A new CNN/Time poll released on Wednesday says the Illinois gubernatorial contest between Governor Pat Quinn GOP and rival Bill Brady "is all tied up."
The poll reports that State Senator Brady (R-Bloomington) leads Quinn 40%-38% while
Independent Scott Lee Cohen has 14% and Green Party candidate Rich Whitney, 4%.
The Quinn camp is crazed with joy to be losing by two points.
Last night, Quinn communications director Mica Matsoff, blasted out e-mail, saying, "...[T]he latest poll shows that we're in a dead heat. Polls will go up and polls will go down, but people are buzzing about this tight race."
Since the end of July, Quinn has been trailing in 7 out of 8 independent polls by 9 to 13 points, with only the Chicago Tribune showing only a 5-point gap in early September.
The new CNN/Time poll quickly ignited a debate in political circles and on Rich Miller's Capitol Fax blog, asking: "Is the CNN/Time poll credible"?
Meanwhile, the debate at Miller's Capitol Fax blog regarding the CNN/Time numbers drew comments, such as, "Gotta believe at this point that it's an outlier, but who knows?" or "This poll is an outlier, over sampling Democrats and perhaps Chicago too."
On September 12--19 days ago--a Rasmussen poll, which included Whitney but not Cohen, had Brady leading Quinn 50%-37%.
Which is it? Is Quinn losing by 13 points or is the race closer to the CNN/Time's results?
The likely answer is that the CNN/Time's numbers are the most accurate.
There are two reasons: one, Cohen's name is included in the CNN/Time survey; two, the CNN poll is of superior quality than those produced by Rasmussen, Public Policy Polling, Fox News, and We Ask America, all of which have generated polls on this race.
CNN's polling chief weighed in on the Cohen question and a only couple days ago Charlie Cook, the immensely respected political analyst and author of the Cook Report at the National Journal, weighed in against "independent" polls.
"This is one of the first polls that has included Cohen's name in the list of choices offered to the respondent, and his double-digit support makes him the wild card in this race," said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.
"Illinois voters may be casting about for alternatives to the choices the two-party system has offered up, and the fact that Cohen is running as an independent may be attracting some voters. Add in the Green Party candidate and nearly one in five voters are currently opting for a candidate without a 'D' or 'R' after his name."
On September 28, Cook more or less denounced "independent" polling.
The most sophisticated polling is done by top-notch professional polling firms for campaigns, parties and major business and labor organizations. These polls are considerably more expensive and the methodology is more rigorous.
My view is that most academic polling, as well as the polling sponsored by local television stations and newspapers, is dime-store junk. Despite this, it is still driving the narrative of where individual races stand.
I should echo an argument made several weeks ago by my good friend and competitor Stu Rothenberg. He scoffed at those who mistakenly believed that polls conducted independently from the candidates and parties were inherently better or more reliable than campaign polling.
According to the global marketing research firm Wakefield Research, CNN fits in the "major business" category, "General population omnibus studies must typically be conducted among 1,000 nationally representative Americans over the age of 18. This is the sample size regularly used by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, CNN and every other top-tier media organization."
The CNN/Time poll, September 24-28, contacted 1,504 adults, including 1,360 registered voters in Illinois and 828 likely voters, questioned by telephone. The survey's sampling error is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points for registered voters and plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for likely voters.
The CNN/Time Illinois sample was overkill to point of diminishing return on accuracy. Their numbers undoubtedly reflect the true state of the Brady-Quinn contest.
Though the CNN/Time numbers show a tighter race, this poll also reveals that Quinn's support--at 38%--remains in the toilet. Quinn has failed to boost his backing. Is he back in the game? Yes. But he can't claim any credit for it.
The Governor's chances for victory over Brady now seem, ironically, to rest on the shoulders of the man whom Quinn helped to shove off the Democratic ticket--his ex-running mate--Scott Lee Cohen--more so than on his current one, Sheila Simon.
What are the odds of that? Those would be crazy numbers.