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Polls: Is there a “Shy Republican Factor”?

Posted By Paul Gleiser On November 3, 2008 @ 9:57 am In Polls | No Comments

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British pollsters had their heads handed to them in 1992 when they all predicted a victory for the Labour party, led by Neil Kinnock. Instead, John Major kept the drive alive for the Conservative party, succeeding Margaret Thatcher.

By the 1992 election, Great Britain was in a recession and, as is always the case when there’s a recession, the sitting administration got the blame. Thus the polls in Great Britain showed that Labour would retake the government.

In the aftermath of their failure, the major polling organizations in Britain began a critical self-examination and determined that their data was wrong due to the “Shy Tory Factor.” The Shy Tory Factor simply held that many who intended to vote Tory (i.e. Conservative) were, in light of the growing unpopularity of the sitting Conservative government, reluctant to say so to a pollster.

As a result of this discovery, the British polling organizations began including consideration of this effect in their tabulations.

Enter George W. Bush in 2008.

Only two presidents in recent history – Harry Truman in 1952 and Richard Nixon upon his resignation in 1974 – have left office with poor approval numbers in a league with those of George W. Bush.

The Republican “brand” in 2008 is deeply tarnished. And thus those who would ordinarily call themselves Republicans might be, if there is a “Shy Republican Factor” reluctant to say so to a pollster.

Allowing for the impact of high rates of new voter registration and expected high turnout rates among young voters (which some data suggests hasn’t actually happened), the polling data that we’re seeing in the final days of the 2008 election requires us to believe that a very significant number of voters at one time voted conservative have now changed their core beliefs.

If that has in fact happened, Obama will win the election easily.

But if there is an American analog to the “Shy Tory Factor” that we will come to call the “Shy Republican Factor,” and if there is, in fact, a Bradley Effect [2] to add to it, those shy Republicans could wind up being a lot less shy on Wednesday morning.


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[1] Image: http://www.ktbb.com/decision08/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/nobush.jpg

[2] Bradley Effect: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bradley_effect

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