A new survey show the independent candidate leading in Kansas. A Democratic pollster defends outlier results favoring his client in Kentucky. And the AP poll says it's still the economy, stupid. This is HuffPollster for Thursday, October 2, 2014.
ORMAN LEADS IN KANSAS - HuffPollster: "A Wednesday poll conducted by Suffolk University for USA Today finds independent Greg Orman leading embattled Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), 46 percent to 41 percent, in a Kansas race that could determine control of the U.S. Senate. The results echo that of other polling conducted after Democrat Chad Taylor dropped out of the race and successfully sued to have his name removed from the ballot. A Kansas court ruled unanimously on Wednesday that Democrats don't need to field another candidate in his place. With Taylor off the ballot, theSuffolk/USA Today poll finds, 82 percent of Democrats back Orman. Independents also lean slightly toward Orman, giving him 43 percent to Roberts' 38 percent. Sixty-one percent of Republicans support Roberts, while 30 percent said they prefer Orman. As USA Today's Susan Page notes, the small cadre of voters who remain undecided or who back the libertarian, Randall Batson, split down the middle when pushed to choose between Orman and Roberts." The Pollster tracking model, whose current estimate draw mostly from polls conducted since Taylor exited the race, gives Orman a slightly narrower 3 percentage point advantage, as of this writing. [Kansas chart, HuffPost]
And if Orman wins? - Orman says that he will caucus with whatever party holds the majority. As of this writing, the overall Pollster forecast shows Republicans with very narrow advantages in four key Senate battlegrounds currently held by Democrats -- Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado and Iowa -- that would give them a majority of 52 Senate seats, assuming Republicans also prevail in contests where they are farther ahead. If that happens, an Orman win would simply add another seat to their majority. The current polling margins are so close, however, that the overall probability of a Republican majority stands at 58 percent as of this writing, barely better than a coin toss. And the model also sees 12 percent chance that Orman could win in a scenario where he would determine whether Democrats or Republicans control the Senate, should Republicans win just enough contests to gain 50 seats. [HuffPost Senate Forecast]
Other new polls:
Wisconsin governor - The latest Marquette Law School poll found Gov. Scott Walker (R) with a 5-point lead over challenger Mary Burke (D), his best showing on a Marquette poll since they switched to a likely voter model in May. While data on the race continues to vary, the race seems unquestionably close, with no surveys since April showing a margin of more than 5 points between the two candidates. The Pollster model gives Walker a 2 point edge and a 56 percent chance of winning. [Wisconsin chart, Marquette]
Texas governor - A Texas Lyceum poll gave Greg Abbott (R) a 9-point lead over Wendy Davis (D), virtually unchanged from their last survey a year ago. While recent polling on the race has been relatively scarce, there's little evidence that it will be competitive, with even Davis' internal polling showing her trailing by 8 points. Other surveys have her down by double digits. The Pollster model gives Abbott a 12-point lead and a more than 93 percent chance of winning. [Texas chart, Texas Lyceum]
New Hampshire Senate - A new automated telephone poll by New England College showed a tie, with Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Republican challenger Scott Brown getting 47 percent each, narrowing from the seven point margin they gave Shaheen a week earlier. Recent surveys in New Hampshire have shown a closer race as Brown has gained support, although 11 of 14 polls conducted in September had Shaheen at least nominally ahead. The Pollster tracking model puts Shaheen's current lead lead at just over 3 percentage points with a 61 percent chance of prevailing in November. [Pollster New Hampshire chart, NEC]
Colorado Senate - Rasmussen released a poll showing Cory Gardner (R) effectively tied with Sen. Mark Udall (D), 48 percent to 47 percent. While the past five surveys of the race all give Gardner at least a marginal edge, they differ on the size -- Suffolk/USA also found Gardner up 1 and a sponsored PPP (D) poll had him up 2, while polls by Quinnipiac and Gravis Marketing had the Republican ahead by 8 and 7 points, respectively. The Pollster model gives Gardner an edge of just over 1 point, and a 55 percent chance of winning the race. [Colorado chart, Rasmussen]
Kentucky Senate - The campaign of Democratic Senate challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes released an internal poll Wednesday showing her with a 2-percentage point edge over Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell (42 to 40 percent). The survey of 1,800 likely voters, which sampled from official registration lists, was conducted by pollster Mark Mellman. With the exception of another Grimes internal poll fielded by Mellman in early September, every other publicly released poll on the Kentucky Senate race since late July has shown McConnell leading by margins ranging from 2 to 10 percent. The current Pollster average, which places lesser weight on polls with partisan sponsorship, gives McConnell a lead of roughly five percentage points (48.0 to 43.1 percent as of this writing) and a 67 percent chance of winning in November. [Kentucky chart, Politico, Mellman memo]
How credible? - Given the contrast with other public data, and the record of selective release of internal polling that shows a consistent bias favoring sponsoring candidate, some rolled their eyes. "I am 6'7" and can dunk, according to an internal poll I conducted," tweeted Scott Conroy of RealClearPolitics. Mellman's recent record, however, should at least give observers pause. His internal polls for Sen. Harry Reid in Nevada in 2010 showed him leading a race he would go on to win while nearly all public polls showed the Majority leader trailing. Something similar transpired in North Dakota in 2012, when publicly released Mellman polls showed client Heidi Heitkamp leading the race she would win narrowly, while well known public polls showed her trailing by 2 to 10 percentage points. [@RealClearScott, See also [HuffPost on Nevada 2010], North Dakota 2012 chart]
Big undecided? - Even some Democratic partisans saw a flaw in the large number of undecided voters (16 percent) in Mellman's survey, compared to other public polls that have the number in single digits. "[T]here are a ton of undecideds," wrote DailyKos' David Nir, "which are likely to be the death knell of a Democrat seeking federal office in dark red Kentucky." [DailyKos]
Mellman rejects that argument, telling HuffPollster on Thursday, "The undecideds are in no way disproportionately Republican." He also defended the seemingly high undecided percentage via email as "not really a lot given that over the years 10-15% make up their minds on president in last week....and given the nature of this race....Well known disliked incumbent who people don't want to vote for and less well known challenger who people are just getting to know."
ECONOMY REMAINS TOP ISSUE - Jennifer Agiesta: "It's not Obamacare or climate change. It's not yet terrorism or fear of the Islamic State group. Those issues are on the minds of voters as they begin casting ballots in this year's midterm elections, but nothing matters to American voters as much the economy. In a new Associated Press-GfK poll released Wednesday, 9 in 10 of those most likely to go to the polls or mail in a ballot in this year's midterm elections call the economy an extremely or very important issue….Few see change coming once voting closes Nov. 4. A majority of likely voters, 52 percent, expect the Democratic Party to retain control of the Senate, with 68 percent saying the GOP will keep the House….In their own districts, those surveyed are evenly split: 33 percent back a Democratic candidate, 33 percent a Republican, 10 percent another candidate and 23 percent are undecided." [AP]
MANY WORRY AIRSTRIKES AGAINST ISIS NOT ENOUGH - Dana Blanton: "The country decisively endorses the military action being taken against ISIS: a large 78-percent majority approves of U.S. airstrikes. That includes more than 7 in 10 independents and Democrats, and more than 8 in 10 Republicans….At the same time, more than twice as many voters believe defeating ISIS will take ground troops as opposed to airstrikes alone (57-24 percent). The number saying it will require combat troops is up six percentage points from 51 percent earlier this month (September 7-9). Moreover, by a 52-42 percent margin, voters favor adding ground troops if airstrikes aren’t enough to defeat ISIS." [Fox]
Another poll finds similar results, but less support for ground troops - Kathy Frankovic: "The latest Economist/YouGov Poll finds support for air strikes against ISIS wherever they are aimed: within the boundaries or Iraq or within Syria. This is something for which there is bipartisan support. Although in recent years Republicans have taken the lead in favoring some military interventions, Americans of both parties have been in favor when it comes to these particular air strikes. But Americans are not at all sure those air strikes will work. They continue to oppose sending ground troops into Iraq and Syria, but many aren’t sure that air strikes alone will be effective in fighting ISIS….Just about half of those who now oppose sending in ground troops leave the door open to the possibility, agreeing that the United States should 'keep the option open.'...The president has made some gains – at least when it comes to his handling of Iraq. At 44%, approval is at the highest level since YouGov returned to asking the question this summer." [YouGov]
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THURSDAY'S 'OUTLIERS' - Links to the best of news at the intersection of polling, politics and political data:
-Ann Selzer explains why findings on the edge of statistical significance shouldn't be called a "statistical dead heat." [Des Moines Register]
-Markos Moulitsas worries that election forecasting models are at the mercy of increasingly noisy poll data. [The Hill]
-Christopher Ingraham looks at why Democratic candidates keep talking about climate change. [WashPost]
-Paul Donaldson (R) examines why Americans have been more likely to support military action against ISIS than in other recent conflicts. [POS]
-Gary Segura and Matt Baretto talk about the politics of the booming Latino population. [WBUR]
-Batya Ungar-Sargon and Andrew Flowers look into how residency requirements affect the racial disparities between police forces and the cities they protect. 
-Can people be convinced to share personal information in exchange for (actual) cookies? Yep. [ProPublica]