The new Gallup poll is chock full of interesting data. Perhaps the most interesting finding is this: For the first time in this poll, a majority of Americans (54 percent to 44 percent) now say that US made a mistake sending troops to Iraq. Less than three weeks ago, the public was still saying, by 58-41, that sending troops was not a mistake.
Note that these data were collected before the wave of violence that was unleashed Thursday in Iraq.
Another turnaround is on whether the war with Iraq has made the US safer from terrorism. Just 37 percent now say the war has made us safer, compared to 55 percent who say it has not; when Gallup last asked this question in mid-December it was 56-33 the other way.
The poll also finds a majority (51-46) saying it was not worth going to war with Iraq, pretty much where this measure has been since late May.
Bush's overall approval rating, compared to Gallup's last measurement three weeks ago, is down a point to 48 percent. His rating on Iraq is up a point to 42 percent, while his rating on terrorism is down 2 points to 54 percent.
By far the biggest change is his rating on the economy: up 6 points to 47 percent with 50 percent disapproval. This is close to his mid-April rating in this poll (46/52), though still substantially below his 54/43 rating in early January.
Note that the latest Washington Post poll, conducted right before the Gallup poll, registered only a slight improvement in Bush's economic approval rating (just 2 points) and had his disapproval rating dropping only a point, compared to Gallup, which has his disapproval rating declining by 8 points.
Despite Bush's improved economy rating in the Gallup poll, voters still favor Kerry over Bush (53-40) on which candidate can better handle the economy. That Kerry advantage is essentially unchanged since early May.
On the situation in Iraq, Kerry and Bush are nearly tied (47-46 in Bush's favor), a slightly improvement for Kerry over his 3 point deficit in early May. This tie is notable, of course, because sentiment is now so strikingly negative about the Iraq war. Perhaps Kerry's failure to gain an advantage reflects the public's view, captured in other polls, that Kerry does not have a clear plan himself for dealing with the Iraq situation.
Another interesting finding is that, while Bush has a modest lead (51-43) over Kerry in terms of who the public trusts more to handle the responsibilities of commander-in-chief, the public expresses an identical degree of confidence in the ability of Bush and Kerry to handle the responsibilities of commander-in-chief (61 percent in each case).
In terms of favorability ratings, it seems significant that Kerry's net favorability rating (favorable minus unfavorable) is now substantially higher than Bush's. Kerry is +23 on this measure (58 percent favorable/35 percent unfavorable), up from +17 in Gallup's last measurement in April. In contrast, Bush is just +8 (53/45), down from +14 in April. These data are consistent with the recent New York Times story that suggested the GOP's frontal assault on Kerry has not had much success creating an unfavorable image of him.
Turning to the horse race, as ever we must, Kerry leads Bush by 4 points (49-45) among registered voters (RVs). That approximates Gallup's early June result when Kerry led 49-44.
Of course, there's bound to be confusion about this, since Gallup and its clients tend to highlight the likely voter (LV) rather than RV results, which, in this case, actually show Bush ahead by a point (49-48) . And then some media outlets tend to report the Kerry-Bush-Nader results, rather than the Kerry-Bush results, which further clouds the issue.
Let me reproduce, as a public service, my thinking about why you are well-advised, at this stage of the race, to pay more attention to RV than LV results, especially when both are reported. As for why it is preferable to look at Kerry-Bush matchup results, rather than Kerry-Bush-Nader results, I will refer you to a recent analysis I did on the issue.
There's been considerable confusion about which trial heat results to pay the most attention to at this point in the race. Here's my take, which should help clarify why I choose to focus on certain results over others.
One issue is likely voters (LVs) vs. registered voters (RVs). At this point, most polls are surveying only RVs and I believe that's appropriate and, in fact, preferable. It is way too early to put much faith in likely voter screens/models as representing very accurately the voters who will actually show up on election day. There is reasonable evidence that careful likely voter methodologies work well close to the election and do fairly accurately capture that pool of voters. But there is no such evidence for LV samples drawn this far out.
Indeed, my understanding is that Gallup does LVs this early not so much because they believe they are capturing election day voters this early, but more so that they can avoid having to explain sudden shifts in the horse race question as LV data replaces RV data in the fall (the traditional time to switch from RVs to LVs). There have apparently been some problems with this in the past, so reporting both from the very beginning of the campaign eliminates any potential embarrassments along these lines. But that doesn't mean the LV data is any better at this point in time--it merely means they're providing it.
In fact, since the sample size for LVs is smaller and since the composition of the LV sample will shift depending on how political developments are affecting interest and intensity levels among different groups of voters, additional volatility is built into the LV samples that is not there with the RV samples.
And then there are the comparability problems. LV samples are difficult even to compare to one another, since methodologies differ, and clearly can't be compared very well to RV samples, which are the bulk of polls at this time. That's another strike against paying much attention to LV results this early.
So, RVs and Kerry-Bush it is! Looking further at this match-up, Gallup shows Bush ahead by 8 points in the solid red states (won by Bush by 5 points or more in 2000), but Kerry ahead by 14 in the solid blue states (won by Gore by more than 5 points) and ahead by 9 in the purple states (decided by less than 5 points in 2000). And Kerry is carrying independents nationwide by 10 points and moderates by 24 points.
Pretty good news for Mr. Kerry. Some of you may have heard, though, that the latest Fox News poll has wildly different results from the ones just summarized. A bit later in the day I'll offer some comments on the Fox News "findings".