Here are some fun facts for you.
In 2012, President Obama got almost four million more votes than George W. Bush received in his successful 2004 reelection. Mitt Romney got about 800,000 fewer votes than John McCain had won four years earlier.
After all the 2012 votes were tallied, President Obama won the popular vote by 3.8%, which was quite a bit more than when Steve Singiser took a first shot at comparing the likely voter (LV) and registered voter (RV) screens and discovered that the registered voter screens were more accurate.
- Gallup Tracking, 11/5/2012: Romney +1 (LV); Obama +3 (RV)
- Ipsos/Reuters Tracking, 11/5/2012: Obama +2 (LV); Obama +4 (RV)
- CNN/Opinion Research, 11/4/2012: Obama +0 (LV); Obama +2 (RV)
- Fox News, 10/31/2012: Obama +0 (LV); Obama +1 (RV)
- YouGov, 10/31/2012: Obama +1 (LV); Obama +2 (RV)
- CBS/New York Times, 10/30/2012: Obama +1 (LV); Obama +5 (RV)
The most accurate prediction came from Ipsos/Reuters’ registered voter poll. All of the likely voter screens were far too optimistic for Romney.
You should keep this in mind when you look at the latest CNN/ORC poll (pdf) out of Arkansas. This poll has Tom Cotton beating Mark Pryor 49%-47% among likely voters but losing 38%-47% among registered voters.
That’s a huge Republican-tilting screen. That doesn’t mean that it is necessarily wrong, but the recent track record for these types of screens speaks for itself. Singiser looked at the 2004 and 2008 polling, as well, and found that registered voter polls fared better overall in those elections cycles, too. However, those were presidential years. We know that Democratic voter drop off is often pronounced in midterm elections. Still, if polling outfits can’t figure out who is actually going to vote in presidential cycles, why should we trust them to figure it out in midterms?
Finally, I think it is impossible to research, but I have no doubt that President Obama’s final numbers were harmed by the persistently wrong skew of the likely voter polls which gave the impression that the election was closer than it was. It prevented demoralization on the Republican side which kept the volunteers active, kept the donations flowing, and colored how the media portrayed the contest to the public. I still believe there was a time right around the time of the first debate when Romney and the Republicans were on the verge of collapse and that a real blowout was possible. Obama’s poor performance in that first debate stopped Romney’s downward trajectory, but the race was never really close. It only looked kind of close because of those likely voters screens that turned out to be completely wrong.
So, I still think the aggregate of polls is very accurate, but you have to drill down into individual polls to know what you are looking at. A poll that showed Mark Pryor with a huge lead among registered voters is being reported as a narrow deficit among likely voters. And that helps Tom Cotton raise money, avoid questions about why his campaign is floundering, and maintain the enthusiasm of his base.
Is it true that registered voters in Arkansas overwhelmingly support their Democratic senator but that he is going to be narrowly defeated anyway?
Could be. But, I wouldn’t bet on it.