HUFFPOLLSTER: With Florida Special Election Over, The Spin Begins

03/12/2014 06:06 pm ET | Updated Mar 12, 2014
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By a narrow margin, Republican David Jolly wins a special election in Florida that polls said would be close. One new national poll has Obama falling to an "historic low," while another finds the "biggest positive change" ever. And a study finds the secret to increasing voter turnout: a good night's sleep. This is HuffPollster for Wednesday, March 12, 2014.

FLORIDA 13TH ELECTION TIPS TO JOLLY - Pre-election polls conducted before yesterday's special election in Florida's 13th Congressional District pointed to a close outcome, and that's what voters there delivered. With 100 percent of precincts counted, Republican David Jolly defeated Democrat Alex Sink by just under 2 percentage points (48.4 to 46.6 percent), with Libertarian Lucas Overby winning 4.8 percent. HuffPost Pollster's model, based on all of the public polling, had given Sink a slight advantage (46.0 to 44.3 percent), but that margin was not statistically significant. Of the polls conducted in the campaign's final weeks, two with Republican sponsorship, by Fabrizio, Lee, and Associates and Red Racing Horses/PMI, both showed Jolly leading by a 2 percentage point margin. [Results via Pinellas County Supervisor, polls via Pollster]

Special election turnout was low... - The turnout for last night's special election (183, 962 voters) represented a decline of more than 30 percent from the previous off-year election in 2010 (about 267,000) and just over half the number that voted in the 2012 presidential election (nearly 330,000). The typically lower turnout creates both a challenge for pollsters, who often struggle to accurately model the likely electorate and special elections. [WaPost, @NatalieMJ84]

...which worked to Jolly's advantage, Dem pollster says - Democratic pollster Geoff Garin, whose firm polled for Sink, released a memo Tuesday night arguing that the lower turnout created a big hurdle for his client: "From the very start of this election, the biggest challenge facing Alex Sink in the FL- 13 special election was the significant party registration advantage for the Republicans among likely voters. The samples for our polls always projected an electorate that would be 11 points more Republican than Democratic – a difficult margin for any candidate to overcome" (Garin had said much the same to the Washington Post's Greg Sargent in late February.) In a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, Garin elaborated further: "In the November 2012 election, we know for a matter of certainty that the turnout was about +5 Republican, by party registration. We know as a matter of certainty November 2010 was around +10 in terms of party registration. And we have reason to think, we'll know for sure, we have reason to think that the Republican registration registration advantage among those who voted in the special election was larger than in November 2010. In the polling we did leading up to the election, we did 4 polls. The range in terms of where we projected the turnout was something in the range of +11 to +13 for the Republicans." [Hart Research, WashPost's Plum Line]

It 'sounds familiar'... - Marc Caputo: "[W]ithout Obama on the ticket, something weird happens to the Florida Democratic Party and its candidates in big midterm elections: They lose swing races. Though this was a special election in a midterm year, the pattern of apathetic Democratic voters has been a consistent problem for the party.'Special elections are not an indicator of the future,' U.S. Rep. Steve Israel of New York, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair, said Wednesday morning, lamenting the close loss. [He added] that Democrats need to work on 'modeling, persuasion messages'.... [W]hile the race might not be predictive, it sure sounds familiar." [Miami Herald
]

...but weren't Democrats already working to boost turnout? - Implicit in the post election spin is a painful truth for Democrats. Despite more than six million dollars spent by the Sink campaign and allied Democratic groups, the campaign failed to turn out the voters it needed. So what might Democrats do differently in November? "Because [Florida 13] was a short election," Garin tells HuffPollster, "we didn't do any research among our drop-off universe, so we were really kind of guessing about what it was that might motivate them to get involved, as opposed to Virginia Governor [election in 2013, where] we did a ton of research. And then there is a ton of research going on from a variety of sources about the drop-off universe in the November electorate...This will be approached in a much more meticulous way for November." [Open Secrets]

More reactions to the Florida-13 result:

-Stan Greenberg (D) says Democrats should fight Obamacare to a draw and use economic issues to mobilize the Democratic base. [WaPost's Plum Line]

-E.J. Dionne argues Democrats should "retool their response on Obamacare and sharpen their economic arguments." [WashPost]

-Stuart Rothenberg says the election will likely put Democrats on the defensive. [Rothenberg Political Report]

-Charlie Cook says the election was mostly a referendum on President Obama and the Affordable Care Act. [Cook Political]

-CMAG notes that "A whopping 75% of all Republican TV spots (not ads, but spots) in #FL13 mentioned #Obamacare." [CMAGAdFacts]

OBAMA: WORST APPROVAL EVER OR 'BIGGEST POSITIVE CHANGE'? HuffPollster: "What kind of year is 2014 shaping up to be for President Obama? Two just-released polls tell significantly different stories, with one finding him plunging to a career low and another seeing him recovering notably after a difficult few months. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released Wednesday puts Obama's ratings at just 41 percent -- "his worst job approval rating in the survey’s history" -- and just above President George W. Bush's rating heading into the 2006 midterms, which cost Republicans the House. The erosion comes mostly among Democrats, a record 20 percent of whom disapprove. A Bloomberg poll from Tuesday night, however, finds Americans evenly split on Obama, with 48 percent approving, up 6 points from December. That jump is "the biggest positive change of his presidency," according to the pollsters, due partially to a significant increase in support among independents, young adults and women." [HuffPost, NBC, Bloomberg]

On average, little change in either direction Bloomberg's polling in the past two years has generally produced results slightly more positive toward Obama than the average of all public polls, including NBC/WSJ. Other recent surveys of the president's approval rating put him somewhere in the middle -- the latest Rasmussen and Gallup trackers give Obama a 45 percent approval rating, while surveys released this week by CNN and the Democratic firm PPP have him at 43 percent. HuffPost Pollster's average currently puts Obama's approval rating between 43 and 44 percent, almost unchanged since the beginning of 2014.

NBC/WSJ vs. Huffpollster average

Bloomberg vs. Huffpollster average

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

-Climate change ranks low on the list of issues Americans say they worry about. [Gallup]

-Two thirds of Americans favor taking sexual assault cases away from military commanders. [Rasmussen]

-PPP (D) finds Mike Huckabee leading North Carolina's 2016 primary field. [PPP]

-Democrats hope their tech edge will help this in this year's senate races. [Real Clear Politics]

-Frank Newport notes that those old enough to remember the Cold War have more negatives views of Russia than those who don't. [Gallup]

-David Hill (R) ponders "our collective preoccupation with all things economic" among issue concerns. [The Hill]

-Mark Mellman (D) wonders if a potentially weak field will give away inherent Republican advantages in 2016. [The Hill]

-GOP pollsters Elizabeth Harrington and Bill McInturff examine how voters feel about the ACA beyond the support or oppose question. [POS]

-John McCain calls his PPP-measured 30 percent job approval rating "bogus." [The Hill]

-Elizabeth Wilner offers praise for Tableau, "the software that launched 1,000 analysts." [Cook Political]

-Want to increase voter turnout? Give people an extra hour of sleep. [Pacific Standard]

-Reid Wilson seconds Brian Stryker on the importance of including cell phones in telephone poll samples. [WaPost]

-One in three Christians observing Lent is giving up technology. [Barna Group via Time]

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