August 04, 2004
Saletan's Latest Misunderestimation
Will Saletan tries valiantly to spin the post-convention polls in Kerry's favor. His analysis is flawed.
Throughout, Saletan ignores likely voter figures; even where they're available, he uses registered voter data and links to pages where the likely voter data is missing. But as I mentioned in yesterday's AmSpec column, polls that measure likely voters are generally most accurate. (Elsewhere on Slate is a good explanation of how likely voter models work.)
The entire "What's changed" section is based on registered voter polls; to be fair, I've had trouble finding the internals he talks about here from the CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll broken down by likely voter, though Gallup does use likely voter measures-- see here for the first version of the poll Saletan refers to (USA Today extended polling for a day to double-check the negative bounce).
In the "Trial heats" section, Saletan writes:
Before the convention, Bush led Kerry 48-46 among registered voters in the ABC poll. After the convention, Kerry leads 50-44.But that poll also measured likely voters, who came out with a far less impressive-- statistically insignificant, in fact-- 49-47 lead for Kerry. (It's typical for likely voter tallies to look better for the Republican; Republicans are usually more likely to vote.)
Saletan continues quoting registered voter tallies:
In the CBS poll, Kerry turned a 45-42 lead into a 48-43 lead. The CNN/USA poll goes the other way, boosting Bush from a 47-43 deficit to a 48-47 lead. That's counterintuitive, given the pro-Kerry media coverage around the convention. It doesn't square with the CBS or ABC polls. Nor does it square with an American Research Group poll, which bumps Kerry from a 47-44 lead to a 49-45 lead, or a Newsweek poll—taken on the last night of the convention and the night afterward—which bumps Kerry from 47-44 to 49-42. So my guess is that the CNN poll is off the mark.That Newsweek poll measured adults, not registered voters, an even more inaccurate method. And of course the counterintuitive poll is closer to ABC's likely voter tally than the rest.
In the "Locking up support" section, Saletan argues that Kerry's base is more solid than Bush's. Once again, he's looking at registered voters; as I mentioned at the beginning of yesterday's column, the "may change mind" supporters on either side are about the same size among likely voters.
The one perfectly fair point that Saletan makes is the "Bush's flat line" section: Bush's approval ratings are consistently lower than those of presidents who've won re-election. (The Zogby poll he refers to even measures likely voters.) But Bush's ratings are also higher than those of presidents who've lost, so this proves less than Saletan implies.
In 2000 Saletan made the embarrassing-in-hindsight declaration that "Bush is toast," and he cautions that he's not going that far now. But declaring a race this tight "Kerry's race to lose" is going too far already.
UPDATE: Since Mickey Kaus seems to read this post as somewhat more bellicose than I meant it to sound ("John Tabin snipes at Saletan"), I should mention that I like Will Saletan-- he's a smart guy, and a class act. But on this one he's wrong.