Category Archives: Senate

A Skeptical Look at Maine’s MPRS Poll Results

The left-wing Maine People’s Resource Center released their new survey (March 31-4/2; 993 registered Maine voters) of the state Senate and House races with results that are, let’s say, susceptible to a reliability scrutiny. Since the newly open Senate contest is of critical importance in determining which party will control the majority in the next Congress, it is this campaign that demands the most analysis.

According to MPRC, Independent former Gov. Angus King is staked to a commanding lead in the hypothetical general election ballot test. In the one intra-party match-up surveyed, King leads Secretary of State Charlie Summers (R) and former Secretary of State Matt Dunlap (D) by a whopping 56-22-12 percent margin, respectively. But, the poll appears to have methodology flaws.

Angus King, after developing some statewide name identification as the Maine PBS spokesman, was elected governor in 1994 as an Independent and easily won re-election four years later. He established himself as a liberal, but also as someone who will take conservative positions under certain circumstances. For example, he endorsed George W. Bush for President in 2000, but backed Democrat Barack Obama in 2008.

King has said several times that if elected to the Senate he may not caucus with either party, but will do what “is in the interest of the people of Maine.” He further said that he will caucus with the Democrats on some issues and the Republicans on others. He will eventually come to the conclusion, as both senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) have publicly advised him, that he cannot succeed without caucusing with one of the major parties for organizational purposes, including the rendering of committee positions. King will also realize that having such assignments will be “in the interest of the people of Maine,” so expect him to join the Democratic conference.

Returning to the Maine People’s Resource Center poll, the data appear to have two principal problems. First, the sample is tilted in favor of the Democrats, and the methodology description admits the result data is not weighted to reflect an accurate political party dispersion. Of those polled, 39 percent are Democrats, 29 percent Republicans, and 31 percent Independents. Considering that the actual Maine electorate divides into a 32 percent Democratic-28 percent Republican split, with 37 percent Independent (officially labeled as “unenrolled”), the polling sample is unbalanced.

Secondly, the MPRC general election ballot test is only asked with Mr. Dunlap as the hypothetical Democratic nominee. But, even in their own poll of Democratic primary contenders, state Sen. Cynthia Dill outperforms the former secretary of state 20-17 percent. Therefore, to only test the second-place finisher against the top-performing Republican and King unfairly skews the results away from the Democratic Party ballot position even though it is they who have the greater number of respondents.

MPRC also tested the state’s two House races, which are now more conventional campaigns since neither Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-ME-1) nor Mike Michaud (D-ME-2) are seeking their party’s Senatorial nomination. According to the study, Pingree leads state Senate Majority Leader Jon Courtney (R) by a huge 61-28 percent count. This finding, too, is likely skewed in Pingree’s favor especially when contrasting her 2010 re-election result (55-42 percent) in virtually the same district.

The ME-2 campaign is expected to be more seriously contested because the Republicans are fielding state Senate President Kevin Raye as their candidate. Raye ran for the seat when it was last open in 2002 and lost to Michaud 52-48 percent. According to this latest data, the Congressman leads 53-37 percent. Again, considering the sample skew, it is virtually certain that the incumbent has a substantial lead, but it is reasonable to conclude that this poll probably skews it a few points more in his favor than what is the actual margin.

Conflicting Polls in Ohio, Florida Senate Races

New polls are in the public domain from Ohio and Florida with some very divergent results, particularly relating to Ohio.

Within the same timing realm, Quinnipiac University and Rasmussen Reports sampled Ohio voters and questioned them about the upcoming US Senate race between first term incumbent Sherrod Brown (D) and newly chosen Republican nominee Josh Mandel, the current state treasurer. Quinnipiac conducted their survey during the March 20-26 period and interviewed 1,246 registered Ohio voters. Rasmussen launched a one-day poll, March 26, and questioned 500 likely voters. Quinnipiac gathers its responses through live telephone interviews. Rasmussen Reports employs an automated system.

Therefore, the two methodologies are quite different. Many polling analysts question Quinnipiac’s long sampling period, while believing Rasmussen is not in the field long enough. Most pollsters attempt to complete their surveys in three calling days. This allows for a compact “three-day track,” which can help detect sudden movement relating to particular happenings. Both pollsters weight their answers to bring samples in line with demographic complexion, political party disposition, and voting trend history. Yet, as you will see, their results are diametrically different.

The latest Q-Poll shows Brown leading Mandel 46-36 percent, which is similar to their Feb. 7-12 poll that posted the incumbent to a 48-35 percent advantage. But Rasmussen Reports reveals a totally different finding, placing the two candidates in a 43-43 percent tie. Several other polls have shown this race to be close, but most have reported margins closer to the Q-Poll. Since both candidates are well-funded and Ohio will be such a battleground for the presidential election, expect this race to be close by Election Day regardless of how the two candidates are positioned today.

In Florida, after a series of polls revealed the race between Sen. Bill Nelson (D) and Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14) to be close, Quinnipiac’s March 20-26 poll (1,228 registered Florida voters) is posting the Democrat to a 44-36 percent lead. This is a seven-point swing in Nelson’s favor when compared to the January Q-Poll (Jan. 4-8; 1,412 registered Florida voters) that gave the senator only a one-point lead, 41-40 percent.

There are a couple of reasons explaining the swing. First, the January Q-Poll sampling universe was more favorable to Republicans. In that sample, 35.1 percent of the respondents self-identified as being members of the GOP, versus only 26.6 percent saying they were Democrats. The remainder, 38.1 percent, claimed to be Independents or “other.” The March sample was more in the Democrats’ favor. In this group, 31.0 percent described themselves as Republicans and 31.9 percent as Democrats. Independents and others comprised 40.3 percent of the respondent pool. The actual breakdown of Florida registered voters is 36.1 percent Republican; 40.5 percent Democrat; and 23.3 percent Independent and “Other.”

But the sample pool is only one reason why Nelson may be gaining support. Former interim Sen. George LeMieux, opposing Mack in the Republican primary, is on television and radio with attack ads, attempting to distinguish Rep. Mack from his father, former Sen. Connie Mack III (R), and likening the former to renegade actor Charlie Sheen because of reported bar fights in the younger Mack’s past and episodes of what the LeMieux ads call the congressman’s “road rage.” The swing toward Nelson in the latest Q-Poll can be at least partially attributed to the LeMieux ads.

As we know, a poll is merely a snapshot of the electorate at a particular time and many times anomaly results do occur. To get the best understanding of campaign movement, it is important to consider many polls over a long period of time. What is important is the trend toward election day, and not necessarily the individual numbers themselves.

Since there have already been several inconsistencies in both of these states, we can reasonably expect greater movement in the coming months as the Nov. 6 election nears. Count on both the Ohio and Florida Senate races being among the most interesting in the country.

Analyzing Shocker Senate Polls in Ohio and Nebraska

Two polls hit the public domain yesterday that give the Democrats reason to pause. According to Rasmussen Reports, Ohio GOP state Treasurer Josh Mandel, who many political professionals have long believed possesses the best candidate skills of all Republican contenders, has pulled into a 43-43 percent dead heat with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D). Mandel scored 63 percent of the Republican vote in the March 6 primary, so he is already the official GOP nominee.

This new Rasmussen Reports poll, (March 26; 500 registered Ohio voters) is not the first to show Mandel getting close to Brown, but certainly is the survey turning in the best Republican numbers to date. Fifteen polls have been commissioned here since March 2011, and the only other one showing the campaign even in the realm of a toss-up was Rasmussen’s Feb. 8 survey that put Mandel within four points of Brown, 40-44 percent. Another study that had Mandel even within ten points of the senator was Public Policy Polling’s Oct. 13-16 survey that revealed a 48-40 percent spread.

The one finding that all 15 polls have in common, however, is that none show Brown over, or even at, 50 percent. A polling axiom has always been that incumbents are in political trouble when they fall below the majority mark. Such does not always prove to be the case in practice, but it is interesting that Sen. Brown’s poll numbers remain stagnant between a relatively small 43-49 percent segment in 15 polls from four different pollsters over a 12-month period. This data, coupled with Mandel’s strong fundraising ability (he had raised $5.8 million to Brown’s $6.5 million by year’s end, clearly the best of any Republican challenger nationally) does suggest that the Ohio Senate race will become more competitive as the campaign progresses.

Many Democrats claim that Rasmussen Reports, largely because of their small sample draws and employing an automated questionnaire model, tend to skew their results toward their own conservative bias. Comparing RR polls, however, to actual results generally does not support such criticism. The Democrats certainly howled when Rasmussen released the first Nebraska poll after former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D) returned from New York to enter the 2012 open seat Senate race. The RR data (March 5; 500 registered Nebraska voters) gave GOP Attorney General Jon Bruning, the leading Republican senatorial contender, a 55-33 percent lead over the former Democratic senator.

Yesterday, the Democratic survey research firm Public Policy Polling (March 22-25; 1,028 registered Nebraska voters via automated calls) surveyed the Cornhusker State electorate and actually found a similar result to the Rasmussen study. According to PPP, Bruning enjoys a 54-37 percent advantage, certainly within the same range as the RR conclusion. Obviously, this is not good news for former Sen. Kerrey and the Democrats, who know the former statewide office holder is their best chance of keeping the seat in the Democratic column.

Compounding Kerrey’s problem is that he trails even lesser known and lightly supported Republican primary candidates. Against state Sen. Deb Fischer (R), who is unfamiliar to more than 60 percent of the electorate, Kerrey trails 38-48 percent. When paired with state Treasurer Don Stenberg, who himself trails Bruning 18-46 percent in the commensurate GOP nomination poll of Nebraska voters, the former senator is behind 38-52 percent. On top of that, he is viewed favorably by just 36 percent of the people as compared to 51 percent who possess an unfavorable opinion of him.

At least in the early going, the Kerrey re-entry into the Nebraska Senate race has certainly not tipped the balance of power toward the Democrats.

The Maine Event: Michaud Out, Pingree In?

Rep. Mike Michaud (D-ME-2), despite being the first person to begin circulating US Senate nominating petitions in the wake of Sen. Olympia Snowe’s (R) retirement announcement, said last night that he will not run statewide but is seeking re-election to his 2nd District House seat. According to high-level Democratic insiders, Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME-1) will run for the Senate.

This is a surprising move since Michaud was quick to jump into the race and seemed to be the most committed of the potential Democratic candidates. But Pingree is far from home-free in the battle for the Senate nomination. Former Gov. John Baldacci, who spent four terms in the House before winning his statewide election in 2002, also has begun to circulate nominating petitions for the Snowe seat. His entry would mean a very expensive and potentially bloody Democratic contest.

Though the Republican field of candidates is slow to form, another possible candidate is lurking in the background and has the luxury of waiting. Independent former Gov. Angus King, who served as Maine’s chief executive for the eight years preceding Baldacci’s two terms in office, says he is seriously considering running. His advantage as an Independent candidate is not having to file until June. Currently, unless the legislature takes action on Gov. Paul LePage’s (R) suggestion to extend the filing deadline, the major party candidates must return their qualification papers by March 15. The extended period would give King ample time to determine the strength of both the Democratic and Republican candidates before making a final decision whether to become a candidate.

Another ramification from Michaud’s decision is that several other Democratic politicians may again have to reverse course. Former Secretary of State Matt Dunlap had announced his Senate candidacy long before Ms. Snowe decided not to run. When Michaud jumped at the open Senate seat, Dunlap immediately turned around and began circulating petition signatures in what he thought was an open 2nd Congressional District. State House Minority Leader Emily Cain (D), who ruled out a Senate run long ago, also jumped into the 2nd District race when she heard Michaud was vacating. Same for ex-state Sen. Bruce Bryant. With Michaud back in the House race, all of these individuals are placed in an uncomfortable political box.

Republicans began moving toward the 2nd District race, too. Kevin Raye, the state Senate president who lost to Michaud when the seat was last open in 2002, had already announced his congressional campaign even before the seat came open for two days. Speculation has been rampant, however, that he might declare for the Senate upon Snowe’s retirement decision. Michaud returning to the House race may lead to that eventuality for Raye. State Sen. Debra Plowman and 2010 nominee Jason Levesque also hopped into what they thought was an open House seat race. It remains to be seen how many of these Republican contenders stay in the congressional race, now that it is back to challenger status.

But the statewide race becomes all the more interesting with the latest developments. Michaud is a better fit for the state because he doesn’t take as extreme ideological positions as Pingree, the former national president of Common Cause. Should King enter as an Independent, and the Republicans field a viable candidate, such as Raye, perhaps, the general election takes on a whole different feel. King is truly independent, holding positions that at times are favorable to both Democrats and Republicans. He endorsed, for example, George W. Bush in 2000, but went with John Kerry in 2004. He followed with an endorsement of President Obama in 2008. Such a scenario would lead to a tight three-way campaign.

The developments during this past week has turned Maine politics on its head. While Democrats begin the open Senate race in the favorite’s position, Republicans are certainly viable, most likely in the person of state Senate Majority Leader Jon Courtney, in Pingree’s open 1st District, though the seat leans decidedly Democratic. Still, Maine voters are known for their independent streak.

All of a sudden, what appeared to be a very quiet political year in the Pine Tree State is now anything but that.

Ins and Outs

California: Well, the expected finally happen. Sixteen-term Rep. David Dreier (R-CA-26), chairman of the House Rules Committee, announced that he will not seek re-election this year. When the California Citizens Redistricting Commission split his district into seven parts, there were few viable re-election options available to the long time incumbent. It became inevitable that Mr. Dreier would end his long congressional career rather than run when entombed in a hopeless political situation.

Because he was technically paired with Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA-38) in the new 32nd District, the retirement does not lead to any new open seat. Mr. Dreier becomes the 38th sitting member to make public his intention not to return to the House when his current term expires. Twenty-two of the 38 are Democrats, 16 are Republican. Twenty-four are opting for retirement, while 14 are seeking a different political office.

Maine: In other news, Rep. Mike Michaud (D-ME-2) has taken out nominating papers to run for the Senate now that incumbent Olympia Snowe (R) is retiring. Maine’s other House member, Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME-1) is said to be considering a run. Should they oppose each other in the Democratic primary, a host of people on both sides of the aisle appear poised to enter open congressional races.

Gov. Paul LePage (R) is indicating that he will ask the state legislature to pass a bill extending the petition gathering deadline past March 15. No less than 2,000 valid registered voter signatures are required to run statewide in Maine. LePage is suggesting that Sen. Snowe’s late retirement announcement is not giving potential candidates adequate time to decide whether to run, and then circulate petitions. Much more to come on what is shaping up to be a wild campaign ride in the Pine Tree State.