New nationwide polls show the parties essentially tied

And the race between Sen. Patty Murray and challenger Dino Rossi is back to a "toss up," according to one pollster.

And the race between Sen. Patty Murray and challenger Dino Rossi is back to a "toss up," according to one pollster.

Two interesting developments in the past 24 hours. 

First, FOX is out with a new poll showing Patty Murray at 48 percent and Dino Rossi at 47 percent, far different from the CNN and Elway polls that got so much attention two weeks ago.  

Is this the result of the Rossi campaign’s new ads, or is it reflective of a different pollster using a different methodology to calculate likely voters?   

Either way, the last two polls have shown this race back to dead even, blunting speculation that Sen. Murray was pulling away. Today (Sept. 28), RealClearPolitics moved the Washington Senate race back to its “toss up” column.  This will be important to Republican leaders deciding which Senate races to target with advertising dollars in the final weeks.  (The Connecticut Senate race also moved, from “leans Democrat” to “toss up.”)  

And Monday (Sept. 27), Gallup released its weekly tracking poll of the congressional generic ballot. The poll again showed the two parties tied, which will be encouraging news to many Democrats. 

But Gallup also released an extremely interesting memo regarding the state of the 2010 election. 

The conclusion: 

Gallup's analysis of key indicators relating to the 2010 congressional midterm elections continues to suggest that the Republican Party will make significant seat gains. President Barack Obama's job approval rating is below 50%, and both congressional job approval and satisfaction with the way things are going in the U.S. are well below 40% — all levels that generally predict large seat losses for the party of the sitting president.

Gallup's generic ballot for Congress for the week of Sept. 20-26 shows the race tied among all registered voters. However, Republicans' continuing higher enthusiasm coupled with the usual GOP turnout advantage suggest a significant Republican edge in the nationwide vote for the U.S. House, and, in turn, significant Republican House seat gains.

With five weeks to go before the Nov. 2 elections, and campaigning intensifying, these indicators could shift, but it would require a major reorientation of voter sentiment to shift the probabilities significantly in the Democrats' direction.

Unlike other pollsters, Gallup is still polling all registered voters, not likely voters.  Their memo continues with a perfect explanation of the significance of the generic ballot numbers:

At this point, the generic ballot shows 46% of registered voters choosing the Democratic candidate and 46% the Republican candidate, based on more than 3,000 interviews conducted Sept. 20-26. Three out of the last four weeks have found the generic ballot among registered voters essentially tied.

Given the usual Democratic advantages in party identification among the general public, it is rare for Republicans to lead on the generic ballot among registered voters. This was the case even when Republicans were the majority congressional party from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s. Turnout is crucial in midterm elections. With at least 80% of Americans registered to vote but only about half that number likely to vote in the midterm elections, registered voter and actual voter preferences can differ significantly.

Turnout typically favors Republicans, and a tie in the generic ballot among all registered voters (as Gallup found in the final pre-election poll in 1994) more than likely means Republicans have a lead among those likely to vote. Gallup will begin estimating voting preferences among the projected electorate using likely voter modeling beginning next week. At this point, it is probable that Republicans will do better among those estimated to be most likely to vote than among all registered voters.

Finally, we don’t have a constant stream of polling data readily available on the Internet regarding legislative races in Washington state.  We are left with occasional polls and anecdotal information.  In the latter category, consultants working on Republican state legislative races remain confident, and don’t believe the tide has changed.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Chris Vance

Chris Vance

Chris Vance, a former Republican party chairman, is a senior fellow at the Niskanen Center.