McCain 2008 = Gore 2000? Matching the numbers from Gallup, ABC, TIPP and Zogby

Politics, Presidential Elections, US Elections, US Politics

A fair bit of attention has been paid in the blogs today to the assertion of McCain’s chief strategist Steve Schmidt that “The McCain campaign is roughly in the position where Vice President Gore was running against President Bush one week before the election of 2000.” It’s met a good dose of scepticism. The WaPo drily annotated the quote as follows:

McCain’s team dismisses the most dire polls — those showing the race nationally with a double-digit lead for Obama. Advisers believe the contest’s margin is in the five-to-seven-point range, about the same deficit, they say, that then-Vice President Al Gore faced at this time eight years ago against then-Gov. George W. Bush. (A Washington Post poll at the same point in the 2000 race showed a tie.)

NBC’s First Read similarly remarked:

[T]he NBC/WSJ poll right before the election found Bush ahead by three among likely voters (47%-44%). But our most recent poll shows Obama up [..] 11 points among likely voters (53%-42%).

In addition, Marc Ambinder points out that the margins are “way different” state-by-state: “Obama’s doing much better in 2008 than Al Gore was in 2000 in the battleground states.”

Now I had a graph up here a week or two ago charting how Obama’s current Gallup numbers compare with the lead or deficit that Kerry, Gore and Clinton faced in the previous three presidential elections. In the days since, Googlers have found this site through at least 27 permutations of searches involving some combination around Gore, Bush, polls, October, historical, 2000, elections, tracking and Gallup. So this is a good occasion to update that post and expand it, not just looking at the Gallup numbers but also those from the ABC, Zogby and TIPP daily tracking polls from 2000, 2004 and 2008.

First off, that chart from last time, based on the Gallup polling numbers from the last four elections. Here’s the update:

What does this graph tell us in general? That Obama is running well ahead of Gore and Kerry, but that comparisons with the 1996 race are still overenthusiastic. But also that in comparison with the Democratic candidates in 2000 and 1996, Obama’s margin over McCain is remarkably steady. Clinton’s lead over Dole lurched up and down between 9% and 23% in October, while Gore went from 11 points up to 11 points down, and then again to 1 point up to 13 point down. Obama’s Gallup poll lead over McCain, on the other hand, has remained within a relatively narrow bandwidth from 4% to 11%.

What does it indicate about Schmidt’s assertion? A week before the 2000 elections, Gore was down some 3-5 points, compared to Obama’s lead of 6-8% in the last three days. So that suggests some wishful thinking on the part of Schmidt. With the exception of one particularly bad day, Gore was steadily behind by 2-7 points throughout the last two weeks of polling, averaging out at -5%. Two weeks and one day before the last polling day, he was actually ahead by a point. In comparison, McCain’s average performance in the past two weeks hasn’t been much worse (-7.6%), so point to Schmidt there – but McCain hasnt been ahead in a Gallup poll since 16 September.

Gallup’s hardly the only poll though. Scouring pollingreport.com for pollsters that conducted daily tracking polls in all the last three elections, I found three. There’s Zogby; the ABC poll (whether or not conducted together with the WaPo); and TIPP. You may not have heard of TIPP, but it’s conducting a daily tracking poll for the Investor’s Business Daily, and in previous cycles did so for IBD and the Christian Science Monitor.

Schmidt is in luck here, because of the seven daily tracking polls out there now, TIPP and Zogby are among the three having shown the smallest Obama leads in the last two weeks. TIPP can tout having come second closest to the actual results among independent pollsters with its final poll on the Bush/Kerry race, so let’s start with that one:

Again, Obama’s doing clearly better than either Kerry or Gore were doing at this time – his margin vis-a-vis the Republican opponent is some 6 points better. Considering Gore won the popular vote and Kerry ended up down just 3 points, that’s always reassuring to note, especially considering this is the poll that’s been showing the smallest leads for Obama of all the seven daily tracking polls out there. Still, it’s not exactly a killer of a lead.

Schmidt’s argument works for this poll. A week before the elections, Gore was down some 4-5 points, and he’d still drop to -9 during that week. So McCain’s not doing any worse than that now.

How do the ABC(/WaPo) polls match up?

The ABC/WaPo daily tracking poll has only started a couple of days ago, so there’s not a whole lot of data available here yet, though we have an additional ABC/WaPo poll from back on 11 October. The picture’s clear anyhow: Obama is far ahead by about 10 points, while Gore was never down more than 5. Nothing to see here, Mr. Schmidt.

Zogby doesnt have the best of reputations, but let’s see the comparison for his daily tracking polls:

Zogby’s tracking poll started off very cautiously, with an Obama lead distinctly smaller than what most of its competitors were showing, but it’s had him surging the last few days.

This graph is again a good reminder, like the graphs above, that Kerry was behind pretty much throughout the endgame of the last elections; for some reason a lot of people think Kerry was ahead and take that ‘memory’ as proof of why you can’t trust polls. As for Steve Schmidt’s assertion, it obviously doesn’t hold up for the Zogby poll; McCain’s behind 10 points now, while Gore was never behind more than 5 in the last month.

All in all, then, Schmidt didn’t exactly lie; you can find a poll for which his assertion holds true. But cherry-picking is what you need to do here, so we’re firmly in the department of grasping for straws here. Not to mention, of course, the inconvenient detail that Gore lost the elections…

2 Comments

1 Comment

  1. sozobe  •  Oct 25, 2008 @5:46 am

    Clearly, Schmidt thinks that Gore WON and the Supreme Court acted improperly… ;-)

    Thanks for doing this, I’d thought about addressing this issue but would have just gathered the nay-sayers, this is some nice original analysis.

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