- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 20, 2006

Pollsters are churning out a stream of voter surveys that show Republicans trailing by 10 percent or more in congressional elections, although they acknowledge these “generic” polls overstate the Democratic vote.

The Gallup Poll has been issuing similar survey results over several months that are drawn from what the pollsters call “generic ballots” that do not name the specific congressional candidates, but ask only which party voters will support when they go into the voting booth.

The latest USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted from April 7 to April 9, found that the Democrats lead Republicans by 52 percent to 42 percent among all registered voters surveyed. “The Democratic lead on this measure has been in the double digits in each of the last three Gallup Polls, starting in late February/early March,” wrote Gallup analyst Jeffrey M. Jones.

But Gallup and other election pollsters who conduct generic polls acknowledge that the turnout rate for registered voters is much less than it is for Americans who say they are “regular voters.” When Gallup polled a subgroup of people who say they vote on a regular basis, the Democratic lead fell to seven points, 51 percent to 44 percent.

This is the reason why Republican pollsters often complain that the results of generic surveys are tilted in favor of the Democrats and do not accurately reflect the partisan division among people who actually vote in their states and districts. It is a complaint that the Gallup Poll itself acknowledges in an analysis of its latest polling results.

“A review of historical generic ballot data shows that Democrats almost always lead on the generic ballot among registered voters, even in elections in which Republicans eventually win a majority of the overall vote for the House of Representatives,” Mr. Jones wrote.

The reason has to do with a different turnout for various groups of voters: registered voters, regular voters and, the most accurate of all, “likely voters.” Notably, “In midterm elections, fewer than half of eligible voters usually turn out to vote and Republicans are more likely to turn out than Democrats,” Mr. Jones said.

Such generic polling results, which are given broad distribution in newspapers throughout the country, have fed a growing public perception that Democrats are poised to make major gains in the House races this fall and could possibly win control of the House.

But election watchers who monitor the relatively small number of competitive House races that are up for grabs say that major gains will be an uphill climb for Democrats and a takeover is very unlikely.

“In the House, where Democrats need a net gain of 15 seats, only about three dozen are truly in play today. So far, 17 Republicans and 10 Democrats have announced their retirements. Ten of those Republicans serve in safe GOP districts, where Democrats stand little chance of winning,” writes veteran elections analyst Charlie Cook in the National Journal.

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