In the past month, many pollsters and political analysts have talked about the big swings they’ve seen in the voter surveys involving the Illinois gubernatorial race.
Most polls have shown Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, with a lead over Gov. Pat Quinn, but a couple of polls have shown the race so tight it is considered a tie. The polls can’t all be right.
Quinn’s camp has said the polls showing Brady with up to an 8 percentage point lead are flawed. They say the ones that have the candidates nearly tied are accurate. Their argument is that some of the early “big-lead-for-Brady” polls didn’t include the additional candidates running for office.
That argument is not holding much water, since the latest polls include the alternative candidates and Brady still wins by 4 percent and 5 percent.
Still, I was hoping somebody would do a good job of telling about the danger of taking the alternative candidates’ numbers as clear and irrefutable evidence of how they’ll do on election day.
Anyone who owned a less-than-reliable analog TV knows what a ghost image is. A picture tube that isn’t adjusted correctly will have this faint outline that may shift right or left of the true image. If there are a pair of large images on the screen, say a pair of people speaking to one another in a close camera shot, the ghost images are noticeable but not overpowering. With some of my own TVs, I saw ghost images of about 2 millimeters wide — which was negligible when the image that gets ghosted is 4 or 5 inches across.
But let’s say there’s a little line on the TV screen. Let’s say it’s 2 mm wide. Well, it now looks twice as wide because has a 2 mm wide ghost image.
This is roughly equivalent to voter polls. The mainline candidates are big images and even if they’ve got a little ghost image — the static that comes when surveyors ask likely voters what they’re going to do and run into that small percentage of respondents who want to mess with them — the big picture is still relatively clear. But the little candidates who are likely to get 2 or 3 percent of the votes may get the benefit of lots of telephone poll static that may make it look like the little guys are going to get twice the number of votes they’ll get on election day.
That brings us back to the enthusiasm gap.
Pollsters saw in 1994 that Republicans had greater enthusiasm to get out and vote. The enthusiasm gap was 9 percent in favor of Republicans who won majority status in the middle of Bill Clinton’s first term as president.
This year’s enthusiasm gap is 26 percent in favor of the Republicans. The GOP edge may not be that big in Illinois or Missouri, but then again, it could be that big or bigger.
Those polls that show Republicans with a 4 to 6 percent edge, which lots of people say are too close to call, could be sitting on wins of 10 percent or more come election night.
I’ll add one disclaimer. Not all Democrats will lose and not all Republicans will win. Each campaign has its own dynamic. Candidates are not all created equal. The enthusiasm gap just means that Republicans will have the edge in races that might have been nail-biters in other years.
And as for those alternative candidates, the Republicans and Democrats both have a huge enthusiasm advantage over people who initially plan to vote for “someone else.” If you’ve got no reasonable expectation that your candidate can win, you’re going to be less enthusiastic — less dedicated — about getting out to vote or even doing so ahead of election day.