Turnout Assumptions: Why Does Rasmussen Show Better Numbers for Romney Than Other Polls?

Ever wonder why Rasmussen so consistently skews toward a Romney victory in its election projections? Dick Morris explains:

Almost all pollsters are using the 2008 turnout models in weighting their samples. Rasmussen, more accurately, uses a mixture of 2008 and 2004 turnouts in determining his sample. That’s why his data usually is better for Romney.

But polling indicates a widespread lack of enthusiasm among Obama’s core demographic support due to high unemployment, disappointment with his policies and performance, and the lack of novelty in voting for a black candidate now that he has already served as president.

If you adjust virtually any of the published polls to reflect the 2004 vote, not the 2008 vote, they show the race either tied or Romney ahead, a view much closer to reality.

Morris is obviously mixing spin with analysis here, but a question follows: why would you weight your turnout assumptions all the way back to 2004 (a very different America, demographically, from today)? 2004 is very nearly a decade ago.

And why don’t other pollsters follow Rasmussan’s lead?

Clearly, it’s because a 2004 turnout model is dubious. And think about it. Even if blacks, professional women, Hispanics, Asians, and young people are less enthusiastic for Obama than they were in 2008, there’s still more of them, in proportion to Republican-leaning constituents, than in 2008. So the question becomes this: what will be their percentage of the turnout as compared with Republican-leaning constituents?

That’s an enthusiasm question, and on this Democrats are leading, not trailing. Here’s Gallup this week:

[W]hereas equal percentages of Democrats and Republicans were enthusiastic in June [in swing state polling], Democrats are now significantly more enthusiastic than Republicans, 73% vs. 64%.

In other words, Dick Morris is simply wrong when he says that “polling indicates a widespread lack of enthusiasm among Obama’s core demographic” supporters. If anything, it’s trending in the opposite direction. A decline in Republican turnout, as compared with 2008, may end up being a key news story on the day after the election.

Of course, if you want to believe Dick Morris’s analysis of the state of the presidential race and Rasmussen’s polling to the exclusion of others, you are certainly free to do so, but I’m inclined to side with Nate Silver:

The FiveThirtyEight model uses state polls alongside national ones to calculate the current trend in the race. Doing so often lends more stability to the forecast than using national polls alone.

We have added nearly 100 state polls to our database over the course of the past week. If you can’t infer some useful information from those, and instead insist on calibrating your expectations of the race from one or two tracking polls, you’re going to have a warped perspective on where the contest stands.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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3 Responses to Turnout Assumptions: Why Does Rasmussen Show Better Numbers for Romney Than Other Polls?

  1. mhasegawa says:

    I have to say that I am a big Nate Silver fan. I just started reading his book, The Signal and the Noise. I didn’t think I would understand all the stats and math, but he actually makes things very easy to understand. I recommend it.

  2. DS says:

    Nate Sliver is a blindfolded money throwing darts at a dart board in a room with the lights off.
    In this election it will be who shows up to vote. If obama matches 2008 turn out he wins if turnout is like 2004 or 2010 he will likely lose.
    below are exit polls they show voter makeup.
    democrats vote in larger numbers(1 tie) then
    obama’s only path to victory is not on issues,
    not on hope and change it will be turn out.
    obama needs to drive down Romney’s turn out.
    Whip up his support with his base

    stupid single women

    2010 turn out obama loses.

    Democrat 39
    Republican 32
    Independent 29

    Democrat 37
    Republican 37
    Independent 26

    Democrat 39
    Republican 35
    Independent 26

    Democrat 40
    Republican 35
    Independent 22

    Democrat 38
    Republican 35
    Independent 27

    Democrat 37
    Republican 35
    Independent 26

    Democrat 38
    Republican 35
    Independent 26

    Democrat 43
    Republican 28
    Independent 23

    Democrat 37
    Republican 22
    Independent 41

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