Senate Trends

By Jim Ellis

Aug. 15, 2016 — A plethora of new swing state Senate polls have been conducted and already released in August, and both parties are getting some good news in specific races.

The two states ripe for electing a senator from a different party are Illinois and Wisconsin. Such has been known for the better part of a year, and the latest polls are no exception to the developing trends.

Illinois Senate Democratic nominee Tammy Duckworth (D-IL-8) released her internal Normington Petts research firm poll (Aug. 1-4; 800 likely Illinois general election voters) projecting a 44-37 percent Duckworth lead over Sen. Mark Kirk (R). Marquette University Law School, again polling the Wisconsin electorate (Aug. 4-7; 805 registered Wisconsin voters) as they have done regularly since the 2012 election, finds former Sen. Russ Feingold (D) topping incumbent Ron Johnson (R), 53-42 percent. This result swings a net of six points in Feingold’s favor when compared to the institution’s July survey. At that time, Feingold led 49-44 percent.

All the key Republican defense battleground states reported new August numbers. The good news for Democrats comes in Pennsylvania where challenger Katie McGinty (D) made a significant gain on Sen. Pat Toomey (R), to the point where several polls find her building a small lead.

The just-released Quinnipiac University poll (July 30-Aug. 7; 815 registered Pennsylvania voters) finds McGinty edging the first-term Republican senator, 47-44 percent. NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist College (Aug. 3-7; 834 registered Pennsylvania voters) finds a similar 48-44 percent spread in McGinty’s favor. Susquehanna Polling & Research (July 31-Aug. 4; 772 likely Pennsylvania voters) also sees McGinty in front, but by an even closer 42-40 percent gap. All of these results are within the margin of polling error, and in every instance Toomey performs significantly better than GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Republicans get good news in Ohio, where the August polls clearly show Sen. Rob Portman (R) breaking free of former Gov. Ted Strickland (D). Quinnipiac (July 30-Aug. 7; 812 registered Ohio voters) finds the senator well beyond the margin of error at 49-40 percent. NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist College (Aug. 3-7; 889 registered Ohio voters) sees a similar, but less robust, 48-43 percent Portman margin. Previously, this race had languished as a virtual tie for months.

The GOP also gets positive readings in Florida, as Sen. Marco Rubio (R) is rebounding from this failed presidential campaign and becoming the re-election favorite. Quinnipiac University’s just-released Florida poll (July 30-Aug. 7; 1,056 registered Florida voters) finds the senator leading Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-FL-18), 48-45 percent, still very close but an improvement in standing for the first-term senator and presidential candidate. Opinion Savvy, polling for Fox 13 in Tampa Bay (Aug. 10; 622 registered Florida voters), gives Rubio a similar 45-43 percent edge. In both the Q-Poll and the Opinion Savvy survey, Hillary Clinton’s Florida lead over Donald Trump had dropped to just one percentage point.

The Democrats counter, however, with the previously reported mid-July Garin Hart Yang Research Group poll of Indiana voters (Juy 12-14; 602 likely Indiana oters) that finds former Sen. Evan Bayh (D) holding a whopping 54-33 percent lead over Rep. Todd Young (R-IN-9). This is a critical race because Young had the inside track toward statewide victory until the Democratic leadership convinced nominee Baron Hill, a former US congressman, to step aside for Bayh.

The Indiana move now makes Republicans winning the open Nevada seat (Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid retiring) a necessity for holding the majority. As he has for many weeks, Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV-3) continues to maintain a very small but consistent lead over former Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto (D).

A new CBS News/YouGov poll (Aug. 2-5; 993 likely Nevada voters) finds the congressman clinging to a 38-35 percent margin over the former statewide elected official. This confirms the July polling that produced similar results. Rasmussen Reports (July 29-31; 750 likely Nevada voters) posted a 42-41 percent Heck edge. Earlier, Monmouth University (July 7-10; 408 likely Nevada voters) projected an almost identical 42-40 percent Heck lead.

Democrats are also receiving a boost in New Hampshire. The Vox Populi firm, polling for the ESA Fund Super PAC (Aug. 7-8; 820 registered New Hampshire voters) finds Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) taking a 46-43 percent lead over Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R). Though behind, the numbers represent a significant rebound for the senator. The previous poll, the WBUR/MassInc survey (July 29-Aug. 1; 609 likely New Hampshire voters), revealed the governor surging to a large 10-point advantage, 50-40 percent.

Should all of these trends continue, and no Democratic upsets occur in North Carolina or Arizona, we could well be headed toward a very small Republican majority or a virtual tie between the two parties. This makes the presidential race and its effect upon the down ballot campaigns all the more important.

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