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On Wednesday morning, Democrats were buoyed by the new polling data released by AP (and conducted by their longtime polling partners at GfK). The numbers, to the eyes of Dems, were almost too good to be true: 60% job approval, 53% re-elect, and the best right track/wrong track numbers in years.

It didn't take long for some number-crunchers on the right to insist that, indeed, the numbers were too good to be true. Case in point, the resident horserace analyst over at The National Review, Jim Geraghty:

46 percent [in the poll's sample] identify as Democrat or leaning Democrat, 29 percent identify as Republican or leaning Republican, 4 percent identify as purely independent leaning towards neither party, and 20 percent answered, “I don’t know.”

For contrast, the AP’s immediate preceding poll was 45 percent Democrat, 33 percent Republican; the likely-voter pool in October 2010 was 43 percent Democrat, 48 percent Republican. The poll’s total sample in October 2010 split 43 percent Democrat, 40 percent Republican.

With a poll sample that has a 17-percentage-point margin in favor of the Democrats, is anyone surprised that these results look like a David Axelrod dream?

Does Geraghty have a point? Yes...and no.

Without question, a seventeen-point spread on the question of partisan identification, in either direction, would demonstrate considerably less parity than we typically expect in American political polling. Democrats have historically enjoyed a narrow edge on the issue of party ID (even in the absolutely abysmal 2010 midterms, where the Democratic base stayed home in droves, the party ID of that electorate was evenly split). However, Democratic advantages to the tune of seventeen percent are, to put it charitably, unusual.

The problem is, when analyzing a polling sample for potential tea leaves, party ID might be one of the least reliable ways to do so. Anyone who has ever read the comments section of any political website (including this one), in the midst of a major news event, knows that a pretty sizeable share of the electorate can shed their partisan identification, or reapply it, with astonishing ease. In a time when the President is enjoying a lift, it's not surprising that more voters are willing to identify with his party. Conversely, in a time when there is a wave of discontent in the ranks of the GOP, it is not surprising to see fewer people self-identify with the party.

What's more: AP goes out of its way to press Independents to get off the fence and pick a side. So, Independents are a MUCH smaller proportion in this poll (4%!) than they are in any other poll of recent vintage. Normally, this means elevated numbers for Republicans and Democrats (which split 43-40 in the AP/GfK poll in October 2008).

Why were the Republican numbers not elevated in this poll (indeed, this is fewer Republicans than have been noted in an AP poll in three years)? The answer may very well be the Teabaggers. A startlingly high 20% of respondents said that they "don't know" their partisan affiliation. It's likely that these folks are those self-same teabaggers who espouse all things right-wing, but cannot bring themselves to call themselves Republicans.

By other metrics, that are quite a bit more stable, this is a pretty fair sample. If it tilts left, it is only by a small measure.

Take, for example, ideology. A look at the complete poll (PDF) shows that the sample is 23% liberal and 38% conservative. That is a net edge of 15 points to the conservatives. That actually strikes a pretty decent midpoint between the 2010 exit polls (where the split was 20/42, or Conservative +22) and the 2008 exit polls (where the split was 22/34, or Conservative +12).

Looking at other demographic details: the AP/GfK poll is only slightly less white (71%) than either the 2008 or 2010 exit polls, but there are pretty sizeable differences on income (only 15% identified their income as over $100K, compared to roughly a quarter of voters in 2008 and 2010) and age (this sample skewed quite young).

Given that younger and less wealthy voters historically would be among the Democratic base (although perhaps a bit less so recently), those would tweak the numbers a bit. But the key words here may well be "a bit."

Democrats would probably be doing themselves a disservice to presume, from this single political snapshot, that all is well with the electorate. But Republicans would be equally misguided to look at one demographic detail in the poll, declare it an invalid document, and presume that their own electoral viability is still assured.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Saw something on Raw Story that was alarming (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    phrogge prince, drmah, Subterranean

    Seemed to suggest that Jeb Bush would get into the race for POTUS.  Someone please tell me this is not true!

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Thu May 12, 2011 at 07:02:51 PM PDT

  •  Lots of noted variables and all, and (0+ / 0-)

    most of them noteworthy.  But one thing I think is true:  unless some Republican contender comes out of the woodwork, Obama is going to be our next President.

    And I don't think Jeb Bush is the answer, not this next election.

  •  C'est vrai (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Democrats would probably be doing themselves a disservice to presume, from this single political snapshot, that all is well with the electorate. But Republicans would be equally misguided to look at one demographic detail in the poll, declare it an invalid document.

    If you lose your disc or fail to follow commands, you will be subject to immediate de-resolution. That will be all.

    by SpamNunn on Thu May 12, 2011 at 07:10:27 PM PDT

  •  perhaps all it signifies is polling volatility /nt (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I am off my metas! Präsidentenelf-maßschach; Warning-Some Snark Above join the DAILY KOS UNIVERSITY "Nous sommes un groupuscule" (-9.50; -7.03)

    by annieli on Thu May 12, 2011 at 07:15:49 PM PDT

  •  Numbers are Accurate (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Given OBL, there are significantly more Dems today than there were three weeks ago, and the poll reflects it.

    That said, in one year, OBL will be a footnote, just as GHWB's victory was an asterisk in 1992, after reaching a 90% approval level in 1991.

    Dems need to ensure that the economy is firing on most cylinders come next year.  And they need to do something about the FICA 2% tax hike that, absent congressional action, jumps next January.

    That would be about a 1,000 tax hike per worker in an election year.

    Learn about Centrist Economics, learn about Robert Rubin's Hamilton Project.

    by PatriciaVa on Thu May 12, 2011 at 07:20:56 PM PDT

    •  OBL will be long forgotten by this time next year (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      The issue will be the economy.  

      •  So true (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Obama got a little bump up in most polls and the AP poll was an anomaly.  The big bump the AP poll seems to be an outlier and certainly does not show up in other recent polls.

        Obama got such a small bump up in most polls that it is likely that the economy is, right now, the big, big issue -- destined to loom larger as the months pass.

        This is why a Republican candidate such as Trump or Romney could beat Obama soundly in 2012. The bin Ladin story is going to die an early death despite the attempts of the administration to keep it on the front burner. It's all about jobs, jobs, jobs.

        •  How small is "such a small bump" (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          The BigotBasher

          Going to Real Clear Politics  to find Obama approve/disapprove polls before and after

          Gallup Gained 11
          5/11 - 5/13    48    45    +3
          4/13 - 4/15    41    49    -8

          Rasmussen Reports    Gained 4
          5/11 - 5/13    48    51    -3
          4/13 - 4/15    46    53    -7

          Reuters/Ipsos    Gained 5
          5/5 - 5/9     49    47    +2
          4/7 - 4/10     46    49    -3

          Associated Press/GfK  Gained 13
          5/5 - 5/9           60  39    +21
          3/24 - 3/28   53  45    +8

          Pew Research    Gained 9
          5/5 - 5/8     50    39    +11
          3/30 - 4/3    47    45    +2

          Quinnipiac Gained 18
          5/2 - 5/3         52    40    +12
          3/22 - 3/28    42    48    -6

          CBS News/NY Times Gained 19
          5/2 - 5/3       57     37    +20
          4/15 - 4/20  46     45    +1

          CNN/Opinion Research Gained 11   
          5/2 - 5/2      52    43    +9
          4/9 - 4/10  48    50    -2

          The two most recent ones Washington Post involved in (with different partners) Gained 21
          5/2 - 5/2      56      38    +18
          4/14 - 4/17  47      50    -3

          So having bumps of 4, 5, 9, 11, 11, 13, 18, 19, 21 I am pretty damn sure that AP bump of 13 is not the outlier.
          60 is highest approval rating but close enough to the 56 and 57 to not be an outlier either, just highest

          Which does not mean he wins, just means I have no idea what you were basing your claim on.

          Or this

          The bin Ladin story is going to die an early death despite the attempts of the administration to keep it on the front burner.

          I don't know what to say or even ask.
          The going to NY thing and later the military base?
          Not releasing picture?
          Letting additional info be release from cache they gathered? So should they release none or wait until every bit of the "small library" is translated and release what they will all at once?

          Or is it that the media and comedians keep talking about it?

          What offends you?

    •  No doubt the economy will be the biggest (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bythesea, becxx

      issue, but I wouldnt call the death of OBL footnote, like the Desert Storm victory was for Bush. I think the killing of OBL has more emotional significance for Americans than the victory in Desert Storm, and I think it definitely boosts Obama on a lot of leadership type questions. That will have some impact on the election.

      •  Im not so sure (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Many people dont feel that Bin Laden's death is that big of a deal, especially the ones who I talk to.  

        •  Either wishful thinking (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          or your friends are not a representative sample.

          •  Everyone knew he would be killed sooner or later (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            By this time next year nobody is going to care about that, just like nobody cared that Carter brought Isreal and Egypt together in 1980 or how nobody cared about Bush's Gulf War victory in 1992.  Im sorry to say this, but its how politics work.  People have very short memories.

            •  I just dont think the comparison is valid (0+ / 0-)

              Again, no doubt the economy will be the #1 issue, and if people arent feeling good about that, Obama loses, probably to any Republican. But I think his death definitely resonates in an emotional way, given the 9/11 attacks. That's not the same thing as a peace treaty or even a victory in war, like Desert Storm.

  •  They oversampled young people (0+ / 0-)

    versus other polling.  Most of the PPP state polling has been running substantially below the 2008/2004 turnout for voters 18-29.  

    This poll has 21% between 18-29 versus 18% in 2008 and 17% in 2004.  The 2010 exit poll has 12% between 18-29, and 43% between 45 and 64 and 17% over 65.  This poll has 24% between 50 and 64 and 17% over 65.

    The question lurking beneath much of the polling, and mostly ignored, is when marginal voters turn into likely voters.  Clearly if you look at PPP's state polling, the electorate they are finding now is almost the same as the 2010 electorate.  And yet we know that between now and November 2012 the young will increase as a % of the overall electorate, and this will help Democrats.  in this sense the polling currently understates probable Democratic support.

    In my research I am VERY surprised how little work has been done as to the timing of when marginal voters in off year cycles become certain voters in Presidential years.  Chris Bowers made similar point in early 2010.  We know certian groups don't come out in off year elections, and DO vote in presidential elections.

    There is precious little data into why this happens, and when this changes.

    The bitter truth of deep inequality has been disguised by an era of cheap imported goods and the anyone-can-make-it celebrity myth - Polly Toynbee

    by fladem on Thu May 12, 2011 at 07:32:03 PM PDT

  •  Nay-sayers of left and right will never give Obama (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    a chance. The Pollsters will be disaappointed for the people who actually go into the voting booth will make the final decision.  That's so hard for pollster to understand.  

  •  It's an outlier (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    It doesn't take a brain surgeon, or a statistician, to see that these numbers do not look like the others. Refuting it, or supporting it, is a waste of time.

    "This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected." - Barack Obama (3.18.08)

    by lapis on Thu May 12, 2011 at 07:44:38 PM PDT

  •  Norming by Party ID (0+ / 0-)

    As you (Steve Singiser) note, norming by party identification is always unreasonable.  When discussing the generic congressional ballot it is insane.  

    The questions which party do you identify with and which party do you want to control congress are practically identical.  

    Geraghty just assumes that the Republicans can't have destroyed themselves by voting to end Medicare as we know it.  He presents no evidence not in the top line of the poll.

    Now of course the average of several polls is less noisy than any one poll.  The AP/GFK sample probably happened to be more Democratic than the population.  The evidence is that other recent polls are different.

    OK a hobby horse.  It seems that standard practice is to drop polls (not pollsters) because they are "outliers."  The justification is that, due to sampling error, polls are different from the population and some are very different.  

    This is an error.  One might improve one's pooled forecast by evaluating the reliability of pollsters, but for given polling procedure the best estimate is obtained by averaging over all polls.  This is true if the null that one poll is not different from the others can be rejected.  

    The proof that the best estimate of the population frequencies using different random samples which are collected the same way is the simple average is extremely elementary.  It does depend on the normality of disturbances due to sampling.

  •  I think polling has jumped the proverbial shark (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Of course this AP poll is an outlier. But so what? It's just another meaningless number.

    The Beltway media spend more time on polls than they do on actual reporting. Instead of explaining policy, they give poll numbers. Instead of explaining how a law would work, they give poll numbers. Instead of calling out a speaker for telling an obvious lie, they give poll numbers.

    After Obama's poll numbers went up after Osama bin Laden was killed, there actually was a poll that asked people, "do you think Obama's poll numbers will go down?"'

    Really? Now they're polling about polling?

  •  oooops (0+ / 0-)

    I see the poll was approval of Democrats and Republicans in congress not voting intentions.  My mistake.  Still it is about the same thing as party identification and the Democrats stomped.

    to lapis I note that averages including outliers have  lower mean squared deviation from the population average than averages tossing them under certain conditions.  Basically if you have reason to think the pollster is systematically way off, then it makes sense to ignore their polls (cough Rasmussen cough).  If a poll is extreme just because of sampling error it is better (in mean squared error) not to drop it.

    In any case, the sensible procedure is to consider dropper a pollster not one poll.  Also, it is usually better to weight polls from a pollster less rather than drop them entirely.

    But "they must have picked a Democratic samply by pure chance" is not a reason to downweight or drop a poll.  This is a mathematical result.  It isn't controversial among people who know statistics and it isn't even very arguable in the case of sampling where disturbances actually are understood and are normal.

    Or to put it another way, do what Steve Sigiser and Nate Silver do and don't trust any pundit over 50 (most people that old are innumerate -- I am over 50).

  •  Show's you how many republicans lie (0+ / 0-)

    to hide that they are republicans.  There are more then 29% republicans out there.  

  •  Someone explain why "Conservative" is still good? (0+ / 0-)

    If nearly half identify with the Democrats or lean that way, why do most voters identify themselves as conservatives, even in a year that Democrats had a landslide win?

    What accounts for the continued appeal of this idea/label?

    Clearly, people's leanings are more liberal than their self-identification. So, why do people still want to imagine they're conservative, when they're really not?

    Coming Soon -- to an Internet connection near you:

    by FischFry on Thu May 12, 2011 at 10:20:49 PM PDT

    •  the word "liberal" (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      is attached to black people and all things associated with being black - crime, welfare state, medicaid...etc. The word "conservative" means I ain't black and I don't support them black folks getting over.
      I'm black and that's what I take from it since Reagan.

      "This country was founded on compromise. I couldn't go through the front door at this country's founding" - President Barack Obama

      by AAMOM on Fri May 13, 2011 at 03:43:49 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  It's (0+ / 0-)

      branding. Liberal is in the process of being rebranded but many people associate the word with Carter and McGovern.

      It's the policy stupid

      by Ga6thDem on Fri May 13, 2011 at 05:15:30 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  zombie lie (0+ / 0-)

    "the democratic base stayed home in droves in 2010", will it never die? it was the mushy center staying home, and independents switching back to R after being let down by the Ds. exit polling showed that active Dems voted for Dems

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