Category Archives: Polling

Reading North Carolina

By Jim Ellis

Sept. 17, 2020 — CNN released new North Carolina poll results earlier this week, and we again see a familiar pattern unfolding. There has been a Republican under-poll in the southern states detected in the past few elections, and the North Carolina pattern appears to form relatively consistently upon studying its most competitive statewide races in 2014, ’16, and what may be happening in 2020. There were no statewide Tar Heel State contests in 2018.

The CNN poll (conducted through the SSRS statistical firm; Sept. 9-13; 787 likely North Carolina voters; live interview through landline and mobile phones) found former vice president Joe Biden leading President Trump, 49-46 percent; Democratic US Senate nominee Cal Cunningham edging incumbent Republican Thom Tillis, 47-46 percent; and Gov. Roy Cooper (D) easily outdistancing Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, 53-44 percent.

How do these mid-September races compare with other campaigns at this same interval, and what does that tell us for autumn?

First, the CNN poll is one of seven polls conducted in North Carolina during the month of September, and its three-point margin for Biden is the Democrat’s second-best showing within this group. The only better Biden performance came from the Fox News poll at the beginning of September (Aug. 29-Sept. 1; 722 likely North Carolina voters, live interview), which posted him to a four-point, 50-46 percent, advantage.

Among the five other surveys, Biden is ahead in two, President Trump in two, and one has the pair tied at 47 percent apiece (Survey USA for WRAL-TV; Sept. 10-13; 596 likely North Carolina voters). From the eight polls conducted from Aug. 29-Sept. 13, Biden’s edge is just 0.7 percent, meaning the two candidates average to a statistical tie.

Recent political history suggests that this type of an average spread sets up well for President Trump, and possibly Sen. Tillis. It appears that Gov. Cooper’s margin is beyond the statistically relevant late-term Republican swing.

In September of 2016, a total of 14 publicly released polls were conducted during that month. Within this group, Hillary Clinton led in 10 of the surveys with an average spread of 2.4 percentage points. Trump was ahead in just three polls with an average margin of 2.0 percent. Two polls found the candidates tied. Therefore, Clinton’s overall September edge was an average 1.1 percent.

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Why Arizona is So Pivotal

By Jim Ellis

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

Sept. 16, 2020 — For several reasons, the Grand Canyon State of Arizona is possibly the most important state on the political map to determine the ultimate presidential election outcome.

Primarily, Arizona is one of five core states that President Trump must win to form a foundation for a favorable remaining state coalition map. The other four, geographically from west to east, are Texas, Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina. Should Joe Biden break through in any one of these five states, he will likely win the national election.

At this point, Arizona appears to be the most precarious of the Trump core states. While the President’s numbers are improving here, the September polls find him trailing Biden in all six publicly released surveys from a range of one to nine points among likely voters, with a mean average of Biden plus-4, and a median of Biden plus-3.5.

The five states are so critical to President Trump, or any Republican national candidate, because, as a unit, they yield a relatively easy remaining victory map. Carrying the five southern sector domains and assuming no leakage in Ohio or Iowa, and even while not winning Nevada or New Hampshire, the GOP nominee then claims the presidency with a victory in any one of the key Great Lakes states: Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, or Wisconsin. For a Democrat to win under this scenario, he or she would be forced to sweep the aforementioned quartet.

President Trump won the 2016 Electoral College vote 306-232, which means he can relinquish a net 36 electoral votes in 2020 and still win the national election. Under the scenario of him taking either Wisconsin or Minnesota, along with keeping Arizona, he would defeat Biden with exactly 270 electoral votes. This model also assumes he wins the 2nd Congressional District from both Nebraska and Maine, the two states that split their electoral votes. He won both in 2016. Under this scenario, Michigan and Pennsylvania would go to Biden.

Arizona, now potentially teetering toward the Democrats, is critical to the president’s prospects because Trump cannot afford to trade it for one of the western Great Lakes States, either Minnesota or Wisconsin. Such a loss would force the president to win two of the four Great Lakes, but only one could be Minnesota or Wisconsin since those two states have 10 electoral votes and Arizona has 11.

Therefore, simply put, losing Arizona because of its 11th electoral vote would mean that Trump would be forced to carry either Michigan or Pennsylvania in addition to one of the other three remaining Great Lakes States. A further scenario involving Trump losing Arizona and replacing it with both of the 10-electoral vote states (MN and WI) could result in the election ending in a 269-269 tie. This would force a tiebreaker to be decided in the US House of Representatives.

Let’s look at the chances of Trump winning Arizona by comparing his current standing to where he was at this point in 2016. Looking at the Real Clear Politics polling archives, we find that 19 Arizona polls were conducted during the entire 2016 election cycle. In 2020, just since the July 4th holiday break, 25 surveys were publicly reported in the Grand Canyon State.

Four years ago, at the end of August through mid-September, two individual polls came from Gravis Marketing (Aug. 25-27, 2016) and NBC News/Marist College (Sept. 6-8, 2016). These surveys yielded Trump four and one-point leads, respectively. Shortly thereafter, the trend began to turn Hillary Clinton’s way. The OH Predictive Insights survey (Sept. 28-30, 2016) found the two candidates tied at 42 percent apiece, while Emerson College (Oct. 2-4, 2016) and the Arizona Republic newspaper poll (Oct. 10-15, 2016) detected consecutive leads for Clinton of two and five points.

Therefore, Arizona did not turn toward Trump for good until the Monmouth University survey in late October (Oct. 21-24, 2016), which put him just one point ahead. Going into the election from that point, and remembering the 2016 election was on Nov. 8, Trump led in the final four polls from a two to five-point margin. He would eventually win the actual vote count by 3.6 percentage points, 48.7 – 45.1 percent, meaning a raw vote margin of 91,234 votes of more than 2.573 million ballots cast.

Because of Arizona’s fast population growth, the state has changed in four years. During that interval, the overall population expanded five percentage points to 7,278,717 individuals according to the Census Bureau’s July 2019 estimate, the latest available.

Minorities, specifically Hispanics and blacks, account for approximately 69 percent of the population gain, thus at least partially explaining Biden’s improved prospects in the state. Overall, Hispanics represent 31.7 percent of the overall Arizona population, and blacks 5.2 percent, as compared to the non-Hispanic white position receding to 54.1 percent.

The population changes suggest that this already tight political state will likely become even closer as we head for Nov. 3.

The Senate Trends

By Jim Ellis

Sept. 14, 2020 — The AARP organization yesterday released a series of polls covering nine Senate races in eight states that help set benchmarks for the most recent data.

AARP contracted with four polling firms, two Republican and two Democratic, and paired each with the opposite party pollster. The Benenson Strategy Group (D) partnered with the GS Strategy Group (R) for surveying Arizona, Michigan, and North Carolina.

The Fabrizio Ward firm (R) and Hart Research Associates (D) conducted the joint Colorado, Georgia (both races), Iowa, Maine, and Montana survey research. All of the polls were live interview with large sampling universes of likely voters unless otherwise noted.

Predominantly, the ballot tests find the Democratic candidate typically leading, but with the Republican improving his or her position in comparison to the previously released polling results.

Below are the AARP results followed by the two most recent reported surveys in each state:


ARIZONA
Benenson Strategy/GS Strategy (Aug. 28-Sept. 8; 1,600 likely Arizona voters)
• Mark Kelly (D) – 48%
• Sen. Martha McSally (R) – 45%
Previous:
• Change Research (D) – (Sept. 4-6) – Kelly +6
• Redfield & Wilton Strategies (UK) – (Sept. 30-Aug. 4) – Kelly +15


COLORADO
Fabrizio Ward/Hart Research (Aug. 30-Sept. 5; 800 likely Colorado voters)
• Ex-Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) – 51%
• Sen. Cory Gardner (R) – 46%
Previous:
• Morning Consult – (Aug. 21-30) – Hickenlooper +9
• Public Policy Polling (D) – (Aug. 18-19) – Hickenlooper +9 (voters)


GEORGIA-A
Fabrizio Ward/Hart Research (Aug. 30-Sept. 5; 800 likely Georgia voters)
• Jon Ossoff (D) – 48%
• Sen. David Perdue (R) – 47%
Previous:
• Public Policy Polling (D) – (Aug. 13-14) – Even (voters)
• Garin Hart Yang Research (D) – (Aug. 10-13) – Ossoff +2


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A Polling Comparison

By Jim Ellis

Neck-and-neck polling in a few key battleground states between President Donald Trump and former vice president Joe Biden shows interesting parallels to the 2016 race between Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Sept. 10, 2020 — With a plethora of presidential polls being released every week providing sometimes radically diverse results, it is often difficult to draw a clear picture of where the electorate is heading.

The conventional wisdom and preponderance of polling trends suggest that Joe Biden is leading the presidential race, but that President Trump is making a comeback, and the race is beginning to show some of the same characteristics found in 2016.

Three of the key states that baffled the political pollsters four years ago were Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. As we will remember, President Trump was expected to lose them all but scored close upset victories in each place.

The aggregate group of 2016 pollsters missed in each of the three states and the Real Clear Politics polling archives still publicly maintains all of those survey results. Therefore, we have the historical data to draw clear parallels between then and now.

In Wisconsin, 33 polls were taken during the election cycle and only one, from the Trafalgar Group at the end of the campaign season, placed Trump in front. A total of 62 polls were conducted in Pennsylvania with only three, again including a Trafalgar poll, projecting the future president into the lead. In Michigan, 42 polls were publicly released with Trump ahead in just two.

Though it is not generally statistically significant to average polling results because the polling methodologies, and certainly sample sizes, are very different, doing so does give us a guide as to the error factor that was present in 2016, and possibly a glimpse into what might exist this year.

In Wisconsin, the average Hillary Clinton lead advancing into the general election was 6.5 percentage points. With a 0.7 percent win for Trump, the overall error factor became a whopping 7.2 percent. The Pennsylvania numbers were closer but still a significant miss. Clinton’s average lead heading into Election Day was 2.1 percent and the president won there by the same 0.7 percent that he carried Wisconsin. Therefore, the Keystone State error factor was 2.8. Michigan was a similar story. Error factor: Clinton plus-3.6 percent. Trump victory margin: just 0.3. Total Michigan error factor: 3.9.

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New Hampshire Primary Today

By Jim Ellis

Sept. 8, 2020 — Winding through the final state primaries, voters in the Granite State cast their ballots today in order to nominate candidates for US Senate, governor, and two congressional districts. After today, only three primaries remain: next Tuesday in Delaware and Rhode Island, and the Louisiana jungle primary that runs concurrently with the general election.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen stands for a third term this year and draws only minor opposition on the Democratic ballot. On the Republican side, businessman Corky Messner, who has already loaned his campaign approximately $4 million, is favored to top retired Army General Don Bolduc.

Messner certainly has the resources to run a competitive race against Sen. Shaheen, but there is no question she is a heavy favorite in the general election. Prior to being elected to the Senate in 2008, Shaheen served three two-year terms as governor but lost her first Senate bid opposite then-US Rep. John E. Sununu (R) in 2002.

Since the turn of the century, however, New Hampshire has been one of the most volatile political states, and swingingly wildly from the top of the ticket all the way down the ballot has become a frequent occurrence. Therefore, incumbents from both parties can never be considered completely safe.

Gov. Chris Sununu (R) stands for a third two-year term – New Hampshire and neighboring Vermont are the only two states that mandate two-year gubernatorial terms – and faces only Franklin City councilwoman and radio talk show host Karen Testerman and a man named Nobody, who frequently runs for New Hampshire political office as a Republican or a Libertarian Party member.

The Democrats feature a two-way gubernatorial nomination race between state Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes (D-Concord) and Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky. New Hampshire’s unique Executive Council is a five-member panel elected in districts and serve as gubernatorial advisors and a check on the governor’s power. The Executive Council has veto power over pardons, nominations and large state contracts. Polling suggests a close race.

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Senate Sleepers in Minnesota
and South Carolina

By Jim Ellis

Are incumbents Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN), left, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) in re-election trouble?

Sept. 8, 2020 — At the beginning of the 2020 election cycle, it appeared that Sens. Tina Smith (D-MN) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) were set for re-election. That no longer appears to be the case.

Polling is now consistently showing close races in the two states, and Sen. Smith’s recent comments about the police have seemingly moved her re-election campaign closer to the toss-up category according to a just-released Harper Polling survey.

Looking at the HP data (Aug. 30-Sept. 1; 50 likely Minnesota voters via live interview), Sen. Smith’s ballot test edge has dropped to just 43-41 percent over former US Rep. Jason Lewis (R).

In May, Harper found Sen. Smith posting a 46-35 percent advantage over Lewis. After this release, Public Policy Polling forecast a 48-39 percent split toward the end of July. Lastly, Emerson College published what appears to be precursor data to the latest Harper findings. The Boston-based university poll (Aug. 8-10; 73 likely Minnesota voters) found a three-point split between the two contenders, 48-45 percent, again in Sen. Smith’s favor.

To the southeast of liberal Minnesota, in conservative South Carolina, veteran Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) has also fallen into a competitive contest with former state Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison, who had raised an incredible $29 million for his smaller state race through the end of June.

The most recent poll we have seen from the Palmetto State was released at the beginning of August. Quinnipiac University (July 30-Aug. 3; 91 registered South Carolina voters) detected a 44-44 percent tie between Sen. Graham and Harrison. From mid-July through the beginning of August, six surveys were conducted, including the Quinnipiac study, and Sen. Graham’s average lead was only 2.8 percentage points.

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MA-1: Will Rep. Neal Become #9?

By Jim Ellis

Rep. Richard Neal (left) finds himself defending his seat against credible Democratic challenger Alex Morse.

Aug. 25, 2020 — The intense Democratic Senate primary battle between incumbent Sen. Ed Markey and challenger, Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Newton), is not the only Massachusetts competitive intra-party campaign to be decided in the upcoming Sept. 1 nomination election.

House Ways & Means Committee chairman Rep. Richard Neal (D-Springfield) finds himself defending his seat against credible Democratic challenger Alex Morse, the mayor of Holyoke, a city of 40,000-plus people located just eight miles north of Springfield on I-391. Neal is clearly taking this primary seriously and fighting hard to avoid being the ninth House incumbent denied re-nomination in the 2020 election cycle.

Rep. Neal has already spent $4.3 million for his re-nomination campaign as reported in the Aug. 12 pre-primary Federal Election Commission campaign finance disclosure report. Conversely, Mayor Morse has spent just over $1 million, but the contest still appears close.

Now, an outside organization, Democratic Majority for Israel, has launched an attack television ad that hit Morse for a poor attendance record at Holyoke City Council meetings while claiming the local schools are among the lowest performing in Massachusetts. They cite, in support of their contention, the state government coming into the Holyoke district and assuming control of their education system.

Earlier, controversy arose when the College Democrats organization at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, located within the 1st District, accused Morse of sexual impropriety, which resulted in an immediate loss of local and national support. The move backfired, however, when it came to light that no such incidents had occurred during the times when Morse appeared at the university both as a candidate and previously a guest lecturer.

This challenge appears typical of the other three Democratic primaries where candidates successfully opposed veteran incumbents from the political left armed with money and support from national activists and progressive organizations. The three such challenges that transformed into upsets came at the expense of Reps. Dan Lipinski (D-IL; 8 terms), Eliot Engel (D-NY; 16 terms), and Lacy Clay (D-MO; 10 terms). Whether the Morse effort proves as successful remains to be determined.

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