Rasmussen Reports is a large polling firm compiling data on races all around the country. It also has a bias in favor of horserace politics.
Back in 2004, Rasmussen indicated that it would not include Nader in polls unless he was on the ballot in ‘at least 35-40 states’. This year, Nader was on 45 state ballots by mid-September and opened 22 field offices across this month. Newsweek has noticed something, but Rasmussen hasn’t.
But its not just the principle of fairness that ought to ensure that independents and minor party candidates are included in polling. Restricted polling skews analysis not only of elections but of the long term political trends that drive the campaigns.
An October 16, 2008 article on the Oregon Senate race in the free portion of Rasmussen’s site makes much of the statistically insignificant difference between the Democratic and Republican candidates. Older polls had Democrat Merkley down against the Republican Smith, so obviously this could be an upset, in sports terminology.
What Rassmussen misses is that the race includes Dave Brownlow, candidate of religious-right Constitution Party, who is pulling 7% in a SurveyUSA poll and 4% in a previous Portland Tribune poll. This is significant for a few reasons: statistically it is outside the margin of error, its growing and it shows that the religious right is more inclined to vote against the GOP than in previous years.
It would be interesting to know where Brownlow is demographically strongest. Since Rasmussen won’t include minor parties in its surveys, even buying the super subscription service won’t tell you. Survey USA will tell you that Brownlow pulls 10% shares among Asians, occasional church goers, and people making less than $50,000 per year. That is an intriguing mixture, but there’s no further breakdown available.
The fact that far-right candidates like Brownlow and South Carolina’s Bob Conley are something more than marginal figures deserves analysis. There is a split in the Republican Party between the country-club set and the right-wing populists. The temporary rejection of the President’s bailout plan by a majority of the GOP congressmen in response to popular anger at the plan is indicative of that.
If the far-right is growing more assertive, going into a recession we have to consider the lessons of the Europe, where the far-right has taken advantage of “antipathy toward globalization and capitalism” to push a xenophobic and anti-Muslim agenda.
Even as the Oregon race between the two leading candidates has tightened up, and presumably pressure to deliver reliable Republican votes has increased, an anti-abortion Christian fundamentalist who is opposed to the war in Iraq and favors the abolition of the Federal Reserve has improved in the polls.
The reason for this is simple but lies outside the horserace coverage of polling firms like Rasmussen. As gas and food prices increased, lower-income republicans began looking for alternatives.
This kind of split was probably inevitable to a degree over the war, which has dragged on, alienating small government types, civil libertarians and isolationists in the process. The economic meltdown, and the subsequent government intervention in contradiction of years of pro-market rhetoric, has created a crisis in the GOP. The right-wing movement itself is split between the Glen Beck libertarians, who believe the free market should never be interfered with and the gold-standard populists, who consider metal money a form of regulation. The differences are less perceptible now, but will become more important later if the economy worsens.
McCain may be able to keep right-winger votes through the anti-government, anti-environment appeal of Sarah Palin. He may be able to keep the libertarians, through repeated claims that Obama’s plan (which is very similar to his own) is socialism. But further down the ticket, moderate Republicans are going to lose votes on the right-wing margins.
Again, if you look at the horserace between the Dem and the Rep, then you won’t even notice these trends. And in races like the Oregon Senate contest, you’ve got to question the quality of analysis that ignores not only the margin of error but also assertive xenophobic politics.