Category Archives: Polls

Wisconsin Fight: The Public Perception

Rasmussen Reports released the results of their new nationwide poll (Feb. 18-19; 1,000 registered US voters; conducted by Pulse Opinion Research for Rasmussen Reports) pertaining to the controversial Wisconsin budget showdown. By a margin of 48-38 percent, the respondents favored Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) position on the dispute versus that of the state’s public employee unions. To help curb the Badger State’s huge budget deficit, Gov. Walker is promoting a bill to force public employees to pay for half of their pension benefits and 12.5 percent of their healthcare program, among other things. The legislation would also limit some of their current collective bargaining rights. Protestors on both sides of the question have been swarming the state capitol building in Madison drawing considerable national attention. The legislation is stalled because Democratic state senators have fled to Illinois in order to break a quorum.

The poll also clearly identifies a fundamental issue of polarizing difference between Democrats and Republicans: 68 percent of Democrats support the union position while the exact same number (68 percent) of Republicans support Gov. Walker. Fifty-six percent of unaffiliated independent respondents favor Walker’s stance, accounting for the overall 10-point margin in his favor.
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New Poll in Utah Reveals Hatch Vulnerability; Accuracy Questionable

A new Deseret News-KSL television poll indicates that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) might have renomination problems if Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT-3) challenges him next year, but the poll has significant methodological flaws.

A survey of 496 Utah residents by Dan Jones & Associates over February 8-10 shows the six-term senator leading the second-term congressman 44-34%, but these results are virtually meaningless. The poll’s sampling universe, aside from being statistically small, is simply of Utah “residents,” not even qualifying them as registered voters. A subset of the self-identified Republicans gives Hatch a 51-35% margin over Chaffetz, which is somewhat more significant. Whittling down further to those who call themselves “very conservative” yields the same numerical result (51-35%) but inverted in Chaffetz’s favor. The number of people questioned in the final subset is not stated but must be quite small, again bringing the reliability factor into question.

Chaffetz has not committed to entering the Senate race, but doesn’t yet rule out an intra-primary challenge to the state’s senior senator, who was originally elected in 1976. Hatch has not made a formal re-election announcement, but gives every indication he will seek another term. To underscore his preparation, GOP state chairman Dave Hansen, fresh from a hugely positive 2010 election result, resigned his position last month in order to prepare a re-election effort for the senator. Hansen was Hatch’s manager for the 2006 campaign.

The big test for Sen. Hatch, as it was for ex-Sen. Bob Bennett who failed, will be surviving the 2012 Republican state convention. Utah election procedure still gives the party convention nominating powers, thus it is a hugely important event. Under the party rules, if a candidate receives 60% of the convention vote, the individual is automatically nominated. If no one achieves that number, as was the case last year, then the top two finishers face the full GOP electorate in a full-fledged primary.

As Sen. Hatch knows, the state convention will not be won by polls or television ads. When dealing with insider politics, personalities play a big role as does ideological purity. The Utah Tea Party organizations showed up in force in the 2010 caucuses and elected delegates who would oppose Bennett. Could such a ploy happen again? Possibly, since Hatch also voted for the various financial bail-out bills that fired up the Utah activists. He is doing everything in his power to neutralize their past opposition, however, working fervently to avoid his former colleague’s fate.

Should Hatch be forced into a primary against Chaffetz, or another credible GOP challenger, he will be regarded as a heavy favorite because so many more people will participate in voting. The general election, considering Utah’s strong Republican history particularly in presidential years, should be a breeze for him. The larger the electorate, the better the senator will perform because of name familiarity, campaign resources, and Utah voter history.

Though the Dan Jones news media poll must be regarded as unreliable, the fact that Hatch places behind Chaffetz among those self-describing themselves as “very conservative” still must be of concern to the senator and his supporters. It is this very wing of the party that ousted Bennett in 2010, and are at least considering running a similar effort against Hatch next year.
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Senate Race Tight in Montana; Dems to Make Connecticut Intersting

Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT-AL) will officially announce his challenge to first-term Sen. Jon Tester (D) this coming weekend in what will become one of the nation’s top statewide campaigns. In 2006, Tester unseated three-term Sen. Conrad Burns (R), in a strong Democratic year running against a scandal-tainted incumbent. Burns was scrutinized by the Justice Department as part of its exhaustive Abramoff lobbying scandal investigation. Soon after the election, the defeated Senator received a DOJ letter fully clearing him of any wrongdoing. Tester won the election by seven-tenths of one percentage point, or 2,847 votes, one of the closest results in the nation.

Rehberg originally won the at-large House seat in 2000. He had previously served as the state’s lieutenant governor and won three elections to the Montana House of Representatives. The congressman begins his challenge with more than $500,000 in the bank, according to his just-released year-end disclosure statement. Sen. Tester reported just under $503,000 cash-on-hand at the end of September. In a race with major national implications, money will be no object for either candidate, particularly when campaigning before such a small electorate.

Along with his pre-announcement indication that he would run for the Senate, Rep. Rehberg also released the results of his internal statewide poll. The Opinion Diagnostics study was conducted of 400 Montana registered voters on Jan. 5, and gave the Republican congressman a 49-43% advantage over the Democratic senator. Count on this being a difficult election. Rehberg feels the presidential year helps him, but Pres. Obama was competitive in Montana during the 2008 campaign. John McCain ended up carrying the state, but barely, 49-47%. Rate this campaign as an early cycle toss-up.

Connecticut: The open Connecticut Senate race is already turning into a mad dash for the finish even though we are more than a year from crowning a winner. As in Texas among the Republicans, the new senator will be determined in the Democratic primary, but an intra-party war is about to commence. With Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) and former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz already officially running, it appears that Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT-2) is also making decided moves to join the field of senatorial candidates. To make matters even more interesting, Ted Kennedy, Jr., son of the late Massachusetts Senator, is making public appearances in Connecticut.

Nebraska: A new Public Policy Polling survey (Jan. 26-27; 977 registered Nebraska voters) is confirming a mid-December Magellan Strategies poll that reveals Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) is in deep political trouble. According to the data, Attorney General Jon Bruning (R) enjoys a 50-39% advantage over Sen. Nelson. State Treasurer Don Stenberg leads by four points, 45-41%. These numbers are similar to the Magellan findings, suggesting that Nelson’s situation continues to lag without improvement. Along with the open North Dakota seat, Nebraska continues to be one of the GOP’s best national conversion opportunities.

Arizona: Not yet quelling retirement rumors, Sen. Jon Kyl (R) says he will announce whether or not he will seek a fourth term in mid-February. Kyl has not been running his traditionally aggressive pre-election fundraising operation, causing some to speculate that he may be leaning toward retirement. Democrats would immediately contest Arizona in an open seat situation, as the state is continues to stray to the political middle. Depending upon candidates, this race will probably start in the toss-up column.
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Another Tough Nevada Senate Race

Sen. John Ensign

Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), embattled because of a sex scandal involving the wife of a former staff member, admits he faces a “very, very difficult re-election,” but the two-term incumbent says he’s in the race to stay. Meanwhile, fellow Republican Dean Heller, the 2nd district congressman whose district touches all of Nevada’s 17 counties, confirms he is considering challenging Ensign in next year’s GOP primary. As you will remember, the 2010 Nevada Senate race was one of the most contentious in the country as Majority Leader Harry Reid eventually defeated Tea Party-backed Sharron Angle by five points, but the race lasted virtually two years.

Democrats are clearly in a position to take advantage of the Republicans’ problems and will field a strong candidate; 1st District Rep. Shelley Berkley says she will announce whether or not she will launch a Senate bid in mid-February. Other possibilities are Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller.

For his part, Ensign says he’s “not worried” about a possible Heller challenge but a new poll released this week suggests he should. Public Policy Polling surveyed 400 Nevada Republican primary voters over the Jan. 3-5 period and found that Heller would defeat Ensign 52-34%. While Nevada Republicans by and large still think Ensign is doing a good job in Washington (53:30% favorability score), the number saying he should run for re-election is only 42%, with 41% saying he should not. Heller has high name ID and positives, 63:12%, meaning 3/4 of the GOP electorate already know him. We will be hearing much more from this state in the coming two years, just as we have for the past two.
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Suspect PA Senate Numbers

Public Policy Polling just released new data from their most recent Pennsylvania Senate poll (1/3-5; 547 registered PA voters), but the small size of the sampling universe leads us to question the validity of the results.

The survey shows Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. (D) easily defeating all potential opponents including former Sen. Rick Santorum (R), the man he ousted from the seat in 2006. Though Santorum has made no overt move to seek a re-match, he actually polls the best in the field of potential Republican candidates. Mr. Santorum, however, is the only person in the Republican field who has significant statewide name identification.

What makes the poll suspect, however, is not that it shows Sen. Casey to be performing well — that’s believable, since Pennsylvania still favors Democrats in statewide races (the election of 2010 notwithstanding), and he has not been the focal point of any controversy or scandal during his first term in office. Rather, it is his potential opponents’ favorability scores that seem wildly out of whack.

According to the PPP poll, Casey would defeat Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA-15) 51-31%; Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-PA-6) 49-33%; Santorum 48-41%; former Lt. Gov. Mark Schweiker 47-34%; and unknown attorney Mark Scaringi, the only announced Republican candidate, 50-27%. For an incumbent re-election race, especially in a situation where the senator is a member of the state’s majority party, these seem to be credible numbers. But, the depicted views of his opponents are not.

In our opinion, the poll’s accuracy factor seriously deteriorates when looking at the potential Casey opponents. Both Republican congressmen, Dent and Gerlach, score very poorly within this sampling universe. Dent gets an incredibly low 6:18% favorability rating, and Gerlach is only slightly better at 9:17%. The fact that 3/4 of the respondents haven’t heard of them is believable, but what could each have done to make them so unpopular?

The answer is nothing, hence, these numbers make little sense. The likely reason for the faulty results is that only 136 members of the polling universe could even identify them. In raw number terms, it is likely that only eight people said something positive about Dent versus just 24 who viewed him unfavorably. These are far below the minimum cell size to accurately forecast a result, especially in a state the size of Pennsylvania. Thus, the poll is trying to suggest that the opinions of 32 people are accurately depicting the feelings of an electorate of almost nine million voters.

Small-sample polling can be tricky because it bases conclusions upon very small pools of data. Though the Casey ballot test numbers certainly are in the realm of the possible, it is unlikely that all of the potential Republican candidates are viewed so negatively, especially when name ID is exceedingly low and their party just scored a big victory. More Pennsylvania polls will have to be taken before an accurate picture of Sen. Casey’s political health can be determined.