Of our perception of the political landscape

What would be our sense of the midterm landscape if Research 2000 and Quinnipiac released as many polls as Rasmussen does?

This question is not meant to denigrate Rasmussen. I am not dismissing his results by pointing out that his polls represent a set of assumptions that are on the GOP-friendly end of the spectrum of possible turnout patterns and partisan breakdown, whereas Research 2000 appears to be using assumptions that result in more favorable results for Democrats and whereas the model used by a group like Quinnipiac makes its results fall somewhere in the middle. Case in point: Quinnipiac’s new Ohio poll finds Governor Ted Strickland leading 44% to 39% while Rasmussen has him trailing by the sort of decisive margins an incumbent rarely recovers from.

Another case-in-point is Illinois. A new Research 2000 poll finds very positive numbers for Democrats, with Alexi Giannoulias leading Mark Kirk 43% to 36% and Governor Pat Quinn up by double-digits against the two Republicans who are fighting over who won the February 5th primary (46-35 against Kirk Dillard, 47-32 against Bill Brady). These numbers are almost hard to believe, but it’s unclear why that would be: Three independent polls of the Kirk-Giannoulias match-up have been released over the past month. One had Kirk leading 46-40 (Rasmussen) while the two others had Giannoulias up outside of the margin of error (Research 2000 and PPP). In short: The conventional wisdom that has emerged of a front-running Kirk and a struggling Giannoulias is certainly not backed by a polling consensus.

The problem arises not from different pollsters’ differing assumptions but from Rasmussen amazingly prolific rhythm: The pollster typically tests half-a-dozen states a week, whereas no more than two for PPP and at most one for Research 2000, Quinnipiac, Mason-Dixon or Suffolk. This has led to a situation in which the Rasmussen model of what the fall electorate will look like is dominating our understanding of the political landscape.

This is especially true in states that few if any other polling firms test. Indeed, in states that are often polled by a variety of pollsters (say New York, Connecticut, Nevada, Florida and North Carolina), we can confront Rasmussen’s findings to those of other surveys and thus avoid relying on a single poll. For instance, a new Rasmussen poll released today has Senator Richard Burr in a very solid position. Without dismissing his take on the race, we are well-served by being able to compare his numbers to those PPP released earlier this week, which had Burr looking more vulnerable.

The situation is very different in a state like Wisconsin: As far as I can see, the only non-Rasmussen poll that has been released over the past 6 months testing the Governor’s race and Russ Feingold’s vulnerability is a PPP survey dating back from November which showed Democrats in a strong position. That makes our view of Wisconsin’s political situation far more dependent on Rasmussen than is healthy. The same is true of Colorado, which only Rasmussen and Research 2000 have tested since September; the two have found very contradictory results as to Michael Bennett’s vulnerability, but since R2000 visited the state only once whereas Rasmussen has released four polls, we have grown more used to seeing Bennet in a catastrophic situation. This phenomenon is perhaps most consequential in Missouri, which no pollster but Rasmussen has tested since mid-November.

Once again, none of this is meant to suggest Rasmussen is distorting its numbers or that his polls are unreliable; after all, in many of these states (starting in Missouri) not only Rasmussen’s raw numbers but also his trendline have shown bad news for Democrats. The point is that no individual poll provides a reliable snap-shot of the electorate, Rasmussen no more than others, and that we should keep this in mind when commenting on the landscape in places like Wisconsin and Missouri.

The usual full polling round-up will come tomorrow morning.

10 Responses to “Of our perception of the political landscape”

  1. 1 Patrician

    Rasmussen was tied with Pew for the most accurate prediction of the 2008 presidential results. Casting doubt on his polling methods would be a mistake. The important thing is trend lines and pollsters other than Rasmussen do not poll often enough to give a true picture of the trend.

  2. 2 Cicero

    Comparing Rasmussen 2008 with Rasmussen 2010 is like comparing apples and oranges. I’m saying this as an Indy that has no loyalties to either party. Scott Rasmussen is a darn good pollster, probably the best in the business. That is why this skeptical observer is puzzled on why he’s gone of the ledge of recent. Rasmussen’s models have been inept this election cycle. He continuously has oversampled Republicans, undersampled Democrats, and have found a bigger than normal discrepancy among Indies.

    I don’t trust Rasmussen. If you want to believe his numbers, than go ahead. His models are inconsistent, and his methodology is wrong.

  3. 3 Nathan

    Rasmussen’s models have been inept this election cycle. He continuously has oversampled Republicans, undersampled Democrats, and have found a bigger than normal discrepancy among Indies.

    I don’t understand how you can possibly make this judgment until after the 2010 elections. Oversampled and undersampled, compared to what baseline?

  4. 4 Cicero

    Nathan, you must get your hands dirty and dig deeper. Do some comparison testing between the 2004/2006/2008/2010 election cycles. There will be a lull in the 2010 elections for the Democrats because of several failures within the Obama administration, but Rasmussen has made wild swings in his models that are simply inaccurate. Rasmussen used to be a very credible pollster, but their conclusions for 2010 is total hogwash.

  5. 5 Nathan


    Against what standard do you judge wild swings in turnout models, to determine that they are “simply inaccurate” and “total hogwash?” If they are simply inaccurate, then it shouldn’t be too hard to explain.

    I understand that his model is different this year than in the past, but it’s not some kind of gut feeling, it’s am empirical model using broad-based polling to estimate turnout in different demographic and ideological groups. Are you just declaring it wrong because it doesn’t fit your intuition? I’m not saying he’s necessarily right, and I agree with Taniel that we should look at more than one pollster, but your denunciations need some kind of foundation.

    To accurately forecast the 2008 election, a pollster would have needed a radically different turnout model than they had for previous cycles. This could happen again in 2010. Big changes in turnout happen sometimes.

  6. 6 Cicero

    Nathan, chill out. I’m saying that Rasmussen had a great track record in years past, but his models for this cycle are generally not correct. As I have said before, if you compare the numbers from 2004/2006/2008, you will see that Rasmussen has used numbers that are much more Republican friendly for 2010 than for any other cycle.

    Review Rasmussen’s track record. He’s a solid pollster, not two ways around it…until this year. Get your hands dirty, look at the numbers, compare it with other pollsters. Ras has missed the ball.

  7. 7 Nathan

    You’re ignoring the rather substantial possibility that 2010 may actually be much more Republican friendly for 2010 than for any other cycle.

    There’s no need to get my hands dirty. I accept your statement of the numbers, that Rasmussen’s numbers are unusually GOP-friendly. I don’t accept your assumption that a correct turnout model for 2010 should be similar to a correct turnout model for 2004, 2006, or 2008. That could be true, but the contrary thesis is hardly “hogwash.” We won’t be able to judge this until November.

  8. 8 Nathan

    Haha…I should edit better (or at all). Hope my meaning is clear, that first sentence notwithstanding.

  9. 9 Cicero

    I’m taking in consideration that 2010 will not be a “Democratic” year, but it’s not necessarily will be a Republican year. The Republicans have done little, if anything, to hurt the Democrats. The Democrats have created their own monsters. The Republicans have a major problem within its own base. A good portion of the base identifies themselves with the Tea Party movement, and the Tea Party movement consists of many former Republicans that no longer trust the Republican party because of their spending habits under the Bush Administration. Luckily for the Republicans, the voters tend to have small memories. Rasmussen’s models have molded the Republican and the Tea Party movement together, and that’s really not the case. After the Republican primaries we will see many of the Tea Party activists be less than wary to support the Republican nominee, and then we will see a lack of energy within the Republicans. If the Republicans are going to take advantage of the Democrats failures since the last election, they need to realize there is a gap between the old Republican base and the Tea Party group. They should try to bridge the gap so the Tea Party movement can come back and support the Republican candidates once the Tea Party candidates are defeated in the primary. If the Republicans don’t do that, the Tea Party movement will likely build additional momentum, start a true third party that will siphon off Repubican votes in 2012. If that happens, the US will be stuck with Obama until 2016.

    Rasmussen has really overestimated the Republican strength. The Tea Party movement should not be counted to near the extent that Rasmussen has listed. If anything, the Indies should be increased considerably, and the Democrats, once this administration does something credible like the last jobs bill, you will see the Democrats pick up momentum. I’m starting to believe that the Republicans will only pick up 4-5 seats in the Senate, and maybe as many as 20 seats in the House. Even those numbers may be overly optimistic.

  10. 10 Ron

    Cicero, you sound somewhat similar to me in your politics right now. I dont like Obama and will likely support a Republican over him in 2012, but find the idea of Republicans controlling Congress absolutely frightening. These are people that would cut spending by 10% in a recession and have you seen their budget proposal? It would essentially wipe out Social Security and Medicare.

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