Podhoretz says warnings of coming electoral disaster for Republicans overblown

People are upset with Republicans not doing enough on issues such as illegal immigration, but do these people really believe that Democrats will be closer to what they want done. Hardly. The problem is that the Democrats in the Senate have been united in stopping legislation getting passed.

. . . The chief evidence Washington wise men are using to adduce an upcoming earthquake derives from some very unfavorable polling. President Bush's approval rating is only 37 percent, according to the Real Clear Politics average of all major polls. That's about the same number recorded for the GOP in the "generic ballot" question - where pollsters ask whether people intend to vote for a Republican or a Democrat, without offering a candidate's name.

Plus, the "right track-wrong track" numbers - based on whether people say the country is on the right or wrong track - are running nearly 70 percent against the current direction.

But there are real questions about the validity of this kind of polling, not only as window on coming events, but also as a political indicator altogether. First, there's the question of who is being polled. Midterm elections feature very low turnout - nationally, somewhere around 30 percent. Those are very committed voters, what pollsters call "likely voters."

It's very expensive and very difficult to try and poll only "likely voters" during a non-presidential election, and most polling firms don't even bother. Most polls this year don't even screen for people who describe themselves as "registered voters."

So these polls may reflect real public anger, but they're highly questionable as a gauge for what voters will do.

Also, polling firms seem unable to correct a persistent bias in favor of Democrats. "There has been a long-term tendency for Democrats to do better on this generic ballot question than they in fact do at the polls, so considerable care is required in thinking about this number," notes Charles Franklin of the University of Wisconsin. "If a Democratic lead in the generic ballot were sufficient for control of the House, the Democrats would have won the House in five of the last six congressional elections, including 1994."

Franklin says unhesitatingly that the atmosphere is now very favorable to Democrats - and even that, if today's situation were analogous to elections before 1992, Republicans would surely lose control of the House. The size of the Democratic advantage in the generic ballot, even accounting for the bias, would once have been enough to flip lots of seats nationally - since it indicates that Democrats should get something like 6 percent more votes nationally in November than Republicans.

"From 1946-1992, a one-percentage point gain in the Democratic share of the national vote produced a gain of 8.2 [House] seats (and vice versa for Republicans)," Franklin writes. But: "Since 1994, a one-point gain in votes has produced a gain of only 1.9 seats."

There are indications as well that, as the elections approach, Republican politicians in contested Senate races are beginning to close the gap against their Democratic rivals and are receiving high personal approval scores. . . . .


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