For an open Senate race in a cycle where the majority is up for grabs, the West Virginia effort to replace the retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D) has attracted little attention. This is largely due to the fact that Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV-2) is the only major announced candidate from either party. Considering how political events have unfolded here to date, the Mountaineer State contest appears to be the best Republican conversion opportunity in the country.
The biggest Democratic name who could still become a Senate candidate is Secretary of State Natalie Tennant. She has yet to enter the campaign, but is reportedly at the top of national Democratic recruitment lists for the state.
Testing a hypothetical Capito-Tennant pairing, R.L. Repass & Partners, a Charleston-based survey research organization, went into the field (Aug. 15-22; 400 registered West Virginia voters) and found a potentially close political battle. According to the results, Capito would lead Tennant only 45-40 percent, but certain methodology points need addressing and explaining.
First, the eight-day polling period is much longer than normal and tends to weaken reliability. Most pollsters attempt to complete the questioning process within three days.
Second, the sample size of 400 is slightly low for a statewide campaign, understanding that West Virginia is a small state. This, too, decreases reliability.
Third, according to local analysts, 53 percent of the polling sample self-identifies as college graduates, yet only 17 percent of the actual residents fit into that category using the 2010 US Census figures as the benchmark source.
Similarly, 54 percent of the polling respondents reported an annual income of greater than $50,000, while only 26 percent of statewide residents fall into that category.
How the skewing affects the ballot test remains to be seen. In the past two cycles, Republicans have fared poorly with college-educated voters so, at least on face value, such a skew probably improves Democrat Tennant’s polling standing. Likewise, when examining West Virginia voting behavior since 2000, skewing with a higher income sample also probably helps the Democrat candidate.
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