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MN Senate: Klobuchar Opens Up Remarkable Lead In 'Controversial' New MN Poll

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Smart Politics normally does not blog on the results of a single poll; this site endeavors to provide more than the horserace angle to politics. However, the recent Minnesota Poll released Sunday night does warrant some discussion.

DFL nominee for US Senate Amy Klobuchar now leads GOP nominee Mark Kennedy by 24 points, 56-32, according to the latest poll conducted for the Star Tribune. The poll was conducted September 13-15 with a random sample of 820 likely voters and a margin of error of ±3.4 percent. This marks an uptick in 7 points for Klobuchar from the latest MN Poll conducted in early July when she led 50-31. Independence candidate Robert Fitzgerald received 3% in both polls.

In recent years the MN Poll has been the target of attacks, largely by republican supporters, who have alleged the poll is biased in some way to favor DFL candidates. The evidence for such bias, however, is rather thin. The standard argument presented by critics of the MN Poll is that republican candidates consistently receive a relatively higher percentage of the vote on Election Day than they do in the MN Polls running up to the election, compared to DFL candidates. Citations usually include the 1998 gubernatorial race and the last two presidential elections.

Putting aside the fact that these polls under scrutiny were conducted before Election Day (providing a 'snapshot' of the electorate, it is argued, and not an exact predictor of the electorate's behavior on Election Day), an additional defense of the MN Poll is that the Election Day results for republican (and democratic) candidates do normally fall within the margin of error of the last MN Poll.

Therefore, to claim the MN Poll is (purposefully) depressing republican numbers is to fundamentally misunderstand what the poll numbers represent. Of course, the media is also partially responsible for not helping to educate the public as to the meaning of concepts such as 'margin of error' (with methodological details usually absent in broadcast coverage and buried in the footer of print coverage).

Defense of the MN Poll aside, these new numbers in the US Senate race are quite shocking, and fall outside the range of all other independent surveys conducted in recent weeks (polls that all show Klobuchar leading, but not by this wide of a margin).

The theoretical range of Klobuchar's current lead in the MN Poll—taking in consideration the poll's margin of error—is somewhere between 17 and 31 points. Surveys taken during the two weeks prior to the MN Poll's survey found Klobuchar up by 7 points (Rasmussen), 9 points (Zobgy/WSJ), and 10 points (USA Today / Gallup)—or a range of 3 to 14 points when taking each poll's margin of error into account.

The Star Tribune itself is perhaps a bit surprised at the numbers MN Poll Director Rob Daves reported back to them this weekend before the new survey went public; read the recent blog by the Star Tribune's own Eric Black on this topic, and you can feel the paper already bracing for the backlash.

Smart Politics will certainly not lead or follow any such charge against the Star Tribune nor the esteemed long-running polling institution. But, given the results of other independent polls and past US Senate election results in the Gopher State, it would seem more likely that Klobuchar's actual lead is closer to this side of 15 than that side of 25. And don't be surprised if the race gets much, much closer.

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Remains of the Data

No Free Passes: States With 2 Major Party Candidates in Every US House Race

Indiana has now placed candidates from both major parties on the ballot in a nation-best 189 consecutive U.S. House races, with New Hampshire, Minnesota, Idaho, and Montana also north of 100 in a row.

Political Crumbs

Gubernatorial Highs and Lows

Two sitting governors currently hold the record for the highest gubernatorial vote ever received in their respective states by a non-incumbent: Republican Matt Mead of Wyoming (65.7 percent in 2010) and outgoing GOPer Dave Heineman of Nebraska (73.4 percent in 2006). Republican Gary Herbert of Utah had not previously won a gubernatorial contest when he notched a state record 64.1 percent for his first victory in 2010, but was an incumbent at the time after ascending to the position in 2009 after the early departure of Jon Huntsman. Meanwhile, two sitting governors hold the record in their states for the lowest mark ever recorded by a winning gubernatorial candidate (incumbent or otherwise): independent-turned-Democrat Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island (36.1 percent in 2010) and Democrat Terry McAuliffe of Virginia (47.8 percent in 2013).


An Idaho Six Pack

Two-term Idaho Republican Governor Butch Otter only polled at 39 percent in a recent PPP survey of the state's 2014 race - just four points ahead of Democratic businessman A.J. Balukoff. Otter's low numbers reflect his own struggles as a candidate (witness his weak primary win against State Senator Russ Fulcher) combined with the opportunity for disgruntled Idahoans to cast their votes for one of four third party and independent candidates, who collectively received the support of 12 percent of likely voters: Libertarian John Bujak, the Constitution Party's Steve Pankey, and independents Jill Humble and Pro-Life (aka Marvin Richardson). The six candidate options in a gubernatorial race sets an all-time record in the Gem State across the 46 elections conducted since statehood. The previous high water mark of five candidates was reached in seven previous cycles: 1902, 1904, 1908, 1912, 1914, 1966, and 2010.


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