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  Likely (and Unlikely) Voters and the Assessment of Campaign Dynamics
Parent(s) PollingFirm 
Last EditedArmyDem  Sep 08, 2008 09:40am
Logged 1 [Older]
News DateMonday, November 8, 2004 03:00:00 PM UTC0:0
DescriptionRobert S. Erikson, Costas Panagopoulos and Christopher Wlezien


Only in recent years has the "likely voter" technology been extended to polls well in advance of an election. In the case of the 2000 U.S. presidential election, CNN/USA Today/Gallup tracking polls indicated considerable fluctuations in likely voter preferences, greater than among the larger pool of registered voters surveyed. This article explores how Gallup’s likely voter model exaggerates the reported volatility of voter preferences during the campaign. Much of the reported variation in candidate preference reported by Gallup in that election is not due to actual voter shifts in preference but rather to changes in the composition of Gallup’s likely voter pool. The findings highlight dangers of relying on samples of likely voters when polling well before Election Day.


Following the first presidential debate of 2000 on October 3, candidate George W. Bush received a remarkable boost in the polls, a boost so large that it became the centerpiece of campaign coverage in the media. Of the many polls, the largest shift to Bush occurred in what was one of the most closely-watched indicators—the daily CNN/USA Today/Gallup tracking poll.1 In the October 2–4 tracking poll, which centered around the October 3 debate (and reported on October 5), Bush lagged Al Gore by a seemingly formidable 51-40 margin among "likely voters." By October 5–7 (the next independent segment of the tracking poll), Bush surged ahead with a 49-41 point lead. Seemingly, in a matter of only three days, Bush gained 9 points and Gore lost 10 points, for a 19-point swing. With this example being the most extreme instance, the Gallup tracking poll attracted considerable attention throughout the 2000 campaign for its exceptional volatility. The extraordinary volatility of Gallup’s 2000 tracking poll is well documented (Traugott 2001) and has drawn skepticism from veteran poll-watchers.
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