Wednesday, October 1, 2014

What’s The Matter With…OKLAHOMA?!? Shock Poll Says Governor Fallin’s Fallin’

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What a year, huh? Democrats are dropping off statewide ballots like flies. Bizarre 3-way contests are putting typically loyal partisan states in play. Once quixotic Independent bids are gaining real traction with voters.

And now, in the sixth year of an unpopular Democratic President's term, the Republican Governor of deep-red Oklahoma could be in real danger of losing her re-election bid, at least according to her Democratic opponent's pollster.

Clarity Campaigns, the internal polling firm for Joe Dorman, finds Governor Mary Fallin ahead just 47-45%, well within the survey's margin of error. Fallin's job approval rating is upside down, with 42% approving, and 46% disapproving.

How could this be, in a state with an R+19 partisan voting index (the third most Republican in the country)?

Oklahoma isn't just some squishy RINO state, like North Carolina. It is Tea Party through and through, more conservative than any one of the Romney-state Congressional contests going down this November. To beat a dead horse, Obama won just one-third of Oklahoma voters in both the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.

What in the world could prompt such a state to even begin to consider throwing out not only their first female Governor, but one they elected on the first go-round, 60-40%?

Whatever their reasons, there is some evidence to suggest that MAYBE, just maybe something is awry in the Sooner State.

We'll start with the horse race polling. Two relatively dated surveys from Rasmussen Reports and YouGov found Dorman within single digits of Gov. Fallin. That's at least swinging-distance. Another poll, from a Republican firm, found the incumbent Governor sitting at just 44% with likely voters in a head-to-head with Dorman. The frothers at +Daily Kos  pointed out that Clarity Campaigns had previously found Dorman down just six points, in a poll that wasn't publicly released.

Last, but not the least important reason Fallin could be upset: she's no longer the popular figure she was when we last saw her as she comforted the citizens of Moore, Oklahoma, after a brutal tornado ravaged the town in the Spring of 2013. And her biggest decline appears to have come from Republicans and Independents. Indeed, take notice of this morsel from the Dorman internal memo, on why their candidate is doing so well:
"His coalition is built on a strong lead with Independents, winning 18% of crossover Republican voters, and a consolidated Democratic base."
All that being said, I'm not quite buying it. It just seems like fool's gold, even grander than the notion of Travis Childers offing Thad Cochran in Mississippi.

I'll grant that the Oklahoma Governor's contest feels closer than it should be, but we're still talking about Oklahoma - a state that hasn't voted for a Democratic President since LBJ. A state who's entire congressional delegation is Republican. A state that had a town that banned dancing!! But there are plenty more reasons than that to not buy the closeness of this race, like the fact that evidence of a Fallin implosion isn't all that solid.

First, there's the fact that Clarity Camaigns is a Democratic pollster, hired by a Democratic campaign to release presumably favorable data about their candidate. The problem with this, as FiveThirtyEight's Harry Enten details extensively, is the high likelihood of partisan polling error. Granted, Enten's data was limited to House and Senate polls, but substantial error was present in both. Maybe Clarity will be proven right. But I think the gist of Enten's article is that it wouldn't be wise to put all of your eggs in a partisan polling firm's basket.

The second reason I'm skeptical of a successful Democratic insurgency goes back to the quote from the internal polling memo above - the fact that Dorman is picking up 18% of crossover Republican support, while consolidating his own base. Unfortunately, there hasn't been a single exit poll taken of Oklahoma in six years, and even then, the only data available is from presidential elections. But the 2008 Exits found Republicans only offering up 5% of their vote to Barack Obama.

Third, the excellent track record of the Sooner Poll is impossible to ignore. Not only are they tested, their results have been accurate. They rank easily in the top 10% of pollsters in FiveThirtyEight's 'Pollster Ratings,' and received a B+ score overall. Clarity Campaigns received a B-, but the grade was based on an analysis of just one survey, vs the Sooner Poll's eleven. And it's the Sooner Poll that has Gov. Fallin ahead 50-32%.

Finally, if all else fails, Mary Fallin always has James Lankford. Lankford is running a very, very strong campaign in the special election to replace retiring Senator Tom Coburn. Who would have thought that he could wind up with Fallin on his coattails?

Obviously, the Daily Kos guys and gals feel differently, and their points are mostly fair; like why would Fallin be up on the air at this late stage?  But like the broken record says ... we need more data to determine if this sleeper-race is waking up.

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