By Jim Ellis
March 28, 2017 — The Georgia special congressional election has already been polled rather extensively, but each survey has possessed methodological issues. The latest Opinion Savvy (OS) survey (March 23-24; 462 pre-screened, likely special election voters) appears to follow this same pattern.
The new OS data is unusual in that the individuals comprising the sample group were pre-screened before being selected from the Georgia registered voters list. The pollsters’ are using the selection process to determine the likelihood of special election participation. The polling directors do not provide in depth information about the pre-screening formula. Opinion Savvy was rated a C- performer with a slight Democratic skew according to the most recent FiveThirtyEight analytics organization’s national polling report.
Unlike the previous polls completed for this special election contest, Opinion Savvy does list all of the candidates on their polling questionnaire. The two Clout Research efforts provided only an abbreviated array of choices, and particularly helped Democrat Jon Ossoff because their first poll allowed only he as a Democratic option, while the second listed he and state Sen. Ron Slotin. Eighteen candidates, including five Democrats, are in contention.
The Opinion Savvy survey also draws the conclusion that Ossoff leads the field at or around the 40 percent mark. This could be an accurate depiction because this and the other polls are not so flawed as to make their conclusions unworthy of consideration.
Ranking the candidate group behind Ossoff is where OS differs with their polling competitors. Opinion Savvy sees former Secretary of State Karen Handel (R) pulling into a strong second place with 20 percent support doubling that of her closest Republican opponent, businessman and local city councilman Bob Gray. Former state Senator Dan Moody (R), who is now beginning to advertise heavily, is in fourth position. The other polls have found Handel and Gray in a virtual tie for second place with the additional candidates trailing by a relatively substantial margin.
The Opinion Savvy survey is the only one that has begun to test various pairings for the secondary run-off election. Georgia special election law places all participants on a jungle primary ballot – in this case, April 18 – and the top two finishers advance to the special general election. For the GA-6 vacancy, the secondary run-off vote is scheduled for June 20.
According to OS, Ossoff is either tied, a little bit ahead, or just behind a Republican opponent in all tested situations. Testing Ossoff against Handel, the two candidates who would today qualify for the run-off if the Opinion Savvy results are on target, Ossoff claims a 42-41 percent edge.
Seeing the candidates battle in a too-close-to-call run-off is certainly possible. Democrats are investing heavily in this special election because they believe the northern Atlanta suburban district has swung enough in their direction that they might be able to pull an upset victory in a low turnout special election. But, the sampling group selection process and polling methodology is enough to question the results.
According to the pollsters’ analysis, “the survey was weighted for age, race, gender, and party identification using propensity scores. Weighting benchmarks were determined using past voter turnout figures and internal projections. For runoff questions, the weighting scheme was altered to reflect the likely voter demographic profile of runoff voters.”
Such a “weighting” of the responses in a two-way contest to reflect the demographics and voting preferences of the electorate based upon historical results, particularly when attempting to project special election voter turnout, may well lead to a flawed conclusion.
In any event, the GA-6 election is clearly the hardest fought of the five special congressional elections currently underway. A close finish is likely, and this race will clearly be attracting much more attention as we move closer to the April 18 and June 20 votes. A Democratic upset would certainly give the party a needed boost as they begin to prepare for the midterms.
Republicans holding the seat would obviously be a victory for President Trump and the party leadership. Last week’s failed healthcare revamp initiative may begin to depress Republican turnout, unless the party leadership can instill greater confidence within the GOP base before the mid-April election vote.
Trump carried this normally reliably Republican seat by only 1.5 percentage points in November. It is this latter statistic that has engendered Democratic optimism for the special election contest.