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Friday, May 25, 2012

Confusing Poll Numbers Released

Yesterday, political junkies were beset by a flood of polls in presidential and down-ballot elections, primary and general, and to say the results weren't consistent with one another would be a supreme understatement. I'll start with the big kahuna: the presidential race. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have been locked in a dead heat in national polls for some time now, but we all know the popular vote doesn't matter. An NBC News/Marist poll found the president holding a narrow lead over Romney in the key swing states of Virginia, Ohio and Florida. In each state, 48% of respondents said they plan to vote for Obama; Romney stood at 44% in Virginia and Florida and 42% in Ohio. The Ohio results were confusing for a number of reasons; for one, 44% of respondents identified themselves as "conservative" or "very conservative", but only 21% said they considered themselves "liberal" or "very liberal". This is inconsistent not only with the presidential survey results but also Marist's poll of the Senate race in Ohio, which found leftist Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) leading State Treasurer Josh Mandel (R) by fourteen points, 51%-37%. That also clashes with other polls of the same Senate race, which show Mandel within single points of the incumbent.

The results out of Florida were also inconsistent with other recent polls; a Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday shows Romney with a six-point lead (47%-41%) over Obama in the Sunshine State. Given this disparity, it should not come as a surprise that Quinnipiac found Rep. Connie Mack IV (R) locked in a statistical dead heat with incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D), who garnered 41% support among the respondents to Mack's 42%, while Nelson led Mack, the prospective Republican nominee, by four points (46%-42%) in the Marist poll.

Perhaps the biggest single outlier in the NBC News/Marist survey concerned the Virginia Senate race, where NBC News finds former Gov. and DNC Chair Tim Kaine (D) holding a six-point lead over former Sen. George Allen (R), who held the seat from 2001 to 2007. Kaine polled at 49% in the Marist survey, higher than he's polled in any poll of this race I've seen. Earlier this month, a Washington Post poll showed Kaine and Allen tied at 46%, and a survey conducted last month by the Democrat-run Public Policy Polling (PPP) had the Democrat leading by just one point, 46%-45%. (It's worth pointing out that Marist's last survey of the race, which gave Kaine a nine-point lead over Allen, was an outlier too.) 

Staying on Senate races, Democrats may have reason to worry in yet another state that was supposed to be safe: Rasmussen Reports provided the latest news out of arguably the most undercovered Senate race this cycle. Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. (D-PA), who defeated Rick Santorum in 2006 in what must fairly be called a rout, was not supposed to face a tough fight for reelection. No Republican heavyweight stepped into the race to challenge him, but that didn't deprive the GOP of a spirited primary. Steve Welch, a dashingly handsome businessman who had switched his party registration to Democrat in 2008 and then switched back, was what you might call the establishment candidate; he had the endorsements of the state Republican Party, Gov. Tom Corbett and the state's major newspapers. The "TEA Party candidate", former State Rep. Sam Rohrer, had lost his last race (against Corbett in the 2010 gubernatorial primary), but this time he appeared to be the frontrunner, supported by multiple grassroots organizations and former presidential contenders Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain. But on election day, Pennsylvania Republicans picked neither Welch nor Rohrer, opting instead for Tom Smith, a wealthy businessman with a high school education who worked as a coal miner and farmer in western PA and spent much of his life as a Democrat. (His record in local government, supporting multiple tax increases, provided much fodder for his opponents.) Perhaps even more surprising than Smith's victory was the margin; he took nearly 40% of the vote in a five-way primary, nearly twice what the second-place finisher got. Then yesterday, Rasmussen published the results of a poll showing Smith within striking distance of Casey; he trails the incumbent by just seven points, 48%-41%. By way of comparison, a PPP survey released earlier this week had Casey leading Smith by sixteen points, 49%-33%. (Interestingly, every poll of a head-to-head matchup between Casey and Smith, including those conducted before the primary, has the Democrat polling at just under 50%; this kind of consistency is rare, even for a well-known incumbent. Smith's numbers have, understandably, been all over the place.)

Finally, there's the marquee matchup in my neck of the woods: the race to succeed Kay Bailey Hutchison in the U.S. Senate. Winning the Republican primary is tantamount to victory in the general election, and in my opinion, this race has been severely underpolled. The only outfit I know to be tracking this primary is PPP, and their latest poll raised some eyebrows. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R) was widely regarded as the inevitable candidate, and big-name challengers who had initially thrown their hats into the ring later backed off. Still, many Republicans weren't content to just accept Dewhurst's coronation; former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and some jock named Craig James are also vying for the GOP nod next Tuesday. Dewhurst's main competition, though, has come from north of the border. Ted Cruz, a Canadian-born Cuban-American (not a typo) who served as state solicitor general from 2003 to 2008, has slowly but surely cultivated an enthusiastic base of support and amassed a vast campaign war chest. PPP has shown him gaining support with each successive poll, moving from 18% in January to 26% in April to 29% this week. Dewhurst's support, however, has increased as well: he's now at 46%, his best showing to date. If the lieutenant governor receives more than 50% of the primary vote, then he'll avoid a runoff. 

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