The partisan makeup of the electorate has always been one of the most contentious issues in election polling. There are those who believe that there is a fixed number of Democrats and Republicans in the nation. Quinnipiac, however, believes that while party identification is relatively stable, it can change over time and fluctuate temporarily in reaction to events in the news. For example, if one of the parties is going through a particularly difficult time voters can temporarily feel “less Republican” or “less Democrat” than usual.
The exit polls have shown how the partisan composition of the electorate can change over time. In the 2008 election, Democratic voters outnumbered Republican voters by a 7 point margin, 39-32 percent. This was an increase of 7 points in the partisan gap from 2004 when Democrats and Republicans were tied 37-37 percent.
In Quinnipiac’s November 2 national poll, Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 13 points, 35-22 percent. This Democratic advantage was 10 points higher than the 3 point gap in our October 4 poll, when Democrats led Republicans 31-28 percent. The New York Times/CBS News Poll also showed the Democrats with a double digit advantage of 10 points over Republicans, 35-25 percent in their most recent poll. This was a 3 point increase in the Democratic advantage from their previous poll which had the gap at 33-26 percent.
Whether or not this increase in the Democratic advantage remains for any length of time will depend on future events. The increased Democratic party identification advantage in Quinnipiac’s November 2 poll may have occurred because the poll was taken during a week when the stock market had one of its best weeks ever, GDP numbers made it clear that a double dip recession was not occurring, and the President was on the winning side in Libya and announced that American troops would be out of Iraq by year’s end.
Like most other major national polls, we don’t weight our data toward party identification. The only party identification target that one could possibly use would be the exit polls but the party identification in exit polls moves as we saw in 2008.
Nobody knows ahead of time what the actual party distribution will be in the 2012 election. If a pollster weights by party identification, they are in essence making an educated guess about what they think will happen. This undermines the scientific nature of polling. The pollster is basically substituting their own judgment for what the voters are saying in the poll. If people are feeling less Republican than usual and a pollster tries to weight up Republicans to compensate for that, the pollster is in essentially hiding something that is happening in the electorate because they think they know the voters better than the voters know themselves.
The party identification figures, along with other demographics, are released on our website with every poll.