Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Are Democrats On The Verge Of Vanishing In The South? A Look At How They're Performing With White Voters in 2014 Senate Contests

Come next month, the days when successful national Democrats were almost exclusively from the South may very well come to an end. Al Gore, left, and Bill Clinton, right, represent the last era of locally popular Southerners making the leap to the national stage.

The Democratic struggle to win over white voters was a well documented failure of the 2012 presidential election, in spite of their four point national popular vote win. Republican Mitt Romney carried whites by a 20-pt margin, a figure only exceeded by Ronald Reagan's landslide re-election in 1984.

But in the South, where a large number of heated 2014 Senate battles will be held in just five weeks, the white disdain for Democrats is even more pronounced.

Consider North Carolina, where Romney won nearly 70% of the white vote. Or Alabama, where he won 84%. Or Mississippi, where he carried roughly NINE in TEN whites! Even in tough years for Republicans, like 2008, they still perform stronger among white voters in the South, relative to how they do nationwide.

Given the large number of high-profile Southern senate races this Fall, I thought it might be interesting to check in on some of those GOP contenders, and compare how they're doing with white voters now to how other recent candidates performed.

Consider the Arkansas Senate race between Sen. Mark Pryor and Rep. Tom Cotton. In an average of polls taken since August (only those that provide racial demographic crosstabs), Cotton attracts 50% of white voters, while Pryor draws 36%. Though that margin surpasses Cotton's overall advantage over Pryor, it falls well short of McCain's 68% among Arkansas whites in 2008, and John Boozman's 65% in 2010. But the 2014 Pryor/Cotton race isn't comparable to those contests in the first place - it was never expected that Cotton would pull off a 20+ point victory.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

New Quinnpiac Poll Finds Gillespie Within 10 Points of Mark Warner - But He's Lagging With Republicans

Photo courtesy of the A.P.

A brand new survey out this morning from Quinnipiac University finds the former head of the RNC, Ed Gillespie, within reaching distance of popular Democratic Senator Mark Warner in the Virginia Senate race. Warner, who sports an impressive 52/34% favorability rating, only clocks in at 48%, while Gillespie attracts 39%.

Quinnipiac's previous Virginia survey from March found Gillespie trailing 46-31%, though that was among registered voters. The new survey was conducted among likely voters, so it isn't exactly comparable.

 Looking at the crosstabs, Warner has leads among women (50-37%) and men (46-41%). Despite trailing by nine points overall, Gillespie actually attracts more Independent voters than Warner, leading among this subgroup 43-41%. Of particular note was the passage below from the official poll release:
"Actually Gillespie is tied with Warner among independents but the incumbent's lead rests on Sen. Warner doing about 15 percentage points better among Democrats than Gillespie does among Republicans."
So Warner is doing a better job of consolidating his Democratic base than Gillespie is his Republican base. Warner racks up an astonishing 94% of Democratic voters. Compare that figure to Gov. Terry McAuliffe's performance with Democrats in the 2013 Governor race against Ken Cuccinelli, when McAuliffe captured 95% of the Democratic vote. That's the same percentage won by Tim Kaine and Barack Obama in their respective 2012 matches.

If you buy the Quinnipiac numbers, it appears as though Warner has maxed out his Democratic vote. But that isn't necessarily the case for Ed Gillespie.  The Republican is only capturing 78% of his base. That's significantly lower than where Ken Cuccinelli wound up in 2013 (92%), or even George Allen and Mitt Romney in 2012 (93%). In other words, Gillespie likely has room to grow.

Since Quinnipiac took the time to point out the basis Warner's lead is predicated on, let's consider how the survey would have looked had Gillespie performed as well among Republicans as Warner did among Democrats. In other words, what would the poll results have been if both Warner AND Gillespie attract 94% of their bases?

blog post

What was a 48-39% lead for Mark Warner becomes a 44-43% lead.

Obviously, the campaigns don't take place in a vacuum, and the numbers will shift between now and election day. But it is interesting to see how close of a race we could have assuming two things: 1) Quinnipiac's numbers are accurate, and 2) Republicans rally almost unanimously around Gillespie.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Loving To Hate Pat Quinn: Why An Unpopular Democratic Governor Stands A Decent Chance At Re-election

Gov. Quinn struggles to meet-and-greet supporters as union members protest his policies at the 2012 Illinois State Fair. Photo courtesy of the A.P.

There have been twenty-two surveys of the 2014 Illinois Governor race since Republican businessman and challenger Bruce Rauner captured his party's nomination in March. Governor Pat Quinn has led in only two of them, averaging 39% across all twenty-two polls (a number that should strike fear in the heart of any incumbent).

The Huffington Post Pollster average puts the challenger ahead 46-44%, and gives Rauner a 53% chance of defeating Quinn in November - again, making it very clear that Quinn is receiving no benefit whatsoever from the power of incumbency. In fact, from a purely polling perspective, Quinn is one of the most vulnerable Governors and/or Senators in the country. His job job approval rating is awful (see here, here, & here as well). Only Tom Corbett, Sam Brownback, Dan Malloy, and Mary Landrieu trail their opponents by a larger margin on Pollster.

Fortunately for Democrats, Pat Quinn has proven himself quite resilient in the face of awful polling and brutal political headwinds before.

Look no further than four years ago, when after a bitter contest and razor-thin victory in the Democratic primary, Pat Quinn was elected to his own full term as Governor, having stepped into the role in 2009 after former Gov. Blagojevich was famously removed from office. His job approval ratings that year were disastrous, even on the eve of the election. The general election head-to-head numbers were horrendous. Of the thirty-three publicly released polls following the Feb 2, 2010 primaries, Quinn trailed his Republican challenger in ALL but two. The final Pollster average in 2010 found Bill Brady (R) ahead by eight points. The final RCP average found Brady up five points. Pollster and Real Clear Politics even picked up on a last minute surge for Brady! They were obviously wrong, as Governor Quinn went on to win 47-46%. And it was arguably the largest polling miss of the 2010 cycle (ranking right up there with the infamously incorrectly polled Nevada Senate race between Harry Reid and Sharon Angle).

Further complicating things for Republican chances at picking up this Governorship this year, the most prolific pollster to date in the Illinois race, We Ask America, has somewhat of a problematic track record, particularly in Illinois. Not to mention the fact that they make up 36% of all Illinois Governor polls taken since the March 18th primary. To date, their results have been highly favorable to Bruce Rauner. Out of their eight surveys taken since the March 18 primary, Rauner has led in all of them, by as little as three points, and as much as fourteen.

Great news for the GOP, right? Well, not when you consider that We Ask America's only two surveys of the 2010 Illinois Governor race found Republican challenger Bill Brady ahead by ten and fifteen points, the latter of which was Brady's largest poll lead of the entire cycle.

This isn't to pick on We Ask America. As noted above, all of the pollsters were off in this race in 2010. Rasmussen Reports final poll on October 20, 2010 found Brady ahead of Quinn by eight points, which also happened to be the final Pollster average. PPP, Fox News, YouGov, the Chicago Tribune, and literally every other pollster in the final weeks of the 2010 campaign missed the mark, and none of them projected the actual winner.

So while the Democrats are again in the position of having to defend an unpopular Governor and unpopular President in an unfriendly political environment, history would suggest you should not underestimate Governor Pat Quinn. In 2010, polling that consistently favored the Republican challenger the entire time wound up being wrong. Given that, Governor Quinn may be the happiest (and luckiest) vulnerable incumbent running this year.

One final note: the three most recent surveys are all good news for Gov. Quinn. The first Chicago Tribune poll of the cycle finds Quinn surging into an eleven point, 48-37% lead over Rauner - easily his largest lead of both the 2014 and 2010 elections. A Global Strategy Group poll done on behalf of the Democratic Governor Association also finds a rare Quinn lead of 43-40%. Finally, a nearly brand-new We Ask America survey actually finds Rauner ahead 44-41%, but notes that the new figures represent a significant tightening from their last poll just three weeks ago when Rauner led Quinn 46-37%.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

How D.O.A. Is Governor Tom Corbett? Very, If Recent History Is Any Guide

PA Gov. Tom Corbett (left) will likely soon have much in common with fmr. PA Sen. Rick Santorum (right). Like Santorum, Republican Corbett looks poised to loose his statewide reelection bid in a big way. Photo on the right is courtesy of Jeff Swensen/Getty Images.

You almost have to feel sorry for Governor Tom Corbett (R) of Pennsylvania. After a near double-digit victory in 2010, he's trailed every potential Democratic challenger in every survey taken for the better part of eighteen months now.

And while a number of articles have been written about his deep unpopularity, none seem able to settle on a single reason as to why he is likely to lose his job this November. There's the argument that Corbett is simply too far right in a decidedly blue-leaning state. Or that unpopular education cuts have alienated moderates. Even lingering resentments over his involvement (or lack thereof) in the Sandusky/Paterno scandal has been implicated.

Whatever the reason, the data is clear - Gov. Corbett is the most vulnerable incumbent in the country, by a mile.

As noted in a previous post on this blog, out of a host of vulnerable incumbent governors and senators, Corbett is in the weakest polling position. His best polls since challenger Tom Wolf captured the Democratic nomination on May 20 came from a pair of consecutively released surveys finding him down eleven points, one of which was from a GOP polling firm.

Yes... an ELEVEN POINT deficit is the BEST Corbett has managed against Tom Wolf, and even those polls look like overly favorable outliers.

One PA Gov poll out Monday found Corbett down 54-33%. Less than two weeks before that, Quinnipiac University found him down 59-35%. The current Pollster average gives Tom Wolf a twenty-two point lead.

Is there anything Corbett can do to pull this one out, given the size of his polling deficit, and the amount of time left in the campaign? No, not if you consider incumbent Senate and Gubernatorial polling data from back to 2004.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Why Sen. Pat Roberts Isn't Out Of This Yet - A Dive Into The New SurveyUSA Kansas Senate Crosstabs

Pictured above, former Republican and Democrat, now Independent candidate for Senate in Kansas, Greg Orman.

Survey USA was first out of the gate yesterday afternoon, releasing a new poll of the Kansas Senate battle taken entirely *after* the shocking announcement last week that Democrat Chad Taylor would be exiting the race. Cutting to the chase - things look pretty bad for Republicans, at least on the surface.

Long-time incumbent Pat Roberts is polling at just 36% with the general electorate - that, after having won 60% in 2008, 83% in 2002, and 62% in 1996. Republican turned Democrat turned Independent Greg Orman comes in at 37%. A stunning 10% say they will vote for Chad Taylor regardless of the fact he has dropped out of the race. 17% are either undecided or will vote for Libertarian Randall Batson.

Given Kansas Democrats singular desire to kick Roberts out of D.C., it's easy to look at the 37-36-10% split and just say "hey, give that 10% for Taylor to Orman, and you have a 47-36% Independent candidate lead over the incumbent Republican." But why stop the assumptions there? Especially considering the fact that the devil is in the details.

First of all, the odds that 10% of Kansas likely voters will actually wind up voting for a non-candidate like Taylor are unlikely. So to see how the Taylor vote could break-up down the road, consider the partisan make-up of the 10% of Kansas likely voters that say they will vote for Chad Taylor. 21% of Democrats support Taylor. 12% of Independents do. And just 3% of Republicans support Taylor. Now suppose that two-thirds of the Taylor-supporting Democrats decide to abandon the non-candidate in favor of Greg Orman between now and November 4, 2014. The remaining one-third of Taylor supporting Democrats stay with Taylor in this scenario because...well...some Democrats are bound to vote for the guy with a (D) beside his name. In the meantime, reallocate two-thirds of the Taylor-supporting Republicans to the Roberts column, and leave the remaining third with Taylor. Lastly, reallocate two-thirds of the Taylor-supporting Independents evenly between Roberts and Orman, with the remaining one-third staying loyal to Taylor. How would the Survey USA result have looked under such a feasible scenario, all other findings remaining the same?

So you see, it's not quite as simple as just slapping all 10% of Taylor voters up on Orman's board. Orman would lead in such a hypothetical where Taylor voters side overwhelmingly with Orman, but by 4 points overall. And remember, the scenario above also assumes Roberts' 59% among Republican voters increases to 61% as a result of taking two-thirds (2%) of Republicans that claim they will support Democrat Chad Taylor. The scenario further assumes that 2/3 of Independent Taylor supporters will split evenly for Roberts and Orman, with Taylor maintaining the other third. In the end of this scenario, Taylor's support among the general electorate is around 3%, which sounds more likely as awareness grows about his non-candidacy in the 8 weeks remaining until election day.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Like Father, Like Son? Rand Paul Takes A Hit Among Republicans, as Americans Grow More Hawkish on ISIS

After riding high for a while, Rand Paul's primary numbers return to mediocre in the wake of renewed interest in international affairs.

Former Congressman Ron Paul ran twice for President, and never attracted more than 11% of Republican primary voters nationally. He never won a single contest, in either 2008 or 2012. His best statewide performance came in the form of a caucus, in the small state of Maine, where he won just 36% of the vote, losing to Mitt Romney with 38%.

This poor performance shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, especially considering the senior Paul was never your typical Republican primary candidate for President (being a renowned isolationist and 9/11 truther).

Unfortunately for Dr. Paul's son, Rand, the political atmosphere in which he is likely to launch a 2016 presidential bid promises to be more foreign policy focused than the two his father ran in. And Rand has done very little to distance himself from his father's controversial views on international affairs, even as Americans, and particularly Republicans, become more willing to get involved in the festering situation in Iraq.

Perhaps it's a coincidence, but it just so happens that as American awareness of ISIS and the dangers they pose at home and abroad rises, Sen. Rand Paul's GOP primary numbers suffer. It has been over one year since I wrote about Senator Rand Paul's initial rise among Republican voters, in the wake of an old-fashioned filibuster that lit up social media. But his standing has deteriorated since then. Consider the chart below, which documents every national or state Republican presidential primary poll taken since the end of June (when the first national surveys on Americans' views towards ISIS began appearing):