Dueling Polls

By Jim Ellis

May 10, 2017 — Two new Georgia special election polls are telling similar stories, but in very different ways. Both show a virtual tie between Republican former Secretary of State Karen Handel and Democratic investigative filmmaker Jon Ossoff, but the survey results produce different leaders and present mirror images of Independent preference.

GBA Strategies, a Democratic pollster surveying for the House Majority PAC — a group associated with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) — recently went into the field (April 29-May 1; 400 likely GA-6 special election voters) and found Ossoff leading Handel, 50-48 percent. This conclusion is similar to what another Democratic firm, Anzalone Liszt Grove Research, produced in their previously reported April 23-26 poll (Ossoff 48 percent; Handel 47 percent).

This week, Landmark Communications, polling for Atlanta’s WSB-TV Channel 2 (May 3-4; 611 likely GA-6 special election voters), released a slightly different result but certainly fell within the same polling realm. They see Handel pulling ahead in a 49.1 – 46.5 percent spread.

Interestingly, the two more recent polls have possible flaws or biases – quirks that prove opposite one another – yet they both still arrive at basically the same final conclusion.

The GBA segmentation separates the respondents into political party groups, as does Landmark. In a result rarely, if ever, seen GBA finds the self-identified Democratic voters splitting 99-1 percent in Ossoff’s favor, meaning a virtual unanimous vote with no one undecided.

More curious, GBA sees Handel leading 52-4 percent among the Independent voters. Considering the Republican contingent is larger than the Democratic vote – the district has a long history of Republican voting, and GBA shows Handel holding 91 percent of the group – and then adding more Independents to Handel’s column than her opponent’s, makes it difficult to see how Ossoff holds an advantage within the completed configuration.

Turning to Landmark, this firm also segments the polling sample into political party cells but finds different conclusions than GBA, results that appear to be more in line with conventional polling and the district’s voting history. In comparison with GBA’s 99-1 percent Democratic split, Landmark sees the party base breaking 90-6 percent in Ossoff’s favor. Instead of Republicans supporting Handel 91-7 percent, Landmark finds an 80-16 percent party loyalty mark. Based upon this special election’s campaign tenor, all of the Landmark partisan segmentation ratios seem more reasonable.

Among Independents, however, the two pollsters diverge wildly. While GBA sees Handel performing better with Independents (52-43 percent), Landmark finds unaffiliated voters lining up solidly behind Ossoff, 57-36 percent, with an additional category of “other party voters” also going slightly for the Democratic nominee, 48-46 percent.

Looking at the Landmark arithmetic, it seems inconsistent that Handel could be leading the overall ballot test when she is performing so poorly among Independents. Therefore, a likely explanation is that the 51 percent of the sample identifying as Republican is too large, thus Independents are under-polled. Since Georgia does not register voters by political party, it is not possible to capture a wholly accurate party affiliation figure, however.

While the surveys may be traversing different internal roads they manage to arrive at the same conclusion, that is both major party candidates can win this race, and whichever can better deliver their voters to the polls will ultimately be victorious. Both parties performed well in this regard during the jungle primary, thus making the June 20 special general election even more difficult to predict.

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