In the polls

Published September 28, 2004 8:38PM (EDT)

A new Washington Post/ABC poll gives President Bush "a clear lead" of seven points among registered voters heading into Thursday's presidential debate. While Bush's lead might not be in dispute, the pollsters say Americans remain "deeply divided" over Bush's presidency. As many of those surveyed were dissatisfied with the direction of the country as were satisfied, and "after two weeks of bad news from Iraq that has included the beheadings of two Americans, more U.S. casualties and continued bombings, a narrow majority (51 percent to 46 percent) once again says the war was not worth fighting. Only on his handling of terrorism does Bush receive strongly positive marks, with 59 percent approving and 38 percent disapproving."

Meanwhile, the Gallup Organization, which conducts surveys for USA Today and CNN, is taking more fire for its methodology. At issue is how many Republican and Democratic participants the firm includes in its "likely voter" category: In 2000, more voters identified with the Democratic Party than with the GOP -- yet Gallup has recently used likely voter samples in which Republicans outnumber Democrats by a hefty margin, and unsurprisingly, skew the results toward Bush.

A few weeks ago, Gallup was criticized for including 7 percent more Republicans in its "likely voter" poll than Democrats. According to the liberal blog The Left Coaster, the latest Gallup survey is even more out of whack -- this time, Repulicans have a 12-point advantage. Looking at the numbers, Steve Soto asks "how can anyone, especially USA Today and CNN, let alone the rest of the media take a Gallup national poll seriously when Gallup knowingly puts a poll out there for consumption with a 12% GOP bias in its likely voter sample that everyone knows does not exist in the country today or at any time in the last three presidential elections?"

It's a good question.

In state polling, Florida switched colors again, the third time this week, if we can believe the data. The most electoral-rich battleground state still shows no sign of sticking with a candidate: Today, according to Rasmussen, Florida is a red state but within the margin of error, 49 to 48 percent for Bush. And Ohio is, once again, producing quirky poll results. In a poll commissioned by America Coming Together, Democratic polling firm Lake Snell Perry calls the race a tie at 46 percent, while the Republican firm Strategic Vision shows Bush leading 52-43. War Room would take more relish in pointing out how curious these results are in light of the polling firms' political alignment, but the Ohio polls have been erratic for a straight month. While none have put Kerry in the lead, there's no consensus as to whether the race is neck-and-neck -- or if Kerry's neck is on the chopping block.

Finally a look at the Senate: Should Bush win on November 2, a handful of Senate races are the only threat to a Republican lock on the executive and legislative branches. Currently the Senate balance is 51 Republicans to 48 Democrats, along with Jim Jeffords, the Vermont Independent (pronounced "Democrat.")

There are 34 seats up in this year's election, of which Democrats have a strong advantage in 15, and Republicans in 13. That leaves six highly competitive seats, almost all in conservative states. Assuming none of the other Senate races heat up, Democrats would need to take all six of those seats to regain control of the Senate; with five, the tie-breaking vote in the Senate would fall to the Vice President.

New Senate race polls today shows that a Democratic takeover is not out of the realm of possibility. Tom Daschle, the Dems' embattled Senate leader, got good news from a poll conducted by the Sioux Falls Argus Leader: He's up five points, and pulling a sizable 18 percent of Republican votes from his challenger John Thune.

In Louisiana, the state's unusual runoff system has yet to pick a single Demcratic challenger to Republican David Vitter. That said, the three Democrats in the race currently poll at a combined 47 percent, compared to Vitter's 44. Should Vitter fail to get 50 percent of the vote, the race will be settled by a runoff between him and the leading Democrat.

In Florida, the last few polls have shown Democrat Betty Castor leading former Bush administration official Mel Martinez by the slimmest of margins: a recent Quinnipiac survey put her up by one percent. Martinez is expected to make further gains in Florida's Hispanic vote, but Castor's voter turnout operation will probably benefit from a Florida ballot measure to raise the minimum wage.

In Alaska, former Governor Tony Knowles holds an equally slim lead over Lisa Murkowski, according to an Ivan Moore Research poll conducted at the end of August. Though Alaska is a solidly Republican state, Knowles is a strong candidate, and Murkowski's senate credentials aren't stellar -- her dad, Frank Murkowski, appointed her after he won a race for Governor.

In Oklahoma, the Republican candidate and former doctor Tom Coburn is busy with damage control. Between allegations that he sterilized a patient without her permission, and his less than statesman-like pronouncement last month that the state government in Oklahoma City was composed of "crapheads," he's taken a fall. Though just last month Coburn polled nine points ahead of his Democratic opponent, today a Wilson Research Strategies survey leaves him five points behind.

Finally, a Survey USA poll conducted last week is bad news for Colorado Democrat Ken Salazar, putting him behind beer baron Peter Coors by five points, 51-46. The Republican has certainly been closing on Salazar over the last few months, but Survey USA's results look, for the moment, like a bit of an outlier: several other recent polls have shown Salazar up significantly or tied.

By Jeff Horwitz

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