Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Is Alaska ready for a Palin comeback? They're not ruling it out, according to Harper Polling

Incumbent Senator Mark Begich (D) (left) could be facing fmr. Governor Sarah Palin (R) in his first reelection battle next November. Photo on left courtesy of Loren Holmes, photo on right courtesy of A.P.

GOP survey group Harper Polling is out with a new 2014 Senate Republican Primary Poll of Alaska, sponsored by the Tea Party Leadership Fund. And there's some encouraging news for Sarah Palin fans -- home-state Republicans still regard the former Governor and Vice Presidential nominee fondly, enough-so that they'd be willing to put her back in elected office next year:

If the Republican Primary election for U.S. Senator were held today, who would you vote for? Joe Miller, Sarah Palin, or Mead Treadwell?

Sarah Palin  --  32%
Mead Treadwell  --  30%
Joe Miller  --  14%
Not Sure  --  24%

In a one-on-one race with the only candidate to have announced an exploratory committee for 2014 so far, Joe Miller, Palin would lead her former protege 52-19%, with 29% undecided.

Given the public opinion beating Palin took after resigning as Governor of Alaska in the Summer of 2009, followed by brutal media treatment in the aftermath of the Tuscon Arizona shooting of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D), it may seem somewhat surprising to see Palin positioned to win her party's nomination for office again in her home-state. But among Alaska GOPers, her favorability rating is a strong 62/30%, she's viewed as the most likely to "fight for conservative values" by 20 points, and as the "strongest person to take on liberal Democrats in Washington" by 16 points.  But as the cross tabs will indicate, Harper Polling is finding a much more "conservative" GOP Senate primary electorate than the one PPP found in the immediate aftermath of 2010's contentious battle between Joe Miller and Lisa Murkowski.

On August 24, 2010, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R) was NARROWLY defeated by Palin-endorsed Joe Miller for the GOP nomination for Senate, 51-49% (though Murkowski refused to concede the race until 1 week later). The rest was history, as Murkowski went on to wage a successful write-in campaign that November, defeating Miller (R) and McAdams (D) by a small margin.

In the aftermath of that highly contentious Republican primary battle, PPP conducted something like an exit poll, though instead of polling Alaskan primary voters as they left the polling booths, they simply called them at their homes the following day.

In that survey/exit poll of the 2010 Miller v. Murkowski primary battle, 59% of respondents identified themselves as Conservatives, 37% as Moderate, and 4% as Liberal. Now certainly, political environments can change, question wording can yield different results, and pollsters can just be wrong. And based on the disparate ideological I.D. findings of the two polling firms, one has to believe that one of those three things happened.

While PPP found just 59% of the August 2010 Alaska GOP primary electorate to be conservative, 84% of Harper Polling respondents claimed to be conservative. While PPP measured 37% of the 2010 Alaska GOP primary electorate to be Moderate, Harper Polling found just 14% identifying as such. While PPP found 4% identifying as Liberal, Harper Polling found 1%.

And as it's the habit of this blog, let's see what the new Harper Polling survey would have shown had they found a GOP primary electorate more like the one PPP says showed up when Miller narrowly defeated Murkowski in 2010:

Lt. Governor Sean Treadwell and former GOP Senate nominee Joe Miller both see their numbers improve under a 2010 turnout-scenario, while Sarah Palin's decline.
Although Palin wins a plurality of Conservative Alaska GOP primary voters (35%), Treadwell doubles her margin among Moderate GOP voters. And since PPP found Conservatives making up a far smaller (and Moderates far larger) portion of the 2010 GOP primary electorate than Harper Polling, Treadwell moves from a 2 point deficit against Palin to a three point lead upon reweighting.

Unfortunately, Harper Polling did not test Palin, Treadwell, or Miller against their Democratic opponent, Senator Mark Begich (elected in 2008). But they did  3 months ago. Then, Palin was able to make the race somewhat competitive (trailing the incumbent Begich 47-40%), while Miller would lose in a large landslide (52-29%). Lt. Gov. Treadwell was not tested against Begich in Harper's Jan. 29-30 survey.

Now, exit polling in Alaska is hard to come by in presidential elections, much less primary or midterm exit polling. As a result, a comparison of Harper's January Alaska General Senate Election polling will have to be limited to 2008 and 2004 Presidential exit polls, as I was unable to locate any midterm Alaska exit polling.

Either as a result of question working, pollster error, or the simple difference between midterm and Presidential electorates, Harper Polling finds a much more conservative and much less moderate 2014 Midterm Alaska electorate than exit pollsters found on Presidential election night 2008 and 2004 (much like they found regarding their primary electorate). That's why the chart below shows such drastic movement in favor of Sen. Mark Begich, in the event the Harper Poll were reweighted to 2008 or 2004 ideological I.D. findings:

Sarah Palin carries 63% of Conservative general electorate voters, but only manages 16% with Moderates, and 10% with Liberals. That may be enough for her to pull within single digits of Begich in a very Conservative electorate (like the one Harper Polling finds), but not if the electorate is more moderate (such as the electorates seen in 2008 and 2004). In fact, Palin does significantly worse against Begich when the Harper result is reweighted to past exit poll ideological findings, all other survey findings remaining the same (she trails by 24 and 26 points, instead of the originial 7 points).

Yet interstingly enough, if the survey is reweighted to 2008 and 2004 partisan I.D. findings, Palin actually does slightly BETTER against Begich than the originial poll findings. That's because in both Presidential years, slightly more Republicans turned up to the polls than Harper Polling found in their survey, while a few less Independents and Democrats turned out.

In conclusion, it would appear that while Sarah Palin's resignation did damage to her standing among Alaska voters (her overall favorability among ALL Alaskans is a poor 34/60%), not so much that they would be completely unwilling to put her back in elected-office. The numbers indicate that while she wouldn't be a shoe-in, she certainly has a strong chance. But as always the question with Sarah Palin...does she even want it?

At least for now, the answer to that question looks like a no.

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