New Poll Numbers
Richard Morin & Claudia Deane
Tuesday, June 22, 2004; 12:00 PM
Has President Bush's approval rating remained steady now that he has a clear
Democratic opponent in the race for the presidency? How do Americans view the
president's performance on specific issues -- the economy, war on terrorism, budget
deficit, education? Who would win if voters had to choose between Bush and Sen.
John Kerry today?
Washington Post Polling director Richard Morin and assistant Polling director Claudia Deane discussed the results of a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
The transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
East Lansing, Mich.:
Given that polls are a snapshot in time, who would win the presidential election if it were held today (based on the ABC-Washington Post poll results)?
Richard Morin & Claudia Deane: Welcome! Glad you could join us. We learn so much from these cyber-chats. Let's get right to your questions.
Good question and tough to answer. The lead has been changing dramatically in recent weeks. So much is dependent on turnout and who gets their voters to the polls. Our best guess is that Kerry would win, by a nose. But force us to guess--and don't read this as a prediction of where the race will be in November or even next week--and we say Kerry.
If I read the poll correctly, the public is almost evenly split on the War on Terror, evenly split on the War in Iraq, and Kerry has solid advantages on domestic issues, including trustworthiness. Why is Kerry only ahead by 4 points?
Richard Morin & Claudia Deane: The big reason is that this is a 50-50 country, with partisanship clearly motivating vote choice. President Bush has strengths, too. While this poll wasn't particularly good for Bush, he does have an advantage over as the candidate viewed as the stronger leader and the one who can keep the country safe (a different question than who would best lead the international war on terrorism, which is a tie). Bush voters are far more likely to say they are voting for Bush (83 percent) than against Kerry (16). Fewer than half of Kerry's supporters--44 percent--say they support Kerry rather than mainly oppose Bush. And the economy is getting better, and people are starting to notice it--another reason why the
What do you make of the recent Harris poll that shows Bush ten points ahead of Kerry? I read down to the bottom and it appears they just asked anyone who answered the phone with no attempt to winnow the interviewees to registered or likely voters. So... how much does only interviewing registered or likely voters add to the accuracy of a poll?
Richard Morin & Claudia Deane: Good question. If we are looking at the same poll, conducted June 8-15 before our survey, the 10-point lead was among likely voters. We are reporting our results for all self-described registered voters, on the theory that it is extremely problematic to say at this point who actually will vote on election day. You're right, though--the results you want to pay closest attention to are results reported off of those most likely to vote. Those numbers often, but not always, are a bit more positive for the Republican, as Republicans are more likely to vote. As for the differences beyond the likely voter screen, what a difference a week might have made--distance from the Reagan funeral, the beheading in Saudia Arabia and the 9/11 Commission report.
Thanks for taking our questions.
The Bush campaign recently criticized a LA Times poll on the basis that it had too many Democrats (the partisan breakdown of respondants to that poll was 39 percent Democrat, 25 percent Republican). Could you please tell us what the partisan breakdown of the respondants to your poll was?
Richard Morin & Claudia Deane: We got a lot of questions like this! Good--it's important and a great diagnostic.
The party breaks in the current poll were Democrats 35%, Republicanss 29%, Independents 30%. This is about what we've gotten for the past three polls. We've seen Democratic party affiliation creep back up a bit so far this year, in tandem with the President's declining approval ratings.
The point is not to get a perfect three way split, of course, but to reflect the actual partisan makeup of the population. And since there is no fixed marker, this is tricky--you don't know what the real answer is. Perhaps changes in party ID are real, signaling a realignment. Or perhaps it's merely due to sampling error, the more typical case.
Averaging across all the polls we did in 2003, the three parties were closer to parity: roughly 32% Democrats, 31% Republicans and 31% independents. In recent years, the Democrats had a 3 to 6 percentage point advantage over the Republicans.
Oh, and the gender split in this poll was: men 48%, women 52%
You two should have a daily column.
So what do we do with the new numbers? The statistics move up and down every week, which is no surprise, but I can't figure out what the independent variable is. Please, tell me!
Richard Morin & Claudia Deane: And it should be syndicated and we should be rich!
Seriously, expect a lot of variation this early in the campaign. But also, the underlying news is changing: better news on the economy, some really bad news out of Iraq and the Middle East, undoubtedly affected this last poll. The lesson is: Voters are paying attention, and that's a good thing.
The other answer is the obvious one: Surveys are based on random samples, which are subject to sampling error. We don't pay a whole lot of attention to 3 or 4 point differences between the polls. But remember, in a race this close, differences that small will tilt the lead back and forth, which will inevitably produce a series of headlines "Kerry Up"..."Bush reclaims Lead"..."Kerry Back on Top"..."Bush Rebounds" etc.
Our advice: Look at a lot of reputable polls done at about the same time, squint your eyes and you'll find the surveys are telling the same essential story.
I never took stats. What does margin of error really mean?
Richard Morin & Claudia Deane: It's not too late to sign up! And statistians are viewed as hot, hot, hot by the opposite sex!
We have prepared a detailed explanation of sampling error and it's on our website. Our happy host Meredith says he'll link to it below.
And by the way, the explanation can come in handy as a cheat sheet when you take that stats course.
Something I've seen in many polls, including this one, is that Kerry does better overall on the individual issue questions than he does when it's a straight mano-a-mano question. Why do you think that is? Is it just the incumbency advantage?
Richard Morin & Claudia Deane: Ah, you read our poll closely. One point to remember: Yes, Kerry does better than Bush on such issues as health care, but it isn't a health care election. Our latest poll suggests that the Big Three issues this year remain the economy, war on terrorism and Iraq. Two-thirds of all voters named one of those three as their top voting issue.
Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.:
How rapidly are George W. Bush's ratings improving on the economy? Could they save his presidency? And who are changing their minds on this issue? Democrats? Independents? Republicans?
Richard Morin & Claudia Deane: Not as rapidly as Republicans might hope. But that's not unusual. There is a lag between real improvement in the economy and people's perception of improvement. Some political scientists say the Spring economic numbers are the ones that most influence voter behavior in the fall. It takes that long for the good news to settle in. That's Why Bush 41 didn't get a boost from the economy in 1992. The spring numbers were bad, even though the economy came back strong in the fall.
For the record, here are the current numbers: 45 percent of the country say the economy is "excellent" or "good", the highest since July '01. Fewer than half--46 percent--approve of the job Bush is doing, a statistically insignificant two-point increase over last month and about where it's been for nearly two years. He hasn't been comfortably into the 50s on the economy since early Sept. 02.
The Washington Post-ABC poll depicted Kerry with 48 percent, Bush with 6 percent, and Nader with 6 percent of the vote from registered voters sampled. Is Nader taking votes away from Kerry or Bush? A few months ago Bush had the edge, are true conservatives leaving the Bush camp and supporting Nader or choosing not to vote in this election? What kind of effect does this type of poll play into the politics of the upcoming election?
Richard Morin & Claudia Deane: One more time, we're going to answer this question. And Ralph, are you paying attention?
All the evidence we've seen points to this single fact: Nader takes votes away from Kerry.
In the current poll, the "horserace" with Bush, Kerry and Nader in the race, Kerry leads Bush by 4 points among registered voters.
But if the choice is just between Bush and Kerry, the Democrat's advantage grows to 8 points.
End of story.
How is truthfulness and honesty going to play in the election, and who do you think that issue will favor in November?
Richard Morin & Claudia Deane: Excellent question. One of the most interesting findings in this poll was that Kerry had a clear advantage over Bush as the candidate who was more honest and trustworthy--a characteristic key to Bush's win in 2000 when the country was suffering from Clinton fatigue.
This could work in several ways. It suggests many people might be more receptive to Kerry's message than to Bush's, and more likely to downplay or ignore Bush's attacks.
The issue of truthfulness is already in play in this campaign, and it's working against Bush. About half the country--48 percent--say Bush "intentionally misled the American public" on links between Iraq and al Qaeda
Kerry, though, has a related problem. He's viewed by some as being a "flip-flopper"--someone who changes his mind on issues in order to get momentary political advantage. Bush already has used that in ads against Kerry. Expect more of the same in the coming months.
Des Moines, Iowa:
Are there any polling organizations that take the electoral college into consideration when the do their polls? As we know, a candidate can have a majority, but still lose. Seems like state by state polling would be much more reliable as a predictor.
Richard Morin & Claudia Deane: Gallup has studied this issue and their findings are instructive. They have found that national polls track very closely with the winner of the electoral college, meaning that who's ahead in the last national polls nearly always wins the election. As you know, the electoral college tends to exaggerate the winner's margin by its winner-take-all format. So state polling would provide a better estimate of the winner's share of the electoral college but would wildly overstate the share of the popular vote the winner received.
About Washington Post Polls: Margin of Error
Ralph Nader announced yesterday that he has chosen
respected California Green Peter Camejo as his running mate.
This choice will certainly increase the likelihood of a Green
Party endorsement for Nader -- giving him ballot access in
nearly two dozen states (including my own state of
How will this impact the race between Bush and Kerry?
Your two previous polls -- April 15-18 & May 20-23 --
broke down the question regarding support for Nader by
party affiliation. The April poll revealed that 5 percent of
Democrats, 2 percent of Republicans and 15 percent of independents
supported Nader. The results from the May poll were
Dem. 6 percent, Rep. 3 percent and Ind. 11 percent, respectively.
What were Nader's results by party in the most recent poll
released yesterday? Do you have any comments on how
Nader's source of support may be shifting or do you
observe any other related trends?
Richard Morin & Claudia Deane: Here are Nader's party breaks: Ralph currently is supported by 6 percent of all self-described Democrats, 1 percent of all Republicans and 12 percent of all independents. More evidence, we think, as to why Nader is hurting Kerry more than Bush. You still paying attention, Ralph?
What is the the reason for Kerry having a much stronger appeal to women voters than Bush?
Richard Morin & Claudia Deane: He's taller and cuter?
This is a trend in recent American elections dating back to Ronald Reagan: Women are more likely to support the Democratic candidate, men are more likely to support the Republican. Actually, the gender gap is caused more by men abandoning the Democrats than by women embracing them. But that's another story.
One explaination is that women are more likely to see certain domestic issues such as health care and education as important to their vote, and Democrats have, in the past, stressed these issues.
Richard Morin & Claudia Deane: That was fun! See you again soon. And keep following the polls.
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