Pollster Scott Rasmussen on the makeup of the recent Virginia Senate poll.
HH: To give us the overview of the political map, though, we begin tonight’s program this hour with Scott Rasmussen of the Rasmussen Reports. It is perhaps the most widely esteemed of the polling services. And Scott, welcome. It’s good to have you on.
SR: It’s great to be on your show.
HH: Scott, let’s start with something that…before we go to the horse race aspect of this stuff, because that will change a lot in the last three weeks, talk to me about methodology. What sample are you using in this odd, very unusual year for your national polls, and in the individual battleground states.
SR: Well, one of the issues that always comes up in an election poll is trying to estimate who’s going to turn out and vote. When we talk about a general poll of the adult population, that’s a fairly easy thing to do. We can…we have census data, we know what the general targets should be. But when you get into the question of likely voters, there’s all kinds of details that play out. One of the biggest issues is how you determine the likely turnout by partisan affiliation. What we tend to do at Rasmussen Reports is we do make adjustments for party affiliation, to make sure it reflects what we expect the sample to be, but we derive that information from ongoing survey research itself. So we are tracking some movement in the party affiliation, and by the way, the party movement this year has been all bad news for the Republicans, relatively speaking. In September of this year, the Democrats had a five point net advantage on party ID. In other words, there were 37% of the nation identified themselves as Democrats, just 32% said they were Republicans. Two years ago, as we prepared for Election 2004, the two parties were essentially even in September. So there has been a decline in the partisan affiliation of Republicans, and it’s playing out in races across the nation.
HH: Now that’s interesting, but I’m much more interested in terms of what you predict nationally will be Republican turnout, based upon your turnout model from 2004. What percentage of Republicans do you expect to vote this year, that voted in 2004?
SR: Well, and let me be clear, one of the things, and this is one of the great details of polling, and very important details, the turnout model, what we expect to happen, can’t be finalized until the final week of the campaign. And the reason for that is early in the year, we make some ballpark estimates on historic trends, and some other things. As we get a little bit closer to the point where we are right now, we asked some more questions about their likely participation in this year’s election, in addition to questions about their historic voting participation. We also ask questions about how closely they’re following the issues of the day. And those things will have an impact on the final model. In Election 2004, in the final several days of the campaign, there was a shift picked up. The Republican turnout increased a little bit. I think it was directly related to their get out the vote efforts. And those marginal voters helped push George Bush and the Republicans over the top.
HH: I understand the general, but for example, you just put out a new Virginia poll that shows that George Allen’s ahead by 3 points over James Webb.
HH: In that polling, what percentage were Republicans?
SR: In that polling, the percentage of Republicans and Democrats is just about even. It’s about 39% Republican, 39% Democrat, and the rest unaffiliated.
HH: You did an Ohio one as well, which has Sherrod Brown with a 5 point edge over DeWine. What percentage did you use there?
SR: And again, I don’t remember the exact numbers on that one, but they were very, very close. The Republicans and Democrats were even. Those were both states where the Republican turnout two years ago was higher than…the Republicans had about a four or five point edge in turnout two years ago. It appears to be about even right now. Having said that, though, and I just want to be clear on this one point, those numbers are the way it looks today, three weeks before election day. It may not look the same four or five days before the election.
HH: I agree, but I think this is what most of the public does not understand about polling, which is why rather than do horse racing, I wanted to explain it to them. You have to make an educated estimate as to what percentage you think the Republicans are going to show up on November 2nd, and the same for Democrats. Right now, you view Democrats as motivated as Republicans, and Republicans less motivated than they were in 2004. Is that a fair statement?
SR: That’s exactly right. And we also see, and this is another critical point, we also see that the number of people who identified themselves as Republicans has declined from 2004. They are not becoming Democrats, but there is an increase in the number of unaffiliated, that comes directly out of the Republican share of the electorate.
HH: Now if Virginia, for example, were to vote in the same numbers, Virginia Republicans were to vote in the same numbers as they did in 2004, would Allen win this thing going away?
SR: He would win by several more points than we have him up right now.
HH: And DeWine…
SR: And there’s another issue here, which comes into play, especially in Virginia, less so in Ohio, and that’s what I call political gravity. Some states, Virginia being a good example, have a lean in one direction or another. On balance, Virginia is going to lean to the Republican Party, and that means the closer we get to Election Day, as some of those undecided folks vote, they are more likely to vote for the Republican, to move in that direction, than the Democratic direction. In Ohio, because of the situation with Governor Taft, and the problems with the Republican Party statewide, it’s not clear that that same dynamic will play out.
HH: If the Republicans vote as they did, in the same numbers as they did in Ohio as they did in ’04 in three weeks, would DeWine win that race?
SR: He would be closer, but he would still be trailing in our polls.
HH: Oh really? So what’s he have to do?
SR: You know, the situation for DeWine, Santorum, Chafee and Burns, the four most vulnerable Republicans…
HH: Now Chafee’s not a Republican, but go ahead.
SR: (laughing) Okay. The four people most identified as Republicans…you know, the challenge that they all face is they’re in an electoral dynamic where the fundamentals are working against them. I think in the case of DeWine in Ohio, it is the easiest to suggest a course of action, and that is you have to convince Ohio voters that Brown is unacceptable, that he is too liberal for the State of Ohio. There is a storyline that can be told there, and I understand that a new media buy has just been place in Ohio. At this point, though, to win that race, it has to be by defining Brown negatively, rather than trying to bulk up DeWine’s support.
HH: Now where I am tonight, I’m talking with Scott Rasmussen, who is one of the country’s leading pollsters at www.rasmussenreports.com. It has a lot of the material available to you, though there is a premium membership if you want to get all the cross-tabs. I’m in Pennsylvania tonight, Santorum’s got this enormous machine. I mean, it’s extraordinary. Can he make up via GOTV, the gap that you’ve got him at right now?
HH: So he has to attack Casey again and again until Election Day?
SR: Right. And where Santorum is in trouble, you know, I think his situation is even more dire. Pennsylvania’s a Democratic leaning state to begin with. We have a situation right now where a plurality of Pennsylvania voters believe that the terrorists are winning the war on terror. There has been a complete loss of confidence in the effort there. It really, I think, takes either something that is far more miraculous than I can imagine as a campaign tactic by Santorum, or a gaffe by Casey, and it would have to be something pretty significant. Rick Santorum is in serious trouble.
HH: How about Conrad Burns?
SR: Conrad Burns is in trouble. He has been consistently behind. The Democrats, a year ago, defined him way in advance of the political season, as soon as the Abramoff scandal broke, they spent money on TV, took ten or fifteen points out of his support. I can’t quite write him off, mainly because Montana is a very Republican leaning state. And ironically, the more trouble other Republicans get in, the better off Burns might be, and that’s because if people in Montana go to the polls believing that the election of Jon Tester out there will lead to Democratic control of the Senate, that’s likely to cause them some second thoughts. On the other hand, if it was clear the Republicans were going to retain control, I think people in Montana are ready to dump Conrad Burns.
HH: Interesting kind of messaging that they have to go there…All right, Scott, to wrap up then, three weeks out, how much volatility in the electorate nationally?
SR: There’s a fair amount of volatility on particular issue, and particular topics. But largely, the electorate is set in terms of their overview of this election. It came out of the setting, really…in 2002, the Bush administration bet the presidency of George Bush and the future of the Republican Party on the situation in Iraq. That is perceived as a failure. While it is not the only issue in the campaign, it is the most significant issue, and it puts the Republicans at a disadvantage.
HH: Scott Rasmussen, always a pleasure. Thanks for joining us. Look forward to talking to you again before election rolls around.
End of interview.