June 24, 2015 — This week, Quinnipiac University brings us the general election preferences from 970 to 1,191 respondents who were questioned in the critical Senate states of Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Earlier, the university pollsters released partisan primary Senate data from their June 4-15 polls in each of those places. The early results favor Democrats in Florida and Ohio, and Republicans in Pennsylvania.
The Sunshine State poll tested the four most likely 2016 open seat Senate participants: Representatives Ron DeSantis (R-FL-6), Alan Grayson (D-FL-9), Patrick Murphy (D-FL-18), and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera (R). In all scenarios, the Democrats perform better. None of the candidates, however, is well known. Of the group, Rep. Grayson is most familiar but 62 percent of the respondents have yet to hear of him. The least known is Rep. DeSantis who only 19% of the polling sample can identify.
The biggest spread, 40-28 percent, belongs to Rep. Murphy over Lt. Gov. Lopez-Cantera. The closest early contests are six-point spreads: Rep. Grayson over the lieutenant governor, and the same Orlando Democrat topping DeSantis by an equal margin.
This particular Q-Poll seems to favor the Democrats with unusually high spreads, meaning there appears to be at least a slight Dem-skew to the data. The polling sample breaks down 31 percent Democrat and 27 percent Republican, with 34 percent as Independents. The actual Florida registration divides 38 percent Democrat, 35 percent Republican, and 24 percent Independent. Therefore, the polling sample rather badly over-samples Independents, which could be a reason for Democrats doing a bit better here than one might reasonably expect. Additionally, Democrats regularly tend to record stronger poll numbers in the southern states than attracting actual votes in the ballot box.
Florida’s swing political history portends that an open Senate race will break virtually evenly between the eventual Democratic and Republican nominees, and the ’16 contest will not likely be an exception.
Former Gov. Ted Strickland (D), for the second time in a Q-Poll, leads incumbent Sen. Rob Portman (R). From this sample, the ex-governor enjoys a 46-40 percent edge. Two other pollsters, Public Policy Polling and Vox Populi, also conducted June Ohio polling but arrived at far different conclusions. PPP projected Sen. Portman to be holding a two-point lead, while VP projects him ahead by a full 10 percentage points.
But the Ohio Q-Poll seems to contain some internal contradictions. While Strickland enjoys a 47:29 percent favorable to unfavorable ratio, Sen. Portman has a similar 43:21 percent positive personal rating. Republican Gov. John Kasich holds a 60:30 percent positive job approval, while Democratic President Barack Obama’s score is a poor 40:56 percent. Therefore, with the support numbers discernibly leaning Republican it is surprising to see Strickland with an advantage beyond the polling margin of error.
In any event, we can count on seeing a close photo finish here, again from one of America’s quintessential swing states.
The Quinnipiac data makes a bit more sense in Pennsylvania considering the bad publicity the Democrats are enduring for their leading candidate, former Rep. Joe Sestak (R-PA-7). The ex-Philadelphia suburban congressman was the 2010 nominee who scored a very respectable 49 percent against now-Sen. Pat Toomey (R).
Here, it is Toomey posting a relatively strong 47-36 percent margin against Sestak, who holds, at this point, about as big a lead as any Pennsylvania Republican could reasonably expect.
Though the Democratic leadership has been open about recruiting a candidate other than Sestak, the only other person of substance to so far enter the race is Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski. The mayor jumped into the 2014 governor’s race, but did so poorly he had to end his campaign even before the candidate filing deadline.
Since no Republican presidential candidate has carried PA in what will be 28 years come the next election, the Senate race will tighten because of what will be a heightened turnout model.
Expect the races in these three states to be at the top of the 2016 Senate chart for the entire election cycle. The outcome of these contests could well decide which party controls the Senate in the coming Congress, and potentially beyond.