I Get Email: Were The Polls Accurate In 2004?

Here’s an email I received this week-end:

not sure if you’re having a Q&A this friday, but here’s a question for you: in the 2004 elections, was anybody predicting that the GOP would pick up seats in Congress (as well as win the White House)? there seems to be alot of doom-and-gloom on the right side based upon polling of the upcoming 2006 elections, but based on the “paint the country red” maps that showed the results of voting districts of Bush vs Kerry, i find the prospects of the Dems taking back Congress to be a bit of a stretch.

Frankie in Honolulu

In 2004, the focus was more on the Senate and the Presidency than the House, but I can pull the final batch of polling data up for you from the RWN archives and as you’ll see, it was, for the most part at least, on target.

This is the RWN Senate Race Analysis from November 2nd, 2004:

State By State Breakdown

State: South Dakota
Seat Currently Held By: Daschle (D)
Competitors: Daschle (D) Vs. Thune (R)
Last Poll: Zogby Thune +3
Latest RCP poll spread: Thune +1.3
October Polling: Thune wins 3. Daschle wins 1. 1 tie.
My Analysis: Edge to Thune (75/25)

State: Florida
Seat Currently Held By: Graham (D)
Competitors: Martinez (R) Vs. Castor (D)
Last Poll: Fox Castor +6
Latest RCP poll spread: Castor +0.5
October Polling: Martinez wins 9. Castor wins 7. 7 ties.
My Analysis: Toss Up (50/50)

State: Colorado
Seat Currently Held By: Campbell (R)
Competitors: Coors (R) Vs. Salazar (D)
Last Poll: Zogby Salazar +8
Latest RCP poll spread: Salazar +4
October Polling: Salazar wins 7. 3 ties. Coors wins 2.
My Analysis: Edge to Salazar (75/25)

State: Oklahoma
Seat Currently Held By: Nickles (R)
Competitors: Coburn (R) Vs. Carson (D)
Last Poll: Coburn +8
Latest RCP poll spread: Coburn +6.7
October Polling: Coburn wins 10. Carson wins 4.
My Analysis: Likely Republican Retention (90/10)

State: Alaska
Seat Currently Held By: Murkowski (R)
Competitors: Murkowski (R) Vs. Knowles (D)
Last Poll: McLaughlin Murkowski +5
Latest RCP poll spread: N/A
October Polling: Knowles wins 2. Murkowski wins 1.
My Analysis: Toss Up (50/50)

State: North Carolina
Seat Currently Held By: Edwards (D)
Competitors: Burr (R) Vs. Bowles (D)
Last Poll: SurveyUSA Burr +5
Latest RCP poll spread: Burr +2.0
October Polling: Burr wins 8. Bowles wins 1. 1 tie.
My Analysis: Edge to Burr (75/25)

State: Louisiana
Seat Currently Held By: Breaux (D)
Competitors: Vitter (R) Vs. Kennedy (D) Vs. John (To avoid a run-off, the winner must crack 50%)
Last Poll: MRI Vitter 47% Vs. Kennedy 15% Vs. John 21%
Latest RCP poll spread: Vitter 43% vs. 33% opponents vs. 24% other/undecided
October Polling: Vitter 44% VS. 33% opponents vs. 23% other/undecided
My Analysis: Edge To Vitter (75/25 chance of hitting 50%)

South Carolina: DeMint (R) picks up a seat held by Hollings (D)
Georgia: Isakson (R) picks up a seat held by Miller (D)
Illinois: Obama (D) picks up a seat held by Fitzgerald (R)

Final Analysis:The GOP is likely to add 3 seats with 1 Republican and 1 Democratic seat that are toss-ups. So the GOP should add +2 to +4 seats in the Senate.

Hat tip to Real Clear Politics for the polling data.

Now, are there are individual polls that are off here? Yes. But, if you look at the, “Latest RCP poll spread,” which is an average of the latest polling numbers from multiple agencies, you’ll see that they went 5-1-1 (N/A) in the competitive races. The one the polling average missed had Cantor winning by +0.5%, which is of course, basically so tight it’s a coin flip.

Now, here’s the Bush Vs Kerry: Final Analysis & Predictions from November 1, 2004:

States In Play

State: Florida
Electoral Votes: 27
Bush Or Gore in 2000?: Bush
Last Poll: Zogby Kerry +2
Latest RCP poll spread: Bush 1.9
October Polling: Bush wins 14. Kerry wins 11. 3 ties.
My Analysis: Slight Edge for Bush (60/40).

State: Pennsylvania
Electoral Votes: 21
Bush Or Gore in 2000?: Gore
Last Poll: Zogby Kerry +3
Latest RCP poll spread: Kerry +2.5
October Polling: Kerry wins 19. Bush wins 2. 1 tie.
My Analysis: Likely Democratic Retention (90/10)

State: Ohio
Electoral Votes: 20
Bush Or Gore in 2000?: Bush
Last Poll: Zogby Bush +5
Latest RCP poll spread: Tie
October Polling: Kerry wins 13. Bush wins 11. 1 tie.
My Analysis: Coin Flip (50/50).

State: Michigan
Electoral Votes: 17
Bush Or Gore in 2000?: Gore
Last Poll: Zogby Kerry +1
Latest RCP poll spread: Kerry +2.4
October Polling: Kerry 13 wins. 1 tie.
My Analysis: Likely Democratic Retention (90/10)

State: Minnesota
Electoral Votes: 10
Bush Or Gore in 2000?: Gore
Last Poll: Zogby Kerry +3
Latest RCP poll spread: Kerry + 1.2
October Polling: Kerry wins 8. Bush wins 5.
My Analysis: Coin Flip (50/50).

State: Wisconsin
Electoral Votes: 10
Bush Or Gore in 2000?: Gore
Last Poll: Zogby Kerry +8
Latest RCP poll spread: Kerry +2
October Polling: Bush wins 8. Kerry wins 7. 2 ties.
My Analysis: Coin Flip (50/50).

State: Iowa
Electoral Votes: 7
Bush Or Gore in 2000?: Gore
Last Poll: Zogby Kerry +1
Latest RCP poll spread: Bush +1.1
October Polling: Bush wins 11. Kerry wins 5. 1 tie.
My Analysis: Leaning towards Bush (75/25).

State: New Mexico
Electoral Votes: 5
Bush Or Gore in 2000?: Gore
Last Poll: Arg Kerry +1
Latest RCP poll spread: Bush +3.8
October Polling: Bush wins 6. Kerry wins 4.
My Analysis: Leaning towards Bush (75/25).

State: Hawaii
Electoral Votes: 4
Bush Or Gore in 2000?: Gore
Last Poll: SMS Research Bush +1
Latest RCP poll spread: Bush +0.9
October Polling: Bush wins 2. Kerry wins 0.
My Analysis: Likely Democratic Retention (90/10)

State: New Hampshire
Electoral Votes: 4
Bush Or Gore in 2000?: Bush
Last Poll: Arg Tie
Latest RCP poll spread: Kerry +2.0
October Polling: Kerry wins 8. Bush wins 2. 2 ties.
My Analysis: Leaning towards Kerry (75/25).

In the competitive state breakdown, the “Latest RCP poll spread,” went 8-1-1 (tie) and the one that was wrong was Hawaii, which was only polled twice the whole month.

So, were the polls accurate overall? Yes. Are the polls going to be as accurate this time around? As far as the Senate goes, yes, you should be able to get a good read of who’s going to win each race based on the final, multiple polls.

Unfortunately, because the House is extremely competitive this time around and those races aren’t polled as often as Senate races, there simply isn’t going to be enough polling data in some cases to get a good feel for who’s going to win.

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