Swing voters

Swing voters

Now that we’re talking about Catholic voters, some interesting news from some new polls on the Catholic vote, on the Hotline’s blog.

The swingiest constituency may be white Catholics: “More of a swing group is white Catholics. Their preference for Democrats from an 18-point margin in August to a mere two-point margin in September a 22-point margin now. Where they end up is essential; along with independents, Catholics historically have been a decisive group in election outcomes.”

So—think about congressional races in NY, PA, OH and IN.

I think there’s a word missing in there, but the gist of it is that white Catholics (as opposed to Hispanic and other racial groups) have moved from preferring Democrats by 18 points in August to 2 points in September to 22 points now. Keep in mind that it doesn’t tell you what kind of Catholics these are: weekly attendees, self-professed orthodox, Catholic in name only, or what.

But this highlights my problem with such polls. What do they mean? How can I interpret that 18 to 2 to 22 point swing unless I know what questions were asked? How can I judge if I don’t know whether the same people were asked three times or if these were three different groups. I know that statisticians like to claim that with a sample size over 1,000 it doesn’t matter if it’s the same group, that they are just as representative of the whole, but I’m not buying it. There are too many variables that must be accounted for to make it truly representative.

Do people really change their minds that easily do the numbers shift so much because you’re tapping into different “bubbles” of the voting public?

I seem to recall that in 2004 all the polls at this point showed Kerry with a double-digit lead, even into the last week of the campaign, yet he still lost. Why? And with these giant swings from August to September to October, could it not swing again until in the next month?

So while the poll doesn’t tell us what white Catholic voters will do, it does tell us that more than ever strategists for both parties know that capturing the Catholic vote is important and that’s why the Democrats are tailoring their message, trying to convince us to vote for them despite that little abortion/euthanasia/stem cell/gay marriage problem.

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