Real Polls and the 2006 Election
Karl Rove told NPR’s Robert Siegel Tuesday that Republicans will retain both Houses of Congress two weeks hence. When Siegel said this was extraordinarily optimistic, Rove retorted, “I’m allowed to see the polls on the individual races. And after all, this does come down to individual contests between individual candidates.” The ensuing discussion tangentially focused on an important distinction: The difference between publically available media polls, especially those that focus on general attitudes about the two parties, and the “inside” polls of each race that concentrate on likely voters.
Bob Novak, who despite playing a partisan hack on television is respected even by the likes of Kos, provides a race-by-race analysis of the contest, although the origin and reliability of the polls used is not disclosed. Nonetheless, his results look about right: “If election were held to day, Democrats would take over the majority in the House with a 21-seat pickup” combined with a Democratic pickup of four seats in the Senate, two short of what’s needed for a switch.
More interestingly, though, he predicts that this will not be a so-called “wave” election, where a strong national sentiment against a party “negates seat-by-seat analyses.”
The reasons for the 2006 wave talk: a) the huge generic edge by Democrats over Republicans in current party preference, which never has been a good predictor of House elections; b) the mood inside the Washington Beltway, also a poor predictor historically; c) the run of bad news for Republicans and the Bush Administration; and d) unpopularity of President George W. Bush and the Iraq War.
The Bush-Iraq popularity is a constant and a major factor in many (but not all) races. But the corrosive political fact of higher gasoline prices has been mitigated, and the impact of the Mark Foley scandal has diminished. Still to be determined is how the conservative base’s unhappiness over government spending and immigration will factor in the election.
Indeed, despite substantial hand-wringing in many quarters (including this one) there seems not to be much continued reaction to the Foley mess outside the districts of three or four GOP leaders implicated in the cover-up.
Novak also contends that Jim McTague’s recent report in Barron’s, which argued that the Republicans would suffer much smaller losses than suggested by the conventional wisdom (8-14 seats in the House and three in the Senate), “confuses cause and effect” by making predictions based on the fact that the bigger fundraiser tends to win. Novak correctly notes, “. Bigger spenders historically may win 93 percent of House races, but in most cases the spending advantage can be accounted for by the fact that no one gives money to long-shot, no-chance challengers.”
The other interesting thing to note about Novak’s prediction is that it presumes that every single “leans Democrat” seat in both the House and Senate will fall. Statistically, that’s unlikely. Still, there’s plenty of margin for error in the House, since the Democrats only need to pick up 16 seats to take the majority.