Sunday, September 23, 2012

Breaking Down the Roberts Campaign Poll on NC-9

The Jennifer Roberts Campaign released a poll last week that shows this race to be much closer than conventional wisdom predicts.  The published results show the race at Pittenger(R) 38%, Roberts(D) 37%, Campbell(L) 3%, and a whopping 22% still undecided.

Very little polling data is available in the typical Congressional House race, so when anything is made public it warrants taking a look.  At the same time, any data released by a campaign should be taken with a wheelbarrow full of salt.

There are three basic possibilities with a poll like this:

  1. It's a legitimate poll based on reasonable assumptions.
     2.  It's a manipulated poll to get the desired result.

     3.  The campaign just made up the numbers.

If it is #1, then Robert Pittenger is potentially in trouble and certainly feeling the effects of his relentlessly negative primary campaign.  While it would certainly be surprising if the race was actually this close with such a strong Republican registration advantage in the district, it's notable that none of the other candidates from the first primary who received at least 10% of the vote in that race have endorsed Pittenger.  Together, these candidates accounted for 48% of the total vote in the first NC-9 ballot.  Many of their supporters may be "undecided" on whether they can vote for Pittenger or possibly not vote at all.  The Libertarian candidate, Curtis Campbell, is also doing better than expected based on Libertarian registration numbers - pulling away a chunk of voters more likely to vote Republican. 

If it is #2, something to look at is how would the pollsters have rigged the poll.  Oversampling of Mecklenburg Dems and oversampling of Republicans who are unlikely to vote for Pittenger could achieve the published results.  Edwin Peacock, the number 3 candidate in the first primary, won several precincts, and of the Republican primary candidates he is the furthest apart from Pittenger ideologically on issues like mass transit and Amendment 1.  Oversampling Rs in those precincts might get a higher number of undecideds.  A lot would also depend on which year the pollsters used for their turnout modeling baseline - 2004 or 2008.  Since the campaign did not publish the details of the poll it is impossible to tell.  However, the poll does state that its likely voter numbers were 42% Rep, 30% Dem and 28% Ind.  Since those are higher Republican numbers than the voter registration percentage for the district (40% R at the time of redistricting), the pollsters seem to be accepting that there will be a slightly higher rate of Republican turnout for the election - an indication the poll is not totally rigged for the Democratic candidate.

If it is #3, the question to ask is why release made up numbers now.  If you were going to just make stuff up, the time to release it would have been during the DNC a couple weeks ago.  That could have created some buzz with Dems in town from all over the country.  Maybe it even could have generated a bump in grass roots donations.  Releasing it now sort of misses the boat on that one. Very few people are actually going to see it at this point.  Also, made up or seriously rigged numbers would be useless in trying to get any Super PAC or DNCC money because those folks would demand to see the underlying details before ponying up any dollars. Then there's also the point that they put a consulting company's name on the release. Lake Research Partners has dozens of Democratic officials and candidates as clients.  It's hard to see them wanting their name on a completely made-up set of numbers.  

Taken all together, it's possible the Roberts Campaign poll is somewhat reasonable.  They say that Pittenger does better in Iredell and Union, but Roberts does better in Mecklenburg.  That's reasonable based on name recognition alone.  They say Curtis Campbell does better than Libertarian voter registration would indicate.  However, in this Tea Party era with Ron Paul praising the Libertarian presidential candidate that seems believable to me as well.  Campbell's 3% in this poll is similar to the Libertarian candidate's 3.5% from the 2008 Hagan-Dole race.  Add that to the fallout from the Republican primary, and it could add up.

This new district has a history of making things closer when the Republican candidate becomes unlikeable.  See the results at for the Hagan/Dole match up in 2008.  As mentioned previously in this blog, after Dole's infamous "There is no God" TV ad against Hagan, Dole ended up winning the precincts in the new NC-9 by only 3%.

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