Thursday, December 30, 2010

5 polls that surprised us the most

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!

NC Politician Year End Report Card

As 2010 comes to a close we have an opportunity to look at whose popularity rose, fell, and stayed the same among the major politicians in North Carolina over the course of the year.

Here's a quick breakdown of how the net approval ratings of Bev Perdue, Richard Burr, Barack Obama, and Kay Hagan shifted from the end of 2009 to the end of 2010:


End of 2009 Approval

End of 2010 Approval


Bev Perdue

27/53 (-26)

35/44 (-9)


Richard Burr

35/37 (-2)

36/34 (+2)


Kay Hagan

36/44 (-8)

36/43 (-7)


Barack Obama

48/47 (+1)

46/49 (-3)


The biggest gainer and the only person whose numbers changed significantly over the course of 2010 was Bev Perdue, although that may be considered a Pyrrhic victory given that she went from being incredibly unpopular to just somewhat unpopular. Her net approval at the end of 2009 was -26 with 27% of voters approving of her and 53% disapproving. Now it's -9 with 35% of voters approving of her and 44% disapproving. That's a 17 point gain but her approval spread still puts her six points behind the average Governor.

The next biggest gainer was Richard Burr who went from being slightly unpopular with a -2 approval spread (35/37) at the end of 2009 to slightly popular with a +2 approval spread (36/34) at the end of 2010. Burr's name recognition went up over the course of the year as he advertised on television but two months removed from the election voters seem to have forgotten about him already- the level of ambivalence toward him is higher than for just about any other Senator in the country. With a Republican wind behind him and an ill funded opponent it hardly mattered for his reelection prospects. Burr's approval spread is almost identical to the +3 average we found for 59 Senators across the country in the second half of 2010.

Kay Hagan saw basically no change in her numbers over the course of 2010. Her approval rating at the end of last year was 36%, and it's still 36%. Her disapproval moved insignificantly from 44% to 43%. Her approval spread is 10 points behind our national average for Senators. Although Perdue is generally thought of as the state's most unpopular politician Hagan actually performs worse compared to the mean of her peers at this point. Fortunately for her she has plenty of time for her numbers to improve before she has to go before the voters again.

Barack Obama's numbers in the state are slightly worse than they were at the end of last year although a 2 point drop in his approval rating and a 2 point increase in his disapproval are both changes within the margin of error. His most recent national approval breakdown is 47% approving and 50% disapproving so his standing in North Carolina is essentially identical compared to where he is nationwide. That may be surprising given that his performance in the state in 2008 ran seven points behind what he did in the national popular vote, but his numbers are tending to hold up better in states with large black populations because those voters are considerably less likely to have abandoned him than white ones. Where his numbers have really taken a dive are places like New Hampshire.

So to review Obama and Burr have average popularity in North Carolina, and Perdue and Hagan are both below average. The state doesn't have any politicians it particularly likes, and no one saw a real meaningful shift in voter attitudes toward them this year except Perdue.

Rubio's a little overrated

Marco Rubio is probably the most hyped of the 2011 freshman Senate class, to the extent that there's already discussion about him as a possible 2012 Presidential candidate. Our latest Florida poll though suggests that it might be time for everyone to slow down a little bit on that front. Rubio is the most hyped new Senator...and he might be the most overrated too. Here's what we found:

-Rubio is not unusually popular with Florida voters- they're pretty evenly divided in their feelings about him with 43% rating him favorably and 42% unfavorably. He does have an unusual amount of appeal to Democrats, with 25% viewing him positively. But his 28/52 favorability with independents isn't a whole lot better than the 25/56 we found for new Governor Rick Scott, who's pretty universally thought to be highly unpopular.

-When it comes to the 2012 Presidential contest in the state Rubio trails Barack Obama by 8 points, a worse performance than Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and Newt Gingrich posted in the poll and better only than Sarah Palin. In fairness to Rubio he's not the one pushing himself as a 2012 candidate but it does seem safe to say that if he couldn't pull his own home swing state his chances of winning the other major swing states wouldn't be too good either.

One thing frequently lost because Rubio's margin of victory in the Senate race was so impressive is that he still got less than half of the vote in an electorate that skewed heavily toward the GOP. With the Democratic vote splitting nearly evenly between Charlie Crist and Kendrick Meek, Rubio was going to win big pretty much no matter what he did and that didn't require him to be an unusually appealing candidate. Given where the race started it's still somewhat amazing and impressive that Rubio's going into the Senate but folks might want him to serve at least half a Senate term before the White House bid.

Rubio's numbers were part of our 2012 Presidential release last week.

Voting time for first poll of 2011

As mentioned earlier this week Nevada will be one of our first two polls of 2011 and we're letting you vote on the other one. Here are the finalists:

-Arizona. After Nevada and Massachusetts this is probably the best of the limited pick up opportunities for Democrats on the Senate front and it's also along with Missouri and Montana one of the few states Barack Obama could conceivably flip to blue in 2012 although I imagine it's one of the places where only the GOP nominating Sarah Palin would make it competitive.

-Colorado. No 2012 Senate race on the docket but certainly one of the most important states for the Presidential race- one very important to the GOP's prospects of getting back the White House. My guess after Democrats swept the two major contests in the state during a horrid year for the party nationally is that Obama would look pretty good there...but that's why we do the polls.

-Connecticut. Joe Lieberman was near the bottom of the barrel in our year end approval ratings but he's actually been pretty active the last month or so in pushing for things that Democrats like so I'm interested to see if he's had any sort of renaissance or if the damage he'd done to himself already is too much to overcome. The number of permutations we'd have to test there is almost dizzying but we'll figure it out if that wins.

-Nebraska. I sensed that Ben Nelson was the most endangered Democratic Senator up for reelection in 2012 even before two recent Republican polls found him in deep trouble, so I don't really doubt their findings but no harm in adding another voice to the table. Also interested to see if Obama has any chance at winning Omaha's electoral vote again.

-New Jersey. Multiple polling companies have shown something that we first picked up on more than a year ago- Bob Menendez is not popular. The question then becomes whether voters are so disenchanted with him that they'd actually vote for a Republican, or if it's just a case where they'll hold their nose but still vote Democratic- time to test actual names against him. It's also a good time for looking at how voters in the state are feeling about Chris Christie and Cory Booker- and a potential 2013 contest between the two of them.

-Pennsylvania. We've already gone through and taken a first look at the 2012 Presidential contest in the other two of the ultimate swing state triumvirate- Ohio and Florida- so we should finish the trio soon. And of course Bob Casey is one of the potentially vulnerable first term Democratic Senators up in 2012. My sense is that Casey's numbers are a little deceiving though, and make him look more endangered than he actually is. He's similar to Bill Nelson, Steve Beshear, and Jay Nixon in that Democrats aren't totally in love with him, which brings down his topline approval numbers, but he scores unusually well with Republicans. In a state like Pennsylvania where Democrats have a large registration advantage, if your party folks still vote for you even if they're not in love with you and you can pull something like 15-20% of the GOP vote you're going to be in pretty good shape. Anyway we can test all that if we poll it.

Voting is open until Sunday and then we'll ask you to help us flesh out the details of what we ask for whoever the winner is...and a reminder that if one person rigs this and casts hundreds of votes for a particular state it will be 4 or 5 times on different computers is fair game but casting hundreds is not.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Year End Governor Approval Ratings

Yesterday we took a look at the approval numbers for all 59 Senators we'd polled on in the final half of the year and today we take on the 30 Governors. Here are some of the findings:

-As much noise as was made about voters being mad at Washington this year, they actually react more favorably to their Senators than they do their Governors. The average Gubernatorial approval rating is 42% with 45% of voters disapproving. The average Senator was actually in net positive territory at 43% approving and 40% disapproving. 12 Governors have positive approval numbers, 16 have negative ones, and 2 split right down the middle.

-It's good to be from a small state. The six most popular Governors we polled on this year all came from places with seven electoral votes or less. The most popular by a wide margin, although he isn't a Governor anymore, was Joe Manchin at a +48 approval spread (70/22). The others near the top of the list are Bobby Jindal (+24), Jodi Rell (+24), Brian Schweitzer (+22), Jack Markell (+18), and Sean Parnell (+16).

-Four Governors ended the year (and their terms) in the under 30% approval club. The least popular in the country at least in our polling is Arnold Schwarzenegger at a -38 spread (25/63). The other folks reaching this unwelcome unpopularity level are Bill Richardson at a -37 spread, Jim Gibbons at a -36, and John Baldacci at -29. It's not a coincidence that 3 out of 4 of these guys saw the Governor's office in their state flip to the other party last month.

-Here are numbers on some folks who will or might be on the ballot during the 2012 cycle: Kentucky Democrat Steve Beshear who's up next year is unusually popular at a 48/34 spread. So is Missouri Democrat Jay Nixon, up in 2012, at 44/30. North Carolina Democrat Bev Perdue, also up in 2012, falls on the wrong side of the approval averages at 35/44. Linda Lingle of Hawaii, who Republicans are hyper about as a potential 2012 Senate candidate, is not nearly as popular as she may have once been with voters only narrowly rating her favorably at 46/45.

-As was the case with the Senators there's not a huge difference in the popularity of the Democratic Governors vs. the Republican ones. The average Democratic Governor approval spread is 41/46. For the Republicans it's just slightly better at 44/45.

Here are the full numbers:




Joe Manchin (D-WV)



Bobby Jindal (R-LA)



Jodi Rell (R-CT)



Brian Schweitzer (D-MT)



Jack Markell (D-DE)



Sean Parnell (R-AK)



Steve Beshear (D-KY)



Jay Nixon (D-MO)



John Lynch (D-NH)



Charlie Crist (I-FL)



Bob McDonnell (R-VA)



Linda Lingle (R-HI)



Rick Perry (R-TX)



Deval Patrick (D-MA)



Martin O’Malley (D-MD)



Ted Strickland (D-OH)



Bev Perdue (D-NC)



Tim Pawlenty (R-MN)



Christine Gregoire (D-WA)



Bill Ritter (D-CO)



Ted Kulongoski (D-OR)



Ed Rendell (D-PA)



Jim Doyle (D-WI)



Pat Quinn (D-IL)



Jennifer Granholm (D-MI)



David Paterson (D-NY)



John Baldacci (D-ME)



Jim Gibbons (R-NV)



Bill Richardson (D-NM)



Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA)



Crist's Future

There hasn't been a lot of good news for Charlie Crist this year but as he prepares to leave office here's a little piece of it: he's actually finishing up with the best approval numbers PPP has found for him all year. 50% of voters approve of the job he's doing to 39% who disapprove. Starting in March his approval numbers in five previous PPP polls this year were 35%, 44%, 42%, 47%, and 41%.

Crist has stratospheric numbers with independents at 70% approving of him to only 26% disapproving. That's the highest approval with them PPP has found for any politician this year, even Joe Manchin couldn't match that. His Senate campaign coming to an end also seems to have earned Crist some forgiveness with Republicans. He's still mostly unpopular with them now at 36% approval to 54% disapproval, but that's well up from a 23/64 spread in late October. He's actually seen some slippage with Democrats though, from 59% approval right before the election to now 54%.

Crist may have a political future but if he does it's in the Democratic Party. 35% of voters in the state say they would definitely not vote for him in a campaign somewhere down the road. But 26% say they definitely would and 36% are at least open to the possibility. Any thought that he might try to go back to being a Republican can probably be put aside by the fact that 50% of GOP voters say they would never vote for Crist ever again- that's a pretty brutal starting point in a primary contest.

That leaves the options of going the independent route again- which he presumably saw the perils of this year- or just becoming a Democrat. 27% of Democrats say they'd definitely vote for Crist in a future campaign and 43% are open to it with only 25% ruling out the possibility. So that's where his best chances in the future lie and wouldn't a Crist-Scott contest in 2014 be fascinating...although Crist's odd choice to run for the Senate this year would suggest that maybe being Governor wasn't his cup of tea.

Speaking of Scott, Floridians' negative attitudes toward him have thawed out at least a little bit as he prepares to take office. He's still unpopular with 33% of voters seeing him favorably to 43% with a negative opinion but that's a little better than the day before he was elected when we found 54% of voters seeing him unfavorably to a pretty identical 34% with a favorable view. A lot of Democrats in particular have moved from the unfavorable to the 'not sure' column when it comes to their feelings about Scott, suggesting that they're at least giving him a chance. Still there is little doubt that he's the most unpopular newly elected Governor in the country and his election may have been the greatest testament anywhere to how down on Democrats voters were this year.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Senate Approval Ratings

During the second half of 2010 PPP polled on approval ratings for 59 different Senators. Here's some of the information on how they stack up:

-The average approval rating for a Senator right now is 43% approving to 40% disapproving. That suggests the old adage that voters hate Congress but love their Congressman holds an extent...maybe hate Congress but don't mind their Congressman is a better way of putting it. At any rate 37 Senators had positive approval numbers in our most recent polls while 22 had negative ones.

-There's very little difference in the average approval of Republican Senators vs. Democratic Senators. Your average GOP Senator has a 43/37 approval spread. Your average Democrats comes down at 44% approval and 41% disapproval.

-Seven Senators posted a net approval rating of +20 or greater during the second half of 2010. The most popular is Amy Klobuchar at +30, followed by Scott Brown at +24, Judd Gregg at +23, and then Barbara Mikulski, Mark Warner, Chuck Schumer, and Olympia Snowe all at +22.

-There are only three Senators who posted a net approval rating of -20 or worse during the second half of 2010. They are Roland Burris at -39, Arlen Specter at -31, and Joe Lieberman at -21. Specter and Lieberman's numbers definitely speak to the perils of having it both ways...they don't really make Democrats or Republicans particularly happy and you can get away with that if independents love you for your independence but in their cases that has not happened. I will be interested to see if Lieberman's numbers are back in the right direction after the last month and I imagine we'll poll there sometime in January.

-The two most popular Senate delegations are Maine where Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins add up to a +39 approval spread and Maryland where Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin combine for a +36 approval spread. The two least popular are Connecticut where Lieberman and Chris Dodd are both pretty unpopular and add up to -37 and Illinois where Dick Durbin actually is on positive ground but Burris is so unpopular that together they add up to -37.

Here are the full numbers, there are probably a lot of other interesting points that I'm missing. And a methodological note, I'm using our most recent poll here except for states that we polled repeatedly in October- for those ones I'm using the poll that proved to come closest to the election outcome in the state:




Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)



Scott Brown (R-MA)



Judd Gregg (R-NH)



Olympia Snowe (R-ME)



Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)



Mark Warner (D-VA)



Chuck Schumer (D-NY)



Susan Collins (R-ME)



Jeff Bingaman (D-NM)



John Cornyn (R-TX)



Herb Kohl (D-WI)



Ben Cardin (D-MD)



Daniel Akaka (D-HI)



Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)



David Vitter (R-LA)



Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX)



Tom Udall (D-NM)



Jon Tester (D-MT)



Kit Bond (R-MO)



Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)



Tom Carper (D-DE)



Jon Kyl (R-AZ)



Russ Feingold (D-WI)



Carl Levin (D-MI)



John Kerry (D-MA)



Jim Webb (D-VA)



Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)



Ted Kaufman (D-DE)



Sherrod Brown (D-OH)



Bill Nelson (D-FL)



Al Franken (D-MN)



Maria Cantwell (D-WA)



Mark Udall (D-CO)



Richard Burr (R-NC)



Jeff Merkley (D-OR)



Dick Durbin (D-IL)



Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)



Patty Murray (D-WA)



Claire McCaskill (D-MO)



Mitch McConnell (R-KY)



Barbara Boxer (D-CA)



Bob Casey (D-PA)



George Voinovich (R-OH)



Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)



Carte Goodwin (D-WV)



Kay Hagan (D-NC)



John Ensign (R-NV)



Harry Reid (D-NV)



Michael Bennet (D-CO)



Mark Begich (D-AK)



George LeMieux (R-FL)



Mary Landrieu (D-LA)



Jim Bunning (R-KY)



Max Baucus (D-MT)



Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)



Chris Dodd (D-CT)



Joe Lieberman (I-CT)



Arlen Specter (D-PA)



Roland Burris (D-IL)



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