Our Nevada Senate poll coming out tomorrow is like pretty much all of them since Sharron Angle won the Republican nomination- within a few points in one direction. Usually the conventional wisdom is that a tie race means the incumbent will lose but in the case of Nevada there are a couple big reasons why the tie might go to Harry Reid.
The first is that the polling in Nevada was the worst of any swing state in 2008 (well actually it turned out Nevada wasn't a swing state but everyone thought it was because the polling showed a close race.) And the polling was all off in the same direction- underestimating Barack Obama's margin of victory. Obama won the state by 12 points: our final poll had him up by only 4, Mason Dixon had him up by only 4, Rasmussen had him up by only 4, and CNN had him up by only 7. Some pollsters did do a better job- Suffolk showed a 10 point lead, Zogby an 11 point one, and AP a 12 point one.
So the precedent is there for pollsters- especially the ones who have been doing most of the polling for this year's race- to underestimate Democratic performance in the state. Now there are also a couple reasons why that would not be the case again. The first is that it's quite possible the voters pollsters missed in 2008- Obama wave voters- are exactly the same kind of folks who won't be back out to vote this year for a midterm election.
The second is that those below the radar in 2008 voters may now be included in pollsters' samples- I can only speak for what we do but we're calling folks who voted in the 2004 general, 2006 general, or 2008 general so we should have a lot of the people we missed last time in our samples this time. Still it strikes me as much more likely that the polls are systematically underestimating Harry Reid than the other way around.
The other reason the tie might go to Reid is that the polling in Nevada is assuming a much larger gap between Democratic and Republican turnout compared to 2008 than we're seeing most places. In our poll tomorrow the sample reports having voted for Barack Obama by only 2 points, compared to his actual 12 point victory in the state. Even with that big dropoff in turnout from Democrats the race is still very close- but if even half of that enthusiasm gap was chopped between now and November Reid would be in a very strong position. And we have seen indication already this cycle that Democratic interest perks up as election day gets closer.
I certainly think Angle can win by a small amount but if you asked me who has the better chance of winning this by 5 or 6 points I definitely think it's Reid.