I feel like virtually every article I have recently written (last few months) is about how the polls are underestimating Republicans. This is based on solid polling misses from 2014 onward which have found numerous Republicans in competitive contests when they likely never were (2014, 2016, 2020 and yes, even 2018). For example, even while the generic ballot underestimated Democrats in 2018 the polls vastly overestimated them in Florida and Ohio Senate and Governor contests.
Historically, Republicans have gained ground in the generic and individual statewide polls after Labor Day. Part of this is due to most pollsters switching from Registered Voter samples to Likely Voter samples around this time. This year, that shift took place later, and the media ate it up to keep ratings high by continuing to talk 2022 like it is neck and neck (especially in the Senate).
But now, at least according to RCP, the dam is breaking on the generic ballot. A quick primer is likely in order. Since the disastrous Afghanistan pullout last year, Democrats had trailed in the generic ballot until the Summer by quite large margins. Then, the ballot shifted to a slight Democratic lead. The reasons why were sample biases to the Dobbs decision making abortion a galvanizing political issue to the GOP nominating polarizing candidates. But, now, all of a sudden it seems that has changed……
The GOP advantage is quite new from a couple of weeks ago and runs well ahead of where the GOP was in 2014 at this time. So, one has to ask, are the polls now overestimating Republican chances, especially in light of recent special election results and the party’s coalition shifts?
Well, maybe. There certainly was an abortion bounce for Democrats in the spate of special elections over the summer. But, that bounce came from specific areas in those districts (ie. highly urban and educated districts). In NY -19 for example, Pat Ryan ran up huge margins in the Ulster County which contains Kingston. But, he only ran one point better than Biden did in the district. The same occurred in MN – 1 where the Democrat ran up margins in Rochester but barely kept pace in rural areas (though rural turnout dropped).
It is also true the new GOP coalition, less educated, more rural, more multiracial, is actually less inclined to turn out for special elections than their college educated liberal brethren. Consider in the overly hyped NY – 19 special election, a total of 129,000 voters turned out on a day when the state’s Democratic primary was also ongoing, when over 200,000 turned out in 2020 and Trump lost the district by a point.
It is also true these voters are less likely to respond to polls and be more subject to polling bias which makes it harder for polls to capture them. This tends to exacerbate Democratic leads as a more liberal Republican sample means more cross-over voting which means a larger Democratic lead.
I have talked about this before admittedly. But there remains the possibility Likely Voter samples, which have different methods for screening the people less likely to vote out vs. a simple registered voter sample, being too strict. If that is true, or if the sample bias is actually pro – Republican (extremely unlikely), the generic ballot could be biased towards Republicans.
There are a couple counters to this though. In every national sample on the issues, Republicans are favored on the issues most important to voters – the economy and crime. In Gallup’s September survey of party ID Republicans actually OUTNUMBERED Democrats. Finally, in survey after survey in even marginal seats, Republicans are catching up. This suggests these are not one – offs but rather that systemically, it seems as the election gets closer voters are deciding to vote Republican.
Further, and most alarming for Democrats, when one drills back down into the 10 – 15 percent of undecided voters in swing states and the generic ballot, a solid majority disapprove of the President. Those same voters also favor Republicans on their legislative partisan preference, meaning they will likely break for the party out of power by a 2 – 1 margin, similarly seen in prior elections time and time again.
So, ultimately, while it is possible the polls are finally overestimating Republicans, it is more likely we are seeing a temporary bounce. The final polls are coming around in three weeks and we already have a glimpse of the result.
Just one example, in Florida Republicans are running ahead of their early vote numbers in 2020. While it is true this means they may be exhausting their Election Day vote, that is less of an issue in a state with more registered Republicans and voted for Trump by more than three points.