As the year comes to a close I thought it might be interesting to relive the five polls we did that surprised me the most over the course of what was an election cycle full of surprises:
5) Arkansas Senate Poll, January 29th-31st. If you'd asked me at this time last year I would have told you I thought Arkansas would be among the 2 or 3 states we polled most often in 2010. Blanche Lincoln had horrible approval numbers throughout the last part of 2009 but she also had a weak Republican candidate field going against her so even though she was trailing in a lot of polling it wasn't by insurmountable margins and it seemed like she might be able to make a comeback once the health care issue that was killing her was in the rear view mirror. Then John Boozman started showing interest in the race and we were first out of the gate in polling that match up. I figured Lincoln would be in a lot of trouble, down 10 or so. She was down by 23! We never polled the race again the rest of the year and it never changed much from that initial benchmark. She lost by 21.
4) Kentucky Republican Senate Primary Poll, December 18th-21st 2009. In retrospect this poll was one of the biggest early signs that it was going to be a very rough cycle for establishment Republicans. It seems hard to believe after blowout victories in both the primary and general elections but for most of 2009 national political observers saw Rand Paul's Senate campaign as an amusing sidebar, giving its viability little credence with the Republican regulars in the state lined up behind Trey Grayson. Then we polled it and not only did we find Grayson trailing- we found Grayson trailing by 19 points! Whatever happened over the last half of 2009 to put Grayson so far behind he never recovered from- every single independent poll for the whole rest of the campaign found him down by double digits.
3) Florida Republican Senate Primary Poll, March 5th-8th. It was already abundantly clear that Charlie Crist was in deep, deep trouble before we took our first stab at the race- a Rasmussen poll the month before had shown him down by 18 points. But it was still pretty shocking to find him down by 32 points at 60-28. It took about five minutes for the Crist campaign to get out a release attacking the poll as 'agenda driven' and designed to help the Rubio campaign. The Florida Times-Union was so shocked that they commissioned their own snap poll on the race...and found Crist down by 34. At that point it started to be seen as only a matter of time before Crist threw in the towel on being the Republican nominee and he did late the next month.
2) Delaware Republican Senate Primary Poll, September 11th-12th. We did a Delaware Senate poll in mid-August and didn't even bother taking a look at the primary race. That's how far fetched the thought of Mike Castle losing the primary was at that point. After Joe Miller's shocking victory in the Alaska Senate GOP contest we decided we would do a Delaware primary poll the weekend before the election just to cover our bases. Still, when even the Tea Party Express' own polling leaked the week before the election showed O'Donnell behind we didn't expect to see much. But after starting the poll Saturday morning of that weekend, it was clear by the middle of Saturday afternoon that at worst the race was 50/50 and that it was more likely O'Donnell was ahead. She was up 3 when we tallied it up and I was probably more nervous for the 48 hours between releasing that poll and the election results coming in than I was at any other point in the cycle because the result was so surprising and there was no other polling company backing us up. If we were wrong there wasn't going to be anyone to break our fall. But fortunately we weren't- it really seemed possible at the time that 30,000 Republicans in Delaware were going to cost their party control of the Senate although Democrats winning most of the toss up races kept that from being the case in the end.
1) Massachusetts Senate Poll, January 7th-9th. The final week of 2009 we had a vote on where we should do our first poll of 2010 and Massachusetts was one of the options. It finished third behind Connecticut and Alabama. That's how off the radar Scott Brown's chances were just two and a half weeks before the special election. Then Rasmussen came out with a poll showing Brown behind by only 9 that got people paying attention, but still it's not too often that someone manages to go from a 9 point lead to losing in a two week span, especially if it's not a primary. So we polled it mostly just to confirm the new conventional wisdom that Democrats needed to not take it for granted, but that they didn't have that much to worry about. I remember we started the poll up during the BCS Championship game and it was clear by about halftime that Democrats had a whole lot more to worry about in Massachusetts than just about anyone realized. When we put the poll out Saturday night Brown was up by 1 and his momentum carried on to a 5 point victory over the final week.
It's been a great year for PPP, thanks to everyone for their support and Happy New Year!