05/08/2013 04:42 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

POLLSTER UPDATE: McAuliffe, Cuccinelli Running Close In Virginia


Pollsters missed the South Carolina special election outcome by a mile. So...on to Virginia! And Pew Research confirms that off-year turnout advantages aside, Republicans continue to face an image deficit against Obama and the Democrats. This is the HuffPost Pollster update for Wednesday, May 8, 2013.

NBC/MARIST FINDS CLOSE RACE IN VA - A new NBC News/Marist Poll of Virginia voters finds Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe "locked in a close contest." Democrat McAuliffe runs two points higher (43 to 41 percent) among all of Virginia's registered voters, while Cuccinelli has a "slight edge" among the narrower subgroup of "likely voters," which NBC's First Read says is "not always the best way to measure a contest this far out." More: "Good news for McAuliffe: It's early, he has room to grow, and the GOP's fav/unfav is way upside down in the state… The bad news for him: The poll doesn't show Cuccinelli with an ideological problem just yet...Per the poll, 27% say he's too conservative, but a plurality of 39% think his ideology is just right. By comparison, 28% see McAuliffe as too liberal, and 33% say he's just right." [First Read]

Cuccinelli leads on Post poll - The Republican does better in a Washington Post poll published on Sunday, and conducted over nearly identical dates -- he has a three-point edge among all registered voters and a 10 point lead among those classified as likely to vote. McAuliffe's support is roughly comparable on both surveys, while Cuccinelli's numbers are is slightly higher on the Post poll. That difference may simply reflect a harder "push" for an answer from the Post's interviewers, combined with Cuccinelli's slightly better name recognition. On the Marist poll, more of Virginia's registered voters were able to rate Cuccinelli (69 percent) than McAuliffe (56 percent). On the Post poll, 47 percent said they knew "a lot" or "a fair amount" about Cuccinelli compared to just 30 percent who said the same about McAuliffe. [WaPost, Marist]


The Democrats' off-year 'likely voter' problem - Narrowing the samples to those "likely to vote" has precisely the same effect in both surveys, boosting Cuccinelli's standing by a net five percentage points; "Welcome to a non-presidential election year in the age of Obama," writes TNR's Nate Cohn, who also notes McAuliffe's relatively low support (69 percent) among African Americans on the Post poll: "[I]n the end [he] will win at least 85 percent of black voters, if not more...But the large number of undecided non-white voters might be a sign of McAuliffe's real problem: low minority turnout in a non-presidential election." McAuliffe's black support in the Marist poll is a nearly identical 70 percent. [TNR]

@ForecasterEnten: "I wudn't take too much from VA polls. ATP [at this point] in 05, Kilgore led by 4-10 pts. Lost by 6. ATP in 09, McDonnell led by 5, won by 17." [Twitter]

WHAT HAPPENED IN SC-01? In the two months before South Carolina's special election, just five polls were publicly released. All but one showed a close race, with margins ranging from a one-point edge for Republican Mark Sanford to a 3-point advantage for Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch. One poll, fielded two weeks before election day, showed the Democrat leading by nine points. But when all precincts were counted on Tuesday, the unofficial tally shows Sanford winning by 9 percentage points (54 to 45 percent). [HuffPost]

-Democratic pollster Mark Mellman: "SC1 big reminder of danger of bad polling...all off 8 to 18 points here...caveat emptor ...for non Latin speakers...some polls suck." [Twitter]

A usually big miss - Public polls on U.S. House races are generally less accurate than those on statewide or presidential elections, and off-year special elections come with the extra challenge of unusual and often hard to predict turnout patterns. But as the Guardian's Harry Enten notes, the last three public polls -- two by the Democratic affiliated firm Public Policy Polling (PPP) and one by a conservative newcomer, the website Red Racing Horses -- "have joined the top 10 least accurate polls within two weeks of a special election, since 2004. PPP's first poll was especially bad. It had an error of 18pt, which makes it the second least accurate poll taken two weeks before a special election since 2004." [Guardian]

Our take - It's easy to jump on PPP's second-to-last survey, but the race was clearly problematic for all the pollsters involved. Sources within both campaigns told Pollster that their internal surveys showed a close race throughout, usually tipping slightly to Colbert Busch. Daily Kos' David Jarman reported on Tuesday that in the final PPP poll, the 10 percent that remained undecided reported voting for Romney over Obama in 2012 by a 59 to 25 percent margin. That result suggests a problem that may have been chronic: Republican voters who would never support a Democrat like Colbert Busch were reluctant to declare their support -- and perhaps were reluctant to be interviewed -- given their discomfort with Sanford's notorious personal issues. [Daily Kos]

The now-infamous PPP poll showing a 9-point lead Colbert Busch lead -- based on a sample that PPP characterized at the time as light on Republicans -- may have measured something real about Republican enthusiasm hitting a low ebb. It came on the heels of both a trespassing complaint filed by Sanford's ex-wife and the National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC) publicly withdrawing its financial support. The issue here, just as with national polls in early October 2012, is whether that enthusiasm gap should have been considered predictive of turnout. Or put another way, choosing to hang up on a political poll may not always mean a voter is "planning to just stay at home." [PPP]

-Sean Trende - "It's difficult to divine much significance from special elections." Sanford's victory in a heavily Republican district has "some meaning, albeit very modest...Democrats probably need a wave -- a historically big wave, in fact -- to take back the House in 2014" and "this result isn't consistent with such a wave beginning to form." [RCP]

-Nate Silver - "[O]ne quick-and-dirty estimate is that Mr. Sanford's personal history cost him a net of 13 percentage points...As it happens, this 13-percentage-point penalty almost exactly matches an academic analysis on how much voters hold sex scandals against candidates." [TNR]

GOP STRUGGLES WITH IMAGE, BUT REMAINS ON PAR WITH DEMOCRATS ON KEY ISSUES - Pew Research finds broad unhappiness over Washington gridlock: "President Obama continues to hold a substantial advantage over congressional Republicans in public regard. Obama's job approval is back in positive territory at 51%, after slipping to 47% in March. By comparison, just 22% approve of the job Republican leaders in Congress are doing, among the lowest approval rating for congressional leaders from either party in 20 years....Despite GOP leaders' poor job ratings, the Republican Party runs about even with the Democrats on leading issues such as the economy, immigration and gun control. Overall, 42% say the Republican Party could do the better job dealing with the economy, while 38% say the Democratic Party. The public is similarly divided over which party could better handle gun control policy and immigration policy." [Pew]

The short version The Atlantic's Philip Bump notes that Republicans are less likely than Democrats to approve of their leaders, but more likely to favor their own party on issues like the economy and gun control. His summation: "Democrats are bored with Democrats, independents blame Republicans, and Republicans hate everyone." [Atlantic Wire]

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

-The 2012 Census CPS voting data report to be released today. [@ElectProject]

-Nearly seven in ten New Jersey voters applaud Christie's job performance, 60 percent support his reelection. Marist Poll

-Few Pennsylvania voters back Gov. Tom Corbett for reelection. [Philadelphia Inquirer]

-Half of Americans wants Washington to focus on reducing gun violence and reforming immigration, but 10 other issues rate higher. [Gallup]

-How Asian Americans became a key White House constituency. [WaPost]

-Gallup's economic confidence index matches five-year high. [Gallup]

-David Hill urges fellow Republicans to watch their party image ratings. [The Hill]

-Mark Mellman is underwhelmed by support for repealing Obamacare. [The Hill]

-An NRA survey claims President Obama supports a national gun registry. [Mother Jones]

-Most of "big" data isn't really. [Quartz]

-Having scrapped a mandatory long-form, new results from Canada's National Household survey now come with a disclaimer about non-response error. [The Star]

-For Mothers' Day, a data driven slideshow on modern parenthood. [Pew Research]