What's with the polls?
In 2004, the electorate that went to the polls or voted absentee was, according to the adjusted NEP exit poll, 37 percent Democratic and 37 percent Republican. In party identification, it was the most Republican electorate since George Gallup conducted his first random sample poll in October 1935.
But most recent national polls show Democrats with an advantage in party identification in the vicinity of 5 percent to 12 percent. Party identification usually changes slowly. Historically, voters have switched from candidates of one party to candidates of the other more readily than they have changed their party identification.
Over time, big changes in party ID can and do occur. When I started in the polling business, in 1974, national party identification was almost 50 percent Democratic and not much more than 25 percent Republican.
Since then, Democratic party ID has fallen, particularly in the South, where many voters who considered themselves Democrats found themselves voting Republican for president and, increasingly in the 1980s and 1990s, for other offices, as well.
Republican party ID has increased. But that's a process that took decades. If you could go back in history and conduct polls, I don't think you'd find any, and certainly not many, two-year periods when the balance in party identification shifted from even to having one party 12 percent ahead of the other.
At this stage of the campaign, pollsters try to screen their respondents and report only those who answer a series of questions in ways that suggest they are actually going to vote. Many polls find that a higher proportion of Democrats than Republicans pass the screen. Others find similar proportions do. But pollsters of both parties will admit that polls do a poor job at projecting turnout.
That was particularly true in 2004, when both parties conducted massive turnout drives. Democrats concentrated on black neighborhoods in central cities and on university towns, where they could be sure of getting 80 percent to 90 percent of the vote. They achieved their goals in just about every target state, with big turnouts in Cleveland and Madison, Wisc., in St. Louis and Gainesville, Fla. Nationally, John Kerry got 16 percent more popular votes than Al Gore had in 2000.
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