By Alan Abramowitz
The Pew Research Center has just released its final numbers on the 2004 presidential race and they show George Bush with a 3 point lead among “likely voters” but John Kerry with a 1 point lead among registered voters. Not to worry. There are good reasons for skepticism about those likely voter results.
First of all, here’s Andrew Kohut’s track record at Pew and, previously, at Gallup. In 2000, the final Pew Poll had George Bush leading by 3 points. We all know what actually happened. In 1996, Pew had Bill Clinton ahead of Bob Dole by 14 points–the actual margin was 9. In 1988, Kohut, then at Gallup, had George H.W. Bush ahead of Michael Dukakis by 12 points–the actual margin was 8. And in 1980, Gallup had Ronald Reagan ahead of Jimmy Carter by only 3 points in their final poll. Reagan won by 10. Notice that in all three of the elections involving incumbents, the final poll overestimated the incumbent’s support.
In addition, their equal allocation of undecided voters between the incumbent and challenger is contrary to the normal tendency of undecided voters to break in favor of the challenger by a wide margin.
And there’s more. The current Pew sample of likely voters consists of 37.3 percent Republicans and 33.6 percent Democrats. That’s right–a 3.7 percent Republican identification advantage. Of course we know that every national exit poll since 1988 has had a Democratic identification advantage of between 3 and 5 points. It is highly unlikely that in a very high turnout election in 2004, Republicans will outnumber Democrats.
Finally, here are a couple of numbers from the Pew Poll that are revealing. John Kerry is leading among independents by 48 percent to 44 percent and Kerry is also leading among those who have already voted by 48 percent to 47 percent.
By Alan Abramowitz