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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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Strike Three for Miller-Meeks

Iowa Republicans had a banner day on November 4th, picking up both a U.S. Senate seat and one U.S. House seat, but Mariannette Miller-Meeks' defeat in her third attempt to oust Democrat Dave Loebsack in the 2nd CD means the GOP will not have a monopoly on the state's congressional delegation in the 114th Congress. The loss by Miller-Meeks (following up her defeats in 2008 and 2010) means major party nominees who lost their first two Iowa U.S. House races are now 0 for 10 the third time around in Iowa history. Miller-Meeks joins Democrat William Leffingwell (1858, 1868, 1870), Democrat Anthony Van Wagenen (1894, 1912 (special), 1912), Democrat James Murtagh (1906, 1914, 1916), Democrat Clair Williams (1944, 1946, 1952), Democrat Steven Carter (1948, 1950, 1956), Republican Don Mahon (1966, 1968, 1970), Republican Tom Riley (1968, 1974, 1976), Democrat Eric Tabor (1986, 1988, 1990), and Democrat Bill Gluba (1982, 1988, 2004) on the Hawkeye State's Three Strikes list.


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Larry Pressler may have fallen short in his long-shot, underfunded, and understaffed bid to return to the nation's upper legislative chamber, but he did end up notching the best showing for a non-major party South Dakota U.S. Senate candidate in more than 90 years. Pressler won 17.1 percent of the vote which is the best showing for an independent or third party U.S. Senate candidate in the state since 1920 when non-partisan candidate Tom Ayres won 24.1 percent in a race won by Republican Peter Norbeck. Overall, Pressler's 17.1 percent is good for the second best mark for a non-major party candidate across the 35 U.S. Senate contests in South Dakota history. Independent and third party candidates have appeared on the South Dakota U.S. Senate ballot just 25 times over the last century and only three have reached double digits: Pressler in 2014 and Ayres in 1920 and 1924 (12.1 percent). Pressler's defeat means he won't become the oldest candidate elected to the chamber in South Dakota history nor notch the record for the longest gap in service in the direct election era.


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