Connecticut Epilogue

08/09/2006 10:09 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Mark Blumenthal Mark Blumenthal is the Head of Election Polling at SurveyMonkey.

The nearly final 3.6% margin by which Ned Lamont defeated Joe Lieberman in yesterday's Connecticut Senate Primary (with 98% of precincts counted, Lamont leads 51.8% to 48.2%) was certainly closer than the margins on the final public polls.  The two polls conducted last week by Quinnipiac and Research 2000 had Lamont ahead by six and ten percentage points respectively.  An earlier survey by Quinnipiac had Lamont ahead by 13, and a mid-July survey by Rasmussen had Lamont ahead by 10. 

The Quinnipiac pollsters will rightly point out that their final results fell within the 3.5% margin of error of their final poll, no small feat given the degree of difficulty in polling this unusual off-year primary election.  But consider that the turnout of more than 282,000 voters or nearly 41% exceeded nearly everyone's expectations and far surpassed the 25% historic average for primaries featuring a governor's race.  This leaves a few open questions, at least from my perspective:

  • Did Lieberman narrow the gap in the campaign's final ten days, as suggested but not quite confirmed by the last two Quinnipiac polls? 

  • Or was Lieberman consistently closer in Lamont's rear view mirror during the final weeks than the public polls made it appear?  Did the sampling methodologies and likely voter models of the public polls consistently exaggerate Lamont's during the campaign's final weeks?

It may be possible to answer some of these questions with the poll and vote return data, although we do not have access to all of the relevant data.  For example, both campaigns conducted internal tracking polls that provide an independent assessment of the trend over the campaign's final week.  Do those surveys confirm a late Lieberman rebound, or was the second-to-last Quinnipiac survey, the one that showed Lamont ahead by 13 points, an outlier?   

Campaigns are often willing to disclose internal data once the campaign has ended and the dust cleared.  Unfortunately, since the Lieberman-Lamont contest continues, such a release from either camp appears unlikely.

The geographic turnout patterns are also relevant.  Charles Franklin has already posted an amazingly thorough (and graphical) turnout analysis of the turnout showing that Lieberman did better in the larger towns and cities, while Lamont did better in less urban areas.  He also confirms the so-called "Volvo/donut" turnout pattern suggested yesterday by Hotline On-Call, that turnout was higher in the smaller towns where Lamont had an advantage, lower in the larger towns where Lieberman did better (see also Hotline's follow-up analysis this morning).

This pattern leads to two questions:  First, how well did the various polls do in modeling the geographic distribution of the vote?    What portion of their completed likely voter samples came from the smaller towns where Lamont did better?  How did that distribution compare to reality and did that distribution vary significantly from poll to poll?   

Second -- a question we can answer with data in the public domain -- how much did the "Volvo/donut" geographic pattern depart from past history? Vote turnout is typically lower in more urban areas.  The question here is whether the urban-rural turnout gap was bigger or smaller than in previous elections.  If so, "likely voter" models based on past experience may have been off as well.  Of course, if the smaller towns contributed a larger than expected share of the total vote, it would imply that a poll sample based on past turnout geography would understate Lamont's vote, not overstate it. 

It would be certainly be educational to try to answer some of these questions here, although most of the data we could use to try to answer these questions are in the hands of the pollsters. 

PS:  About that Exit Poll -- CBS News has posted a brief report online.  UPDATE:  At 2:00 EST CBS posted a second more in-depth report that includes results ot all questions.  The complete report has much to chew on including cross-tabs by demographics (age, race, education, religion, income, union membership and self-reported ideology).  The most relevant finding to current speculation about an independent candidacy is as follows:

Most Democratic primary voters would not support an Independent run for U.S. Senate by Lieberman this fall, even though the majority said they approve of the way in which he is doing his job . . . .

If Lieberman does decide to run as an Independent against Lamont and Schlesinger in November, he may find that many Democratic voters will choose their party’s candidate instead of him. In a hypothetical three-way race against Lamont and Schlesinger, Lamont would earn 49% of the votes of these Democratic primary voters, and Lieberman would receive 36%.

Among Lieberman voters, three out of four say they will support Lieberman again under those circumstances; 16% are not sure, and 6% say they will vote for Lamont. Lamont retains more of his voters; 88% of them say they would vote for him in November.

And oh yes -- the reason political junkies love exit polls -- the report also includes directly relevant to the central question I discussed above.  The exit poll provides clear evidence that that Lieberman gained slightly over the last week of the campaign:

Three quarters of voters said they made their mind up about which candidate to support a while ago -- in the last month or even earlier, and those voters went for Lamont. But the race appears to have tightened in the last few days, and Lieberman ran ahead of Lamont among the 16% of voters who made their mind up in the last three days.


[Click the table for a slightly bigger, less fuzzy version]

Such a late trend does make a certain amount of sense:  A disproportionate share of the late deciding voters -- probably including a lot of women, conservative/moderate Dems,
etc.  -- flirted with the possibility of voting for Lamont but in the end
came returned to what was (for them) a safer, more familiar choice.