09/04/2014 07:53 am ET

HUFFPOLLSTER: Kansas Senate Race Shakeup Could Leave Roberts Vulnerable


A major shakeup in Kansas throws a wrench into Senate predictions. A handful of new surveys all tell the same story about the Kentucky Senate race. And white Americans' circles of friends may not be as uniformly white as previously assumed. This is HuffPollster for Thursday, September 4, 2014.

A CANDIDATE'S DECISION TO DROP OUT UPSETS THE OUTLOOK IN KANSAS - Bryan Lowry: "The race for U.S. Senate in Kansas no longer has a Democrat in it. In a stunning development, candidate Chad Taylor asked Wednesday that his name be removed from the ballot, paving the way for independent candidate Greg Orman to face U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts head-on in November….Orman’s candidacy, buoyed by television commercials and social media, has received national attention. Although he trailed both major party candidates in the polls, several analysts saw him as the candidate with momentum in the race." [Wichita Eagle]

The one poll on the race shows Orman a serious contender - The Democratic pollster PPP asked a series of hypothetical head-to-heads in August, and found Orman leading Roberts, 43 percent to 33 percent. The poll also found that while Taylor and Orman were both unknown to most voters, Orman was considerably better liked, with a net +12 favorable rating to Taylor's +1 (and Roberts' -17 job approval rating). [PPP]

Modelers and analysts weigh in on the effects for their Senate forecasts:

-FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver: "If the PPP survey is accurate, this is a huge problem for Republicans….There is ample reason to be skeptical, however.... In a deeply red state like Kansas, a fairly moderate Republican like Roberts rates as much closer to the median voter than a center-left candidate like Orman. Orman has also never been elected to office before, a factor which makes a candidate more likely to underperform in his polls, perhaps because of a lack of campaign experience. In fact, our fundamentals-based estimate would put Orman 25 points behind Roberts — not 10 points ahead. It’s rare to see a discrepancy even half as large as that….So the model comes out somewhere between the survey and the fundamentals rating. It projects a narrow 2-point victory for Roberts, and gives him a 56 percent chance of winning against 44 percent for Orman. For all intents and purposes, that makes the race a tossup. But it’s also a totally wild guess." [538]

-Princeton Election Consortium's Sam Wang, who previously predicted Orman could swing the Senate: "So, the probability of Democratic control of the Senate just popped up by about 20%. How about that….PPP is accurate and a ten-point lead is huge. The question: how much will numbers move? I think Orman's win probability is >80%" [@SamWangPhD, New Yorker]

-Daily Kos' David Nir (D): "But could Roberts really lose in dark red Kansas? Yes, he could. Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, Roberts' ticket-mate, is in dire shape for an entirely different set of reasons, and he's looking very vulnerable. A federal race is harder for a Republican to botch here, but Brownback and Roberts are very liable to drag each other down, as both are deeply unpopular. And Orman is an aggressive, motivated candidate who hasn't self-funded yet but certainly could. For all these reasons, Daily Kos Elections is changing our rating on this race from Likely R to Lean R." [Daily Kos]

-Rothenberg Political Report's Nathan Gonzales: "The lack of a strong campaign infrastructure is one of the fundamental reasons why Roberts is in severe danger. He can’t count on the the traditionally red hue of Kansas in federal races to bail him out….The winning coalition for Orman includes consolidating Democrats (which is much easier without Taylor in the race), winning a majority of independents (who might be turned off by Roberts’ longevity and residency issues), and getting a chunk of disaffected Republicans who are fed up with status quo Republican officials in the state.….We recently moved the race out of Safe Republican to Republican Favored. But with the latest events and the current state of play in Kansas, we are changing The Rothenberg Political Report rating of the race from Republican Favored to Toss-Up/Tilt Republican. This makes Pat Roberts the most vulnerable Republican senator in the country." [Rothenberg]

-U.Va. Center for Politics' Larry Sabato: "Incredibly, Rs must now mount rescue mission for both GOV and SEN in KS. Yeah, KANSAS. Money not spent elsewhere." [@LarrySabato]

-HuffPollster: The extraordinary nature of the ballot upheaval in Kansas creates a difficult scenario for the HuffPost Pollster forecasting model. Our standard procedure requires at least five polls on a race before we run the initial set of simulations (known commonly as the Monte Carlo method) that produces a trend chart. When we have less than five polls, we turn to our historical analysis of early ratings of the Cook Political Report to determine the probability that a given candidate will win the election. As of this writing The Cook Rating remains unchanged as "likely Republican," so for now, our model will continue to show a 90 percent probability of Roberts winning reelection. If and when their rating changes, our model will shift accordingly. However, we are assessing whether an adjustment to our procedure will be appropriate as we start to see the first new polls on the Kansas Senate race.

RECENT KENTUCKY POLLS IN AGREEMENT - HuffPollster: "In an election year hinging on a handful of remarkably close Senate races, recent surveys are reaching something of a consensus on Kentucky. Three polls released in the last week show Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) with a 4- or 5-point edge over Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) among likely voters. A CNN/ORC live-caller poll released Wednesday gave McConnell 50 percent to Grimes' 46 percent, while an automated Rasmussen poll released the same day put McConnell ahead 46 percent to 41 percent. A third poll, released this past weekend by SurveyUSA, had McConnell up 46 percent to 42 percent….HuffPost Pollster's Senate model gives McConnell a slim advantage, with a current lead of just under 3 points, and about a 60 percent chance of winning, not significantly better than a coin flip." [HuffPost]

MORE AMERICANS SAY BEEFING UP BORDER SECURITY SHOULD BE IMMIGRATION POLICY PRIORITY - Pew: "As President Obama considers executive action to delay the deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants, the public’s priorities for U.S. immigration policy have shifted, with more people favoring a focus on better border security and tougher enforcement of immigration laws...These priorities have changed since Feb. 2013, early in Obama’s second term. The share saying that both approaches should be given equal priority has fallen from 47% to 41%. Over the same period, the percentage prioritizing enhanced border security and stronger enforcement of immigration laws has risen eight points, from 25% to 33%. There has been little change in the percentage saying the priority should be creating a path to citizenship for people in the U.S. illegally (25% in Feb. 2013, 23% today)." [Pew]

FIVETHIRTYEIGHT LAUNCHES ITS SENATE FORECAST - Nate Silver: "The FiveThirtyEight Senate model is launching Wednesday. We’ll be rolling it out in stages, with additional features, functionality and further methodological detail. We’ll also be unveiling our new set of pollster ratings and publicly releasing our database of all the polls used to calculate them. So there’s a lot more to come. But if you’re looking for a headline, we have two. First, Republicans are favored to take the Senate, at least in our view; the FiveThirtyEight forecast model gives them a 64 percent chance of doing so. The reasons for the GOP advantage are pretty straightforward. Midterm elections are usually poor for the president’s party, and the Senate contests this year are in states where, on average, President Obama won just 46 percent of the vote in 2012….An equally important theme is the high degree of uncertainty around that outcome. A large number of states remain competitive, and Democrats could easily retain the Senate. It’s also possible that the landscape could shift further in Republicans’ direction. Our model regards a true Republican wave as possible: It gives the party almost a 25 percent chance of finishing with 54 or more Senate seats once all the votes are counted." [538]

@monkeycageblog: "Simple average of @monkeycageblog @nytleo @FiveThirtyEight @pollsterpolls @DKElections Senate forecasts: 56% chance of GOP majority." [Twitter]

Why the Washington Post's Senate model is looking more Dem-friendly - John Sides: "[It's] not that races have narrowed, but that the model has begun weighting information differently -- mainly by (a) incorporating polling data (where possible) after the relevant primaries, and by (b) increasing the weight that polls have in the forecast. What this suggests is that in several states, Democrats are arguably 'out-performing' the fundamentals. This doesn't always translate into a high chance of the Democrat actually winning (see: Kentucky) but it does help the Democrats' overall chances of retaining a majority."

DO MOST WHITE AMERICANS REALLY HAVE ONLY WHITE FRIENDS? - Emily Swanson: "A majority of white Americans have few, if any, close confidants who are non-white, according to a recent study. But some media outlets went further than that, claiming that the study found most white Americans don't have any non-white friends at all. That conclusion is not warranted -- although we should still be concerned about what the study does show. According to the survey, conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute in 2013, 91 percent of people in the close social networks of white Americans, or the people they most often talk to about important matters, are also white. Similarly, 83 percent of those in the close social networks of black Americans are black….Here's the problem with these more sweeping conclusions: They are based on the assumptions that when the survey respondents chose up to seven friends or family members to describe, they chose seven people who are demographically identical, on average, to their entire friend-and-family network….though respondents were allowed to name up to seven people, they listed on average only 3.4 individuals….1.8 of the 3.4 confidants the average person listed -- more than half -- were relatives, spouses or partners….we do know that the vast majority of the people whom the average white American trusts most are also white -- and we don't need to make the data sound more dramatic than that to be troubled by the results." [HuffPost]

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

-Days after one survey showed Charlie Crist (D) barely edging out Rick Scott (R), a second poll gives Scott a 5-point lead. [Tampa Bay Times]

-Americans don't think either side came out on top in the Israel-Gaza conflict. [YouGov]

-Americans are divided on how much of a role the government should play in race relations. [Gallup]

-Nate Cohn says control of the Senate may be determined by who voters hate more: Obama or the GOP. [NY Times]

-Harry Enten says independent candidate Bill Walker has a shot at the Alaska governorship. [538]

-Democrats aren't convinced that Obama has a foreign policy strategy. [YouGov]

-David Damore looks at the potential effect of Latino voters in two districts narrowly won by Democrats in 2012. [WashPost]

-Ed Goeas (R) and Celinda Lake (D) discuss the new Battleground poll on Morning Joe. [MSNBC]

-Frank Newport summarizes recent polling on the role of government in race relations in the U.S. [Gallup]

-Jonathan Bernstein warns against "playing the good wizard/ bad wizard game" with Senate forecasting models. [Bloomberg]

-Michael McDonald publishes his pre-election estimates of the voting age and voting eligible populations. [ElectProject]

-Andrew Gelman reviews the data on conspiracy theories. [WashPost]

-Most Californians want President Obama to take executive action on immigration. [Field]

-Pew Research finds well-educated white men are the most likely to seek public office. [Pew]

-55 people have now been floated in the polls as possible 2016 contenders. [HuffPost]

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