As both campaigns know, it’s also a fluid situation with how voters identify their party leanings right now more important than how they last registered. It’s why both campaigns are angling for cross-over voters and especially Independents. If Obama and Romney were to get everybody who identifies with their party plus half the Independents, Obama – today, at least – would win by 7 points.
“Party identification changes as political tides change,” Frank Newport, Gallup’s editor-in-chief, wrote this week in his response to the controversy. “General shifts in the political environment can affect party identification just as they can affect presidential job approval and results of the ‘Who are you going to vote for?’ question.”
Gallup puts its question to voters agreeing to be surveyed this way: “In politics, as of today, do you consider yourself a Republican, a Democrat, or an independent?”
“Note that this question does not ask, ‘What was your party identification in November 2008?’ Nor does it ask, ‘Are you registered with one party or the other in your state?’” says Mr. Newport. “Our question uses the words ‘as of today’ and ‘consider.’ It is designed to measure fluidity in political self-identification.”
The key thing for campaigns and those reporting on them is too look at the bigger picture over time. Today’s snapshot – and this includes polls by the relatively conservative Fox News and Rasmussen Reports – shows Obama ahead during this period between the party conventions and the debates.