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Parsing the Polls: A New Fix Feature

Beginning today, The Fix debuts a weekly feature -- Parsing the Polls -- aimed at highlighting a handful of important (or just plain interesting) political surveys over the last week and providing context and commentary about them.

With polling playing an ever-increasing role in the business of politics and policy, it's important to not only understand what the numbers say but also the story behind them. We'll look at national polling as well as surveys conducted in individual House, Senate and gubernatorial races each week in an attempt to give Fix readers a sense of what the mood is not only in your state but also across the country. As with all Fix features, we want your feedback on the polls mentioned (and those we didn't mention but should have).  Feel free to either post in the comments section or drop me an e-mail.

To the data!

* CNN/USA Today/Gallup (In the field from Nov. 11-13, testing 1,006 adults with a 3 percent margin of error): This is the most recent in a series of national surveys showing President George W. Bush in freefall -- just 37 percent of respondents approved of the job he is doing compared to 60 percent who expressed disapproval.  This mimics the results found in the Washington Post/ABC News poll released earlier this month. (This great chart tracks the president's falling favorability rating as measured by the Post/ABC surveys.)

The CNN poll also shows that Bush seems to have no major issue where he is winning a majority of the public's support.  On the handling of terrorism, which has been Bush's strong suit since the Sept. 11 attacks, 48 percent approve while 49 percent disapprove. The numbers are considerably more stark on Bush's handling of the economy (37 percent approve/61 percent disapprove) and Iraq (35 percent approve/63 percent disapprove).

One note of caution: The poll tested "adults" -- the broadest of potential samples.  Within the polling business, tests of either registered or likely voters are seen as a better predictor of the mood among those who will vote in future elections.

* Newark Star-Ledger/Eagleton-Rutgers (Nov. 8-11, 444 voters, 4.69 percent margin of error): This poll, taken in the immediate aftermath of Sen. Jon Corzine's gubernatorial victory last Tuesday, provides an interesting window into why voters picked the Democratic senator over Republican businessman Doug Forrester.

The top reason cited was "the candidate's political party" -- a significant advantage for Corzine given that John Kerry won the Garden State by seven points last November. The second most important factor for voters was "Forrester's association with President Bush," which was cited as a motivating factor by 40 percent of the sample.

Issues seemed to play a lesser role in determining which candidate voters chose; Forrester led Corzine as the person more able to lower property taxes and deal with corruption in the state's government -- the two issues 57 percent of those tested said were most important for the next governor to address.  Forrester was unable to turn that support into a overall victory in last week's election.

* Siena Research Institute (Nov. 9-11, 622 registered voters, 4 percent margin of error): The latest poll in the 2006 New York Senate race seems to indicate that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) is headed for an easy reelection win, a victory that many expect to be the precursor to a 2008 presidential bid.

In a head-to-head matchup with former Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro, the likely Republican nominee, Clinton held a sizeable 59 percent to 31 percent edge. The 28 percent margin is unchanged from an October survey also done by Siena. Clinton enjoyed strong favorability ratings (60 percent) and a manageable unfavorable rating (34 percent).  Nearly six-in-10 voters said they would vote to reelect her compared to just 36 percent who would "prefer someone else." 

If her poll numbers continue to stay at this level, you can start breaking out the "Hillary '08" bumper stickers.

UPDATE, 11:39 a.m. ET: Since demand for new numbers among Fix readers is high, we'll add a note about an additional poll  showing (yet again) why Pennsylvania Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) is the most vulnerable incumbent up for reelection in 2006.

State Treasurer Bob Casey Jr. (D) held a commanding 51 percent to 36 percent lead over Santorum in the poll conducted by Strategic Vision, a Republican firm. The head-to-head matchup wasn't the only bad news for Santorum in the poll.  The survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted between Nov. 11 and 13 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.

The state, which has been a major battleground in recent presidential elections, seems to have turned sharply against President George W. Bush, with just 33 percent expressing approval of his job performance compared to 58 percent disapproving of his efforts.  Santorum's job approval numbers are slightly better -- 38 percent approving and 48 percent disapproving.

Santorum has trailed Casey by double digits in polling for the last several months, a bad sign for any two-term incumbent.

By Chris Cillizza  |  November 16, 2005; 8:20 AM ET
Categories:  Parsing the Polls  
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