MCKENNA: The Polls Are Sending A Warning Signal To Republicans. Here’s What It Is

Michael McKenna 

Recently, the average of surveys indicated that a once substantial Republican lead in the House generic ballot (“would you rather the House be controlled by Republicans or Democrats?”) had shrunk all the way down to one tenth of one percent.

That has had the salutary effect of making Republican operatives, donors, candidates and members of the echo chamber nervous about the likelihood of what was supposed to be an uncontested red wave and subsequent coronation.

That’s good. There is nothing lazier and more obnoxious than a political party that thinks it is going to win simply by not being the other side. Such a mentality reeks of entitlement. Faced with the possibility of competition, more Republicans are starting to think about old school campaigns — drawing distinctions between them and their opponents, talking about potential policies and what not, responding to attacks and just generally acting as if voters matter.

That said, there are a couple of things about the survey results in question that are worth noting

First, you should avoid using averages of surveys wherever possible. Such averages are not defensible. In this instance, the wording of the generic ballot question varies from survey to survey. The placement of a question in the survey can alter the responses. The day of the week or the time of day in which a question is asked or answered can affect responses. The sample to which a question is asked can be different in a number of ways. There’s more, but you get the idea.

Second, and more interestingly, when you take a look at the surveys included on the Real Clear Politics website (where most people get their averages), an interesting and probably not accidental pattern emerges. From the beginning of 2022 until the end of last week, there had been 136 survey results reported on RCP’s site. Of those, 105 have been surveys of registered voters, while 31 have been surveys of likely voters.

Among the surveys of registered voters, the Democrats have led the generic ballot in 44 of them, the Republicans have led in 47, and there have been 14 ties. The average of these 105 surveys of registered voters has been plus about 3/10 of a percentage point for Republicans.

The 31 reported surveys of likely voters tell a much, much different story. In the reported surveys of likely voters — which are usually better predictors of elections because they include people who routinely vote, who follow the news, etc. — the Republicans have led the generic ballot in 30 of them. The Democrats have led in just one of them. The average result for the ballot test in these surveys of likely voters has been about plus 7.5% for the Republicans.

In short, when you focus on results from the more precise surveys, the Republicans have a decided advantage.

Some perspective is probably in order. In 1994, the Republicans performed 6 points better (51.5% to 45%) than the Democrats with respect to total votes cast in House races. In 2010, they did about the same (51.3% to 44.7%).

But this year is different. Democrats are outraising Republicans in most places, and when you look at the individual races, it is tough to come up with more than three dozen truly competitive races that the Republicans might win.

The notion that the Republicans are going to net 65 or 75 seats is absurd and ungrounded. Assuming that their current advantage in the generic ballot is midway between zero and 7.5% (which seems likely), that suggests a majority that looks like 235 seats, not 270 or 275 seats.

The other thing that the gulf between surveys of registered voters and likely voters suggests is that some on the left are intentionally publicizing less than rigorous survey results specifically to create the illusion that the generic ballot is closer than it is. Consumers of survey data, especially public survey data, need to be aware that sometimes survey results are just propaganda, and not even subtle propaganda.

For their part, Republican campaigns need to ignore the gyrations of the generic ballot test and stay focused on what they need to do to win the House and the Senate and provide a legitimate alternative to Team Biden and the Democrats.

Michael McKenna is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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