WASHINGTON -- A new poll released Saturday by the Siena (College) Research Institute on the upcoming special election in New York's 26th Congressional District shows Democrat Kathy Hochul leading Republican Jane Corwin by four percentage points (42 to 38), with independent candidate Jack Davis trailing at 12 percent.
The election will choose a replacement to Rep. Chris Lee (R), who resigned earlier this year after Lee was caught sending topless photos of himself to a woman on Craigslist.
Republicans have a party registration advantage in the 26th District and the slight Democratic edge on the Siena poll is a big change from the elections of 2008 and 2010 in which Lee defeated Democratic opponents by margins of 14 and 48 percentage points respectively. The race is complicated by a third candidate, former Democrat candidate and businessman Jack Davis who is running on the Tea Party line on the special election ballot.
In late April, the Democrats started airing a television advertisement attacking Corwin for supporting the budget of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), arguing that Ryan's budget plan would "essentially end Medicare."
Both the Corwin campaign and the Republican group American Crossroads have spent heavily on advertising attacking Davis for his previous support for Democrats. Subsequent ads from the Republican side also trained their fire at Hochul.
Hochul's margin on the Siena poll is very close, particularly given the survey's +/- 4 percent margin of error and uncertainty about who will vote in the off-year special election. But Democrats should find much encouraging news:
- Hochul has significantly increased her share of the vote on the Siena poll, from 31 percent to 42 percent, since the last Siena poll in late April.
- The ad wars have boosted Corwin's unfavorable rating from 31 percent to 49 percent (43 percent now rate her favorably), leaving Democrat Hochul with a net positive rating (55 percent favorable, 38 percent unfavorable).
- Among the voters who name Medicare as the most important issue in their vote decision (21 percent overall), 74 percent prefer Hochul.
- Hochul's support has grown despite successful efforts by the Republicans to cut support for independent Davis. His support has dropped from 23 percent to 12 percent, while his negative rating has soared (jumping from 41 percent to 64 percent)
- While Davis continues to win more support from Republicans (13 percent) than Democrats (10 percent) the difference is small. Corbin will likely gain if Davis' support continues to drop, but these margins suggest that Hochul will hold her own even if Davis' support completely collapses.
Polling at the House District level can be treacherous, as the results are typically far less accurate in projecting election outcomes than in statewide contests. The uncertainty of off-year, special election turnout makes that challenge even greater. So while the race in New York's 26th District is well worth watching, the outcome remains far from clear.
Methodology: The Siena (College) Research Institute conducted the poll May 18-20, 2011. They began with a sample of registered voters drawn from official voter lists, interviewed a sample of 1,356 registered voters that they weighted ("statistically adjusted") by party registration and used what they describe as "a stringent likely voter screen" to select 639 likely voters that answered questions about the Congressional race. The likely voter sample has a margin of error of +/- 3.9 percentage points. The press release and crosstabs are available from the Siena College website.