Democrat Kathy Hochul continues to appear poised for an upset victory in Tuesday's special election for Congress in New York's 26th Congressional District. She is polling at 42% to 36% for Republican nominee Jane Corwin and 13% for Tea Party candidate Jack Davis.
Since a PPP poll of the race two weeks ago Hochul has gained 7 points of support and Corwin has gained 5 while Davis has dropped by 11. It appears that Hochul has done a good job of staying above the fray as the campaign has taken on an increasingly negative tenor in its final days. Hochul's favorability is a +14 spread at 51/37, up 8 points from the previous poll when it was +6 at 46/40. Corwin meanwhile has seen a 15 decline in her net favorability. She was already unpopular at -3 (39/42) on our previous poll but that is now much worse at -18 (34/52). Davis has seen the biggest decline in his image though. Voters were evenly split 43/43 in their assessments of him two weeks ago. Now his favorability spread is a horrid -39 with only 23% of voters rating him positively and 62% with a negative opinion.
Davis' presence in the race is certainly a key reason Hochul finds herself in such a strong position. He is winning 16% of the Republican vote while getting only 8% of Democrats. Still it would be unfair to Hochul to say Davis is the only reason she might pull the upset- she is showing a good amount of crossover support, getting 16% of Republicans to Corwin's 11% of Democrats. And she's also up 36-34 with independents. There were not very many House races in 2010 where the Democratic candidate won 16% of Republican voters and the independents.
There's still reason though to think Corwin could pull this race out. By a 41-39 margin voters in the district would like their new member of Congress to caucus with the Republicans rather than the Democrats in the House. Those planning to vote for Davis hold that sentiment by an even wider margin at 48-20. Davis' support has been plummeting and if that trend continues and conservatives who don't really like Corwin hold their nose and end up voting for her anyway she still has a chance to win a narrow victory.
Beyond Jack Davis, here are some of the key reasons Hochul is in the lead:
-Voters in the district are way down on the new Republican majority and actually think things are worse now than when Democrats were in charge of the House. Congressional Republicans have just a 26% approval rating with voters in this district to 59% who disapprove. Only a bare majority of GOP voters (50%) think their party's doing a good job in control while Democrats (84%) are pretty unanimous in panning the new Republican majority and independents split against it by a 19/64 margin as well. Only 34% of voters think the new GOP majority is doing a better job than the Democrats did to 38% who think they're doing worse and 27% who think things are the same. NY-26 reflects the deep dissatisfaction we're seeing nationally with the new GOP House.
-Barack Obama's not popular in the district...but John Boehner is even less popular. Obama's approval is a -9 spread at 42/51 but Boehner's is -17 at 28/45. Democrats did terrible last year because all voter dissatisfaction was directed toward them but now even in Republican districts Boehner's more unpopular than Obama- the Speaker could prove to be a good foil for the President and Democratic House candidates across the country next year as he seeks reelection and they try to win back the majority.
-The enthusiasm gap and Democratic turnout issues that were such a huge problem for the party last year may prove to be a thing of the past. Last year we frequently found that the likely electorate for various elections was 10 points or more Republican friendly than it had been in 2008. That trend is turned on its head with the folks we interviewed who said they were likely to vote this weekend- they self report having voted for Barack Obama by 5 points in 2008 when he actually lost the district by 6 points. That points to Democratic voters being far more fired up to go out and vote in this election than GOP ones and also suggests that some Republicans voters disgusted by the level of negativity between Corwin and Davis may just be planning to stay home on Tuesday.
A Hochul win is by no means certain- the race remains very close, special elections are tricky to poll, and three way races are even trickier to poll. But the fact that we're even talking about this race is a reflection of how far out of favor the new GOP House majority already is with the voting public.
Full results here