Category Archives: Election Analysis

The Trafalgar Effect

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 15, 2020 — The Trafalgar Group is the polling firm that came to national political notoriety four years ago when they correctly predicted a Donald Trump victory in both Michigan and Pennsylvania and were the only survey research firm to do so. Since that time, they have forecast at least four other wins when the active polling community was arriving at opposite conclusions.

Yesterday, Trafalgar released its latest Pennsylvania data (Oct. 10-12; 1,034 likely Pennsylvania voters) and finds former vice president Joe Biden leading President Trump 47.4 – 45.1 percent — just over a two-point spread. In October, not counting the Trafalgar number, we see 12 other pollsters returning Pennsylvania data and they average a pro-Biden forecast of just under seven points.

Routinely, Trafalgar’s data shows President Trump in better position than most pollsters because they attempt to quantify what is termed the “shy Trump voter,” i.e., those who are actually voting for the incumbent but won’t admit it to a pollster. In most cases, the Trafalgar calculations, derived from a proprietary algorithmic formula, have been reliably accurate.

From 2016, we remember that, generally, the polling community missed badly in the Trump-Clinton presidential race. While their national count was accurate – predicting a tight plurality for Hillary Clinton (final result: 48.2 – 46.1 percent) – many state projections were off, particularly those in the Great Lakes region.

In the previous presidential election cycle, a total of 62 surveys were conducted in the state of Pennsylvania, and only three found a lead for President Trump, including the Trafalgar pre-election survey. In Michigan, 45 polls were publicly released, and Trump led in just two, one of which was Trafalgar’s final 2016 study. In Wisconsin, 33 polls were taken, and none found President Trump running ahead. Yet, in all three cases, he won the state.

The Great Lakes/Mid-Atlantic region was not the only area where 2016 polling missed the mark. In North Carolina, the margin average looked to be dead even heading into the election, but President Trump won with a 3.6 percent spread. The cumulative polling missed Arizona by two points, and Florida by 1.2 percent. In all of these instances, the Republican voted was under-estimated.

Continue reading

Potential Ticket Splitting?

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 14, 2020 — We’ve seen a preponderance of straight-line party voting in the past few elections, but two new surveys testing both the presidential and US Senate campaigns in respective states suggest a split ticket result could possibly occur.

Two polls were released earlier this week, one from Michigan and the other Montana, which find a constant sample plurality that suggests the respondents might vote for different party candidates in the presidential and US Senate race. In both cases, the respective Senate candidate is polling better than the same party’s trailing presidential contender.

In Michigan, Siena College/New York Times surveyed the Wolverine State electorate (Oct. 8-11; 614 likely Michigan voters, live interview) and finds that former vice president Joe Biden leads President Trump, 48-40 percent, but the same sample finds Democrat Sen. Gary Peters leading challenger John James (R) by only a 43-42 percent margin. Therefore, we see a net seven-point swing toward the Republican candidate as the voters move down the ballot.

We see a potentially similar pattern developing in Montana, but the parties are reversed. Here, Public Policy Polling surveyed the Big Sky Country voter sample (Oct. 9-10; 798 Montana voters, interactive voice response system) and notes that President Trump is topping Biden, 52-46 percent, yet in the Senate race, Sen. Steve Daines (R) and Gov. Steve Bullock (D) are tied at 48 percent preference. These results translate into a six-point net swing toward the Democratic candidate after the individual voter professes his or her presidential preference.

Both of these patterns appear unusual for contemporary election cycles that now see sometimes less than five percent of party members straying from their organization’s nominee while Independents follow their own predictable track. This tells us that non-affiliated voters in these two states may be acting more like true independents, which would constitute a relative break in the voting prototypes that have come to the forefront during this decade.

Continue reading

Where the Senate Stands

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 13, 2020 — Now, less than a month before the official Election Day, we see multiple polls coming regularly in almost every competitive Senate race. Democrats need a net conversion of three Republican seats if Joe Biden is elected president and four seats if he is not. With 16 races now on the competitive board, we look at where they each stand. At least two surveys are included for each race.

Looking at the current trends, we see a tightening Senate from the current 53R-47D majority. Under the current swing, Democrats could reach 51, but with several races remaining as toss-ups or in range where they still could go either way. It’s conceivable, at this point, that both parties could claim 49 seats with a fight for the remaining two that would decide the next majority.

All of the polling data is from late September and early October:


ALABAMA: Sen. Doug Jones (D) vs. Tommy Tuberville (R)
• Trend: Tuberville

POLLS:
• University of Auburn @ Montgomery (Sept. 30-Oct. 3; 1,072 registered Alabama voters)
  Tommy Tuberville (R) – 54%
  Sen. Doug Jones (D) – 42%

• Morning Consult (Sept. 11-20; 658 likely Alabama voters)
  Tommy Tuberville (R) – 52%
  Sen. Doug Jones (D) – 34%


ALASKA: Sen. Dan Sullivan (R) vs. Dr. Al Gross (I/D)
• Trend: Slightly Sullivan

POLLS:
• Alaska Survey Research (Sept. 25-Oct. 4; 676 likely Alaska voters)
  Sen. Dan Sullivan (R) – 48%
  Al Gross (I/D) – 44%

• Harstad Strategic Research (Sept. 20-23; 602 likely Alaska voters)
  Sen. Dan Sullivan (R) – 46%
  Al Gross (I/D) – 45%


ARIZONA: Appointed Sen. Martha McSally (R) vs. Mark Kelly (D)
• Trend: Kelly

POLLS:
• Latino Decisions (Sept. 28-Oct. 6; 600 likely Arizona voters)
  Mark Kelly (D) – 47%
  Sen. Martha McSally (R) – 42%

• Ipsos (Oct. 3-5; 550 likely Arizona voters)
  Mark Kelly (D) – 48%
  Sen. Martha McSally (R) – 44%

• Data Orbital (Oct. 3-5; 550 likely Arizona voters)
  Mark Kelly (D) – 49%
  Sen. Martha McSally (R) – 44%

• HighGround, Inc. (Sept. 28-Oct. 5; 400 likely Arizona voters)
  Mark Kelly (D) – 50%
  Sen. Martha McSally (R) – 44%


Continue reading

Arizona’s Importance

By Jim Ellis

Does Arizona hold the key in the Trump-Biden election?

Oct. 9, 2020 — Now moving quickly toward Election Week, it is becoming apparent that the ultimate bellwether state for the 2020 presidential election is the Grand Canyon State of Arizona. Formerly a rock solid Republican political domain, the state has been trending toward the political center in recent elections, most particularly 2018.

Coming into the closing weeks of this year’s presidential campaign, it appears that Arizona may be this election’s “tell.” While it’s possible mathematically for President Trump to win in the Electoral College without Arizona, realistically doing so may be a bridge too far.

The principal reason is Arizona has 11 electoral votes, and the idea that Trump could replace it with taking Wisconsin or Minnesota, for example, fails because those states each have 10 votes. Therefore, losing Arizona would lead to him either falling into a tie, or losing the national electoral vote count, 270-268.

The latter electoral vote margin occurs if he also drops the 2nd Congressional District of Nebraska, a state that is one of a pair to split their electoral votes. The most recent public NE-2 poll, from Siena College/New York Times (Aug. 25-27; 420 NE-2 likely voters, live interview), finds the president trailing former vice president Joe Biden in the Omaha metro district, 41-48 percent.

The Trump math also fails without Arizona even if he carries Pennsylvania as his lone Great Lakes State. Losing Arizona, Michigan, and Wisconsin from his 2016 state coalition map, along with NE-2, would also yield a 270-268 Biden victory.

Earlier this week, the Data Orbital polling firm headquartered in Phoenix and is the most prolific survey research firm in testing the Arizona electorate from statewide through local offices, released their latest presidential and US Senate numbers. Their poll (Oct. 3-5; 550 likely Arizona voters, live interview) is the first Arizona survey taken wholly after both the first presidential debate and President Trump being hospitalized for COVID-19.

Continue reading

The Alaska Challenge

By Jim Ellis

Alaska senate candidates: first-term Republican incumbent Dan Sullivan (left) and physician and commercial fisherman, Democrat Al Gross.

Oct. 8, 2020 — In the Last Frontier, the Democratic Party’s preferred candidate is stressing his independence and joined a legal fight to ensure that he would only be labeled as an Independent on the ballot. Still, the national party leadership is excited over physician and commercial fisherman Al Gross and his improving prospects in the Alaska Senate race against first-term Republican incumbent Dan Sullivan.

As the national Senate situation continues to change (i.e., North Carolina’s Cal Cunningham (D) becoming embroiled in a scandal, Sen. Susan Collins’ (R) numbers improving in Maine, Alabama Democratic Sen. Doug Jones badly trailing GOP challenger Tommy Tuberville, and trends favoring Republican wins in Kansas, Kentucky, and Texas) seeing late potential in a place like Alaska is a boon to the Democratic leadership’s goal of flipping Senate control to their side of the political aisle.

The party’s candidates remain in strong position to flip Arizona and Colorado and are competitive in South Carolina and the two Georgia seats, in addition to being favored to hold their competitive incumbents in Michigan and Minnesota. Therefore, control of the Senate could boil down to just one seat, so the emergence of the Alaska race is of national political importance.

Running with his “Always Alaska” message that includes moving beyond oil and gas and into renewable energy sources even though the former industry is one of the major employers in the state, Democrat Dr. Gross is moving close to Sen. Sullivan in polling and has plenty of money to compete.

At this point, the latest survey from the Harstad Strategic Research firm (for the Gross campaign; Sept. 20-23; 602 likely Alaska voters, live interview) finds Dr. Gross pulling within one percentage point of Sen. Sullivan, 46-45 percent. This margin is not far from the 2014 victory spread Sullivan recorded (48-46 percent) when unseating then-Sen. Mark Begich (D).
Continue reading

NC: First Post-Sexting Poll

By Jim Ellis

North Carolina Democratic Senate candidate Cal Cunningham’s recent involvement in a sexting scandal has seen polling numbers drop.

Oct. 7, 2020 — On Friday, it came to light, after the announcement that North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis had been diagnosed with COVID-19, that Democratic nominee Cal Cunningham who has been leading for most of the race is involved in a sexting affair with a married woman. The story was carried heavily in media reports on Friday.

Almost immediately, Public Policy Polling went into the field to assess the damage, and while they find Cunningham still holding the advantage it is half the size of the double-digit margin he enjoyed in the previous two surveys.

The North Carolina Senate race has been heavily studied. Just since Sept. 15, we have seen no less than 13 polls released of this Senate contest with Cunningham leading in all.

The new Public Policy Polling survey (Oct. 4-5; 911 North Carolina voters via interactive voice response system) sees Cunningham holding a 48-42 percent lead over Sen. Tillis. Though the margin is six points, the spread is down significantly from the 13- and 12-point advantages he recorded in the two most recent polls from Hart Research Associates (Sept. 24-27; 400 likely North Carolina voters via live interview) and ALG Research (Sept. 22-28; 822 voters, online), respectively.

The PPP data reveals that Cunningham is taking a hit over the budding scandal. When asked whether “the information about Cal Cunningham having a relationship with a woman who is not his wife make you more or less likely to vote for him, or does it not make a difference,” 37 percent answered they are less likely to support him versus three percent who said they were more inclined. A total of 58 percent said the breaking story would make no difference in how they decide to vote.

Continue reading

Changes in House Race Ratings

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 6, 2020 — With the presidential race in a state of flux because of President Trump’s COVID diagnosis, it’s a good time to adjust House ratings in races where we see movement.

Freshman Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Laguna Beach) and Michelle Steele (R) battle in CA-48.

In our prognostications, we move one of our 21 previous toss-up races from that category and into Lean Democratic group.

In California’s 48th District, freshman Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Laguna Beach) defends what was formerly a safe Republican seat. Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel is the Republican general election qualifier and viewed as a strong contender.

Relentless media attack ads against her wealthy husband’s business dealings in China has put her on the defensive, however, which is never a good position for a challenger. At least for the time being, with now less than a month to go until Election Day, this race looks to be trending toward the Lean Democratic column.

We see more action in the “lean” sectors. Three Lean Democratic rated races are moving into the Toss-up grouping, while eight Lean Republican contests are likewise transferring to the most competitive category.

• FL-27: A Republican move in general has been detected in South Florida, which makes the re-match between freshman representative and former Health & Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala (D-Miami) and Spanish language news broadcaster Maria Elvira Salazar (R) more competitive.
In 2018, Shalala was elected with a 52-46 percent victory margin. The only published poll for this race was released at the beginning of September from the 1892 research organization (Oct. 2-6; 400 likely FL-27 voters, live interview) and it gave Salazar a surprising 48-45 percent advantage, and Democrats have not promoted any countering data.

• IA-1: A new survey from Basswood Research for the Congressional Leadership Fund (Sept. 26-28; 400 likely IA-1 voters) finds Iowa freshman Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D-Dubuque) and former television news anchor and state Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Cedar Rapids) now locked in a dead heat at 45 percent apiece.
The result is a considerable improvement for Hinson who had been trailing prior to this poll, but the latest numbers are reflective of the competitive nature of this eastern Iowa district that has flipped back and forth between Democratic and Republican representation during the decade.

• PA-17: According to reports from the district and the latest released public poll (OnMessage; Sept. 2-3; 400 likely PA-17 voters), Pennsylvania challenger Sean Parnell (R) has seized the momentum against Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pittsburg). The OnMessage results find Parnell pulling to within one point (45-44 percent) of Rep. Lamb who, in 2018, won a 56-44 percent victory over then-Rep. Keith Rothfus (R). This is certainly a race to watch in a district where President Trump scored a two-point victory in 2016.
Most of the action moving into the toss-up category occurs for Democratic candidates. Below we see eight races moving from Lean Republican to Toss-up.

• AZ-6: Arizona Rep. David Schweikert (R-Fountain Hills/Scottsdale) agreeing that he committed eleven ethics and campaign finance violations has certainly put him on the defensive, particularly since his win percentage dropped to 55-45% in 2018. He had averaged 62.7% of the vote in his three previous re-election campaigns.
We have seen four public polls released here since August began, and both Rep. Schweikert and challenger Hiral Tipirneni (D), a physician who had previously run in the adjoining 8th District, were each leading in two of the four surveys. The margin between the two candidates fell between two and four points. Rep. Schweikert is clearly in trouble here, giving the Democrats a strong opportunity to convert this Republican seat.

• CA-25: California Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Santa Clarita) won a surprisingly large 10-point victory in the May 12 special election. The latest poll, however, finds Assemblywoman Christy Smith (D-Newhall) climbing back into the lead, again making this a toss-up campaign. The most recent survey comes from the Democratic firm, Normington Petts (Sept. 21-23; 400 likely CA-25 voters) and pushes Smith to a 51-45 percent advantage when leaners to each candidate are included. In late August, another Democratic pollster, the Global Strategy Group (Aug. 26-30; 400 likely CA-25 voters), gave Garcia a one-point, 46-45 percent, edge.

Continue reading