Polls: Razor Thin Races

By Jim Ellis

May 13, 2016 — Quinnipiac University, releasing the Senate numbers from the three-state presidential polls they just conducted, finds toss-up campaigns emerging across the board.

In Florida, both nomination battles are far from clear or being settled. Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-FL-18), the Democratic establishment’s chosen candidate, and Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL-6), the conservative base contender who enjoys strong support from the Club for Growth — among other outside right-of-center organizations — were the strongest competitors for each party. It is important to note, however, that all potential general election match-ups were within small single-digit margins.

It is fair to say that representatives Murphy and DeSantis may have the best chance of advancing to the general election and, if they do, this might become the best campaign in the country. Such a race would feature two young, articulate office holders with leadership potential in their respective parties. That being said, the Q-Poll Florida data (April 27-May 8; 1,051 registered Florida voters) finds Murphy holding the barest of margins, 36-35 percent over DeSantis, meaning a virtual tie.

Polling snapshots featuring liberal Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL-9) similarly reveal a series of close races. Rep. Grayson carries an average two-point lead against all of the individual contenders, and a 38-36 percent edge over DeSantis.

Such results are not surprising in remembering that Florida’s voter history since 2000 has featured many close races at all political levels.

Another key campaign is in the Buckeye State of Ohio. A strange polling pattern has emerged here, one that again reveals itself in the Q-Poll (April 27-May 8; 1,042 registered Ohio voters). Sen. Portman continues to score better on the personal favorability indexes: 35:22 percent favorable to unfavorable with a positive 44:29 percent job approval ratio, while former Gov. Ted Strickland (D) gets a lower 37:31 percent positive to negative rating.

Yet, on the ballot test, Strickland once more registers a slight lead, 43-42 percent. Normally, the candidate with the better personal favorability ratings fares better in head-to-head polling, but the 2016 Ohio Senate race has commonly exhibited the opposite pattern.

One key ballot test point is the result among younger voters. This group, aged 18-34, gives ex-Gov. Strickland their overwhelming support by a margin of 58-27 percent, clearly propelling Strickland to his overall scant statewide edge. But, this segment registers the lowest voter turnout rate for all demographics. Not accounting for specific group turnout it is likely the results are, therefore, slightly skewed in ex-Gov. Strickland’s favor.

The recent Pennsylvania Senate primary yielded former gubernatorial chief of staff Katie McGinty (D) as the Democratic nominee. According to the PA Q-Poll (April 27-May 8; 1,077 registered Pennsylvania voters), Sen. Pat Toomey (R) has just a one point advantage over his new opponent, 45-44 percent.

McGinty’s former position may give Sen. Toomey an attack opening, however. Her boss, Gov. Tom Wolf (D), scores the worst of the three governors tested, and has a better favorability index than only indicted Attorney General Kathleen Kane (D-PA) among the eleven statewide officials, including President Obama, asked about in the three states. Gov. Wolf’s favorability ratio was 36:51 percent favorable to unfavorable.

The fact that McGinty helped lead the unpopular governor’s administration could be a vulnerability point for the fall campaign.

The Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania Senate races are critical to determining which party will win the majority in the next Congress. Considering the voter history in each state, overlaid with the collective campaigns’ national importance, it is reasonable to expect similarly tight polling all the way to Election Day.

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