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Chris Christie may be the most popular governor in America. He is certainly the most popular governor in the nine states where Quinnipiac regularly polls. While other first term governors are around the 50 percent job approval mark or lower, Christie consistently hovers around 70 percent approval. While Christie will likely coast to an easy reelection, other incumbent governors will likely be involved in competitive races in their reelection bids, with some being underdogs.

What’s most remarkable about Christie’s popularity, is that he is doing it in a state where his party is in the minority. New Jersey is a blue state yet this Republican governor has found a way to achieve sky high approval ratings.
Governors Kasich, Branstad, Hickenlooper, McDonnell, Scott, and Corbett all start out with an inherent advantage over Christie. They come from presidential swing states which by their nature are roughly evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. Not only does Christie crush these governors in popularity but he also trounces neighboring governors Cuomo and Malloy, even though they have the most favorable political environment of all: their party is the dominant party. Malloy and Cuomo are Democratic governors in deep blue states.

Looking at it a different way:

No one should really be surprised that governors elected in 2010 are going to face tough bids for reelection next year. When they took office the economy was in bad shape and voters were in a grumpy mood. Faced with budget deficits, these governors had to make difficult choices about cutting programs and raising taxes that would only put voters in a worse mood. Some governors also have self-inflicted wounds (see McDonnell’s “giftgate” controversy). Others have been involved in controversial issues such as gun control (see Cuomo and Hickenlooper).

Chris Christie’s popularity has not been dragged down by economic discontent. Nor has he been involved in scandal or in the kind of controversial issues that could take a toll on his approval rating. Christie’s highly praised handling of Hurricane Sandy drove up his approval rating 16 points, from 56 percent to 72 percent approval. This so called “rally effect” is significant for two reasons. First, there is no guarantee that public approval for the way an elected official handles a crisis will translate into higher overall job approval numbers. For example, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy got high marks for his response to the Newtown shootings but it didn’t help his overall job approval rating which has been stick in the mid 40’s. Second, while public officials sometimes get a bounce in their job approval numbers for their handling of a crisis, it is often short lived. Sandy happened 10 months ago, yet Christie’s numbers are still in the stratosphere.

A key to Christie’s success in maintaining strong popularity is that he has struck a chord with independents. His job approval among independents is 70 percent, far higher than any other governor.

The other key to understanding Christie’s popularity is he has strong crossover appeal. He has a remarkable 51 percent approval among Democrats. No other governor comes close to matching Christie’s bipartisan appeal.

*Job approval percentage from most recent Quinnipiac University Poll.

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The Connecticut Senate race between Congressman Chris Murphy and former wrestling executive Linda McMahon is one of the most closely watched in the nation. There are many interesting dynamics in this race – President Obama’s coattails, McMahon’s television ads, her professional wrestling background, and both candidates’ handling of their personal finances. How much if at all do these and other issues determine vote preferences in the race? To answer this question Quinnipiac asked Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., to collaborate on a special data analysis project using a statistical technique called regression to seek to identify key factors in the contest. Their report follows.

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Competitiveness on economic empathy and help from Barack Obama’s coattails are keeping Chris Murphy alive in the U.S. Senate race in Connecticut, while his Republican opponent, Linda McMahon, benefits from higher personal favorability overall, positive regard for her business experience and the impact of her saturation television advertising.

Each of these elements independently predicts vote preferences among likely voters in the closely divided race, holding constant a broad range of other demographic and attitudinal variables, according to a statistical analysis of an Oct. 2 statewide Quinnipiac University poll on the contest.

The survey, conducted before the current round of candidate debates, evaluated a wide range of issues in the closely followed contest. Subsequent research will evaluate how well each candidate has been able to capitalize on opportunities – and avoid the pitfalls – identified in this analysis.

The survey overall found several deficits for Murphy, in areas including voter enthusiasm, personal favorability and perceived qualifications for the job. But regression modeling indicates that he remains competitive chiefly on the basis of views of which candidate “better understands the economic problems people in Connecticut are having.” This perception is the single strongest predictor of vote choice by a wide margin; the fact that Murphy runs evenly with McMahon on empathy (45-46 percent, Murphy-McMahon) keeps him in the race.

On the other hand, as a Republican candidate in a predominately blue state, McMahon has to overcome partisan predispositions and presidential preferences – both also significant predictors of vote – to stay in the race. Modeling suggests that one of the ways she’s doing so is by presenting a more favorable persona to the public than her challenger. Views of McMahon personally predict candidate preferences to a greater degree than do views of Murphy; therefore maintaining or expanding her very slightly positive assessment (45-41, favorable-unfavorable) may be critical in the weeks ahead. That could complicate her task in the debates, as well as in her heavy campaign advertising – scoring political points against her opponent without letting her positive personal ratings slip.

This analysis is based on a statistical technique called regression, which measures the independent strength of the relationship between each potential predictor and vote preferences, by holding all other predictors constant. As noted, views of economic empathy are the single strongest predictor of vote preference, followed by favorable views of McMahon and by intent to support Obama in the presidential race.

Additional, weaker, predictors include:

• Exposure to McMahon’s ads and (to a lesser extent) views of their effectiveness. Likely voters who report seeing McMahon’s ads frequently and who perceive them as especially effective are more likely to support her. Whether this is because the ads themselves are persuading voters to support McMahon, or because McMahon supporters are more likely to attend to her ads and find them convincing, is an open question. In either case, though, McMahon’s ads show a significant independent impact on vote preferences – while Murphy’s do not.

• Whether likely voters view political or business experience as the better qualification for Senate. Viewing business as better experience is a significant independent predictor of voting for McMahon; seeing political experience as more important independently predicts voting for Murphy. It’s a net advantage for McMahon because more likely voters see business experience than political experience as important.

• Openness to switching candidates. With all else held constant, voters who indicate they might change their mind before the election are more likely to support McMahon than Murphy. This suggests that McMahon is currently wining a greater share of persuadable voters than Murphy. At the same time, this may provide an opening for Murphy, to the extent he can effectively persuade these voters to move to his side

• Perceiving McMahon as intentionally misleading voters. While McMahon has the clear advantage in ad exposure and effectiveness, modeling suggests there is a potential downside to this advantage. Views that she is intentionally misleading viewers are a significant independent predictor of voting for Murphy, whereas views that Murphy is lying in his campaign ads do not significantly impact vote choice – perhaps a sign of some pushback against McMahon’s ad campaign.

• Demographics. After controlling for partisanship and other factors, sex emerges as an independent predictor of vote choice (albeit a weak one), with men more likely to support Murphy than McMahon. (This is so only when controlling for the fact that women are more likely than men to be Democrats, and thus, absent controls, to vote for Murphy.)

Notably, perceptions of professional wrestling and of Congress, and ratings of McMahon and Murphy’s work performance in these fields, specifically, are not significant drivers of vote preferences. Also, despite the amount of attention paid to it, views of how the candidates have handled their finances also are not direct predictors of current candidate preference.

However, these items do significantly impact the favorability ratings of each candidate, and therefore have an indirect influence on the contest more broadly.

Specifically, likely voters who think McMahon has handled her finances appropriately, who view professional wrestling favorably and who approve of McMahon’s experience as a wrestling executive all perceive her more favorably than do others. On the other hand, Murphy is viewed more favorably by those who approve of his work in the U.S. House of Representatives and who think he’s handled his finances appropriately, compared with those who do not.

Since favorability ratings are a significant predictor of vote preferences, especially for McMahon, this indicates that each of these campaign themes has the potential to shift the race, albeit indirectly.

Unlike at the national level, where the economy has been the focus of the presidential race, ratings of the national and state economy, and expectations of where each is headed, do not appear to be benefitting one Senate candidate over the other. However, economic empathy is a significant vote predictor both at the national level and, as noted, in the Connecticut Senate race – both contests in which wealthy Republican candidates are working mightily to persuade likely voters that they feel their pain.

Models follow.

Model 1:
Significant predictors of CT senate vote (R2 = .87)

Variable Beta p-value
Economic empathy: McMahon vs. Murphy .42 .000
McMahon favorability -.24 .000
Presidential vote .14 .000
Murphy favorability .08 .000
McMahon advertisement exposure -.06 .000
Better experience: Business vs. politics .05 .007
Party ID: Democrat .04 .004
McMahon intentionally misleading voters .04 .008
Moveable CT voter -.04 .010
Sex: Male .03 .007

Note: Vote is coded 0=McMahon, 1=Murphy. Positive betas indicate a preference for Murphy, negative betas indicate a preference for McMahon. Economic empathy likewise is coded 0=McMahon and 1=Murphy. Better experience: Business vs. politics is coded 0=business, 1=politics; therefore the positive beta means that those who think political experience is better are more likely to vote for Murphy (and vice versa).

Model 2:
Significant predictors of McMahon favorability (R2 = .80)

Variable Beta p-value
Economic empathy: McMahon vs. Murphy -.32 .000
Ratings of McMahon’s handling of finances .13 .000
Presidential vote -.12 .001
McMahon intentionally misleading voters -.11 .000
Better experience: politics vs. business -.10 .000
McMahon advertisement effectiveness .08 .000
Ratings of pro-wrestling .08 .000
Think will win debate: McMahon vs. Murphy -.07 .000
Education -.06 .000
Approval of McMahon’s wrestling exp. .06 .004
Murphy intentionally misleading voters .05 .005

Note: Favorability is coded continuously from 1=very unfavorable to 4=very favorable. Economic empathy is coded 0=McMahon and 1=Murphy.

Model 3:
Significant predictors of Murphy favorability (R2 = .71)

Variable Beta p-value
Economic empathy: McMahon vs. Murphy .26 .000
Approval of Murphy’s Congress exp. .18 .000
Approval of Murphy’s handling of finances .14 .000
Approval of McMahon’s wrestling exp. -.08 .004
Murphy intentionally misleading voters -.08 .000
Party ID: Democrat .06 .005

Note: Favorability is coded continuously from 1=very unfavorable to 4=very favorable. Economic empathy is coded 0=McMahon and 1=Murphy.

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Quinnipiac University, CBS News and The New York Times announced today a joint project to conduct polling during the 2012 presidential campaign. The polls will be conducted between July and October in six key swing states: Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin and Colorado. The polls will provide insight into the presidential race by measuring the opinions of likely voters about the candidates and the issues.

“CBS News is pleased to join The New York Times and Quinnipiac University in this exciting and important project,” said Sarah Dutton, Director of Surveys, CBS News. “CBS News, The New York Times and Quinnipiac University all have proven track records of conducting polls that maintain the same rigorous standards. The information to come out of these polls will be invaluable during the election.”

“Quinnipiac University is honored to work with The New York Times and CBS News, historically two of the finest media organizations in the nation, to conduct in-depth surveys of voter opinion in six critical swing states and to present our findings as only The Times and CBS News can do,” said Douglas Schwartz, Ph.D., director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

“The 2012 presidential election may be decided by voters in any of these six states,” said Kate Phillips, editor of News Surveys and Election Analysis, The New York Times. “We look forward to working with CBS News and Quinnipiac University to provide our readers with this important information.”

CBS News and The New York Times entered into the first television-newspaper polling partnership in history in 1975 and have jointly conducted polls on a near-monthly basis since then. In addition to national polls, CBS News and The New York Times have produced polling data by surveying specific sectors of the public, including African Americans, Catholics, Hispanics, Tea Party supporters, the long-term unemployed and residents of the Gulf Coast, among others. The two organizations have also conducted polls in geographic areas such as New York City, New York State, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Iowa.

The Quinnipiac University Poll, directed by Douglas Schwartz, Ph.D., conducts public opinion surveys in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Florida, Ohio, Virginia and the nation as a public service and for research. For 20 years, the poll has established a record for accuracy, based on the highest standards and large sample sizes, allowing for detailed analysis of sub-groups. Insightful questions have helped shape public debate on issues. A New York State poll on attitudes about use of hands-free cell phone while driving, for example, led to passage of the first law in the nation requiring use of hands-free devices while driving.

About CBS News
CBS News is the news and information division of CBS Corporation, dedicated to providing the best in journalism under standards it pioneered at the dawn of radio and television and continues to set in today’s digital age. Headquartered in the CBS Broadcast Center in New York, CBS News includes bureaus across the globe and influential, critically acclaimed programs providing news making features and interviews, investigative reports, analysis and breaking news 24 hours a day, seven days a week. CBS News utilizes a multi-platform model for news distribution across television (CBS Television Network), radio (CBS Radio News), the Internet (CBSNews.com) and hand-held devices (CBS Mobile). CBS News recently launched its new morning broadcast, CBS THIS MORNING, which joins award-winning programs 60 MINUTES, THE CBS EVENING NEWS WITH SCOTT PELLEY, 48 HOURS MYSTERY, FACE THE NATION and CBS SUNDAY MORNING.

About Quinnipiac University
Quinnipiac is a private, coeducational, nonsectarian institution in Hamden, Conn., 90 minutes north of New York City and two hours from Boston. The university enrolls 6,200 full-time undergraduate and 2,300 graduate students in 58 undergraduate and more than 20 graduate programs of study in its School of Business and Engineering, School of Communications, School of Education, School of Health Sciences, School of Law, Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine, School of Nursing and College of Arts and Sciences. Quinnipiac consistently ranks among the top regional universities in the North in U.S. News & World Report’s America’s Best Colleges issue. The 2009 issue of U.S. News & World Report’s America’s Best Colleges named Quinnipiac as the top up-and-coming school with master’s programs in the Northern Region. Quinnipiac also is recognized in Princeton Review’s “The Best 376 Colleges.” For more information, please visit http://www.quinnipiac.edu.

About The New York Times Company
The New York Times Company (NYSE: NYT), a leading global, multimedia news and information company with 2011 revenues of $2.3 billion, includes The New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, The Boston Globe, NYTimes.com, BostonGlobe.com, Boston.com, About.com and related properties. The Company’s core purpose is to enhance society by creating, collecting and distributing high-quality news, information and entertainment.

For more data or RSS feed– http://www.quinnipiac.edu/polling.xml, call (203) 582-5201, or follow us on Twitter.

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“Bully” is the most frequently mentioned word by far when New Jersey voters are asked to describe their impression of Chris Christie. The dominance of the word “bully” is graphically illustrated in the word cloud below:

NOTE: Based on our July 2012, New Jersey poll of 1,623 registered voters. Figures show the number of respondents who offered each response: these numbers are not percentages. This table reports only those words that were mentioned at least five times.

Bully              185      Opinionated          8
Arrogant            75      Straightforward      8
Tough               50      Approve              7
Honest              43      Asshole              7
Good                41      Bad                  7
Aggressive          38      Bombastic            7
Strong              26      Dedicated            7
Determined          24      Fair                 7
Bold                23      Focused              7
Great               23      Hothead              7
Leader              21      Loudmouth            7
Excellent           20      Tenacious            7
Gutsy               20      Belligerent          6
Obnoxious           19      Bigmouth             6
Fat                 18      Blunt                6
Blowhard            16      Effective            6
Okay                16      Go-Getter            6
Trying              15      Incompetent          6
Forceful            14      Outstanding          6
Outspoken           14      Stubborn             6
Rude                14      Truthful             6
Dynamic             12      Brave                5
Fighter             12      Direct               5
Pompous             11      Fantastic            5
Interesting         10      Ignorant             5
Competent            9      Intelligent          5
Confident            9      Nasty                5
Jerk                 9      Phony                5
Brash                8      Positive             5
Conservative         8      Selfish              5
Courageous           8      Smart                5
Efficient            8      Wonderful            5
Idiot                8
Loud                 8      DK/NA               62

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Yesterday’s Quinnipiac University Poll on the presidential race in Florida was criticized by Democratic consultant Steve Schale for the partisan and racial composition of its sample.  The charges were repeated in a blog by the Tampa Bay Times’ Adam Smith.  The biggest problem with this analysis is that Schale got the Quinnipiac numbers wrong!

Schale writes:

 “The Q poll, which gave Mitt Romney a 6 point lead, weighed out at 37% Republican, 29% Democratic and 29% Independent. It also landed at over 80% white, 8% Hispanic and 7% African America and Caribbean American.

Those were NOT our numbers. Our weighted sample was 34% Republican, 31% Democrat and 29% Independent.   It also was 69% white, 14% Hispanic, and 12% black.

This was not the only time Schale misstated the Quinnipiac numbers.

Schale writes:

In fact, if you go back to the last Q poll, which had the race 44-43 Romney earlier this month, that poll also had a bizarre electorate make-up of about 32R-30D-28NPA, again a scenario that is simply not going to happen on Election Day….”

Schale was wrong again.

Our last Florida poll released on May 3rd was 28% Republican, 31% Democrat, and 37% Independent.

The other problem with Schale’s analysis is that he uses party registration figures to suggest that our party identification numbers are not accurate. This is comparing apples to oranges.  Party registration and party identification are not the same thing.  Most major pollsters, such as CBS, ABC, Gallup, and Pew rely on party identification, not party registration, when doing general election polling.  The reason is that party identification is considered a better measure of voter attitudes toward the parties than party registration.  Some people register with one party and may change their attitude about that party but not bother to change their registration.   Other people may simply have forgotten their party registration.  When trying to predict voting behavior, party identification is a much better predictor than party registration.

For a media explanation of the differences please see the following:

http://miamiherald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics/2012/05/of-quinnipiacs-polling-demographics-and-partisan-whining.html

For additional information on party identification in election polling please see the following:

http://quinnipiacpoll.wordpress.com/2012/01/12/election-polling-101/

The wording for our party identification question, as well as the results, can be found in our demographics document that is attached to every Quinnipiac University Poll release.  Here is the link to our most recent Florida poll. A link to the demographic data can be found at the bottom of the page beneath the tables.

http://www.quinnipiac.edu/institutes-and-centers/polling-institute/florida/release-detail?ReleaseID=1752

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 As the Republican presidential candidates continue their attacks – mostly on each other – Republican voters in the key swing state of Pennsylvania are becoming less enthusiastic about voting in the general election in November.  The good news for the Republican party is that Republican voters are still more enthusiastic about voting in the presidential election than Democratic voters.  But Democrats are becoming more excited about the election and are narrowing that “enthusiasm gap” with Republicans.

In the latest Quinnipiac University Poll released on March 14, 2012, 26 percent of Pennsylvania Democrats say they are more enthusiastic about voting in this presidential election than usual (up 7 points from December), while 25 percent say they are less enthusiastic (down 2 points), and 49 percent say they are about the same as usual (down 5 points).

In that same March Poll, 37 percent of Pennsylvania Republicans say they are more enthusiastic about voting in this presidential election than usual (down 2 points from December), while 26 percent say they are less enthusiastic (up 6 points), and 40 percent are about the same as usual (up 5 points).

The “enthusiasm gap” can be defined as the difference between the percentage of Republicans who are more enthusiastic about voting than usual minus the percentage of Democrats who are more enthusiastic about voting than usual.  In December, Republicans had a 20 point advantage (39-19 percent).  The Democrats have cut that Republican advantage in enthusiasm in half to 11 points (37-26 percent).

Democrats start out with an advantage in party identification in Pennsylvania.  In the latest Quinnipiac University Poll, Democrats outnumber Republicans by 5 points, 37 to 32 percent, among registered voters.  This 5 point gap is close to the partisan gap in the 2008 exit poll in Pennsylvania, when Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 7 points, 44 to 37 percent.

Barack Obama easily carried Pennsylvania in 2008 by 10 points.  Should the Republicans continue to have an enthusiasm advantage over Democrats into November, this could translate into a less Democratic electorate than in 2008 and ultimately lead to a much closer race.  However, if the Democrats continue to close that enthusiasm gap, resulting in an electorate similar to 2008, Barack Obama would be tough to beat.

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How big a bounce did Newt Gingrich get out of his South Carolina primary victory? The answer – 17 points.  This is based on a Quinnipiac University Poll conducted in Florida before and after the South Carolina primary.

Prior to South Carolina, Gingrich trailed Romney by 11 points, 37-26 percent. After South Carolina, Gingrich led Romney by 6 points, 40-34 percent.

The Gingrich surge in Florida appears to be more of a pro-Gingrich response rather than an anti-Romney reaction.  While Romney’s favorability numbers hardly moved, Gingrich’s favorability numbers soared.  Prior to South Carolina, 72 percent of likely Republican primary voters had a favorable opinion of Romney.  After South Carolina Romney’s favorable number was 70 percent. Gingrich on the other hand went from a 54 percent favorable prior to South Carolina to a 66 percent favorable after South Carolina.

Quinnipiac also asked Florida likely Republican primary voters about a variety of candidate attributes.  Gingrich improved on all of these attributes with his biggest gains on electability, being inspiring, competence, and handling a crisis.  To measure electability Quinnipiac asked voters which Republican candidate is best described as being able to defeat Barack Obama in the general election.  Before the South Carolina primary Romney led Gingrich on that question by 29 points, 55-26 percent.  However, after South Carolina, Gingrich had closed the gap to 3 points , with 45 percent for Romney and 42 percent for Gingrich.

The key question is how long Gingrich’s bounce will last.  With less than a week to go before the primary we will know the answer to that question shortly.

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Election Polling 101

Yesterday’s Quinnipiac University Poll of Florida voters was criticized by Democratic pollster David Beattie for the partisan composition of its sample.  He writes “In short the results raise some concerns because more Republicans than Democrats are interviewed, which is not going to happen on Election Day in Florida. They model that 32% of the turnout will be Republican, 29% Democrat and 32% Independent in the 2012 election, this is NOTHING like what the reality will be.  There will be a net 2 percentage point or more Democratic registration advantage on election day.”  

One problem with Mr. Beattie’s analysis is that he assumes that we know prior to the election what the exact partisan composition of the electorate will be on Election Day.  One only has to look at past Florida exit polls to see that the party distribution of the electorate can change from election to election.  In 2008, there were more Democratic voters than Republicans by a 37-34 percent margin.  However, in 2004, Republican voters outnumbered Democrats by 4 points 41-37 percent. 

We are currently using the same methodology that we used when we accurately predicted the Florida presidential results in 2004 and 2008.  Respected New York Times polling analyst Nate Silver found that we were the most accurate poll in predicting the 2010 elections.

It should also be noted that Mr. Beattie is comparing apples to oranges.  He cites our party identification numbers and then compares them to party registration figures.  Major independent pollsters and political scientists have long recognized that party identification is a better measure of political attitudes than party registration.  Some people register with one party and even though their political attitudes have changed, they don’t bother to change their party registration.  Party identification measures whether people generally consider themselves a Democrat, a Republican, or an Independent, regardless of party registration.    It is important to understand that all of the major polls – Gallup, Pew, Quinnipiac, CBS, ABC, and NBC- do not weight their data by party.  Those polls, as does Quinnipiac, weight their data for things such as gender and age to match the Census data because these things don’t change.

There is always going to be some small fluctuation in party identification in polls.  It might be due to sampling error or short term events.    These small movements are generally not worth mentioning.   If however, there is a big change that holds up over time that would be a significant finding.  Such a phenomena is very rare in public opinion.  It is called a “party realignment” and happens when there is a major event, like the Depression in the 1930’s, which causes a substantial number of people to permanently change their party identification.

In our recent poll, we found that in party identification Republicans outnumbered Democrats 32-29 percent, which is not a statistically significant difference.    In our three prior polls the Republican percentage was between 29-31 percent and the Democratic percentage was between 32 and 33 percent. This sample is a little more Republican than those earlier polls.  But the difference is so small that it is not meaningful.  Even with the slightly more Republican sample, the results of the matchup between Obama and Romney were the same for the last 3 polls. In each survey, Romney was ahead of Obama by a statistically insignificant 3 point margin.

All of these Quinnipiac polls have shown that the party distribution in Florida is about evenly split.  Given our poll numbers it is certainly possible that there will be a small Democratic advantage on Election Day or there could be a small Republican advantage, or it could be a tie.

One early indicator of a potential problem for President Obama is the enthusiasm gap in Florida.  As we’ve seen in other states, Democrats are less enthusiastic about voting than Republicans.  So even though the party breakdown is roughly evenly split, Republicans could outnumber Democrats on Election Day if they are more excited about voting in November.

It should also be pointed out that we are about 10 months from the election.   This was a poll of registered voters.  It is too early to be talking about likely voters.  We don’t even know who the Republican candidate for President will be, although it is obviously looking good for Romney.   No pollster can tell you what is going to happen in the election in November in January, not even Mr. Beattie.  A poll is a snapshot in time.  We will have a better idea of what will happen in the election come September and October, with the most accurate polling right before the election.

Finally, I would suggest that whenever a partisan pollster criticizes the methodology of an independent pollster, it be taken with a big grain of salt.  The goals of a campaign pollster are very different from an independent pollster.  The job of a campaign pollster is to help their candidate get elected.   As an independent poll, Quinnipiac’s goal is to provide accurate polling data to the public.  Unlike campaign pollsters, Quinnipiac is completely transparent about its methods and poll results.    I would suggest that partisan pollsters also be completely transparent and disclose to the news media their own methodology and poll results.  If campaign pollsters are going to go on the record criticizing other polls, shouldn’t they be expected to go on the record explaining how they do their own polls? We welcome any members of the news media to visit our Polling Institute and see how we do our surveys.  We wonder whether Mr. Beattie or other critics, partisan or independent, are willing to make the same offer.

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The Enthusiasm Gap

The Democrats should be concerned about the “enthusiasm gap” in the upcoming Presidential election.  In the latest Quinnipiac University Poll in Florida, a key swing state, we found that Republicans are much more enthusiastic than Democrats about voting in the 2012 presidential election.  While 63 percent of Republicans say they are more enthusiastic about voting in this Presidential election than in past presidential elections, only 28 percent of Democrats say they are more enthusiastic.  This is a very large gap but with about 13 months to go there is still plenty of time for President Obama to fire up his base.

This enthusiasm poll question is one measure that pollsters use to try to gauge what voter turnout will look like. The partisan makeup of the electorate can have a huge impact on who wins the election. 

In 2004, Republican George W. Bush won Florida by 5 points over Democrat John Kerry, 52-47 percent.  Similarly, Republican voters outnumbered Democratic voters by 4 points, 41-37 percent, according to exit polls. 

In 2008,  Democrat Barack Obama  took Florida.  He defeated Republican John McCain by 3 points,  51-48 percent.  Just as there was an 8 point swing in the election (a 5 point Republican victory in ’04 to a 3 point Democratic victory in ’08), the partisan makeup of the electorate also shifted Democrat.  There was a 7 point swing in partisanship as Democrats went from a 4 point deficit in ’04 to outnumbering Republicans by 3 points, 37-34 percent in ’08.

It is too early for Quinnipiac to start looking at “likely voters”.  For now, we are reporting our poll results among all registered voters.  In the latest poll, self identified Democrats outnumber Republicans by 32-29 percent. The question is whether the Republicans big enthusiasm advantage will trump the Democrats slight advantage in party identification.

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In 2008, President Obama won the key swing states of Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio because he won the independent vote and drove up Democratic turnout.  In 2010, independents swung to the Republican side by voting for Republican governors and senators in all three states.  Also, the Democratic voter turnout surge in 2008, declined in 2010. What will happen in 2012?  Which way will Independents go in these critical battlegrounds?  Will there be a Democratic surge in 2012 as big as 2008?  The answer to these questions will tell us whether President Obama will be reelected or not.

According to the most recent Quinnipiac University polls, more Independents disapprove than approve of President Obama’s job performance in all three of these key swing states. In Pennsylvania 56 percent disapprove, while only 40 percent approve; in Florida 52 percent disapprove, compared to 42 percent who approve; in Ohio 54 percent disapprove, while 42 percent approve.    While these are not good numbers for the President, he still has 14 months to turn them around.

It’s also important to remember that elections are about choices.  While the President is not beloved among independents, neither are the leading GOP Presidential candidates. In Quinnipiac’s most recent national poll,  Rick Perry’s net favorability score among independents was a “negative 3” (19 percent favorable/22 percent unfavorable), with 55 percent saying they haven’t heard enough about him.  The fact that most independents don’t have an opinion of Perry means that he has a lot of room for growth  in either a positive or negative direction.  Romney is better known and better liked than Perry among Independents nationwide but also has a large “Don’t Know”.  Romney has a net favorability score of “plus 15” (39 percent favorable/24 percent unfavorable) with 35 percent who haven’t heard enough.

Unlike the Republican candidates,  almost everyone has an opinion about the President.  Independent voters are split on President Obama (45 percent favorable/48 percent unfavorable)

Both President Obama and the eventual Republican nominee will be trying to do the same things.  They both want to excite their bases to drive up their party’s turnout but at the same time they want to appeal to the center to win independent voters.  The advantage President Obama has is that he can start appealing to independent voters now because he doesn’t have to worry about campaigning for the nomination.  The Republican nominee must appeal to the “conservative” base now to win the nomination and then try to move back to the center.

A nasty fight for the nomination could also weaken the eventual Republican nominee for the general election.

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