Friday, November 5, 2010

The Price of the Tea Party

It's pretty much a given that the Tea Party cost Republicans the Senate seats in Nevada and Colorado this week. We have some data from our final polls in those states that sheds further light on that.

Our final Nevada poll found Harry Reid behind 47-46. It also found that in a hypothetical match up with Danny Tarkanian Reid would have trailed 54-39. Obviously we underestimated Reid's standing against Sharron Angle but given that he polled 14 points worse against Tarkanian it seems pretty safe to say that even with his 5-6 point victory Tuesday he would have lost by a similar margin had Tarkanian been the nominee instead.

The big difference between how Angle and Tarkanian would have fared against Reid is with independents. We found Angle leading Reid by 14 points with them...but we found Tarkanian up by a whooping 40 point margin, 66-26. There were a lot of independent voters in Nevada who were inclined to vote against Reid but just thought Angle was a step too far.

In Colorado the difference is not quite as stark but it still seems likely that nominating Jane Norton instead of Ken Buck would have given Republicans a 1 or 2 point victory in the state instead of a 1 point loss. Our final poll found Buck leading Michael Bennet by a single point. It also found that Norton would lead Bennet by 4 points in a hypothetical contest. Norton performing 3 points better than Buck against Bennet is consistent with our polling over the course of the entire cycle- across all of our pre-primary Colorado polls Norton did on average 2 points better than Buck. Given the razor thin margin of Bennet's victory the outcome may well have been flipped with Norton as the nominee.

The reason Norton would have done better is the same reason Tarkanian would have- better appeal to independents. Bennet's approval numbers with independents were pretty miserable- and we found Buck with a 4 point lead among them. But we found Norton up 11 points on Bennet with them.

Obviously you can never say exactly how things would have unfolded had Tarkanian and Norton been the nominees. Maybe months of attacks on them would have led to the same final results. I doubt it though. Reid and Bennet are not popular Senators. They would have been defeated by mainstream Republicans...but GOP primary voters overplayed their hands.


Mark Downe said...


You are vastly over-simplifying Sharron Angle's loss in Nevada, or perhaps more accurately the tea party's roll in getting her nominated.

I live in Nevada. I lived the primary. Sharron Angle didn't so much win the primary as Sue Lowden and Danny Tarkanian lost it. They ran poor, mistake-ridden campaigns. They practically begged the voters to reject them, and the voters obliged. Angle, on the other hand, made few, if any mistakes.

Yes, the tea party did indeed help Sharron Angle get nominated, but that is all they did -- help. All their efforts would have been for naught if Lowden and Tarkanian hadn't self-destructed leaving the field wide open for Angle to win.

Brian O'Connor said...

Living life in a vacuum is easier than reality. Harry Reid did not Spend $20 million bashing Tarkanian the past few months.

Poor "science", poor "reporting".

Ranjit said...


Tea party helped to sweep so many local elections. It brought out so much energy in so many state and house elections. Loosing 3 or 4 seats in senate is not going to make a big impact. Harry Reid had so much ground game and money, there is no way, the election would have been easy for republicans.

Anonymous said...

I'm fine with Buck losing to Bennet. Norton was a typical, run of the mill Republican while Ken Buck actually had some small government views, although not as many as would be preferable.

In Nevada, the analysis is spot-on, and Tarkanian was about the same in comparison to Angle on a view-by-view comparison.

To PPP: I understand you are giving an analysis of what an increased likelihood of Republican victory would have looked like, and that's great. You are well within your right given the accuracy of your polls this cycle, especially in comparison to Rasmussen.

However, I would MUCH rather a legit small government Republican lose than a big government, John Boehner clone win. Who cares about winning if the candidate stands for nothing?

To put this into perspective, the Democrats don't want 200 Sen. Ben Nelsons in the House, even though he's a Democrat. Same with Republicans, we don't want John Boehners, we want Rand Pauls and Mike Lees who actually stand for something.

The Interesting Times said...

Mark Downe:
"Angle, on the other hand, made few, if any mistakes."

Evidently she saved all her gaffes for the general election campaign.

Anonymous said...

Tom - You are way off base. The Tea Party Express did this. Eight weeks prior to the primary was polling at 5%, was vitually unknown and had $40,000 in funds. On April 15 the TPX chose to endorse Angle. In May the Club for Grouwth did as well. The TPX endorsement was 7 1/2 weeks before the primary. At that point the two groups dropped $1.6M into the campaign outspending the other campaigns total numbers over the year. Where Tarkanian and Lowden were forced to campaign for 12 months and have flaws brought out by the time Angle's campaign started taking hold (5 weeks out) it was too late for her to go through the scrutiny as the others had. The TPX only portayed Angles "good" points. Her bad things were not brought out. That is until she was the only candidate going against Reid. He brought out many of the things some conservatives in Nevada already knew. The fact is Reid had a 37% approval rating. Any campaign should have been able to destroy him. Angle failed and failed miserably.
Bob Hastings

Anonymous said...

Never too early for '12...

You guys should poll Nebraska, Nelson v. Bruning. Throw in a Prez poll of Obama v. Palin, Gingrich, Romney, Huckabee while you're at it!!

Anonymous said...

Sorry PPP, you are engaging in Monday morning quarterbacking and comparing apples to oranges on this one.

You can't compare Tark Jr.'s polling to Angle's at this stage. If Tark Jr. had won and been smeared with $25 million of negative ads, he probably would have done as poorly as Angle. He was relatively untouched in the primary, hence his current positive favorability.

What caused the defeat of Angle and Buck is that there was a big surge of Dem. support in the last week of the election in Blue and Purple states that the pollsters didn't pick up. It wouldn't have mattered if an Establishment Republican was the candidate, they still would have lost. Look at how badly Establishment candidates like Whitman and Fiorina did in California. They both underperformed the final polls by about 5 or 6 points because of this Dem. surge. The same with Rossi in Washington State who is likely to lose by 5 or 6 points when all the votes are counted. In fact, Washington State provides empirical evidence of this surge. Even in Republican counties, Rossi is winning by a much smaller margin in the votes counted in the last two days (which were mailed in on Monday and Tuesday) versus his margin with the votes counted on election night (which were mailed in two weeks earlier).

Unknown said...

You guys should poll Catherine Cortez Masto against John Ensign in 2012.

Anonymous said...

Poll Masto, Wallin, and Marshall against Ensign in 2012. They are all popular female elected Democratic statewide officials who were re-elected comfortably this year.

Anonymous said...

Tom, more great analysis. Thanks for a great election cycle.

Dustin Ingalls said...

"You guys should poll Catherine Cortez Masto against John Ensign in 2012."

We already did several months ago, and she wasn't doing that well.

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