Daily KOS takes a poll: Is the sky really falling on Democrats?

DKOS announced their 11/25/09 Research2000 weekly poll with a new question, and from the outcry across the blogosphere you’d think the Democrats are in big, big trouble. But a closer look at the data, rather than the KOS headline, shows quite the opposite. By any assessment, based on this poll it is the Republican Party that had better be scared.

The new question in the KOS/Research2000 poll is called “Voter Likelihood”:

QUESTION: In the 2010 Congressional elections will you definitely vote, probably vote, not likely vote, or definitely will not vote?

Steve Singiser writes the analysis, under this headline:

New Feature Paints Ugly 2010 Picture

The justification for this alarm supposedly rests on results showing a higher intent to participate on the part of Republicans and relatively less by Democrats. Aggregating the responses, always an iffy practice in and of itself, shows a claimed 81% participation by Republicans compared to 56% by Democrats:

Voter Intensity: Definitely + Probably Voting/Not Likely + Not Voting
Republican Voters: 81/14
Independent Voters: 65/23

In Singiser’s view, “The results were, to put it mildly, shocking.”

But why should the response to this question be shocking? Is it out of line with historical data? We don’t know, because this is the first time the question has been asked by this poll. Does it portend a trend of some sort? We don’t know, because this is the first time the question has been asked by this poll. Does it have any discernable meaning at all? No, it does not, because (say it with me) this is the first time the question has been asked by this poll and one of the cardinal rules of research is that a single data point is never meaningful. This is especially true for a single polling data point, and doubly especially true for a single polling data point asking about anticipated behaviors around an election that is still eleven months away.

Seriously, could anything be less meaningful?

But no matter, the headline and the analysis were invigorating enough to trigger an avalanche of angst on the Left and applause on the Right. Here are a few reactions – and “reactions” is the proper term – from the Left:

David Dayen, thoughtful and deliberate in his earlier manifestation at http://www.calitics.com/ Calitects, waxes wroth at his new slot in FDL:

Enthusiasm Gap Points To Crushing Democratic Defeat In 2010

Democrats face major trouble in the midterm elections because their base is completely unmotivated to vote…These numbers would probably be enough to destroy Democratic hopes in swing district and close Senate seats throughout the country…Until some tangible progress occurs, and on things that matter and not “entitlement reform” or some triangulating issue that will only piss off the base further, that enthusiasm gap will only expand heading into next November.

Steve Benin at Washington Monthly takes a calmer but still deeply concerned view:

The notion of an enthusiasm gap this year is not exactly new, but we haven’t seen numbers quite this stark until now. [ Because this is the first time the question has been asked by this poll?] The R2K/Daily Kos poll shouldn’t cause panic among Democratic leaders; it should serve as a wake-up call.

while the normally solid Booman breaks out in a sweat:

…things are going to be far worse than this [“this” being the Kos poll]. Contra Steve, I think panic is fully justified.

Meanwhile, the usually deliberate Digby gets caught up in the excitement:

This tracks with other recent polling that shows the Democratic base being very depressed. I suspect there are a lot of reasons for that, but it doesn’t portend well in a time of hysterical teabaggery. It’s especially dangerous when those who are easily spun about election returns will interpret this as the country making a sharp turn to the right (with the Democrats subsequently trampling each other in the teabag line) instead of a disappointed left, which is not the same thing at all.

The Democrats are very likely to lose seats simply because coat tails almost always fall off in the midterms. But it’s very bad news if the election is dominated by talk of rising conservatism, even if the congress is still in Democratic hands. However, if these numbers hold up, something very bad could happen that we don’t even want to think about — this radical rump GOP freakshow could wind up with subpoena power and a Democrat in the White House.

and Josh Marshal tells us that thinking with your gut trumps bothering with facts:

Everyone knows there’s an enthusiasm gap. You don’t even need a poll to tell you. You can feel it.

All together, it points to very, very rough seas in 2010.

while the “non-access” Obama-hater blogs claim “I told you so”:

Nobody could have predicted that throwing people under the bus would impact party loyalty.


Mark this day. It finally came.
…pretty devastating numbers….

For the really juicy stuff, wherein we are (with rare exception) repeatedly told it is all the fault of Obama and/or Pelosi and/or Reid and /or The Dems as a whole and /or “progressives” (always now lower case and in quotes for some reason), read through the comment threads here, here, here, here, and here. If the opinions voiced in the majority of these comments are truly the consensus of a Left that considers itself thoughtful, rational, reasonable and reality-based, one weeps for America. Indeed, for the whole world.

But is all this whoop and hurrah really justified by one set of responses to one question in one poll, a question that is being asked by this poll for the first time? Is there anything else in this poll that might shed further light on the state of mind in the American electorate, snapshot though it may be? Well yes there is. Lots of other data, actually, all of it with substantive historical context, and all of it points in quite a different direction.

The bulk of this poll asks, as it always does, about how the electorate views the two major parties. One set of questions asks opinions regarding individual people in leadership, including the President and leaders of Congress. Encouragingly for Democrats, Obama continues to be viewed much more favorably than not

kos 4

and while congress in general has a net negative approval, the overall opinions of Democratic leaders are much less negative than for Republicans. In a further encouraging sign, Pelosi’s numbers have turned sharply upward since the election as Americans have seen her in a position where she is actually able to govern.

Likewise, the electorate as a whole has a negative view of both parties;

kos 3

but while overall opinion of the Democrats is slightly negative, it is vastly better than the extraordinarily dismal view afforded Republicans.

But what about those “apathetic” poll results? Don’t they mean anything? Let’s take a closer look.

DKos/R2K tells us that 81% of stated Republican voters are likely to vote in 2010, compared to only 56% of stated Democratic voters. That does sound alarming, but percentages are slippery things. If I offer to give you 100% of the cash in my pocket, for instance, I sound pretty generous. It is only when you discover that my pocket is empty that you see the truth.

So how many D and R voters are there, how much is in the pockets from which these percentages are drawn?
Gallup* puts Democratic affiliation between 33% and 41% over the last six months (May 29-31 to Nov 20-22) with a median of 37%, and Republican membership between 25% and 28% with a median of 27%.

Multiplying the factors, we get

81% x 27% = 22% of stated Republicans

56% x 37% = 21% of stated Democrats

Given the MoEs involved, this is statistically a tie; an equal number of voters from each party expect to vote next November. From the standpoint of depending on their own base, a tie is hardly devastating for either party. What it means, and this is not at all shocking, is that Independents will decide the 2010 elections just as they always do. Obama and the Democrats carried Independents handily in 2008; what are their opinions now?

According to the same DKos/R2K poll, they are very close in their opinion to the overall averages. Again, Obama remains more popular than not and while Pelosi and Reid are seen negatively their numbers are no where near as bad as the Republicans McConnell and Boehner.

kos 2

And very similarly to the averages shown above, Independents are negative in their feelings about Democrats – but no where near as negative as they feel about Republicans.

kos 1

These numbers are unchanged from those polled last week.

If I were a Democratic strategist, of course I’d be concerned by the negatives. All politicians and political strategists should live in a constant state of concern and apprehension, regardless of what poll numbers may say. But if I were a Republican strategist or politician looking at these numbers, I’d be more than simply concerned; I’d be terrified.

Writing scare stories is an old-school journalistic art dating back to, IIRC, the time of Hammurabi. We see it now all the time on TV news, across newspapers and magazines, OMG! headlines and ledes spun like cotton candy into substantive-appearing ephemera out of very little or nothing at all. In a sure sign of emerging maturity, the practice has begun to permeate the blogosphere. It is, I suppose, another step along the road to becoming industrialized or corporatized or something like that.

Whether this emerging trend of sensationalism turns out to be good or bad for Progressive interests remains to be seen. Myself, can’t see how adding to the barrage of diminishment already falling on Obama and the Democrats from the Right is going to benefit the interest of the American people.

But maybe I’m just simple-minded.


* Pew puts the numbers at 35% D and 23% R, and also shows data suggesting the social and political attitudes of Independents are much closer to those of Democrats than they are to Republicans.


One response to “Daily KOS takes a poll: Is the sky really falling on Democrats?

  1. Pingback: Daily KOS takes a poll: Is the sky really falling on Democrats? « Graham Firchlis has a blog

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