Some political numbers to keep in mind on election night

The first set of political numbers come from pollster Scott Rasmussen, who reports that 45% of adults say they would be at least somewhat likely to vote to reelect Barack Obama, while 49% say they would be at least somewhat unlikely to do so. Obviously there are lots of caveats to be entered here. The presidential election is three years away. The question doesn’t take into account the nature of Obama’s opposition. And respondents’ predictions of what they will do in the future do not always turn out to be well founded. Having said all that, there is a contrast here with Obama’s job approval ratings, which continue to be above 50%. My sense is that majorities tend to approve of Obama personally but also tend to disapprove, or at least to have serious qualms about, his major policies.

The other political numbers are from Gallup, which in its October 1-4 survey found that among registered voters, Democrats led Republicans in the generic vote for the House (which party’s candidate would you vote for in the House of Representatives?) by a narrow 48% and 46% margin. I’ve long noted that Republicans tend to do better in House elections than indicated by the generic vote, and Gallup provides an excellent historical analysis of how this comes to be. It also gives projections for the number of Democratic seats that would be produced by different Democratic percentages of the House vote. I note that in the five elections from 1994 to 2004, when Democrats won between 46% and 48% of the popular vote for the House, they fell short of the 218 seats needed for a majority in the House—which is right in line with Gallup’s projections.

Gallup’s 48%-46% numbers suggest to me that Republicans have a significant chance—but probably still under 50%–of gaining the 40 seats that would give them a majority in the House. Provided, of course, that opinion in November 2010 is where it was in early October 2009, of which of course there is no guarantee.
 

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