Friday, October 15, 2004

Polls. This year, you can't live with 'em and you can't live without 'em. Gallup used one to try to demoralize us with a fictional fourteen point spread, but even when the pollsters want to be honest, coming close to reality is trickier than ever. For one thing, participation in them is way down, probably in part because of caller i.d. Furthermore, pollsters don't call cell phones, and many young adults don't even have landlines anymore. But perhaps the slipperiest part of polling is deciding who the likely voters are. I think that in a number of ways polls have been off the mark in deciding how to answer that question and that several hidden factors favor Kerry.
First, races in which there is an incumbent are generally a referendum on the incumbent's record. Undecided voters, if they get to the polls at all, tend to favor the challenger. In this hotly contested election, a ton of those undecided voters will make it to the polls; and that may be good news for Kerry because Bush didn't do well enough in the debates to bring the undecideds into his own fold.
A second factor is that millions of new voters have been registered this year. No one really knows how many, but in Missouri alone, according to Kerry/Edwards State Director, Tony Wilson, independent groups have registered more than 150,000 new voters, mostly in highly Democratic areas. (A caveat here: How many of them are really new, and how many have just moved from out-of-state or moved within the state?) In any case, now that registration is over, America Coming Together and other such groups will work to contact these voters in order to educate them and urge them to vote. I don't want to overstate the case for the Dems, though. While the Republicans haven't registered as many as we have, they haven't exactly been napping. But either way, whether the newly registered are Dems or Republicans, the pollsters aren't interviewing these people.
Another factor as far as "new" voters goes is that the Kerry/Edwards campaign in Missouri has identified an additional 220,000 people who didn't vote in 2000 but who plan to vote this year--for Kerry. Remember, Gore only lost Missouri by 70,000 votes. Yesterday I called an acquaintance I haven't talked to for a couple of years. In 2002, she told me she basically doesn't vote because she can't make sense of all the charges and countercharges, but I figured that at heart she was a Dem if I could get her to the polling place. Coulda saved myself the trouble of calling. She is ALL fired up to vote against Bush. I wonder if the Kerry campaign counted Chris in its 220,000. She's definitely going to vote, but no pollster would ask her opinion because she'd be categorized as unlikely.
Washington Post columnist Terry M. Neal calls these unquantified aspects of the election a possible X Factor and points out that:
Anecdotal and quantitative evidence suggest that Democrats and independent groups that support Democrats have done a better job than Republicans at registering new voters in key battleground states. In a normal year, the difficulty in getting the newly registered to the polls might mitigate this advantage. But anti-Bush passions on the left are running exceedingly high, making it more likely that marginal voters -- people who rarely or never vote -- will turn out this year.
Here's a link to his column.
The last tricky factor in trying to gauge this election will be voter turnout. The way passions are running on both sides, it will probably be record breaking. Lefties are in high dudgeon over Bush's ruinous policies. If hate is more motivating than approval, Republicans might be in trouble. (Not that they don't hate liberals, though.) A political scientist on the panel of Mike Sampson's KWMU show, St. Louis On the Air, pointed out what Democrats have to do to win: turn out the same proportion of their base as the Republicans do. The professor took it as a given that there are more Democratic voters.
So. Will the Dems win? You don't really think anyone can answer that, do you? Just cross your fingers. Volunteer to canvass. Hope the Repugs don't succeed at too many of their dirty vote stealing tricks on The Day. It's gonna be a nailbiter.

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