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Polling the Massachusetts Senate race

Polls drive me crazy.

After last night’s PPP polling data showing Scott Brown in what is essentially a dead heat, the Boston Globe releases their poll this morning showing Coakley with a 15 point lead. 

The big disparity so far is just an indication of how hard it is to figure out special elections.  But still, 15 points is a big swing.  I’m assuming as we get closer to election day, the picture will get clearer. 

Josh Marshall tries to unpack the data (via):

So what explains this crazy spread? One thing to note is that the PPP poll is a bit more recent, though seemingly not enough to explain the huge spread. At least not all of it. Another interesting thing about the two polls is that they’re not that far off on Coakley’s number: PPP has her at 47% and the Globe has her at 53%. The difference is in Brown’s number — 48% vs. 36%. As I said, I think the whole story here is that screen the two pollsters are using to see who’s is going to vote.

Now PPP is actually a Democrat-associated firm. So while I think I think they’re top-notch, no one who’s inclined to be suspicious should have any thought that they’re somehow biased in favor of Republican candidates.

Who is going to vote, indeed.  As I’ve noted and as mostly everyone agrees, this election will be determined by turnout.  Turnout, turnout and more turnout.  It’s imperative that Republican voters come out in droves on the 19th.  That seems to be the only way.

Also, I’m in complete agreement with Phillip Klein here:

My personal take is that I simply cannot imagine Massachusetts voters electing a Republican to fill Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat so that he can become a vote against the health care bill. I think the PPP poll was enough to scare Democrats into doing what they need to in the week leading up to the Jan. 19 election to make sure their voters turn out. But it will be interesting to see how independents do vote, because that will be an indication of what we may expect in other states and districts that aren’t as deep blue as Massachusetts.

Spot on.

UPDATE.  Karl over at Hot Air has some interesting observations:

One point of agreement between the two polls is the role of relative intensity. PPP reports that “66% of GOP voters say they are ‘very excited’ about casting their votes, while only 48% of Democrats express that sentiment.” The Globe reports that “Brown matches Coakley – both were at 47 percent – among the roughly 1 in 4 respondents who said they were ‘extremely interested’’ in the race.” Some might be tempted to frame these numbers as an “enthusiasm gap,” though it is probably more accurate to note that the Right tends to vote more regularly than the Left, and that the key for Coakley will be turning out enough of the state’s much larger pool of Democrats.

Finally, I should add a note about PPP. The news accounts (and blog commenters in stories involving PPP) almost always note that the Democratic firm infamously showed Conservative Doug Hoffman leading Democrat Bill Owens by 17 points in its final poll of the NY-23 Congressional special election last November (Owens won by 4 points). There were a number of practical problems with polling that particular election, though I do not think they fully explain PPP’s call. Rather, everyone should remember that the margin of error reported by most polls assumes a 95% confidence interval. That means that given repeated samples, 19 of 20 would produce results for any given question falling within the stated margin of error. PPP’s call in NY-23 was likely that bad outlier for which the risk always exists, even with the best of pollsters. That is why it is always better to have more than one poll to examine, even if the results are maddening when we have only two to examine.

Turnout, turnout, turnout.

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