Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Another Special Election Proves To Be Too Tricky For PPP, while Red Racing Horses Finally Shines

2010 Democratic nominee for Governor looks sternly at her opponent during that race. Her loss last night seems all the more surprising, given her status as a known commodity statewide, and Jolly's relative obscurity. Pic courtesy of Getty.

Special thanks to Greg Giroux, whose work is cited frequently throughout the article.

Last May, Democratic pollster Public Policy Polling caught a little flack for what more than a few observers considered a major polling miss in South Carolina's special election between Mark Sanford and Elizabeth Colbert-Busch. And though their single Florida Special House poll wasn't quite so bad, it wasn't good either.

Republican David Jolly defeated Democrat Alex Sink last night by about 2 points. Yet according to PPP, Sink was supposed to have won, and by 3 points. At the same time, PPP's Republican counterpart, Red Racing Horses, nailed the final margin with a poll they released last week. So score one for Red Racing Horses

In a survey that was concluded Sunday, PPP also found that Democrat Alex Sink was carrying early voters 52-45%. Red Racing Horses found Sink leading by just 2 points with early voters, 48-46%. The actual final result among early voters? Sink by 2 points, or 48.5 - 46.2%. Score two for Red Racing Horses.

PPP was accurate in finding the Republican would win election-day voters. But rather than the relatively small 45-41% margin they found (including 10% for Libertarian Lucas Overby!), it was by 12 points, or 54-41% (and just 4% for the Libertarian candidate). Red Racing Horses got closer to Jolly's actual margin with these voters (47-40%), but they too underestimated his strength. Still, score three for Red Racing Horses.

The one thing PPP did do better than Red Racing Horses? They were closer to hitting the percentage of early voters vs. election day voters - though they were still off of the actual percentages by a wide margin. PPP's survey sample found 60% of respondents claiming to have already voted, while 37% planned to vote on election day. In reality, early voters made up a much larger portion of the overall #FL13 special electorate, 71% in fact. Election-day voters only made up 29% of total voters.

Red Racing Horses was even more off the mark on this stat. They found a significantly narrower 53/47% split between early voters and election-day voters (though to be fair, their poll was conducted about two weeks ago, perhaps at a time when less voters were planning to vote early than actually did. 

Unfortunately no exit polls were taken of the #FL13 race, and PPP and RRH are the only #FL13 pollsters to provide detailed crosstabs for their findings, so scoring the pre-election surveys against the actual results will have to stop there.

Whether you want to call it a bellwether or not, David Jolly (R), a previously unknown former campaign-staffer who won a competitive primary to earn his spot on the general election ballot, defeated his better known, better-funded, and un-primaried Democratic opponent in a special house race where the Republican was largely expected to lose (until recently).

Not only that, but these special election Democratic nominees aren't quite stacking up to President Obama's 2012 electoral performance. Consider, for example, that as of the time of this writing, 2010 Florida Gubernatorial nominee and near-winner Alex Sink stands at 46.6% of the #FL13 vote. Sixteen months ago, the President performed 3.5 points better, winning 50.1%. The same applied to Cory Booker's special election to the Senate in NJ, where he underperformed Obama '12 by 3.4 points. The President outperformed Ed Markey in Massachusetts, where the new Senator did 5.9 points worse than Obama. And who can get forget Terry McAuliffe in Virginia, who underperformed Obama by 3.4 points?

The bottom line, as Cook Political Report's Dave Wasserman said last night, is that none of this bodes well for Democrats this November

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