POLITICS
10/08/2014 09:13 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

HUFFPOLLSTER: Don't Count On This Year's Elections Ending In November

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Five states offer reasons not to stay up late on November 4. Gubernatorial races in Connecticut and Massachusetts continue to look like nailbiters. And Americans are increasingly concerned about Ebola, but most still don't think they're personally at risk. This is HuffPollster for Wednesday, October 8, 2014.

Politicos expecting to take a break in November shouldn't relax just yet. That's the message lurking in the current polling on the battle for the U.S. Senate. Thanks to a set of potential run-off elections and surging independent candidacies, control of the Senate may not be decided until December or possibly January.

Most of the election forecasts, including the HuffPost Pollster poll tracking model, currently point to Republicans winning a 52 or 53 seat majority, though with limited statistical confidence (HuffPost's Senate forecast currently rates the probability of a Republican majority at 54 percent, barely better than a coin toss). That said, a series of factors are poised to combine that could delay resolution of the Senate battle until long after Election Day.

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The most important is the strong likelihood of a runoff election in Louisiana on December 6. That state's upcoming November election is actually an open primary, featuring all candidates from all parties. If no candidate wins a majority of the vote (or "50 percent plus 1"), the top two finishers will face each other in the runoff election. Polls on the primary contest have consistently given Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) a modest lead over Republican front-runner Bill Cassidy (roughly 40 to 33 percent according to the latest HuffPost Pollster estimate), but other contenders, including another Republican Rob Maness, are drawing enough support (14 percent) that a December runoff between Landrieu and Cassidy is a near certainty.

Another potential factor is Georgia, which will require a runoff election on January 6 if no candidate receives a majority of votes cast in that state's general election on Nov. 4. Most Georgia polls have given Republican David Perdue a narrow advantage over Democrat Michelle Nunn, including a new survey released on Tuesday by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling showing Perdue leading by just two percentage points (45 to 43 percent). The HuffPost Pollster tracking model for Georgia gives Perdue a lead of just over 4 percentage points as of this writing (45.9 to 41.7 percent). However, it also estimates support for Libertarian candidate Amanda Swafford at 4.1 percent, who could benefit from what Time describes) as "Georgia's strong Libertarian history". If Swafford's current support holds, Perdue's current polling margin against Nunn would translate to almost exactly 50 percent of the vote, so the potential for a run-off there is very real.

The Republican candidates appear to be slight favorites in in runoff elections in both states -- most Louisiana polls have given Cassidy nominal leads in a two-way match-up against Landrieu that translates to a nearly five percentage point advantage in the Pollster tracking model. If Republicans win enough contests elsewhere on Nov. 4 to assure at least 51 seats elsewhere, then the runoff elections in Louisiana and Georgia would not affect GOP control. However, the current polling suggests a strong possibility one or both of those states will be necessary for a Republican majority.

One big reason is Kansas, where another new poll released on Tuesday, conducted by SurveyUSA for KSN-TV in Wichita, gives independent candidate Greg Orman a five percentage point lead over Republican Sen. Pat Roberts. Five of the last six Kansas polls have shown Orman ahead by margins ranging from 5 to 10 percentage points, with a CBS/Times/YouGov online poll finding a tied race. Orman has pledged to caucus with the majority party in the Senate if he wins, but has been noncommittal about his choice in the event that he casts the tie vote, saying that he'll work with "whichever party is willing to actually go to Washington and start trying to solve problems." That potential that Orman could cast the deciding vote is real -- it has a 12 percent probability of transpiring, according to HuffPost's forecast.

South Dakota presents another potential wrinkle. A new SurveyUSA poll there released on Tuesday shows independent candidate and former Republican Sen. Larry Pressler running second to the Republican nominee, former Gov. Mike Rounds, and trailing by just 3 percentage points (32 to 35 percent, with Democrat Rick Weiland at 28 percent). Other polls have found significant support for Pressler but have shown him running third with healthy leads for Rounds. Like Orman, Pressler has refused to say who he will caucus with. As Nate Silver reports, "Pressler endorsed Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012 and has at times implied that he’d refuse to caucus with anybody."

And there's one more thing. Alaska, where polls have shown a close race, has a history of slow vote counting. In 2012, according to data reported by the Associated Press, just 73 percent of the vote had been counted by 6 a.m. the day after the election, with the totals missing absentee, provisional and some hand-counted ballots from remote areas. In the three prior general elections, the share of the vote counted on election night ranged between 68 and 81 percent of votes cast. So if the Alaska outcome is close, it could be days or weeks before a winner is declared.

For weeks, political observers have speculated about the potential that control of the Senate could be determined by just one of these states. Now consider the real possibility that two or more of these wild cards could be in play after Nov. 4. If Orman wins in Kansas and Democrats can prevail in just two of the states that are currently close or leaning Republican (Colorado, Iowa, Arkansas and Alaska), then control of the Senate could come down to the outcome of one more more runoff elections in Louisiana and Georgia and the decisions of at least one independent Senator and possibly more. If you were hoping for resolution on Nov. 4, there's a good chance you'll be disappointed.

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Some other highlights from yesterday's and this morning's polling

Michigan Senate - A handful of new surveys all find the race between Gary Peters (D) and Terri Lynn Land (R) moving more or less solidly into the Democratic camp, with Peters ahead by between 7 and 11 points. The Pollster model now gives him an 88 percent chance of winning. [Michigan chart]

Connecticut governor - Quinnipiac finds a tied race between Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) and challenger Tom Foley (R), a slight improvement from Malloy from their last poll in September. The Pollster model gives each candidate even odds of winning. [Connecticut chart, Quinnipiac]

Massachusetts governor - The latest round of polls, from Boston Globe/Socialsphere, MassINC/WBUR, and UMass Amherst/YouGov all find a close race, although they differ on who's ahead, with the Globe giving Baker a 3-point edge, and the other finding Coakley still in the lead. Coakley, who led the race through the summer, has since seen her numbers drop significantly. [Massachusetts chart]

RISING CONCERNS ABOUT EBOLA - HuffPollster: "Americans are increasingly concerned about the spread of the Ebola virus, but most say they're confident any U.S. outbreak could be contained, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov poll….Forty-one percent say they're "very concerned" that the Ebola outbreak in western Africa could spread to the U.S., up from 28 percent in August. Fully 80 percent are at least somewhat concerned, up from 69 percent in the previous poll. Other surveys confirm rising worry about the disease. Experts say an outbreak in the U.S. is "extraordinarily unlikely" -- a message that seems to have largely gotten across. Despite concerns, a 56 percent majority of Americans say they're confident there won't be a large outbreak of Ebola in the U.S.. That number is down from about two-thirds in August." [HuffPost]

AN EXPERIMENT IN NC FINDS NAME PLACEMENT EFFECT - Joe Killian: "When running for U.S. Senate, it matters who you’re seen with. And where your name appears on the ballot. Those are just two of the findings of a recent online survey conducted by the Elon University Poll….Hagan’s favorability level dropped when respondents were shown photos of her with President Barack Obama. Tillis’ favorability dropped when respondents were shown photos of him with Gov. Pat McCrory. The candidate who is listed second on the ballot picked up 6 percentage points." [News & Record]

-Aaron Strauss (D): "File this under things I don't believe: Being listed second on a ballot helps (?!)" [@aaron_strauss]

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

-Americans' views of President Barack Obama's economic leadership reach a new low. [CNBC]

-The uninsured rate holds at a record low of 13.4 percent. [Gallup]

-Nate Cohn says Georgia may be bluer than it appears. [NYT]

-Mark Mellman (D) argues that most observers are misreading Senate forecasts. [The Hill]

-Daily Kos Politics reviews the latest early vote statistics in Florida, North Carolina and Florida. [DailyKos]

-Mike McDonald sees Republicans starting to overtake Democrats in early vote requests in North Carolina. [@ElectProject]

-Challenger candidates are more likely to win when they spend more, but not incumbents. [NYTimes]

-AAPOR formally launches its Transparency Initiative by inviting applications for formal membership from pollsters. [AAPOR]

-Most NFL fans think Roger Goodell should keep his job. [AP]

-XKCD charts historical trends on interracial and same-sex marriage. [XKCD]

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