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Abramowitz: OMG! GOP Up by 7 in Gallup Tracking Poll

Topics: Gallup , Generic House Vote , Interpreting polls , Likely Voters

Alan I. Abramowitz is the Alben W. Barkley Professor of Political Science at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. He is also a frequent contributer to Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball.

If you heard a loud thump on Monday afternoon it just may have been the sound of worried Democrats hitting the panic button. That's when the latest Gallup weekly tracking poll was released and it showed Republicans with their largest lead yet on the generic ballot--7 points. It's the third consecutive week that Republicans have had a significant lead--following a 5 point lead two weeks ago and a 6 point lead last week. And that's among all registered voters, not just those likely to vote in November. Once Gallup begins screening for likely voters the GOP lead will almost certainly get larger since registered Republicans traditionally turn out at a higher rate than registered Democrats and this year Republicans are more enthusiastic about voting than Democrats.

But do Gallup's latest results actually mean that Republicans are likely to maintain a significant advantage on the generic ballot? Not necessarily. A closer examination of Gallup's weekly generic ballot data indicates that the current GOP advantage is likely to shrink over the next few weeks. In fact almost all of the week-to-week change in the standing of the parties appears to be due to random variation. There is little evidence of any real trend, at least so far.

Over the past 18 weeks, from April 12-18 through August 8-15, Republicans have received an average of 46% of the vote to 45% for Democrats on the generic ballot. There has been considerable week-to-week variation, from a 6 point Democratic lead only four weeks ago, to the current 7 point Republican lead, but no clear trend. Over this period, the correlation between the week of the survey and the size of the GOP lead is a very small and statistically insignificant .14.

Figure 1 displays both the week-to-week and the five week running averages for the Republican margin on the generic ballot between week 5 and week 14 of the Gallup weekly tracking poll. While the weekly average has shown considerable volatility, the five week running average has been fairly stable, fluctuating between a 2 point Democratic lead and a 2 point Republican lead with no clear trend.

The results in Figure 1 suggest that the weekly fluctuations in the generic ballot results are largely random. This conclusion is reinforced by the fact that there is a fairly large negative correlation of -.55 (p < .025) between the size of the GOP lead one week and the change in the size of that lead the next week. This means that the larger the GOP margin in a given week, the more that lead tends to shrink in the following week. These results again suggest that the week to week variation in the results is largely random.

Of course the fact that the current 7 point Republican lead on the generic ballot is likely to shrink doesn't alter the fact that Republicans are poised to make substantial gains in the midterm election. Even a tie on the generic ballot, given normal turnout patterns, is good news for the GOP. So while it may not be time yet for Democrats to hit the panic button, there is plenty of reason for them to be worried.

 

Comments
Mike E:

Yes, but in the pollster.com and realclearpolitics.com poll of polls, the average of a large number of polling results over time shows a clear trend toward the GOP.

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masanf:

And in order to keep up the charade that this Gallup poll is meaningless, no mention is made that at least 67% of generic ballot polls over the past few months have the GOP in the lead. But if the author of the above blurb wants to focus on one poll to the exclusion of all others in order to make his non-existent case and pretend that the GOP doesn't have a statistically significant lead, that is his prerogative.

For a site that seems to want to provide dispassionate analysis on the latest polling data, it always seems that the arguments presented invariably come down on one side, namely that polls showing GOP leads are untrustworthy, outliers or just trendless statistical noise. I don't ever recall seeing such skepticism towards polls favorable to Democrats. That is true even of polls that show Obama with am approval rating over 50%, something that everyone knows is complete garbage.

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Chantal:

Alan, seriously? Blumenthal wrote three articles on this issue a few weeks ago.

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CompCon:

This game of "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" is making these democrats look like complete fools. I have never seen "analysts" so desperate to dismiss virtually every poll, pretend that the trends don't show what they do, and predict that there is nothing to see here - move on.

The absolute desperation is almost making me feel sorry for how much pain the democrats are in - especially so soon after they predicted the death of the republican party. They thought they elected a god and put gods in charge of the house and senate. They are still in denial that the voters despise the democrats more now than anytime in the last century.

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