Monday, February 27, 2006

Most polls say a majority of registered voters would vote Democrat if the congressional elections were held today, but a new independent polling analysis now finds that Republicans could lead among people who actually vote.

The CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll reported last week that the Democrats led Republicans among registered voters in the generic congressional survey by 50 percent to 43 percent, a seven-point margin that could give Democrats enough victories to take control of the House, if their supporters participate in November’s elections.

But a deeper analysis of these numbers by David W. Moore for the Gallup Poll said, “It is likely many voters will not do so” because turnout among registered voters tends to be lower than that among “likely voters” who say they plan to vote and usually do.

In his analysis, Mr. Moore writes that Gallup’s “experience over the past two midterm elections, in 1998 and 2002, suggests that the [registered voters] numbers tend to overstate the Democratic margin by about 10 percentage points.”

“Given that Democrats currently lead by seven points, that could mean that among people who will definitely vote, Republicans actually lead by three to four points,” he said.

Republican election strategists long have maintained the so-called generic numbers, in which voters are asked which party they will support in the elections, without mentioning a specific candidate, skew in favor of the Democrats.

Mr. Moore’s admission about past generic polls of registered voters is rare, coming from a major polling organization, Republican campaign strategists said last week.

“It’s an amazing, very rare admission. Republican pollsters have argued for the last couple of decades that the generic congressional polls always overstate the Democrats’ participation,” said Wes Anderson, a pollster with OnMessage Inc, a Republican polling and media firm.

“There are two distinct universes in polling, people who are registered and people who vote. So If you are not polling people who are likely to vote, who have a history of voting, you are going to misread the electorate,” Mr. Anderson said.

Nevertheless, Mr. Anderson said, “If the election were held today, it looks like Democrats will make marginal gains, but their hope of taking the House or Senate is a pretty long shot.”

Independent congressional election trackers think the pessimistic mood of the country favors the Democrats this year, pointing to increased voter disapproval of Congress, the lobbying scandal, the war in Iraq, economic issues and, now, possibly an Arab-owned company being allowed to run terminal operations at six major U.S. ports.

“Democrats still have the potential for major gains (even taking the House), but their current prospects are somewhat lower,” political analyst Stuart Rothenberg told his newsletter clients earlier this year. He is predicting Democratic House gains of from four to eight seats.

“We’ve seen a bit of a turnaround [for Republicans], but history says that in the second term of a sitting president that this will be a tough midterm election for the party running the White House,” Mr. Anderson said.

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