Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Likely Voter Scam

I just wanted to take this time to once again state my belief that the demise of the Democratic majority in both the House and Senate are greatly exaggerated.  For as much as there is an enthusiasm gap between the parties, which is something I find undeniable, I not only believe the gap will be far less significant on Election Night, but I think it's actually masking how things look right now.

And a big part of this is on the role that polls play on Election Day.  There's this theory that says it's all about momentum, and polls give momentum to a candidate.  And for as much as I think there is some momentum effect at play in every election, I think this effect is grossly overstated. 

Because frankly, I just don't see too many people voting for a candidate merely because polls say he's popular.  As if someone checks the Gallup poll one morning and decides "Hey, this Obama guy's beating McCain by two points.  I think I'll support him," with enough people doing that so that Obama's lead grows by a few percentage points.  That sounds insane to me.  And if anything, any such effect can easily be offset by complacency, where by a voter might not show up because he thinks it's a slamdunk; while the underdog's voter might show up, because he thinks it's needed.

And if nothing else, the momentum of polls is a very ill-understood topic, of which I doubt there is much serious research.  For as much as I think polls are useful, it's merely to identify where the momentum is; not to change it.  And if anything, I think it has more to do with convincing people to donate money to candidates who poll well.  Lobbyist-types are likely to give more to the guy who looks like he'll win, while regular donors are more likely to give to a candidate who has a chance of winning, but still needs the dough.  And that sort of thing can have a real effect on an election. 

But this Likely Voter polling stuff by itself isn't really going to tell us much, beyond making political junkies have their equivalent of a minor Christmas morning every time they read a poll they like.

My Theory of Polls

And beyond momentum, a poll more than two weeks before an election is fairly worthless.  Not that polls are so bad, but it's the "Likely Voter" issue that makes them so worthless.  Yes, Tea Partiers have more enthusiasm than most Democratic voters and they're likely to say that they'll vote than Democrats will.  So what?  That doesn't make it true. 

And if anything, I'd gladly bet that the opposite is true: Angry Tea Partiers who won't vote are more likely to tell pollsters they will, while complacent Democrats will say they don't know if they'll vote, but will.  And that's just got to be correct.  There will always be people who say they'll vote, but won't; and that group will most assuredly lean conservative for this election.  And there will naturally be people who aren't sure if they'll vote, but will; and that group will lean Democratic.  That just makes sense.  And with more urgency on the Democratic side, and more confidence on the Republican side, that'll just happen more.

Because seriously, here's what should happen: The Unions and traditional Democratic base will give a full-court press the week before the election and convince their supporters that this is do-or-die; particularly two days before the election.  This is it, and if they ever supported Obama and his agenda, this is the time to support it.  And that's most certainly true.  2008 was very important, but things are even more important now that we've got everything on the line.  Failure is simply not an option.  And these people will show up in large numbers to vote straight-ticket Democrat; not because they're enthuasastic about the people they're voting for, but because it's better than the alternative.

And in the end, we might lose a few seats, but we could possibly gain a few. But I just don't see the tidal wave giving Republicans the House and/or Senate.  That's been my prediction for most of this year and I'm sticking to it.

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