In a great many election years, a surprising Senate candidate often comes from nowhere at the beginning of the cycle to score an upset win. The 2010 Republican landslide, for example, produced Wisconsin businessman Ron Johnson (R), a virtual unknown at the campaign’s outset, who would eventually unseat then-Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI). Former North Dakota Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp (D), viewed as a heavy underdog to then-at-large Rep. Rick Berg (R) when their two-way contest began, overcame an early polling deficit to claim her Senate seat in the presidential election year of 2012.
In looking at the 2014 field of candidates, many people were speculating that the under-the-radar candidate best possibly positioned to score an upset is Minnesota businessman Mike McFadden (R) who is challenging first-term Sen. Al Franken (D). Though Franken has not yet appeared in a politically endangered position, we must remember that his 2008 campaign was so close that it took nine months to finally determine that the former actor-comedian scored a 312-vote victory (from more than 2.88 million ballots cast) over then-Sen. Norm Coleman (R). Additionally, the Minnesota electorate has proven unpredictable, and we only have to go back as far as 2010 to find a series of campaigns where Republicans scored unexpected gains is what is normally a Democratic state.
A new Gravis Marketing survey (July 2-3; 879 registered Minnesota voters; 756 likely voters via automated response) provides data that, for the first time in the current election cycle, projects Sen. Franken to be topping the 50 percent mark … or is he? According to the raw numbers, Franken scores a 51-35 percent advantage within the at-large sample, and an even stronger 58-30 percent if only likely* voters are tabulated.
But the poll has a bit of a skew. Gravis Marketing, based in Winter Springs, Fla., just northeast of Orlando, bills itself as a non-partisan pollster but tends to release numbers that generally lean a bit more Republican than do many other samples of a consistent voting universe. This is especially true in their home state of Florida.
In this instance, however, the results appear to skew toward the Democrats. Looking at their entire slate of statewide office ballot tests, covering the governor’s race all the way through secretary of state, Democrats enjoy strong leads, and particularly so among the likely voters. Even President Obama, recording some of the worst national and regional approval ratings of his entire presidency, posts a healthy 47:41 percent favorability rating among this pool of Minnesota likely voters, and 45:45 percent among the entire sample.
The skew likely comes in the selection and weighting process. Though the data is relatively close to the optimum Minnesota benchmark, the sample as a whole probably skews more Democratic in the range of approximately 5.3 percent when looking at age, education level, and gender, in particular.
Though the Minnesota Senate campaign has not been extensively polled, most of the data that does exist posts Sen. Franken to a lead, but one that has him well under 50 percent with a high single or low double-digit advantage.
While there is no doubt that Sen. Franken has the upper hand as we begin to hit high campaign time, his edge is more than likely not as strong as this Gravis Marketing poll indicates.
*It is unclear how Gravis defines “likely voter” for reporting purposes. According to their segmentation, 68 percent of the total 879-person sample say they are “very likely” to vote in the 2014 general election. Another 13 percent describe themselves as “likely” to vote; and an additional four percent say they are “somewhat likely” to participate in the coming election. Adding together all three descriptions gets us to the 756 number, but this is only a supposition since the pollster does not verify that the three positive voting description categories are included in the data reporting.