Three Big Myths About The 2004 and 2008 Elections

by: Chris Bowers

Sun Nov 02, 2008 at 09:30

When I tell people how well Obama is doing in the polls, here are three of the most common responses I receive:
  1. "Yeah, but Kerry was winning at the end of the campaign, too."
  2. "Yeah, but Kerry was way ahead among early voters, too."
  3. "Yeah, but Republicans always do better in the final results than in the final polls." (GOTV and / or machine fraud are often cited as reasons for this one.)
All of these responses irritate me, both because they are all demonstrably false and because they are often accompanied by excess worrying. In the extended entry, I attempt to wipe away this worrying by actually showing how all three of those myths are false.
Chris Bowers :: Three Big Myths About The 2004 and 2008 Elections
1. Kerry was winning late in the 2004 campaign, too. No he wasn't. I have heard hundreds of people make this claim, but it just isn't true. For perspective on where the 2008 campaign stands relative to the 2004 and 2000 campaigns, Professor Charles Franklin maps the trend lines during all three:

I don't know where this rumor started, but it is both widespread and easily shown to be false. Obama is currently running about 6% ahead, while Kerry was running about 1% behind three days before the election. Obama is 7% ahead of where Kerry was four years ago.

2. Kerry won early voters, too. No, he didn't. Again, I don't know where this rumor got started, but it just isn't true. The final Pew poll in 2004 showed Bush and Kerry running even among early voters. The final CBS poll in 2004 showed Bush ahead among early voters. None of the other final 2004 trial heats seem to have crosstabs for early voters, but there is no evidence that Kerry led among early voters, and most evidence indicates that he was slightly behind. So, Obama is running at least 8-10% ahead of Kerry among early voters. Also, it is important to remember that early voting could be as much of 35% of all voting in 2008, whereas four years ago it only accounted for 22.5%. So, not only is Obama running way ahead of where Kerry was four years ago, but early voting is much more important than it was four years ago.

3. Republicans typically improve from final polls to final results. Again, I have no idea who starts these stupid myths, but this one is completely false. In 2004 and 2006, there were 42 statewide elections that were polled during the final week of the campaign, and where the final outcome of the campaign was 10% or less. In those 42 campaigns, Democrats gained an average of 0.5% from the final polls to the final margin. This study included the 19 states in the 2004 presidential election that were decided by less than 10%. So, on average, Republicans actually do worse from the final polls to the final result.


So, in summary:

  1. Kerry was losing by 1% with three days left, while Obama is winning by 6%
  2. Bush either narrowly won early voters in 2004, or it was a tie. Obama is winning early voters by 10%.
  3. On average, Democrats improve from the final polls to the final result, not Republican.
I hope this will settle some people down. I know there is a lot of trauma out there, but the simple truth is that 2008 is not showing the same numbers as 2004, like at all.

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All I will say is... (0.00 / 0)
that we'll see whether you are right on tuesday (or wednesday). I pray you're right.  

Don't pray, volunteer. nt (4.00 / 7)
Go canvas, or phonebank. Drop in a last second donation. Now is the time for action. Let the right wing pray while we bust our asses to win.  

[ Parent ]
I did my own sort of "Volunteering" (4.00 / 2)
That is, I looked in my address book and reminded everyone in there to vote. You know what they say: "Be The Media" (which should be "be a medium" IMHO)

[ Parent ]
Thanks, Chris! (0.00 / 0)
I don' think the hand-wringers will be able to join the reality based community until a week after the election.

Yeah, but what about PA? ( * _ * ) (0.00 / 0)

PPP polling says "Chill" about Pa. (4.00 / 2)

"We've done enough interviews in Pennsylvania the last couple days to be pretty confident in saying Obama has nothing to worry about there."

[ Parent ]
Well the Bidens are heading to Philly tomorrow (0.00 / 0)
probably to deliver the "street money"

[ Parent ]
Good for them! (0.00 / 0)
Obama up by 7 in Pa. according to SUSA just out. 51-44. I'll take it.

[ Parent ]
Like, thanks Chris. (4.00 / 8)
For an entire season, no, not season... war. For and entire war of progressive coverage, thinking writing and encouragement with criticism, research and humour - I want to say thank you.

It will be a wild night of congratulations and thanks, so I feel okay saying this now, you have helped a lot.

For all of us, thank you.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

although, i would argue (4.00 / 1)
that state by state the gop usually does better after votes are counted then compared to the polling before voting day, i believe that is because of vote suppression and purging, this is the same reason the right is trashing exit polling so much, the exit polls don't match the results because of gop dirty tricks on election day which exit polling can't predict.

Um, no. (0.00 / 0)
On average, Democrats improve from the final polls to the final result, not Republican.

Chris said that Democrats on average gained 0.5% from the final pre-election polls to the final result in 42 statewide races in 2004.  

[ Parent ]
How well to late ad blizes work? (4.00 / 2)

 The Republicans are pulling out ALL the stops now. Reverend Wright, socialism, Obama is a scary black anti-Semite, etc. And they're running big, sweeping ad campaigns to drive this stuff home.

 I would think that they've done this kind of thing before and that it's already reflected in the late-breaking poll movement.

 But I've tossed Obama some late coin just to make sure.  

"We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn

At the expense of ground game (0.00 / 0)
That will hurt.

[ Parent ]
The first rumor got started..... (4.00 / 4) a combination of a mini "surge" a week before the election for Kerry in Gallup that dropped off significantly by the weekend, and that asshat prediction by Zogby the night before the election that Kerry would win decisively.  Actually, it was Zogby, more than anything, who made us all believe.  Zogby was a respected pollster before 2004.  His numbers were extremely accurate in the 90's and 2000 election.  Apparently, he could only call Clinton elections accurately, though.... So, we were all fooled big time!  In the 90's I used to say that if Zogby says we're winning, then Zogby's right!  Oh, what a fall from grace that has been!

REID: Voting against us was never part of our arrangement!
SPECTER: I am altering the deal! Pray I don't alter it any further!
REID: This deal keeps getting worse all the time!

I think people also confuse the exit polls... (4.00 / 4)
with the pre-election polling in their memories. On election day there was a lot hype about a Kerry win from the exit polling, so non-political junkies may have confused this with a late polling lead.

[ Parent ]
Exactly (4.00 / 2)
By 3PM on election day 2004, many people I knew were convinced that the exit polls pointed to a decisive Kerry victory. Bush's victory convinced them that the polls were useless or that the election was stolen.

[ Parent ]
I think it was that but also (4.00 / 2)
if I recall correctly, there was a general assumption in 04 that the "undecided vote" would break for the challenger. So even though Kerry was down a bit in the polls many people believed he would win. I think that is how a lot of these myths got started

 Also about the early voting, I think the idea was that Kerry "was doing better then Dems usually do", which turned into peoples memory that "Kerry won the early vote"

[ Parent ]
It's over (0.00 / 0)
Anyone watching Rick Davis spin till he gets dizzy know that this is over.

I love how he keeps using words like "structurally" and "organizations."

They honestly believe that this is 2004 or even 2000 where the country is split. If that is the case then why is it tied in NC and IN?  

I also loved how he said blacks would not turnout in record numbers and that blacks are "organizations."

It's over.

I always thought that... (4.00 / 1)
if North Carolina wasn't in the bag for McCain before the election then he didn't stand a chance. Whichever way North Carolina goes, we did our part because they couldn't afford to defend it. McCain needs a quintuple bank shot with a ref assist to pull this one out.  

[ Parent ]
It ain't happening (0.00 / 0)
SUSA has a new poll out of PA with Obama up 7. The thing is Obama isn't losing support McCain is just gaining some of the undecideds. Unfortunately for him it still won't be enough.

It's over.

[ Parent ]
Rick Davis is an idiot ... (0.00 / 0)
I also loved how he said blacks would not turnout in record numbers and that blacks are "organizations."

Far be it for me to speak definitively on this subject .. but reading people like Oliver Willis and others .. Rick Davis has no f-cking clue what he is talking about .. I bet black turn out will be huge

[ Parent ]
You don't have to tell me (4.00 / 6)
I'm black. My people will crawl over glass to vote for Obama.

Have you seen a single black person get out of those five hour lines?

Blacks will vote at historic numbers. I do not know a single black person who isn't willing to wait in line to vote for Obama. I know that many blacks will be off on Tuesday just to vote.

[ Parent ]
I am not African-American (4.00 / 1)
but since I am in fact a human being and a proud American if I set aside the superior policy priorities, temperament and intellect of Senator Obama, I still ask myself: can I imagine not being in the part of America who will usher in not only a supremely competent President and the end of an 8-year militaristic nightmare of incompetence, but to be part of a historic shattering of the racial glass ceiling in American politics?

We haven't invented an office yet above President.

Obama is very likely to win.

So do I not want to be able to tell my preschoolers some day how their Daddy voted for a great President who was also the first African-American?

Then factor in that my ancestors and relatives are largely racists, not survivors of racism.  Can I imagine an African-American 20-something NOT telling his grandmother, her children, that he/she voted this time?  Would they live that down with their dignity intact at the Thanksgiving table in 4 weeks?  There's a reason that early turnout has been massively weighted towards African-Americans not only as against all registered voters but indeed measured even against the Black proportion of the total population: it's apparent that Black voters literally cannot wait to vote!

[ Parent ]
AA turnout WILL be huge (4.00 / 1)

 ...if my canvassing experiences are any indication.  

"We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn

[ Parent ]
Likewise (4.00 / 1)
In my canvassing of black neighborhoods in Durham NC, the response was phenomenally positive and motivated -- most had already voted or were on their way to the vote early.

Save Our Schools! March & National Call to Action, July 28-31, 2011 in Washington, DC: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch...

[ Parent ]
Obama's race (0.00 / 0)
is the reason that many people don't believe the polls, even if they point to other things like Kerry's mythical lead. A lot of people just have a hard time believing that a country as deeply racist as the United States will really, when it comes down to it, vote in a black man named Barack Obama.

I don't know whether this fear is founded or unfounded, but I think it is underlying a lot of the anxiety and skepticism you're seeing.

Also, there are those who see it as counter-productive to talk about how inevitable victory is.

That's a comment I hear pretty often, too (0.00 / 0)
"...But they won't let him win." Even some of the die-hard Obama fans among my friends and family still have an I'll-believe-it-when-I-see-it attitude, despite evidence pointing to victory.

[ Parent ]
There is little doubt (4.00 / 1)
that in Florida the Bush ground operation did allow him to outperform his polling.  I completely agree with averything that Crhis has written with this exception.

The last Florida RCP average had Bush ahead by .6%.  He won by 5%.  Only one poll had the race 5 points or more, Quinnipiac.  There were polls showing Bush ahead (Rasmussen had him up 3_ but even Fox News had Kerry up 5.

There are three explanations for the variance:
1.  Bad polling - but if this is the case why was Florida somewhat unique?
2.  Ground organization - and Bush's '04 ground organization was awesome.
3.  Fraud - which I don't believe.

It was ground game for sure (0.00 / 0)
And every indication is that this time the advantage is on the other side.

[ Parent ]
The Myth from '04 is based on Zogby's results (0.00 / 0)
The pre-election state polls from Zogby were all Kerry. That was reflected in part, in the map from four years ago

(The '04 election was on Nov 2, thus this is the right date, the Sunday before the election.)

It did show Kerry up in the projected electoral vote 283-246.

And it also showed a problem with the '04 version of, which used only the - latest - available state poll, no matter how partisan or screwed up it was. (Andy Tannebaum of now averages a bunch of polls, when available, for each state.)

All 3 myths are used by handwringers and Republicans, despite their (4.00 / 2)
obvious error.

1. "Kerry was ahead of Bush at this stage"

Whenever someone makes that point I point them to this link, which shows the national polls from 9/1/2004 forward to election day.


Bush had leads throughout.  It ended up closing a bit, but in the end Bush was able to pull it out.  At no point throughout the entire cycle was Kerry actually ahead of Bush in the vast majority of the polls.

2. "Early voting favored Kerry in 2004"

Bull.  In both 2000 and 2004 Bush won the early vote 60% to 40%.  That gave him the early cushion to stave off Democratic surges on election day.

In years past, however, early voting has tended to favor Republicans, according to voting experts. Mr. Bush won the early vote in 2004 in his race against Senator John F. Kerry, 60 percent to 40 percent. Mr. Bush won early voters by a similar margin in his 2000 run against Vice President Al Gore. As a result, the preliminary data from some states has surprised certain experts.

"In the past, what you've seen is early voters tend to be older, had higher incomes and lean more Republican and that trend has held over the past elections," said Paul Gronke, executive director of the Early Voting Information Center at Reed College in Oregon. "But what we are seeing now when you look at the numbers is that they are more African-American, Hispanic and the young. I look at this and I go, 'Wow!' This is quite different. It is a lot different from what we've seen before and it has to raise concerns for the G.O.P."

Four years ago, George W. Bush scored 60 percent of early voters, according to data from the National Annenberg Election Study. In 2000, the survey put Bush's take at 62 percent.

Remember that early voting stats combine in-person-early voting and mailed-in absentee ballots.  The advantages Bush had here can't be overstated.  His massive early-voting advantage helped him overcome late surges from both Gore and Kerry - well, Gore was robbed, but that is another discussion.  

which brings us to

3. Republicans perform better than their polling suggests

Utterly false.  As explained above, Bush started off with 60% to 40% advantages in early voting in both elections, yet, he barely won in 2000 and 2004.  That suggests that on election day Bush underperformed polls badly, actually lost election-day voting to both Gore and Kerry, as Bush frittered away 20% advantages in early voting and turning both elections into nail biters.  

Interesting Graphics at NYTimes (4.00 / 1)
The Times has an interesting series of graphs on the election. They seem to mostly reinforce Chris Bowers' points. See:


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