.
    So it really doesnt matter too much what the polls say. What really matters is that supporters stick with the candidate to the end and keep campaigning. Keep telling somebody… keep inspiring others and reduce the level of doubt and bewilderment and gloom. Stay strong and ensure the victory.
    Kerry is making good progress… I am sure of that.

  22. jake on

    First: What I haven’t noticed is any reference to the impact of people who are now motivated to register to vote. In my little town (county pop. around 120,000) the county courthouse has averaged 1000 new voters per week for the last few months. That’s an incredible rise. Newly registered voters tend to fall for the challenger rather then the incumbent at a 2 to 1 ratio. This is happening all over my state (NC). We could see a red state turn blue.
    SECOND: There IS too much gloom on all the blogs. This fits the GOP game perfectly. DON’T get sucked into it. Volunteer your time for the campaign. Getting together with other people in your community will energize you and make you feel like part of a movement…and that’s exactly what we are. A movement to revel in our Constitutional freedoms and remove a failed administration.
    LOOK at their points…they can’t say anything about their record. They’ve failed. More negative slams at Kerry is just more failure…a failure of character. They keep stoking terrorism fears to keep their base engaged. Is this security? It’s another failure.

  23. mainepirate on

    Dude. as a favor. I am sure you have a family and all, but would you mind NOT taking a vacation in 2008? See what happens when you disappear? It all goes to hell.

  24. Bel on

    “But it’s hard to cheer people up when they’re determined to be gloomy. Indeed, there’s a tendency to seize on “evidence” that supports a gloomy viewpoint without looking at it very closely.”
    I agree with Ruy quite a plenty here. The analyses must be done.. and in any event, supporters simply must stick with the candidates until the last vote has been counted.
    There has not been much by the way of change in the polls recently. Supporters must consider that the RNC is happening right now and is prob. getting more say on the media than the DEMs and hence it is expected that the GOP side of the story will be in the news more often. This will influence some people of course.
    In any event, stay with the Kerry camp and get on with the business of support and campaigning, pleeaasse. There is an important job at hand and it must be done. You cant let Kerry report for duty and not be able to declare… “Mission Accomplished, Good Work Men/Women”.
    Get Busy

  25. John Mcc. on

    So LV voter models are not based upon or entirely upon subgroup or mass behavior in prior elections but also account for the probabliities that a given election’s turnout will be lower or higher than the norm?

  26. Sky on

    Ruy: I want to hear the unfiltered truth, so I was pleased to read today’s posting. I’ve been distraught over recent article (“Democrats Alarmed at Kerry campaign,” etc) and it was refreshing to read an analytical, truthful, yet positive take on the election to date.
    By the way, any chance of knowing if Errol Morris’s ads for MoveOn have had any impact on polls during the convention?


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