Generic ballot, caveat emptor

GENERIC BALLOT, CAVEAT EMPTOR…. In late May, Gallup’s generic congressional ballot, pulled together from daily tracking data, showed Republicans with one of their biggest leads over Democrats ever, 49% to 43%. Loyal Bushie Peter Wehner, among other Republicans in media, was overjoyed, and used the results as clear evidence that the “political noose continues to tighten around the necks of Democrats.”

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Not quite two months later, Gallup’s new generic congressional ballot shows the mirror opposite. As of now, it’s Democrats who are leading, 49% to 43%. As the pollster noted, it’s “the first statistically significant lead for that party’s candidates since Gallup began weekly tracking of this measure in March.”

I suspect a poll like this will be a morale booster at DNC headquarters, but I’d caution against taking any of these results too seriously.

Looking at that Gallup chart, the trends appear pretty erratic, and don’t seem to reflect any meaningful rationale. Wehrer’s misplaced excitement notwithstanding, there was no real reason for Republicans to have jumped out to a six-point edge in late May, just as there’s no real reason to think there’s been a 12-point shift in Democrats’ direction in less than two months.

Sure, Republicans haven’t had a great summer thus far — Joe Barton’s apology to BP got the ball rolling in Dems’ favor lately — but I’d be surprised if that explains the jump in the Gallup results. If so, every generic-ballot poll would start to show a similar shift.

For that matter, not everything in the Gallup data was good news for Democrats. The poll found the “enthusiasm gap” getting worse for Democrats, with 51% of Republicans saying they are “very enthusiastic” about voting this year, the highest number in months. In a midterm cycle like this one, enthusiasm may mean the difference between majority status and minority status.

My advice, for what it’s worth: no one should get too excited something like this. Wehner shouldn’t celebrate when the GOP is up six, and he shouldn’t contemplate jumping out the window when Democrats are up six.

It’s one poll, and an erratic one at that. The Gallup numbers could be the result of the unemployment fight, the Wall Street reform vote, and the recent Republican controversies, or they could just as easily be statistical noise.