By: Paul Bentz
˜Tis the season for a bevy of Arizona statewide polls giving us the latest details on the national and local races. In just the last two days, we have seen one poll saying that Obama has closed the gap with Romney in Arizona to three points, and another poll showing Carmona ahead of Flake by five points.
There is still a lot of the game to be played, but Carmona certainly has a much better shot of winning in Arizona than Obama. Both surveys are probably right in their trends of how the electorate is moving, typically this the time of the year where the gaps close.
However, both polls have a few challenges in some of their demographics. There are countless ways to conduct surveys and many schools of thought on how to balance demographics. The biggest argument lies in registration vs. participation.
Voter registration in Arizona has grown to 35.9% Republican, 30.2% Democrat, 33.9% PND/Independent/Other. In theory, they should participate in the election in the same proportion. But they don’t.
Elections are NOT about who is registered; they are about who shows up. When you look at voter participation, you get a different story. Below is the participation the last four General Elections:
Look at the cycles. Even with the wave in participation in 2008, Republicans have never been below 40% of the total electorate. Both surveys earlier this week had their sample of Republicans in the 36 to 37% range, meaning Republicans were underrepresented by at least three points.
Independents/Others, on the other hand, are far overrepresented. Indeed, they are the fastest growing group in Arizona, but their participation is far from certain. At their high water mark, they were nearly 26% of the turnout, yet their demographic gets nearly 30 to 32% in these surveys. That means the independents are over represented by as high as six points.
Any Arizona statewide survey that wants to reflect accurate results of the 2012 General Election should be around 41-44% Republican, 34-36% Democrat, 20-25% Independent & PND. There is a little bit of art to predicting the 2012 turnout. For example, Republicans will likely be more fired up than 2008, but less than 2010. Similarly, Democrats will be more motivated with Obama at the top of the ticket, but can they turn back the tide of their recent decline? Which independents and others will show up?
The other area where there is often a lot of discussion is age. Older voters show up no matter what. The question of every General Election is whether younger voters will show up to offset them. Arizona voter participation skews older. In fact, over half of the electorate will likely be over the age of 50. The key is how much will be over the age of 65. In the poll where Obama was within three points, only 18% of the voters were over the age of 65, but look at where participation has been in the past four General Elections:
Again, barring a dramatic change in the turnout, the baseline number for voters 65 and older should be at least 25% of the electorate, putting older voters underrepresented by at least 7 points.
The point of this discussion is not to discredit either of these polls or defend the Republican candidates. In my time, I have seen plenty of polls that overemphasize categories that would tend to favor Republican candidates. It happens both ways.
More than anything, as we get into silly survey season, I hope everyone takes the time to look a little bit closer to help separate myth from reality. Voter participation, not registration, should be what people look for in a statewide survey.