Monday, October 11, 2010

Candidates matter...except when they don't

I think Democrats are going to lose the House, with Republicans quite possibly picking up a lot more seats than they even need for a majority. At the same time I think Democrats will hold onto the Senate and that it may be by a larger margin than people are expecting, with the party perhaps holding onto its seats in places like Illinois, Colorado, Nevada, and West Virginia where the party lucked out because the GOP nominated weak candidates.

That's a reminder that candidates matter- but they matter a lot more in Senate elections where voters really get to know them than in House elections that are much more likely to be determined by the national tide. We've seen time and again in Senate races this year that the better voters get to know the Republican candidates the less they like them. But unfortunately for Democrats I don't know that voters ever get to know the House candidates well enough for that same effect to occur.

I've had 3 reminders of this in the last week:

1) In Colorado voters prefer Republicans on the generic Congressional ballot by a 47-44 margin. At the same time Democrat Michael Bennet is leading the Senate race 46-45. There's a simple explanation for that- Ken Buck is weaker than your average GOP candidate would have been. Independents are generally leaning toward Republicans 39-38. But they prefer Bennet to Buck 48-38. They may be slightly inclined to support a GOP candidate but not that GOP candidate.

2) We saw a similar story last week in Connecticut. Democrats lead the generic Congressional ballot in the state by a slightly scary margin of only 44-42. Independents go toward the GOP by a 43-29 spread and 12% of Democrats are planning to vote Republican while only 8% of Republicans go the other way. But in the US Senate race, where a majority of voters have a negative opinion of Linda McMahon, those trends are all flipped on their heads. Richard Blumenthal earns a tie with independents and gets 15% of Republicans to McMahon's 11% of Democrats. Blumenthal's turned out to be a much weaker candidate than Democrats would have expected 9 months ago but he's going to be fine because he drew an even weaker opponent.

3) On our Nevada poll this weekend we asked just for the heck of it how folks would have voted if the Republican nominee had been Danny Tarkanian. He did 8 point better than Sharron Angle, most notably winning independent voters by 26 points when her advantage with them is only 8. Independents in Nevada want to vote against Harry Reid, but a lot of them consider him to be a lesser evil than Angle. But if Angle was a House candidate would she ever have been exposed to enough scrutiny to make voters realize they didn't like her?

If House candidates got the same level of exposure Senate ones do there are probably some races Democrats would win that they're going to lose...but the simple reality is that they don't and Democrats won't benefit from candidate unforced errors the way they are on the Senate side.

7 comments:

DBL said...

This year people don't like the Democrats. They don't much like the Republicans, but they like some of the things Republicans used to offer and might offer again. So Republicans will do well on the generic ballot.

For the most part, incumbents have a lot more money than challengers. Harry Reid raised six times the money Sharron Angle did. And he's run a ton of negative advertising that makes anyone else more appealing. Of course Tarkanian is more popular. He hasn't had $15 million of ads up saying how horrible a person he is. I doubt he'd be doing so well if he were the candidate.

Likewise Michael Bennet has spent dramatically more than money than Ken Buck. Of course they don't like Ken Buck.

Linda McMahon has her own issues.

The generic candidate is perfect and has no flaws.

atdnext said...

Hmmm... Interesting. The other public polls have all shown wild fluctuations among Independents. One week they're about even, then the next week they're breaking for Angle by 20%, then another week they're going in a wholly different direction.

It's interesting that you show a fairly stable showing among Nevada Indies. Angle led them by 10% in July, and she's leading by 8% now.

Is this a clue as to what your top lines are about to show?

Anonymous said...

"At the same time I think Democrats will hold onto the Senate and that it may be by a larger margin than people are expecting, with the party perhaps holding onto its seats in places like Illinois, Colorado, Nevada, and West Virginia where the party lucked out because the GOP nominated weak candidates."

You should try for a tiny bit of consistency in your haphazard spin attempts. John Raese is supposedly a weak candidate when he's leading a now desperately-flailing Joe Manchin? Mark Kirk is the model Republican that you've repeatedly demanded the GOP nominate; if he hadn't been nominated you'd be claiming the GOP was foolish for rejecting such a strong, unifying candidate.

Then there's your Colorado numbers, which fly in the face of all other national and Colorado polling, Democrats either tied or winning independents.

Dustin Ingalls said...

"This year people don't like the Democrats. They don't much like the Republican"

Voters nationally actually like congressional Republicans less than congressional Democrats. Poll after poll from us and other outfits have shown that.

DBL said...

That's true. But much of the difference is that Republicans like congressional Republicans less than Democrats like congressional Democrats. The approval ratings are similar with indies.

The good news for the Republican Party is that they have 251 candidates running who aren't congressional Republicans.

Anonymous said...

I read this anticipating it would make the far more important point that in House races, the media is less inclined to expend resources PURSUING the historic proliferation of almost exclusively Republican candidates WHO RUN FROM and refuse to be interviewed by any bu the most favorable press.

Fact. And why too many people remain so ignorant of who they are considering voting for that they'd probably (and cluelessly) vote for a convicted murderer just because he or she ws Republican.

Robert said...

Isn't it possible that the "candidate effect" is present in House races in a way that we wouldn't see very much? That is, we get almost all our data about Senate races from individual-race polling, which presumably includes the candidate effect, but very little House data from that same source. I could imagine that actual Republican House candidates could underperform generic Republican House candidates across the board without it's showing up in the generic ballot.

 
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