Senate: Critical States, Critical Polls

By Jim Ellis

Sept. 13, 2016 — New polls were just released in states that will define which party controls the Senate in the next Congress.

Five polls, four from Quinnipiac University, are now in the public domain from Florida, Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania. If these latest polls prove correct, the Senate majority would be decided in Nevada and New Hampshire, two toss-up states that were not included in the released data.

Florida

The first Q-Poll gives further evidence that Sen. Marco Rubio (R) is expanding his slight lead over Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Jupiter). According to the data from Quinnipiac’s September Florida statewide poll (Aug. 31-Sept. 7; 601 likely Florida voters), Sen. Rubio has extended beyond the polling margin of error and now records a 50-43 percent advantage.

Any problem he had with Republicans based upon his poor Florida performance against Donald Trump in the March 15 presidential primary appears to be resolved. This Q-Poll finds him attracting 89 percent of Republicans as opposed to losing just six percent of them. This brings him to partisan parity with Rep. Murphy, who captures the Democratic vote with a similar 91-7 percent. Rubio is doing very well among Independents, taking this group 53-37 percent.

Quinnipiac’s August poll (July 30-Aug. 7; 1,056 likely Florida voters) found the senator and former presidential candidate leading the two-term Democratic House member 48-45 percent.

Indiana

Public Opinion Strategies (Sept. 6-8; 600 likely Indiana voters) conducted a statewide poll for WTHR-13, an Indianapolis NBC television affiliate, and the Howey Politics Indiana blog. While they find former Sen. Evan Bayh (D) continuing to lead this race after becoming the party nominee in a post-primary candidate switch, his margin is now tightening.

According to the POS data, Bayh’s advantage over Rep. Todd Young (R-Bloomington) is dropping to 44-40 percent. In mid-August, Monmouth University (Aug. 13-16; 403 likely Indiana voters) found his lead to be 48-41 percent. The original Bayh-Young survey, conducted by the Garin Hart Yang Research Group (July 12-14; 602 likely Indiana voters) just after Bayh entered the race, projected the spread at 54-33 percent.

Though the former two-term incumbent consistently records an advantage in this open seat race, the spread continues to tighten. A Democratic conversion win here would be a major step toward re-gaining the Senate majority lost in 2014. The Bayh candidacy has certainly given the Democrats a boost toward achieving this goal, but the current polling trends suggest the final outcome is not yet a foregone conclusion.

North Carolina

Five independent polls were released of the Tar Heel State race in August, and the spread swung from Sen. Richard Burr (R) leading by five points to former state Rep. Deborah Ross (D) forging a one-point advantage.

The new Quinnipiac University survey (Aug. 31-Sept. 7; 751 likely North Carolina voters) finds Sen. Burr upping his margin to 49-43 percent, even though the same sampling group finds Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump and Libertarian Gary Johnson 42-38-15 percent, and Gov. Pat McCrory (R) trailing Attorney General Roy Cooper (D) 44-51 percent.

The six-point spread is Burr’s largest polling lead since early July.

Ohio

Quinnipiac also confirms a developing trend we’ve seen since the July 4th holiday break. According to their latest release (Aug. 31-Sept. 7; 735 likely Ohio voters), Sen. Rob Portman (R) continues to pull away from ex-Gov. Ted Strickland (D) and now leads him by a double-digit margin. The Q-Poll reports a 51-40 percent Portman spread in the current poll, up from a similar 49-40 percent margin one month ago.

Since the beginning of July, eight Ohio polls have been publicized and all show Portman leading with a spread between four and 15 percentage points. Surfacing reports confirm the polling because the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) is beginning to pull back from its earlier financial commitments for this targeted race.

Pennsylvania

A dozen Keystone State public polls have come to the forefront since early July and Democratic challenger Katie McGinty had forged a slight lead over Sen. Pat Toomey (R) in eight of them. Toomey held an advantage in three, and one projected a tie.

The new Q-Poll (Aug. 31-Sept. 7; 778 likely Pennsylvania voters) finds Toomey back in front, clinging to the smallest of margins, a 46-45 percent edge. We can expect a further seesaw effect in this campaign until the final stages in early November.

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