Some confusion about polling and partisan affiliation worked its way into the campaign dialogue today. Let’s sort it out.
It’s at issue because Bill McInturff, pollster for the McCain campaign, held a conference call to suggest the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll in effect overcounted Democrats. The reality is that partisan affiliation in our poll is just about where it’s been all year – and just about where McInturff himself said it might end up on Election Day.
What matters is whether you’re looking at “unleaned” or “leaned” party identification, and whether that’s among registered or likely voters. The most relevant number for this discussion is unleaned party ID among likely voters – 37-30 percent Democratic to Republican in our poll. As it happens that’s precisely where McInturff said the election could turn out: the Republicans, he said, “could be down 6 to 8.”
McInturff’s focus was on a different number - leaned party ID, not unleaned, and among registered voters, not likely voters. We have a 16-point, 54-38 percent Democratic advantage there, which he said was “an unusual outlier.” In fact, rather than an outlier, that almost exactly matches our average for this number all year, 52-38 percent.
Background: Partisanship is measured by asking if people think of themselves as Democrats, Republicans or independents. That’s unleaned party ID. A next step is to ask independents which party they lean toward. That’s leaned party ID.
Unleaned party ID is more telling – it’s more rooted in actual partisan sentiment; it lets us look separately at independents, the quintessential swing voters; and it’s the number that’s comparable to what we learn from the exit polls on Election Day.
As noted, unleaned party ID among likely voters in our latest poll is 37-30 percent. Its average since we started following likely voters in June has been about the same, 36-31 percent. Among the broader population of registered voters it’s 38-28 percent, exactly matching its 2008 average in ABC/Post polls. Our leaned party ID among registered voters, also as noted, is 54-38 percent. Among likely voters it’s 52-41 percent.
I’m attaching to this note a pdf of our party ID breaks all year. You won’t see McInturff’s: “We’ve never talked about our internal numbers during the campaign,” he said. “Ever.”