Daily Poll Roundup

RealClear Politics is among the more cautious of the prognisticators, averaging polls and therefore not giving states with a 1 or 2 point margin in the latest single poll to either candidate. They show it Bush 227 – Kerry 206, with both candidates therefore below the magic 270 threshhold.

This strikes me as the most reliable indicator of where we are now, as the trends seem to be toward tightening rather than one candidate taking off. Indeed, the last four moves in the RCP have been toward clouding the picture:

10/20: NH – Leaning Kerry >> Toss Up
10/19: MN – Leaning Kerry >> Toss Up
10/18: FL – Leaning Bush >> Toss Up
10/17: PA – Leaning Kerry >> Toss Up

Scott Rasmussen has it at Bush 240, Kerry 169, and Toss-up 129. Interestingly, while he shows Bush taking Florida, both Ohio and Pennsylvania are in the toss-up category. Indeed, RCP has Florida in the toss-up category, too, putting all three of the “Big 3” swing states up for grabs less than two weeks away.

I’m not sold on Pennsylvania as in play, having assumed for a while that Kerry had it sewn up, but both Rasmussen and the average of the recent polls show it otherwise. Interesting.

Slate’s Election Scorecard still shows a Kerry lead of 276-262 but foretells bad news for Bush:

No change in the electoral vote count yet, but underlying currents are moving to Kerry. Latest polls suggest that a Florida shift to Kerry is more plausible than an Ohio shift to Bush, and a Kerry upset in West Virginia is more plausible than a Bush upset in New Jersey. The quantitative basis for ceding West Virginia to Bush is thin, and online and Democratic polls are making it thinner. We await the first neutral phone poll of October.

Dale’s Electoral College Breakdown has it Bush 227, Kerry 203 counting only strong states and Bush 264, Kerry 243 when leaners are included.

Dave Leip has it Bush 222, Kerry 196, and Toss-up 120.

Update (0957): Michael Barone has some interesting analysis of the head-to-head poll numbers, going inside the RCP average. As I’ve noted before, though, I don’t understand what experts–and Barone certainly qualifies as one–continue to focus on the national numbers, let alone the three way race. While it’s quite likely that the winner of this election–as in all but four cases in our history–will have a plurality of the popular vote in addition to winning the Electoral College, it’s not a given. The polls in the swing states are therefore much more important than the overall numbers, which can be distorted by runaways in a handful of states. Nader is not an option in many states, so a three-way poll is meaningless in any case.

That said, Barone’s piece has some interesting insights. He produces this list of current numbers:

Fox News 49-42
Washington Post/ABC 51-46
Zogby 45-45
TIPP 48-46
CBS News 47-45
CNN/USAT/Gallup 52-44
Time 48-47
Newsweek 50-44
Rasmussen 48-47
Average 49-45

Note that George W. Bush’s percentages range from 45 to 52 percent while John Kerry’s percentages range from 42 to 47 percent. In only one poll does Bush fall below 47 percent, which is Kerry’s highest percentage.

It seems highly likely that Bush emerged from the debates a little bit ahead. Some Kerry backers argue that voters who are still undecided are likely to end up voting against the incumbent. But it’s also possible that many of these will just not vote. And in any case, Bush is bumping up against the magic number of 50 percent. The debates helped John Kerry but evidently not enough to put him ahead.

That’s clearly the case in the national numbers. Right now, though, it isn’t showing up in the Electoral College projections.

But there is something else that is curious about the numbers in the polls, when viewed over the whole course of the campaign since John Kerry clinched the Democratic nomination on March 2. Blogger Steven Den Beste has prepared an interesting chart. Den Beste charges that pollsters “deliberately gimmicked” the results, “in hopes of helping Kerry.” I don’t agree with that at all. But he has made another interesting observation. Eliminating some of the peaks and valleys of the Bush and Kerry percentages in realclearpolitics.com’s average of recent polls, Den Beste shows that Bush’s percentages have tended to rise over time while Kerry’s have risen much less if at all. He draws the Bush long-term trend line from a low point around 43 percent in May, when the media were full of stories about the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, to higher numbers around 45 percent in July and August, then up to the 49 percent level he has reached today. His long-term Kerry trend line runs through the 44 to 45 percent level in the spring to the 45 to 46 percent level in August, after the Democratic National Convention, to the same 45 to 46 percent level of today.

It seems curious that the percentages of the incumbent should rise while the percentages of the challenger have not risen much if at all. As a general proposition, you expect an incumbent’s standing to change less, because voters already know much more about him than about his opponent. But that hasn’t happened this time.

Barone’s explanation, rather lengthy, has to do with the nature of the press coverage. Patrick Frey has the latest example of pro-Kerry spin in the mainstream press.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Pennsylvania isn’t impossible to get. We’ve voted in two Republican Senators (if you count Specter). Our State House and Senate are Republican majorities, and the previous governor was a Republican (the last Republican candidate was lame – if we had a better one, we would have had a fighting chance). We have 11 out of 21 Republicans in our House delegation.

    We’re a weird political beast. The cities (Pittsburgh and Philly) like the Dems, while the rural areas tend to vote Republican. Rural areas have two big concerns – gun rights (hunters) and unions. This makes for interesting elections.

    I’m wondering if Mayor Murphy is making life harder for Kerry. The Pittsburgh mayor is the epitome of incompitence.

  2. ken says:

    James,
    Good summary and analysis. I’ve said all along that Kerry will win this election. But I honestly believe any democrat would have beaten Bush this year. Bush is far too divisive a figure to be reelected. This is not just a rhetorical charge like the republicans throw out at Clinton but based on solid fact, reality based if you will. Bush has divided not just Republicans and Americans from each other but has divided America from the world. He is, with justification, the most hated man in the world.