One of the traditional questions pollsters use during elections is, “Which party will get your vote for Congress?”  Despite most pundits predicting a takeover of the House by Republicans, one recent poll gave the advantage to the Democrats by a one-point margin.  That puts it squarely in the margin of error.

Can all those experts, analysts, and pundits be wrong?

Yes … but only to the extent that they do not know how to interpret the poll.  Based on history, a one-point advantage for the Democrats translates to an almost certain win for the GOP.  In 2010, Democrats had between a two- and five-point advantage.  That was the year the GOP picked up 63 seats in the house.  President Obama said the Democrats had taken a “shellacking.”  Indeed, they had.

Close observers of the political process understand that the advantage Democrats show in the polls is usually wiped out on Election Day.  It is not an anomaly.  It is a standard result.  But why?

There are several factors that play into that phenomenon.  First, polling tends to favor Democrats.  Sometimes a little.  Sometimes a lot.  Many of the polling operations are run by Democrats.  While it is a factor, it is a minor one.

The major reason is the distribution of the population. Democrat voters tend to be highly concentrated into fewer congressional districts – and often in states with lopsided Democrat majorities.  It is the same reason Democrats occasionally get more congressional votes nationally and still lose seats to the Republicans.  Democrats win fewer races with overwhelming margins.  Republicans win more races by closer margins.  The same is true of polling.  Millions of voters may say they will vote for the Democrats, but they are jammed into fewer districts.

The situation is not quite as true with the Senate races because they are state based, but it does have some effect.  We see that in the Electoral College.  Democrats can win the popular vote by wide margins in a few major states but lose closer races in a lot more states with a lot more electors.

Any savvy Democrat strategist looking at the Democrats’ one-point advantage will be sweating bullets at this stage of the political season.  Those numbers could mean a minimum 35-seat pick-up for the GOP.  They are not as predictive for the Senate.

So, there ‘tis.

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