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POLLSTER UPDATE: South Carolina Special Election Poll Shows Close Race

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A final PPP poll in South Carolina's 1st congressional district shows a near tie, but both the poll and the race have produced more far more speculation than data. And a Washington Post poll in Virginia that the Republican campaign was certain would be used to attack their candidate...shows him leading. This is the HuffPost Pollster update for Monday, May 6, 2013.

TIGHT RACE IN FINAL SC--01 SURVEY - In its final survey on the special election in South Carolina's 1st Congressional District, the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling (PPP) shows a near tie, with Republican Mark Sanford holding a one point edge (47 to 46 percent) over Elizabeth Colbert Busch. Since its previous poll in late April gave Colbert Busch a 9 point lead, PPP sees "momentum" going to Sanford: "Sanford has gotten back into the race by nationalizing it and painting Colbert Busch as a liberal. A plurality of voters in the district- 47%- say they think Colbert Busch is a liberal compared to 43% who characterize her as ideologically 'about right.' Colbert Busch's favorability rating has dropped a net 19 points compared to 2 weeks ago, from +25 then at 56/31 to +6 now at 50/44." [PPP]

A changing electorate - "The other key development in this race over the last two weeks," PPP reports, "is that Republicans are returning to the electorate." In April, the "likely electorate" sampled by PPP reported voting for Romney over Obama by a 5-point margin (50 to 45 percent), but on the latest survey the retrospective vote question shows a 13-point preference for Romney (55 to 42 percent). Also, the percentage of likely voters that identified as African American dropped from 18 to 13 percent since the last survey, while the Republican party identification advantage over the Democrats increased from +9 to +15 percentage points. [PPP results, April and May]

The bigger picture - There have been only five surveys on the race released into the public domain since March; three from PPP, one from Colbert Busch's pollster, and one automated poll conducted for the conservative web site Red Racing Horses. All but the April PPP poll have shown a virtually tied race. Sources close to the Colbert Busch campaign tell HuffPollster that all of their internal polling has shown a close race, with Colbert Busch up by a few points, but they never measured a lead as big as PPP found in April. Given the difficulties of accurately projecting turnout demographics in an off-year special election, the polling is telling us to expect a close race, but little more. [Pollster chart]

Does the polling indicate a shift in "momentum?" The answer depends mostly on the validity of PPP's April vote preference numbers. The shifting party and racial composition in their last two samples suggests that Republicans were more likely than Democrats to hang up on the pollsters in April. That tendency may tell us something real about shifting voter enthusiasm, but the relationship of hang-ups in mid-April to to actual voter composition on May 7 is questionable. Sanford's true position may be stronger than the collective horse race numbers make him appear, or weaker, but evidence of momentum is scarce.

Nate Cohn on "Red Racing Horses" - "Red Racing Horses, a conservative website, commissioned a survey showing a dead-heat, 47--47, but the data analysis, survey design, and weighting was "the sole responsibility of Red Racing Horses," which, in their own words, is "run by a team of 6 volunteer hobbyists." Perhaps as a result, they found that women represented 60 percent of the electorate. Red Racing Horses also bought their call-list from Gravis Marketing, which was only spared the wrath afforded to Gallup and Rasmussen because they were never credible enough to merit significant attention." [TNR]

More on SC--01:

-Columbia-SC Patch breaks down the geography and demographics of the district. [Patch]

-Sabato Crystal Ball's Kyle Kondik: "Despite indications that SC--1 is a legit toss-up, I'm willing to make a highly tenuous pick - I favor Sanford b/c of the district." [Twitter]

-Stu Rothenberg: "The Rothenberg Political Report still has the race as a Toss-up/Tilting to the Democrat, but any outcome is possible. Don't be shocked at the result, no matter who wins." [Roll Call]

-Harry Enten sees a Sanford win as plausible. [Guardian]

-Nate Cohn: "To the extent that one can squint at a close race and search for tie breakers, most clues...tilt Sanford's way." [TNR]

-Micah Cohen sees little hope for Colbert Busch to hold the seat if she wins. [NYTimes]

CUCCINELLI LEADS IN VIRGINIA - A new Washington Post poll finds Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli leading Democratic businessman Terry McAuliffe in the contest for Governor: "Six months before Election Day, Cuccinelli (R) has a slender 46 to 41 percent edge over McAuliffe (D) among all Virginia voters and a significant 51 to 41 percent lead among those who say they're certain to cast ballots in November. But those numbers may change before then: The poll found that barely 10 percent say they are following the campaign "very closely" and that nearly half of the electorate says they're either undecided or could change their minds."

Enthusiasm favors Cuccinelli - "Cuccinelli is up in the race because he has overwhelming support from the GOP base. Among all registered voters, he's backed by 95 percent of Republicans, 73 percent of conservatives and 62 percent among white men. By contrast, compared with Obama's win seven months ago, McAuliffe, the former Democratic National Committee chairman, is badly underperforming among key Democratic constituencies he would need to prevail — young voters, women, African Americans and those in the vote-rich areas of Northern Virginia." [WaPost]

A "prebuttal" too soon? - Last week, Cuccinelli's campaign sent out a fundraising email after campaign manager Dave Rexrode was a respondent. After the ballot choice and some issue questions, Rexrode wrote, "they starting asking about gifts, disclosures, and if I had been paying attention to recent news reports about this issue...This poll is nothing more than The Washington Post's next attempt to attack Ken and prop up Terry McAuliffe." [Examiner]

The poll did include three questions about personal gifts to lawmakers -- 74 percent say there should be limits on gifts, 73 percent say such gifts should be disclosed and only 32 percent say they have followed the story of gifts and contributions from a Virginia company named Star Scientific -- but none mentioned Cuccinelli by name. [Post results]

Good news for McDonnell - "In the last year of his four-year term, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell remains firmly popular with Virginia voters, getting high marks from independents, Democrats and Republicans on how he is handling his duties as governor and his personal ethics, according to a new Washington Post poll. Overall, 64 percent of all registered voters in the commonwealth say they approve of the job McDonnell (R) is doing, up six percentage points from two Post surveys last year."

MONDAY'S 'OUTLIERS' - Links to more news at the intersection of polling, politics and political data:

-Garance Franke-Ruta disputes the "generic woman" presidential candidate, saying the issue "is not how they poll in theory before they run for office, but how they wear during the course of a campaign." [The Atlantic]

-Americans' financial worry has eased to the lowest level since before the recession. [Gallup]

-Mario Rubio persuades Florida lawmakers to eliminate its "non-compliant" (i.e. early) presidential primary; Josh Putnam says the Florida rule change was unnecessary. [Miami Herald, FHQ]

-How voters reacted emotionally to past presidential candidates, in one infographic. [Visual.ly, via The Fix]

-Harry Enten says ADP's forecast of the monthly BLS jobs report has grown only slightly (but not significantly) more accurate following an overhaul in late 2012. [Guardian]

-Brian Beutler reports on the meaning of Obama's "permission structure"; John Sides puts it into context. [TPM, Monkey Cage]

-Gun Owners of America finds 20 ways to trash PPP's recent polling on gun background checks. [GOA]

-Data crunchers invade Hollywood. [NYTimes]

-French breakup delivered via Powerpoint [Gentside, via @alexlundry]

 
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