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Elections, Politics

Pollsters getting it wrong: America has swung heavily towards the Republicans

Posted: June 8, 2012 at 12:15 pm   /   by

One of the reasons I like reading Ed Morrissey at Hot Air so much is because of the excellent coverage he does on polls. He doesn’t just report the topline number of polls—he digs in and looks at the sample makeup to see what the D/R/I weighting is. That weighting means everything to the topline results. His thoroughness on that subject is a service to all his readers, and it points up a serious problem in current polling.

Polling has gotten better and more accurate over the last decade or so. However, it is still possible to come up with the wrong topline results if you use a sample of the electorate that does not actually represent the electorate. And according to Michael Franc at National Review, that is exactly what is occurring right now.

Franc cites data from Gallup showing that the change in party affiliation from 2008 to today has been dramatic:

I have found that the most reliable baseline on party identification, both nationally and at the state level, comes from the extensive polling conducted by the Gallup Organization. Each year Gallup collapses the 350,000-plus interviews it has conducted throughout the year into one overall snapshot of party affiliation. In February, Gallup released the results of 353,492 such interviews conducted during 2011, including more than 1,000 in each of the 50 states and an enormous number in the states surveyed by Marist/NBC News: 18,090 people were interviewed in Florida, 13,172 in Ohio, 9,927 in Virginia, 7,105 in Colorado, 4,439 in Iowa, and 2,730 in Nevada. If volume counts, Gallup’s data mine of interviews is sheer gold.

In reviewing all this data, Gallup identified an important national trend:

In the last four years, the political leanings of Americans have increasingly moved toward the Republican Party after shifting decidedly Democratic between 2005 and 2008. In 2008, Democrats had one of the largest advantages in party affiliation they have had in the last 20 years. . . . Prior to that, the parties were more evenly balanced.

The net result of the movement is that the nation looks to be essentially even in terms of its party loyalties headed into a presidential election year. Clearly, President Obama faces a much less favorable environment as he seeks a second term in office than he did when he was elected president.

The partisan divide, Gallup found, has narrowed not only nationally, but in almost every state as well. Gallup’s 2008 surveys of state-level party identification found that the terrain in all the states Marist surveyed was decidedly pro-Obama and pro–Democratic Party. The Democratic advantage ranged from 9 percentage points (in Virginia and Florida) to 11 points (in Nevada and Colorado) to an overwhelming margin of 18 points (in Ohio and Iowa).

The intervening years, as the table above depicts, have not been kind to the president and his party. Whatever the cause of this shift, the two parties now are essentially at parity in all six of these states.



Double-digit shifts in OH, CO, and IA. Close to ten points in VA and NV. A sizable move on Florida. Note, from the excerpt above, that these numbers are the result of a magisterial survey with a massive sample size. This is not a poll of 600 likely voters here, 400 registered voters there. This is tens of thousands.

Needless to say, if this is the trend in these states, then it is going to be the trend in many of the other 50. Obama may find himself defending quite a lot of ground.

If these are the real numbers, then the pollsters are getting it wrong. That matters for reasons beyond the pollsters’ reputation. Perceptions ahead of elections impact people’s behavior on Election Day in a variety of ways. Whether these pollsters are failing to take Gallup’s numbers into account intentionally, or whether they simply haven’t accepted the new reality yet, doesn’t much matter. They need to get it right. Misleading the country on an issue as vital as an election is an act of malfeasance.

Christopher Cook

Christopher Cook

Managing Editor at Western Free Press
Christopher Cook is a writer, editor, and political commentator. He is the president of Castleraine, Inc., a consulting firm providing a diverse array of services to corporate, public policy, and not-for-profit clients.

Ardently devoted to the cause of human freedom, he has worked at the confluence of politics, activism, and public policy for more than a decade. He co-wrote a ten-part series of video shorts on economics, and has film credits as a researcher on 11 political documentaries, including Citizens United's notorious film on Hillary Clinton that became the subject of a landmark Supreme Court decision. He is the founder of several activist endeavors, including (now a part of Western Free Press) and He is currently the managing editor of and principal contributor to
Christopher Cook

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Pollsters getting it wrong: America has swung heavily towards the Republicans