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HUFFPOLLSTER: An Early Look At 2014 Senate Polling

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A conversation about the forecasting power of early Senate polls gives us an excuse to link to our expanding collection of 2014 Senate poll charts. Americans support stricter gun laws, but question their effectiveness. And insert your polling-on-lab-grown-organs joke here. This is HuffPollster for Thursday, April 17, 2014.

FORECASTING SENATE 2014: TRIAL HEAT NUMBERS VS OBAMA APPROVAL - Harry Enten notes that early polls indicate a close race in six key Senate contests (Kentucky, Georgia, Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina despite low approval ratings in those states for President Obama. So how accurate have early polls been previously? "More than six months from the midterm elections, current polling and past precedent are competing for our trust. I analyzed which measure is more indicative come November, and it turns out that polls are a more robust metric [than job approval] even though their numbers are still sparse and there’s still so much time remaining before the election. That’s not to say that a president’s approval rating is useless: It can help refine early polls to make them more accurate. This year, when we factor in both, it doesn’t look promising for Democrats in Alaska, Arkansas, Kentucky or Louisiana...The fact that presidential approval ratings do matter in addition to early horse-race polling should worry some Democrats in 2014. Right now, I estimate Obama’s approval rating is somewhere between 30 percent and 33 percent in Alaska, Arkansas and Kentucky. In Louisiana, I estimate it to be in the high 30s." [538]

A related Twitter conversation:

-WashPost's Greg Sargent: "Counterintuitive but true: In HuffPollster's averages, GOP not leading in a single Senate race: http://t.co/voGg4rAI6O" [@ThePlumLineGS]

-HuffPollster: "Given the error bands, I’d not characterize anyone as 'leading' in KY, AR, AK, LA, NC " [@MysteryPollster

-Aaron Strauss (D), replying to HuffPollster: "Agreed, but you wouldn't know that from media narrative." [@aaron_strauss]

-Sargent, replying to HuffPollster: "my point is simply that the aggregated polling data shows a bunch of very close races, not a huge GOP advantage" [@ThePlumLineGS]

-@Taniel: "Huge number of Dem seats that GOP is tied in (not counting the probably-lost WV/SD/MT trio) hardly rosy." [@Taniel]

-Jim Hobart (R): "Not leading in a single INCLUDED GOP Sen race. No charts for WV, SD, MT." [@thejimhobart]

-@Westwit: Louisiana Senate has Landrieu behind by 1.... (though that was updated an hour ago)" [@Westwit]

About those Senate charts - Pollster has published polling charts for most key races for senate and governor in 2014 as party as part of HuffPost's Election Dashboard (you can click the arrows there to scroll through available charts, or type a state name into the search box at the top right corner of the page). We publish a chart when 5 or more public poll results are available. As such, we now have charts for the Senate races for match-ups including Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Carolina and West Virginia (just added), as well as multiple possible matchups in Iowa and Alaska. In each case, we have applied a new poll tracking model which plots colored bands to indicate statistical uncertainty about each trend line and also helps correct for "house effects," the tendency for some survey houses to produce estimates that are systematically higher or lower for one candidate than other pollsters. [More on the new poll tracking model]

OBAMA SEEN AS DISHONEST (OH, AND ALSO HIS APPROVAL'S UP) - Dana Blanton: "About six in ten American voters think Barack Obama lies to the country on important matters some or most of the time, according to a Fox News poll released Wednesday….On a more positive note for the White House, Obama’s overall job performance rating has improved. The new poll finds that 42 percent of voters approve of the job he’s doing, while 51 percent disapprove. That means he’s underwater by nine percentage points." [Fox]

AMERICANS NARROWLY SUPPORT STRICTER GUN LAWS, BUT QUESTION EFFECTIVENESS - Emily Swanson: "Forty-nine percent of Americans now support making gun laws stricter. That's the same as the number who said so in a HuffPost/YouGov poll conducted in December, but below the peak of 60 percent reached in January 2013, a month after the Newtown school massacre. In the new poll, 24 percent said they thought gun laws didn't need to be changed, and 20 percent said they should be made even looser than they already are….Only 30 percent agree that restricting access to guns would make killings less frequent because it is harder to kill a person with another weapon. But 55 percent said they think restrictions on guns wouldn't prevent killings because killers will just choose other weapons." [HuffPost]

POVERTY ATTRIBUTED TO LACK OF OPPORTUNITY - Emily Swanson and Arthur Delaney: "Conservatives often say the poor and jobless got that way because of their own personal failings, but Americans tend to blame the plain old free market. A new HuffPost/YouGov poll released Thursday finds Americans generally think both the rich and the poor ended up where they are more because of the opportunities they had in life than because of personal successes or failures. Among all Americans, 44 percent said they think poor people are poor mostly because of a lack of opportunities, while only 30 percent said it's mostly because of their individual failings. More specifically, 47 percent said poverty has to do more with the fact good jobs aren't available, while only 28 percent said it's because poor people have a poor work ethic." [HuffPost]

AMERICANS PREDICT FUTURE WILL INCLUDE LAB-GROWN ORGANS, BUT NOT WEATHER CONTROL - Pew Internet: "A substantial majority of Americans (81%) believe that within the next 50 years people needing an organ transplant will have new organs custom made for them in a lab….comes to creating music, novels, paintings, or other important works of art: 51% think that this will happen in the next 50 years, while 45% think that it will not….From a list of futuristic inventions that includes space colonies and teleportation, Americans actually have the least confidence in the prediction that humans of the future will be able to control the weather: just 19% of the public thinks that this will probably happen." [Pew Internet]

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

-Harper (R) releases five new polls for American Crossroads (R). [Politico]

-A survey for the Washington Free Beacon by the Polling Company (R) finds Bruce Braley's (D) numbers falling in Iowa [Washington Free Beacon]

-The Chicago Council on Global Affairs bloggers examine two new surveys on Americans' views on Ukraine. [Running Numbers]

-Sean Trende explores the very slim chance that Democrats pick up Senate seats. [RCP]

-Stuart Rothenberg discusses the limits in handicapping campaign ground games .[Rothenberg]

-Joe Scarborough characterizes revisions to Census Bureau questions concerning health insurance as a "particularly clumsy effort" to "cook the books." [TPM]

-Paul Krugman defends government statisticians and rips Scarborough's claim as "vile." [NYTimes via TPM]

-Mac Tan looks at whether members of political dynasties benefit from their famous names. [Stat Sheet]

-Jonathan Chait argues that data journalism is partisan. [New York]