POLITICS
03/20/2014 05:59 pm ET

HUFFPOLLSTER: Poll Finds A New Leader In Georgia GOP Senate Battle

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A new poll in Georgia finds a new GOP primary leader, but let's remember how volatile primary election polls and vote preferences can be. Few want Obamacare "to fail." And ignore the anecdata, save a puppy.This is HuffPollster for Thursday, March 20, 2014.

SURVEYUSA FINDS NEW FRONTRUNNER IN GEORGIA'S GOP SENATE PRIMARY - WXIA: "With two months to go until the 2014 Georgia primary, some clear front-runners have emerged in some high-profile contests, but other lower-profile races remain a free-for-all, according to SurveyUSA poll conducted for 11Alive….In a Republican primary for the U.S. Senate being vacated by retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss, David Perdue tops six challengers: Perdue at 29%, Jack Kingston at 19%, with Phil Gingrey, Paul Broun, and Karen Handel effectively tied for 3rd place. A runoff is likely, according to the poll." [11Alive, Toplines]

Both voter preferences and polls can be highly volatile for open primary elections - Primary pre-election polls don't come with that warning label, but they probably should. Open primaries typically feature a big slate of initially obscure candidates, and voters are not locked into their preferences by the party affiliation the way they are in general elections. Their preferences can shift rapidly as the campaign progresses. Meanwhile, primary elections typically produce low turnouts. In Georgia, the votes cast in the last two competitive statewide GOP primaries in 2010 and 2004 produced turnouts of just 11 percent of eligible adults (or 14 to 18 percent of all active registered voters). The tools that many public pollsters use to select "likely voters" -- self-reported intent to vote or past participation -- typically overstate the size of the likely electorate. Some use official lists of registered voters and past voting history to get a more accurate sample, but those techniques can impose other tradeoffs. Ultimately, seemingly obscure variation in the methods pollsters use to get to the likely electorate can make for big differences in the results. [Turnout via Georgia Sec. of State, ElectProject]

SurveyUSA result could indicate a Perdue surge, or could be an outlier - Earlier polls taken since last summer on the race -- nearly all of which have had partisan sponsorship -- found either Broun or Gingrey, both current House representatives known for controversial statements, leading. Perdue lagged in either fourth or fifth place, often pulling in only single-digit support. But Perdue, a former CEO, has put more than $1 million into his campaign. Recent TV ads portrayed him as a Washington outsider, with his opponents depicted as crying babies. So the advertising may be helping Perdue, or SurveyUSA may be capturing the likely electorate differently that than the other pollsters. We will know more as others track the race in the coming weeks. [HuffPost, HuffPollster chart]

Good news for GOP establishment? Cameron Joseph: "Perdue and Kingston are viewed as more solid general election candidates than Gingrey and Broun by establishment Republicans, who would be relieved to see both make a primary runoff….Establishment Republicans have expressed serious worries about having either Gingrey or Broun as the nominee against former charity executive Michelle Nunn (D). The poll suggests that Perdue's and Kingston's cash advantages over their opponents are starting to boost their campaigns ahead of the May 20 primary. The two have already been up regularly with TV ads, while the other candidates have had to save their smaller campaign funds for later in the race. When those candidates start spending what they have, the race might look a bit different." [The Hill]

AMERICANS DON'T LIKE OBAMACARE, BUT DON'T WANT IT TO FAIL - Pew: "As the four-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act approaches, the law remains unpopular with the public. Currently, 53% disapprove of the 2010 health care law while 41% approve of the law. Opinion of the measure is virtually unchanged since last September. However, the new national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted Feb. 27-March 16 among 3,335 adults, finds that when opponents of the health care law are asked about the law’s future, more want elected officials to try to make it work than to make it fail. A majority of ACA opponents – representing 30% of the public overall – want politicians to do what they can to make the law work as well as possible, compared with 19% of the public that wants elected officials to do what they can to make it fail. " [Pew Research]

ENVIRONMENT AGAIN A HIGHER PRIORITY THAN ECONOMY - Art Swift: "Americans are more likely to say protection of the environment should be given priority, even at the risk of curbing economic growth. Since 2009, during the economic downturn, Americans generally prioritized economic growth over the environment, except for immediately after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in May 2010. In a March 6-9 Gallup Poll Social Series survey on the environment, Americans said the environment is a priority over economic growth by a 50%-to-41% margin. In the 30 years that Gallup has asked this question, Americans have almost always chosen the environment over economic growth as a priority." [Gallup]

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TWEET OF THE DAY - Edison Research VP Tom Webster: "Everytime you argue against a proper sample of many from a sample of "everyone I know," a unicorn gores a puppy." [@webby2001]

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

-Martha Coakley maintains a large lead in the Democratic primary for Massachusetts governor. [WBUR]

-A Benenson (D) poll for the Michigan Democratic Party finds Gov. Rick Snyder (R) 3 points ahead of his challenger. [HuffPost]

-The Cook Political Report shifts the Alaska, Louisiana and North Carolina races from lean Democrat to toss-up column. [Cook Political]

-Harry Enten complains about the lack of reliable polling data in competitive Senate races. [538]

-Karyn Bruggeman argues support for pot won't help Democrats in 2014. [National Journal]

-Michelle Diggles argues that independents with partisan leanings are less likely to be reliable party voters. [The Bric Blog]

-Even before the Ukraine crisis, views of Putin had grown more negative in U.S., Europe [Pew]

-Many of those affected by Superstorm Sandy are still feeling the stress. [Monmouth]

-Saving and paying debt are among the top uses for tax refunds this year. [Ipsos]

-Elaine Kamarack describes a new Brookings Institution project to monitor the 2014 congressional primaries. [Brookings]

-Sophia Yeres (D) rethinks how to deliver a credible messages to counter misinformation. [GSG]

-Jay Boice and Aaron Bycoffe explain how they built the HuffPost March Madness Predict-o-Tron. [Source]

-Half of American have filed their income taxes. [Rasmussen]

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