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Pollsters Do Not Inspire Confidence On the Eve of OH, TX Primaries

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As even the casual political bystander has learned during the past two months of the primary season, the influx of political polling in Campaign 2008 has given pollsters more and more opportunities...to miss the mark. New Hampshire and California have been the two biggest black eyes on survey research firms to date. While no poll is a predictor of outcomes per se, the degree to which pollsters in both of those states underestimated the Clinton vote and overestimated the Obama vote (and overestimated the Romney vote in California) does not inspire confidence among interested observers about what will happen on March 4th.

Tuesday may indeed be the last big test for pollsters before the General Election in November, with scores of polls having been released in Ohio and Texas during the past two weeks. The most recent results from these surveys once again demonstrate that pollsters are having a high degree of difficulty in determining who is a 'likely voter'—as the results they have generated vary wildly.

For example, take the Democratic primary in Ohio. One poll released today has Barack Obama up by two points (Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby), while another has Clinton up by 12 points (Suffolk). Still another survey released a few days ago (Columbus Dispatch) had Clinton up by a shocking 16 points, although that poll was based on registered voters (with a very large sample—2,308). Most polls however, show Clinton with a lead within the margin of error up to 9 points. Since only 1 poll (the Reuters/C-SPAN-Zogby survey) has ever shown Obama ahead in the Buckeye State, the Clinton campaign should be optimistic about their chances there on Tuesday.

In Texas, the Democratic race is tight, but on the Republican side there have been equally curious polling results. American Research Group (ARG) conducted a poll on February 23-24 of 600 likely voters that gave McCain a 45 to 41 percent lead over Huckabee. But, in their next poll conducted just 3 days later, McCain somehow opened up a 62 to 23 percent lead—a 35-point swing! While Huckabee's campaign has not been relevant to the political process for a few weeks now, he did not commit any major campaign blunder to effect such a mammoth change among the Republican electorate. Such a turnaround in such a short time frame is just about unprecedented in political polling.

Polling, to be sure, is a tricky science—even more so during primary season when voter turnout is very unpredictable. We will see whether March 4th becomes the 3rd strike this season for pollsters or whether they 'got it right.'

Previous post: Poll Roundup: The March 4th Primaries (Democrats)
Next post: Final Polls Show Mini Clinton Surge

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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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