Crunching Numbers: The Latest Poll

With only a few days left until the election, CBS News Director of Surveys Kathleen Frankovic tries to read the tea leaves – or, at least, the latest polls results. --Ed.
The last few polls before an election are always exciting, but should also be taken with at least a little caution. We've seen things happen between a poll's release and election day that makes voters change their minds. For example, most of the interviews in the CBS News/New York Times Poll, reported last night on the CBS Evening News, were completed before Massachusetts Senator John Kerry made comments that many people interpreted as criticisms of U.S. Troops in Iraq. We can't say yet if that has had an impact.

Our poll found that likely voters gave the Democrats a huge lead in voter preference in the national election for U.S. Representative -- a wider lead than we've seen in our more than 25 years of doing pre-election polls. The Democrats will need that kind of margin to win back the control they lost in 1994. One estimate (by Prof. Michael McDonald, an expert in voting behavior and turnout, is that given the way the 435 House seats are allocated - and the way they have been gerrymandered- Democrats would have to get 55% of the national two-party vote for the House to win a majority of seats. (Republicans could win less than a majority of that vote and still get the larger number of seats.)

There are opinions that are unlikely to change between now and election day. We know that Iraq matters a great deal as a national issue -- and that Americans are becoming increasingly pessimistic about the possibility of success there. Barely a majority think success is likely in Iraq (the lowest number ever, and a striking finding as it's hard for Americans to fathom the possibility of defeat anywhere), and only one in ten (the lowest figure ever) say success is very likely. Right now, Americans see a stalemate in Iraq, with almost as many saying the insurgents are winning as think the U.S. is. And voters are almost three times as likely to say their vote is against the President as to say it's for him. George W. Bush's overall approval rating has been above 50% only once in his second term - and that was back at the time of his second Inaugural!

We also know that for at least one in ten voters, whatever John Kerry meant can't matter. They told us that they had already cast their vote -- either at an early voting site or by mail.