Sunday, October 31, 2010

Close Senate race in Colorado

The Senate race in Colorado continues to look like it will be one of the closest in the country on Tuesday night. PPP's final poll there finds Ken Buck ahead of Michael Bennet by the slimmest of margins, 49-48.

Each candidate has his party base pretty much sewn up. Bennet is winning 87% of Democrats and Buck is winning 86% of Republicans. Giving Buck his slim lead is a 50-46 advantage among independents.

One thing interesting to note within the results is that with respondents who say they've already voted- accounting for 66% of the sample- Bennet is actually ahead by a 52-46 margin. Buck leads 55-41 with those who say they have not yet cast their ballots. Bennet should probably be rooting for ugly weather on election day, any little thing could help in such a close race if he already has a lead in the bank.

Bennet continues to sport poor approval numbers- 39% of voters give him good marks while 47% say they aren't happy with his job performance. Those numbers, not coincidentally, correlate closely with Barack Obama's poor 41/53 breakdown in the state. Bennet's stayed in this race because Buck has proven to be a weak candidate as well with a 44/48 favorability. Republicans might have had an easier time with a different nominee- we looked at a hypothetical contest between Bennet and GOP primary loser Jane Norton on this poll and found Norton would lead by a wider 47-43 margin.

In 2004 Ken Salazar's victory in the Colorado Senate race provided a rare bright spot for Democrats on a night when they lost pretty much every other close contest- can Bennet do the same? We'll know soon enough.

In the Governor's race John Hickenlooper is looking a little bit more solid than he did a week ago and now leads by 5 points, getting 48% to 43% for Tom Tancredo and 8% for Dan Maes. Hickenlooper will probably win but there's a very good chance he will do so without cracking 50% of the vote.

The Republican split has proven critical to his chances for victory. Hickenlooper is taking 87% of the Democratic vote while Tancredo is getting just 71% of Republicans with 15% still planning to cast their votes for Maes. Tancredo's beating Hickenlooper with independents 49-45, but unless he can push up closer to 85% of the Republican vote he's not going to be able to pull it out.

Full results here

Miller leads in Alaska

Joe Miller is favored heading into the final two days of the US Senate campaign in Alaska. 37% of voters say they'll pick him while 30% plan to vote for Scott McAdams and another 30% plan to write in Lisa Murkowski.

Miller is winning despite having the worst personal favorability numbers of the three candidates. Only 36% have a positive opinion of him while 59% view him in a negative light. McAdams is by far the most popular with 50% rating him favorably to only 30% with an unfavorable one. Voters aren't very enamored with Murkowski either, giving her a 37/53 approval rating.

How can McAdams be so much more popular than Miller yet still be trailing the race? It's because 92% of the small group of voters that does like Miller is planning to vote for him. But only 56% of the voters with a positive opinion of McAdams are intending to cast their ballots for him, while 31% of them are going for Lisa Murkowski.

The high number of voters who like McAdams, dislike Miller, and are voting for Murkowski place the race in a whole different light than has been thought of the last few months. Murkowski's campaign, rather than propping herself up at the expense of Miller, may actually end up propping Miller up at the expense of McAdams. You never know how things would have unfolded in a two way race but Murkowski seems to be taking a lot more voters away from McAdams than she is from Miller.

It appears that Murkowski will lose this race. There are 2 main reasons for that. The first is that she retained little goodwill from Republicans after deciding to make an independent bid. Only 27% of GOP voters are planning to vote for her on Tuesday, down from 31% from a PPP poll earlier in October. The second reason Murkowski's headed for a loss is that she failed to dominate with independents. She is slightly ahead with them, getting 34% to 32% for McAdams and 31% for Miller. But they're not providing her with a strong base of support the way Democrats are for McAdams and Republicans for Miller.

In a cycle that has seen a lot of strange races, this one may well be the strangest. It would be premature to write off anyone at this point but Miller does look to be the favorite headed into the final stretch.

Full results here

Manchin favored in WV

The Senate contest in West Virginia is between Joe Manchin's popularity and Barack Obama's unpopularity and in the end it looks as though Manchin's popularity will win out. Manchin leads John Raese 51-46 in PPP's final look at the race.

Manchin is the most popular politician we've polled on anywhere in the country this year and it's by a wide margin. On this final poll his approval rating hit the 70% mark with only 22% disapproving of him. Usually you would expect someone with those kinds of numbers to have an easy time of it but Manchin's been hampered by efforts to tie him to Barack Obama and national Democrats. Obama's approval rating in the state is only 31% with 61% of voters disapproving of him.

About a month ago it looked like there was a very real chance Manchin could lose. But three key things have put him in a position for victory:

-John Raese did not prove to be a particularly strong opponent. The first time PPP polled the race, his favorability was 41/35. On this final poll his favorability is 41/47. As voters have gotten to know Raese and make up their minds about him they've generally found him to be unappealing. It would take an extremely formidable candidate to beat someone like Manchin-Raese doesn't seem to be that guy.

-Democrats in West Virginia aren't having the same kind of enthusiasm issues that are plaguing their party throughout most of the country. John McCain won the state by 13 points in 2008 and those planning to vote this year supported McCain by a basically identical 12 points. Unfortunately the lesson for Dems here- nominate your most popular politician anywhere in the country- is not particularly transferable to other states.

-Manchin has made enough conservatives comfortable voting for him. He's winning 19% of the Republican vote, more than any other Democratic Senate nominee we've polled on except for Chris Coons in Delaware. Manchin will still lose the conservative vote overwhelmingly but it looks like he'll cut his losses enough on that front for his margins with moderates and liberals to put him over the top.

This race is still close enough that an upset Tuesday is not impossible- but it appears likely that Manchin will survive the tide.

Full results here

GOP headed for PA sweep

Pennsylvania flirted a little bit with Democrats in the final weeks of this year's election, making them think they might be able to pull off an upset in the Senate and/or Gubernatorial contests that had looked good as gone for most of the year. It looks like the GOP will in the end sweep those races though, if by smaller margins than they had shown in polling throughout much of 2010.

In the Senate race Pat Toomey leads Joe Sestak 51-46 and in the race for Governor Tom Corbett is up 52-45 on Dan Onorato. The story here is an inordinate number of Democrats unhappy with Barack Obama- and voting Republican because of it. The President's approval rating within his own party is only 73% in Pennsylvania, with 21% of Democrats disapproving of him. Those Democrats unhappy with Obama are leaning strongly Republican, planning to vote for Toomey by a 68-23 margin and for Corbett by a 69-25 spread.

What that leads to overall is 15-19% of Democrats voting Republican in these two races. Meanwhile GOP voters are extremely unified, giving each of their nominees 88%. Independents are splitting pretty evenly so it is that party unity advantage that has the GOP candidates in a position to win here.

As is the case for him throughout the Midwest Obama's very unpopular in Pennsylvania with 54% of voters disapproving of him to just 40% who think he's doing a good job. Outgoing Governor Ed Rendell has also fallen strongly out of favor, posting only a 34% approval number while 53% of voters disapprove of him. As we saw in Wisconsin earlier this week the combination of an unpopular Democratic President and an unpopular Democratic Governor has the potential to be lethal for the party's hopes of keeping some of these offices under their control.

Any thought that Democrats might have been better off with Arlen Specter as their nominee can be laid to rest. We asked respondents how they would have voted in a hypothetical match up between him and Toomey led 49-40, an even wider lead than the one he's posting against Sestak.

Full results here

Paul headed for easy victory

Rand Paul has expanded his lead in the Kentucky Senate race even further over the last week and is headed for a blowout win. His margin over Jack Conway is 55-40.

Kentucky is obviously a conservative state. Conway's ability to win was always going to depend on getting a lot of folks who supported John McCain in 2008 to vote Democratic for the Senate this time around. The most amazing finding on this final poll is that Rand Paul is actually picking up more Obama voters (15%) than Conway is McCain voters (9%). That's the formula for a landslide.

Over the last month of the campaign this went from being a relatively competitive race to a not so competitive one. That didn't have a ton to do with Rand Paul- his favorability in early September was 45/40 and now it's 48/43, basically unchanged. The shift is more a reflection of Jack Conway's image with Kentucky voters being shattered in the closing days. Seven weeks ago his favorability split evenly with 36% of voters rating him positively and negatively alike. Now he's very unpopular with only 34% of voters saying they like him and 52% expressing unfavorable opinions toward him.

In the end Rand Paul did not have any trouble reunifying his party after the Republican primary- GOP voters are going for him by an 88-8 margin. Conway meanwhile is bleeding Democratic support. He's getting only 61% of the vote from his own party while a full 34% say they plan to vote for Paul. Paul also has a 48-40 advantage with independents.

Barack Obama's approval rating in Kentucky is 31% with 62% of voters disapproving of him. This race may have been a stretch for Dems even with a perfect campaign and candidate. And in the end they had neither.

Full results here

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Ohio Gov Tight

The Ohio Governor's race is looking like it could go either way three days out from the election. Ted Strickland has made a huge comeback in the final months of the campaign and now trails John Kasich only 49-48. PPP's most recent previous poll, in late August, had found Strickland trailing by 10 points.

What Strickland has done over the last two months is bring the base home. He's now winning 87% of the Democratic vote, up from only 78% in the previous poll. Democrats also look like they'll now account for a larger share of the electorate, as the party's voters have increased their interest in turning out as the election has moved closer.

Even though Strickland has closed in the enthusiasm gap is still a significant issue for Democratic prospects in the state. Those saying they're likely to vote this year report having supported John McCain by 3 points in 2008, in contrast to Barack Obama's actual 4 point victory in the state last time. That suggests there are still a lot of Democratic voters in Ohio planning to sit at home this year- if the final electorate ends up being even just a point or two more Democratic than we're anticipating it could end up being enough to put Strickland over the top.

If Kasich does end up winning it will be because he, like most Republican candidates nationally and particularly in the Midwest, is cleaning up with independents. He has an 18 point lead with them at 56-38.

Even though he's made up a lot of ground in the last couple months Strickland remains a pretty unpopular Governor. Only 41% of voters say they approve of the job he's doing while 50% disapprove. Usually those kinds of numbers would pretty much guarantee a loss for an incumbent. But Ohio voters' attitude towards Kasich, as it has been throughout most of the cycle, is 'meh.' 43% of voters like him and 42% of voters don't. That's giving Strickland room to pick up support from some voters who aren't that enthralled with the job he's done.

While the Governor's race in Ohio is all the sudden looking very interesting the Senate race is headed for a blowout. Rob Portman leads Lee Fisher 57-39. There's no doubt Fisher has proven to be a pretty weak candidate but with Barack Obama's approval spread in the state at 38/55 it's pretty doubtful that any Democrat could have won a Senate election in Ohio this year.

And despite all the initial concern about his Washington baggage and ties to the Bush administration Portman proved to be a pretty strong candidate. 50% of voters rate him favorably to only 25% with an unfavorable opinion. The most remarkable number on the Senate race is Portman's 37 point advantage with independents, at 66/29.

Full results here

CT-Gov tightens up

There's been a huge movement in the Connecticut Governor's race over the last month and the race is now a toss up, with Republican Tom Foley inching ahead of Democrat Dan Malloy by a 49-47 margin after trailing 50-40 in early October.

A look inside the numbers makes it clear that attacks on Malloy, rather than an increase in voter affection toward Foley, are what has made this race so competitive in the final days. A month ago Foley's favorability rating was 41/40 and now it's almost identical at 41/38. Voters aren't really warming up to him. But Malloy's numbers have seen a precipitous drop. At the beginning of the month he posted a stellar 50/29 favorability spread and that's gone all the way down now to 39/40, a 22 point decline on the margin in just four weeks time.

Foley has built a dominant lead with independent voters at 58-33, even as they simultaneously split almost even with their Senate votes. A lot of indys in Connecticut are clearly planning to vote a Blumenthal/Foley ticket. Foley's also seen a large increase in his crossover support, now taking 20% of Democrats compared to only 12% a month ago.

The race is still certainly close enough to go either way but we've been talking a lot recently about the formula for a Republican to win in a deep blue state: take independents by an overwhelming margin and get 20% of the Democratic vote. Foley's doing those two things and this is going to be a close one.

One thing that has to help Foley's prospects is that the state already has a Republican Governor it really likes. Jodi Rell's approval rating as she leaves office is a 55/31 spread, making her one of the most popular Governors in the country. Democratic leaning Connecticut voters know that they can be pretty content with a GOP Governor.

While the Governor's race is now looking pretty interesting, the Senate contest is not. Richard Blumenthal leads by a 54-43 margin. Republicans probably could have been competitive in this race. Blumenthal's net favorability is a +10 at 50/40. Those numbers don't exactly scream invincibility and they represent a 30 point drop on the margin from when his favorability was +40 at the beginning of January. Republicans were not, however, going to be competitive with Linda McMahon as their nominee. 52% of voters view her dimly while only 37% see her in a positive light.

Republicans can win a Senate race in a deep blue state with a strong candidate. They didn't have one in Connecticut. Blumenthal's final margin of victory is going to be smaller than most of his poll leads over the course of the year were but he's going to win just the same.

Full results here

Dayton slightly ahead

Mark Dayton is the slight favorite heading into the final three days of the Minnesota Governor's race but Tom Emmer's close enough that he could still come from behind to win. Dayton's getting 43% to 40% for Emmer and 15% for Tom Horner.

If Dayton does end up pulling out a narrow victory he may have Horner's presence in the race to thank for it. Horner's getting 11% of the Republican vote but only 8% of the Democrats, indicating he's a slightly greater threat to Emmer's base than Dayton's. He's also getting 26% of independents which is holding Emmer to only a 3 point lead with them over Dayton, a much smaller margin than most GOP candidates across the Midwest are enjoying this year.

The Minnesota Gubernatorial race is somewhat emblematic of the unhappiness voters across the country are feeling with politicians this year. None of the three candidates has a net positive favorability rating. Horner comes closest at -1 (35/36), followed by Dayton at -2 (43/45), and Emmer at -14 (37/51).

Neither Dayton nor Emmer really has any crossover appeal. Only 6% of Democrats are planning to vote for Emmer and just 5% of Republicans are for Dayton. That makes the state of this race pretty easy to spell out. Minnesota's a Democratic state so if the Democratic candidate wins all the Democrats and the Republican candidate wins all the Republicans and the independents split pretty evenly the Democratic candidate's going to win. That's where the contest stands right now so Emmer will have to make up some ground in the final days if he's going to pull this one out.

One other interesting note on the Minnesota Governor's race is the impact that Pawlenty fatigue might be having on it. There are a lot of open Gubernatorial seats this year where the unpopularity of an outgoing Democratic Governor is making it hard for his party to hold onto the office, but Minnesota's a rare case where an unpopular outgoing Republican could be part of his party's problem. Only 43% of voters in the state approve of the job Pawlenty is doing to 50% who disapprove. And the state expresses little enthusiasm for a 2012 Pawlenty White House bid with only 23% supportive of the idea and 59% opposed to it. It's a close race and could go either way but Pawlenty fatigue might help put Dayton over the top.

Full results here

Friday, October 29, 2010

Split Decision in NH

PPP's final New Hampshire poll finds there's a better chance of Republicans winning the race for Governor than there is of Democrats winning the race for US Senate. That says a lot about the massive shift in the political climate we've seen over the course of 2010. Kelly Ayotte leads Paul Hodes 56-41 in the Senate contest while John Lynch has a more modest 53-44 advantage over John Stephen in his quest for reelection as Governor.

Ayotte has rebounded strongly from a turbulent primary season that saw her favorability numbers decline precipitously. 57% of voters have a favorable opinion of her to only 34% with a negative one. That +23 net favorability represents a 35 point improvement from early September, right before the primary, when her standing was at -12 with 47% of voters seeing her negatively to only 35% with a positive opinion.

What's interesting about the improvement in Ayotte's numbers since then is that it has come across the board politically. It's no surprise that her favorability with folks of her own party has improved from 58% to 87%- that kind of thing is to be expected when everyone gets unified after a primary. But Ayotte has also seen a large increase in her favor from independents (34% to 54%) and even with Democrats (from 11% to 21%). She had to move to the right and embrace Sarah Palin to win the primary and those things really hurt her numbers over the summer but her current standing indicates none of that caused long term political damage.

Hodes meanwhile never emerged as a strong candidate. 50% of voters see him unfavorably to only 34% who rate him in a positive light. Independents don't like him and the number of Democrats who dislike him is greater than the number of Republicans who do like him.

Even if Hodes had proven to be a great candidate it would have been pretty tough for him given how far Barack Obama's popularity in the state has fallen. Only 39% of voters think the President is doing a good job to 55% who disapprove of him. That level of overall animosity toward Democrats in Washington would have made it difficult for any candidate of the party to pick up this Senate seat.

Meanwhile in the Governor's race it appears John Lynch will get reelected, but not by nearly the kind of gaudy margin he has become accustomed to. For instance he's winning independents 56-40, an unusual feat for a Democrat this year. But that's nothing compared to the 79-19 advantage exit polls showed for him with them in 2008. And the 22% of Republicans he's winning is an unusual amount of crossover support for any candidate this year, but it's less than the 31% of them he got the last time around. Nevertheless barring a major shift in the final few days of the campaign he should survive for another term.

Full results here

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Perry headed for reelection

Rick Perry's in a solid position for reelection as Governor of Texas, leading Bill White 53-44 on PPP's final poll of the race.

For White it may be a classic case of the right candidate running in the wrong cycle. He has strong favorability numbers at a 46/39 spread while Perry can only break even on his approval rating at 45% giving him good marks and 45% bad ones. White leads with independent voters 50-44. That makes him one of very few Democratic candidates anywhere in the country leading with that group this year and it's all the more impressive given that Barack Obama's approval rating with that same ground of independents is a 33/55 spread.

Ultimately though to win as a Democrat in Texas you're going to have to win a fair amount of crossover support from Republican voters and in the end White just wasn't able to do it. Just 11% of GOP voters are planning to support him, a number equivalent to the 11% of Democrats who plan to vote for Perry. In this highly polarized political climate Republicans just aren't particularly inclined to vote for any Democrat, even an unusually appealing one like White.

Even if he isn't ultimately successful White's candidacy could have some positive benefits for other Democrats in the state locked in close races. Texas is seeing virtually no enthusiasm gap, especially when compared to the huge drops in Democratic turnout PPP is seeing as likely to happen in other states. Having an appealing person at the top of the ticket has the party's voters there more engaged than in most places.

It looks like Rick Perry will beat back a strong opponent for the second time this year. There's no politician in the country this year who's defeated a more formidable duo than Kay Bailey Hutchison and Bill White.

Full results here

GOP candidates up 9 in Wisconsin

Republicans are headed for comfortable wins in Wisconsin's races for both Senator and Governor. Ron Johnson leads Russ Feingold 53-44 in the US Senate race and Scott Walker leads by an identical margin against Tom Barrett.

There are two major factors leading to the GOP's likely victory on Tuesday:

1) Wisconsin has one of the largest enthusiasm gaps of any state in the country. Although it appears Democrats will have turnout issues pretty much everywhere the problem is unusually severe in Wisconsin. Those saying they're likely to vote this fall report having voted for Barack Obama by only 3 points in 2008. He actually won the state by 14 points. This year's electorate in the state appears as though it will be very Republican friendly compared to the last few election cycles.

2) Barack Obama's popularity in Wisconsin has declined at a rate much faster than the rest of the country and the state's Democratic Governor is one of the most unpopular people holding his position anywhere in the country as well. Obama's approval with likely voters is only 37%, with 54% of voters disapproving of him. Those bad numbers are partly a function of the state's more conservative electorate this year but worrisome for the President is that only 70% of voters in the state who supported him in 2008 still approve of the job that he's doing. Meanwhile 93% of McCain voters disapprove of his performance.

Jim Doyle's numbers are even worse than Obama's. Just 27% of voters are happy with him, while 62% say they disapprove. Tom Barrett has by most accounts run a strong campaign but it's rare for a party to hold the Governor's office when its incumbent is so unpopular.

Wisconsin voters went out and picked a Democrat as Governor in 2006 and a Democrat as President. They don't seem to think those choices worked out too well for them and against that backdrop it's no surprise they're leaning in a different direction this year.

While a lot of what's going on in the state can be explained by those macro factors it would be wrong to sell the GOP's candidates, particularly Ron Johnson, short. Johnson has proven to be one of the strongest Republican Senate hopefuls anywhere in the country. 51% of voters have a favorable opinion of him to only 35% with a negative one- few folks in this political climate can match those numbers. Walker has proven to be an appealing candidate as well with 47% rating him favorably to 39% with a negative opinion.

As for Russ Feingold, he's not terribly unpopular. 44% of voters approve of him to 48% disapproving. There are Senate candidates across the country with a lot worse numbers than that who still have a very good chance at winning, and those numbers are about average across PPP's spectrum of Senate approval ratings in 2010. But the election seems to be shaping up largely as a referendum on the President. With voters who approve of Obama Feingold is ahead 94-4. With those who don't he's down 91-8. Even if Feingold had done everything perfect this cycle he would still have had a pretty tough road against that backdrop.

There are still five days left and weird things happen but Johnson and Walker look pretty solid in these races.

Full results here

GOP headed for a win in Maine

In a sign of the extent to which the GOP is winning everywhere this year, Republican Paul LePage is primed to be the first candidate from his party elected Governor of Maine since 1990. LePage leads with 40% to 28% for independent Eliot Cutler and 24% for Democrat Libby Mitchell.

What's most remarkable about LePage's likely victory is that it comes despite the fact that a majority of Maine voters don't like him. 51% of them have an unfavorable opinion of him to only 42% who see him in a positive light. But because he has a relatively unified conservative base while Democratic leaning voters are splitting almost evenly between Mitchell and Cutler he's in a position to win without coming anywhere close to 50% of the vote.

LePage is winning Republicans, who because of the enthusiasm gap are actually the largest group of voters in Maine this year, by a 71-18 margin. Mitchell is pretty much out of contention at this point because she is barely taking even a majority of Democratic voters, holding a 51-30 advantage over Cutler. Cutler meanwhile has the advantage with independents at 40% to 31% for LePage and with Mitchell registering at only 17%.

Cutler is easily the most popular candidate in the race, with 46% of voters seeing him positively to only 33% with an unfavorable opinion. His problem is that a lot of people who like him aren't planning to vote for him. Among voters with a favorable opinion of Cutler only 56% actually plan to vote for him while 21% are going for LePage and 18% plan to support Mitchell. To put it in comparison 87% of voters who like LePage are also planning to cast their ballots for him, which is why he's beating Cutler by such a wide margin despite being less popular than him.

People who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 are going 42% for Mitchell and 40% for Cutler. As long as that remains the case there's no possible outcome in this race other than a LePage victory. LePage's support remains pretty solid so Mitchell's supporters would have to flock toward Cutler or vice versa for him not to win and that seems unlikely unless one of the candidates drops out of the race and endorses the other between now and Tuesday.

That seems unlikely to happen so it appears Paul LePage will be the next Governor of Maine.

Full results here

The Microcosm of WI-8

The poll we did in Wisconsin's 8th Congressional District this week for Daily Kos was a good prism into why Democrats are likely to lose so many House seats on Tuesday.

We found voters in that district were ambivalent toward both Democratic incumbent Steve Kagen and his Republican challenger, Reid Ribble. Despite two terms in Congress the plurality of voters- 42%- said they had no opinion about Kagen one way or the other. Those who did split nearly evenly with 28% saying they see him favorably and 30% unfavorably. Voters were similarly unopinionated when it came toward their feelings about Ribble- 46% offered no opinion about him while 27% said they liked him and 27% said they didn't.

So if voters don't really know or care much about either of these candidates, what's driving their voting decisions? We found there was an enormous correlation between how voters in the district felt about Barack Obama and how they planned to vote in the House race. With voters who approve of Obama, Kagen leads 74-5. With voters who don't approve of Obama Ribble's ahead 70-9.

The problem for Kagen is that despite the fact that Obama won the district by 9 points in 2008, his approval rating there now is a 42/54 spread. So if the race ends up being a referendum on Obama he's going to lose. And there are dozens of other districts across the country where voters really know nothing about the candidates and are going to vote for the House based on their feelings about the President- for the most part that's going to be bad news for Democrats.

Kagen himself could still survive- he's only down 3 with a lot of undecideds still remaining. But if he does indeed lose that's much more a reflection on how constituents feel about Barack Obama than it is a reflection of how they feel about Steve Kagen.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dem interest not picking up enough...

One of the biggest hopes for Democrats heading toward election day has been that the party's voters will get more engaged as the election comes closer, helping to mitigate its losses. A PPP analysis of 9 states where we've polled in October and also conducted a survey in August or September finds that the likely electorate for this fall is trending more Democratic- but not nearly to the extent the party needs.

On average in those places we're looking at a likely voter pool that's about 1.5 points more Democratic than a month or two ago. That's certainly better than no progress but it's not enough to make the difference in a particularly large number of races.

In 2 of the 9 states Democrats have seen a game changing increase in engagement. We've seen a 7 point Democratic shift in the likely electorate in West Virginia since mid-September and that's a big part of why we had John Raese ahead then and have Joe Manchin ahead now. When Manchin was viewed as a shoo in there didn't seem to be much of a sense of urgency from Democrats about voting. When the race started being perceived as a toss up that changed quite a bit.

The other state where there's been a big rise in Democratic vote likelihood is Pennsylvania, where there's been a 5 point shift from mid-August. Joe Sestak and Dan Onorato may lose anyway but their races are now looking markedly more competitive than they did over the summer, thanks mostly to the Democratic awakening.

In a couple of other key states though Democrats aren't showing any increased interest and in some cases could even be sliding backward. The likely electorate in Illinois in August was Obama +9 and when we polled there last weekend it was still Obama +9. Usually for a Republican to win in a blue state like Illinois they would need a massive advantage with independents and to win over a fair number of Democrats. Mark Kirk and Bill Brady are doing neither of those things but still in a position to win because of what's likely to be a massive drop in Democratic turnout in the state.

Another place where the enthusiasm gap could cost Democrats dearly is Florida. In August we saw a McCain +3 electorate there, right around the time of the Senate primary, while we've now seen that slide to McCain +7 in a state that Obama won by 3 points. If Rick Scott wins it's not going to be because he won over 2008 Obama voters- because he's not doing that- but because those Democratic leaners stayed home in such large numbers that it allowed him to eak out a narrow victory.

Here's the data on how the electorate has shifted in these states over the last couple months:


Most Recent Poll

First Likely Vote Poll



Obama +20

Obama +21



McCain +16

McCain +13


West Virginia

McCain +16

McCain +23



Obama +3




Obama +9

Obama +9



Obama +4

McCain + 1



McCain +7

McCain +3


North Carolina

McCain +4

McCain +9



McCain +14

McCain +16



McCain +2.2

McCain +3.9


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Opposition to Prop 19 on the rise

Support for Proposition 19, which would legalize marijuana in California, has been on a steady decline since the summer. It now appears to be at serious risk of failing, with 45% of voters expressing support for it and 48% opposed.

In July PPP found it passing by a 52/36 margin. But that 52% support dropped to 47% in a September poll before going down now to 45%. Meanwhile opposition has increased from that 36% mark to 38% and now to 48%.

Opposition to the measure is climbing across the board. 47% of independents oppose it, up from 30% in July. 67% of Republicans oppose it, up from 55% in July. And 34% of Democrats are against it, up from 25% in July.

It's close enough that the final vote on the question could certainly go either way but the trends are not looking good for pro-marijuana interests.

Full results here

Brown pulling away

Jerry Brown's pulling away in his quest to return to the California Governor's office and now leads Meg Whitman 53-42.

Given how many tens of millions of dollars Whitman spent on defining herself to the voters, it's somewhat remarkable how few of them she could get to like her. 55% see her unfavorably to only 36% with a positive opinion. Brown, on the other hand, has had voters warm up to him somewhat over the course of the campaign. His favorability ratio is 48/44, compared to 37/39 when PPP first took a look at the race back in May. His positives have increased by 11 points while his negatives have only gone up by 5.

Whitman has a 14 point lead with independents. But Brown has 86% of the Democratic vote locked up while Whitman is getting only 80% of Republicans. She would have needed more crossover support than that to win this race. Democrats are looking very solid at the top of the ticket in California.

Full results here

Boxer up 9

It's been the story of all three of her reelection runs: Barbara Boxer always looks vulnerable early in the cycle and then pulls away and wins easily in the end. It looks like that will be the case again this year, as she now leads Carly Fiorina by a 52-43 margin.

It's not that California voters particularly like Boxer- in fact by a 46/44 margin more of them disapprove of her performance than think she's doing a good job. But Fiorina simply has not proven to be a formidable candidate. 49% of voters have an unfavorable opinion of her to 38% with a favorable one. It's not impossible to win as a Republican in California, but it is impossible to win as an unpopular Republican.

Fiorina would have had to do three things to win this race: win independents by a large margin, get close to 100% of the Republican vote, and get a significant amount of crossover support from Democrats somewhere in the 20% range. On the independents front she's doing well, holding a 54-37 advantage. But she doesn't have nearly the amount of bipartisan support she would need to win, getting only 10% of Democrats. That's actually less than the 13% of Republicans supporting Boxer, which means she's not holding onto her own party's support to the extent she needs to either.

Perhaps if the Republicans had nominated someone different they'd be in a stronger position to win this race but barring a major movement in the final week it looks like Boxer will be back for another term.

Full results here

Paul pulls away

Independents have moved toward Rand Paul in droves over the last month and a half and as a result he's built his lead in the Kentucky Senate race up to 13 points at 53-40.

In a September PPP poll Paul led by 7 overall while also holding a 7 point lead with independents. Now that advantage with independents is a whooping 39 points at 66-27. There's been virtually no movement among Democrats or Republicans over that period of time so most of the movement in the race can be attributed to that shift.

There's been no change in Rand Paul's favorability numbers in the wake of the controversial 'Aqua Buddha' ad. He's at a net +6 (49/43), virtually identical to his +5 (45/40) a month ago. Jack Conway has seen his numbers plunge though. Where before voters split evenly in their assessments of him, giving him a favorability of 36/36, they now view him mostly in a negative light at -13 (39/52).

There's little doubt the ad has backfired. 56% of voters say they think it was inappropriate to only 15% who think it was alright. Even Democrats feel by a 41/24 spread that it crossed the line and perhaps relating back to Conway's huge new deficit with independents they think it was wrong by a 68/7 spread.

Others have compared this ad to the 'Godless Americans' one that Elizabeth Dole ran against Kay Hagan in the final days of the 2008 campaign and it's an apt comparison. A week out it was pretty clear that Dole was headed for defeat- a narrow defeat but a defeat nonetheless. She had to do something to change the game and it backfired on her and she got blown out by 9 points instead of losing narrowly. It's a similar story here- Conway was going to lose unless he did something dramatic. He did and now he's probably going to lose by a lot more than if he had not run the ad. Clearly religion is something politicians should probably stay away from in their ads. Still Conway was right to do something to change the game even if this was the wrong something.

Conway's path to victory was always dependent on getting folks who voted for John McCain to support him this time around but he just never developed the sort of crossover appeal that he needed. Only 8% of McCain voters are planning to support him, a smaller number actually than the 9% of Obama supporters going for Paul. In particular Conway has fallen short of getting the conservative Democrats that he needed to win this race, as evidenced by the fact that Paul is taking 25% of the overall Democratic vote.

At the end of the day Barack Obama's approval rating is 34% in Kentucky. It's going to be hard for Democrats to win open seat races this year where that's the case, unless they're running the most popular politician in the country as they are with Joe Manchin in West Virginia.

Full results here

Monday, October 25, 2010

Assessing Prop 19

Tomorrow we'll have new polls out in California and Kentucky. One of the big questions in California this year has been how big of an impact Proposition 19, the ballot proposal to legalize marijuana, will have on turnout in the state. In an effort to figure that out we asked respondents on our new survey there what on the ballot they were most excited about voting for: 39% said the Governor's race, 26% the Senate race, 10% Prop 19, 4% one of the other props, 2% a local race, 1% their US House race, and 18% said they weren't sure.

The folks who say Prop 19 is what they're most enthusiastic about voting for skew very young: 34% of them are under 30, compared to 12% of the overall electorate, and 64% of them are under 45, compared to 40% of the overall electorate.

The level of interest we see from young people in California in voting this year is higher than what we're seeing in most of the country and this data confirms the hypothesis that many have put out there that marijuana being on the ballot is part of the reason for that engagement.

There is no way of knowing for sure whether the voters who say Prop 19 is what they're most interested in would vote this year if it wasn't on the ballot. But we do know that group favors Barbara Boxer by a 34 point margin and Jerry Brown by a 36 point margin. At 10% of the electorate that means the marijuana question could be worth as much as 3.4% for Boxer and 3.6% for Brown. We find both of them ahead by a good deal more than that but if California ends up being closer than we expect Prop 19 could really end up being a difference maker for the Democrats at the top of the ticket.

Manchin expands lead

The great challenge of Joe Manchin's Senate campaign has been this: convincing West Virginia voters who like him but don't like Barack Obama to let their affection for him outweigh their animosity toward the President in deciding how to vote this fall. He's been improving in his ability to do that over the last 2 weeks and as a result he's increased his lead over John Raese to 50-44. He led by 3 on a PPP poll a couple weeks ago and had trailed by 3 on a September survey.

The race is pretty much the same place it was two weeks ago with liberals and moderates but Manchin has been making progress with conservatives. Where before he was getting only 17% of their votes, he's now up to 24%. That suggests things like the television ad where he 'shoots' the Cap and Trade bill are helping to reassure voters in the state that he wouldn't be just another vote for the Obama agenda in Washington DC.

The incredible dichotomy between how voters in West Virginia feel about Manchin and Obama continues as the election draws near. Manchin is the most popular politician PPP has polled on anywhere in the country this year, with 69% of voters approving of his job performance to only 23% disapproving. The state simultaneously gives Obama his worst reviews of any state where PPP has conducted a survey this year, with 65% of voters disapproving of him and only 31% approving.

The reason this race has remained close despite Manchin's overwhelming popularity is that for the folks who both like Manchin and dislike Obama, accounting for 37% of voters in the state, the feelings toward Obama have been more influential in how they plan to vote. In early October Manchin trailed 59-34 with that group. Now though, as he's emphasized his conservative credentials on the campaign trail, Manchin is facing only a 51-43 deficit with that segment of the electorate. That's why he's been able to build his lead over the last few weeks.

The other reason Manchin's looking a lot better than he did a month ago is that John Raese simply has not worn well on the campaign trail. In our first West Virginia poll his favorability was 41/35. Since then his positive number has stayed basically the same at 42%, while his negatives have risen to 47%. Republicans may have needed a more formidable candidate than Raese if they were going to defeat the incredibly formidable Manchin.

This race isn't over but Manchin's looking better by the week.

Full results here

All Tied Up in Colorado Senate

The Colorado Senate race is all tied up with a week to go. Michael Bennet and Ken Buck are each getting support from 47% of voters in the state.

Bennet's hanging in there pretty well given his status as an unpopular incumbent. At 51%, a majority of voters in the state disapprove of the job he's done since being appointed last year to only 40% who approve of him. Usually you'd be dead in the water with those kinds of numbers as an incumbent but he lucked out when Republicans nominated an unappealing candidate of their own. 49% of voters have an unfavorable opinion of Ken Buck to only 44% who see him favorably.

Buck's unpopularity is a major factor with the voters remaining undecided in the race. It's a group that by most measures should hand Buck a narrow victory in the end: 45% are Republicans while only 11% are Democrats. They're supporting Tom Tancredo 53-23 over John Hickenlooper in the Governor's race. 73% of them disapprove of the job Barack Obama's doing to only 7% who give him good marks. But they also have a very dim view of Buck at 59% seeing him unfavorably and only 13% in a positive light. Those voters have to decide between the competing impulses of disliking Democrats but also disliking Buck and that could be the ultimate determiner of who wins this contest.

In contrast to most races across the country Bennet is benefiting from a considerably more unified party than Buck, taking 92% of Democrats while his opponent is getting only 84% of Republicans. Buck keeps the race tied despite that because there are more Republicans than Democrats in the likely voter pool this year and because he has a 46-44 advantage with independents.

This is going to be a close one and the big trend to watch this final week is what happens with those undecided Republicans who are none too fond of their party's nominee.

Full results here

Hickenlooper lead down to 3

Tom Tancredo continues to surge as Dan Maes' support completely collapses in the Colorado Governor's race and John Hickenlooper now leads the race by only a 47-44 margin with Maes getting 5%.

Hickenlooper's been unable to rise above the 47-48% mark in PPP's polls over the last three months. When Tancredo and Maes were splitting the vote relatively evenly it looked like that would be enough to win but now Hickenlooper really appears to be at risk of losing. Given the trajectory of the race it is not inconceivable that Tancredo could pick up a good chunk of even the small amount of support Maes has remaining and 38% of the undecideds are Republicans to only 23% who are Democrats. Those two data points suggest that Tancredo still has more room to grow.

Hickenlooper remains by far and away the most popular candidate in the race with 51% of voters holding a positive opinion of him to 41% with a negative one. He hasn't been able to translate that majority favorability to a majority of the vote because many of the Republicans who like him on a personal level are not willing to actually vote for him. Tancredo meanwhile has seen voters really warm up to him over the course of the campaign. In early August 50% of voters expressed unfavorable feelings toward him while only 27% rated him positively. Now he's on slightly positive ground with 45% saying they have a favorable opinion of him to 44% with a negative one.

Maes is in a class of his own as the most unpopular candidate running for office anywhere in the country this year. A remarkable 75% of voters have an unfavorable opinion of him to only 8% who see him in a positive light. He's pretty universally reviled by Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike.

Hickenlooper's getting 87% of Democrats to 10% for Tancredo and none for Maes. Tancredo has the 73-14 advantage with Republicans with 9% still going to Maes. His path to victory is dependent on that 9% continuing to decline. Tancredo also now has a 46-44 advantage with independents.

Hickenlooper remains the slight favorite but this race looks more and more like it could produce one of the most shocking outcomes in the country on election night.

Full results here
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