Pew Poll Shows Strong Last-Minute Gains by GOP
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
A new poll shows Republicans making strong gains as Tuesday's election draws near. The Pew Research Center released its final midterm election poll today, and here to talk about it is Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Center for the People and the Press. Andy, does this now call into question the conventional wisdom among analysts that Democrats were poised to take control of the U.S. House?
ANDREW KOHUT (Pew Center): Well, it certainly casts some doubt on it, because with the boxcar majorities we had been getting in previous polls, it seemed like a slam-dunk. I don't think these numbers would suggest slam-dunk, but it certainly doesn't rule them out. We found Democrats continuing to hold a 47/43 percent margin among likely voters. Now that had been 50 percent to 39 percent two weeks ago, and there are still polls out there with, you know, 15 percent point Democratic leads. But not in this poll where we work very hard to make sure that we're going to have the composition of the poll look like the composition of the electorate on Tuesday. And much of what we see is a consequence of turnout changes and who the likely electorate is, not changes in voter sentiment.
ELLIOTT: That means more Republicans are likely to turn out than they were telling you prior.
Mr. KOHUT: Clearly in this poll we find more Republicans engaged, interested, feeling it's important. The percentage of Republicans saying it's important which party controls the House went from 58% in mid-October to 65% in this survey. They're paying more attention. They're part of the game. They weren't part of the game, they were asleep. They've come to life, the Republicans have.
ELLIOTT: What are voters telling you is going on? Why are they more engaged?
Mr. KOHUT: Well, I think they are more concerned that the Democrats are going to take control and their spirits have been lifted. President Bush's approval is still very low, but its gone up a little bit. Opinions of the economy have improved a little bit. So there are lots of things happening. Perhaps Senator Kerry's remarks may have had something to do with Republicans being more concerned about which party controls the Congress. We found something like 84% of the people we talked to said they had heard about those remarks. Sixty percent said they had heard a lot, and 18% of the independents said it raised doubts in their mind about voting Democratic. It might have galvanized a little bit of Republican interest in engagement.
Another part of this story is that we've seen the Republicans make some gains among independents. We have in this poll a 44 percent to 33 percent lead for the Democrats among independents. That's pretty good. But it was better two weeks ago when it was 47 to 29 percent.
ELLIOTT: When did you talk to people?
Mr. KOHUT: We talked to people Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, so this poll came out of the field yesterday.
ELLIOTT: Now, let me make sure I understand this. You are not polling people about individual Congressional races. You are polling people in the aggregate on big general Republican versus Democrat concepts.
Mr. KOHUT: We are asking the voters that we question when they go out on Tuesday in their local districts, are they going to vote for a Republican candidate or a Democratic candidate. We are trying to forecast or measure the size of the popular vote for each party. And that size of the popular vote gives us some sense of which party will win the most seats.
ELLIOTT: If you had to say what part of the electorate is most important in what happens on Tuesday, what would you say?
Mr. KOHUT: Well I would say its independents. We've also, I would say, probably want to look at Independent female voters. There's some trend to Republicans in this poll among women, and women in previous polls have been giving Democrats a very wide margin. They're still supporting Democrats, but with a little less emphasis here than we've seen. Middle income voters, voters in the East and South have moved in the direction of the Republicans. Now, this is all somewhat. But those are the groups that I would be looking at.
ELLIOTT: Andrew Kohut is the director of the Pew Center for the People and the Press. Thank you.
Mr. KOHUT: You're welcome.
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