Republicans get good polling news in Alaska and the other Senate battlegrounds. Pat Roberts sees some better numbers in Kansas. And even by midterm standards, 2014 turnout may be "meh." This is HuffPollster for Thursday, October 9, 2014.
REPUBLICAN LEADS IN ALASKA - Until Wednesday, the roughly two dozen previous polls on the Alaska Senate race had included not one survey that with non-partisan sponsorship that used live interviewers. Now we have two.
A new Fox News poll released Wednesday night shows Republican challenger Dan Sullivan leading Democratic Sen. Mark Begich by a 4-point margin (44 to 40 percent), and a new CNN/ORC International poll, published on Thursday morning, gives Sullivan a six point lead (50 to 44 percent). [Fox NewsCNN]
Sullivan has been ahead by 2 to 6 points in four other recent Alaska polls, although internal surveys released by the Begich campaign had given their candidate an advantage in late August and early September. The Pollster tracking model. based on all public polling data now shows Alaska leaning Republican. It gives Sullivan lead of just over 4 percentage points, and rates his probability of victory at 64 percent. [Alaska chart]
FOX POLLS: GOOD NEWS FOR GOP - The Alaska poll was one of five surveys Fox News released on Wednesday evening, all of which showed Republican candidates leading by margins of four to seven percentage points in key Senate battleground states. In addition to Alaska, Fox also surveyed Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas and Kentucky. While these new polls are among the most encouraging for Republicans in recent weeks, they leave the overall HuffPost Pollster tracking models forecasting roughly the same thing as they did previously. The current polling snapshots gives Republicans slight advantages in enough Senate battlegrounds to add up to a 53-seat majority, but with a lot of uncertainty. [Fox News, Pollster Forecast]
The overall probability of a Republican majority, as of this writing, stands at 55 percent, about where it has been for the last three weeks -- slightly better than a coin flip in Republicans favor. Since September 18, our forecast has put that probability at an average of 56 percent, (ranging between 51 and 60). So while the polling snapshot points to a GOP majority in the Senate, the potential for late shifts and polling errors still leaves a great deal of uncertainty about the outcome.
Noted on Twitter:
Nate Cohn: "One interesting thing about these Fox polls is that they're sampling from the voter file, not a traditional RDD survey. (I like vtr file)" [@Nate_Cohn]
Stephen Wolf (D): "Judging by the margins of error Fox gives in the poll memos it seems like their samples are too elderly, potentially 75-80% over age 45" [@StephenWolfUNC]
KANSAS: Roberts has a good polling day - HuffPollster: "After weeks of polling showing independent Greg Orman leading the Kansas race for U.S. Senate, two surveys released Wednesday show better news for embattled Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas). A CNN/ORC poll has the race effectively tied, with Roberts taking 49 percent, to Orman's 48 percent. A Fox News poll finds Roberts ahead, 44 percent to 39 percent…Data on the Kansas Senate race is something of a mixed bag. Of the eight most recent surveys, five show Orman up by 5 points or more, one has Roberts leading, and two find the race nearly tied...HuffPost Pollster's polling model currently finds the race a tossup, with Orman and Roberts equally likely to win." [HuffPost]
-Harry Enten: "The electorate in Kansas is unusually fluid for such a competitive race. We’re only a month into this campaign, and the race is still developing. We can see this by looking at the Marist poll. Only 43 percent of Kansas voters strongly supported their preferred candidate in Kansas. In Kansas’s gubernatorial race, it’s 55 percent. In Iowa’s Senate race, which Marist polled at the same time as the Kansas election, 57 percent of voters strongly supported their choice. In North Carolina’s Senate race, it’s 50 percent of voters." 
Some highlights from other new polls
Colorado Senate - Fox's polling in Colorado gives Republican Cory Gardner a 6-point lead over Sen. Mark Udall (D), higher than the majority of other surveys, which largely show the race as remaining close. One other recent live phone poll, from Quinnipiac University in mid-September, had findings similar to the Fox poll, with Gardner also leading by 6 points. The Pollster model gives Gardner an edge of less than 2 points. [Colorado chart]
North Carolina Senate - Sen. Kay Hagan (D) now holds a 15-poll streak of leading challenger Thom Tillis, albeit sometimes by razor-thin margins. The two newest surveys, from Suffolk/USA Today and Rasmussen, both give her a 2-point edge. The Pollster model finds the race hovering on the edge between a tossup and leaning Democratic, giving Hagan a nearly 4-point lead and just over a 60 percent chance of winning. [North Carolina chart]
OBAMA A 'DRIVING FORCE?' - CBS News: "Although he is not on the ballot this year, President Obama remains a motivating force for some voters, and voters are more apt to say theirs will be a vote against Mr. Obama rather than a vote for him, according to a new CBS News poll. More than half of Republicans, who overwhelmingly disapprove of the president, will be voting against the president. Just before the midterm elections in President George W. Bush's second term, similar percentages of voters claimed he was a factor in their vote choice. With just under a month until Election Day, Republicans maintain their lead in the generic ballot contest for the House vote. If the election were held today, Republicans hold a six point lead among likely voters in a national vote for their House representative (46 percent to 40 percent) - similar to results last month, when the Republicans had a seven point lead." [CBS]
TURNOUT COULD BE LOWER THAN PAST TWO MIDTERMS - Jeffrey M. Jones: "Turnout in the midterm elections this fall could be lower than in the past two midterm elections, based on current voter engagement. On each of three indicators of voter engagement in midterm elections -- how much thought Americans have given to them, their expressed motivation to vote, and their enthusiasm about voting compared with past elections -- 2014 looks more like lower-turnout years 1998 and 2002 than higher-turnout years 2006 and 2010….Usually, Republicans vote at higher rates than Democrats, and this is evident in higher scores for Republicans than for Democrats on the voter engagement questions, including this year. In fact, the Republican advantages on each of the three turnout measures at this point approach what Gallup measured in the strong GOP year of 2010 rather than in other midterm election years. As a result, even if overall turnout is depressed compared with prior years, Republicans appear poised to turn out in greater numbers than Democrats." [Gallup]
A 'meh' midterm - Seth Motel: "Midterm elections rarely excite the general public, but 2014 is shaping up to be an especially underwhelming cycle for many Americans. With about a month remaining in the congressional races, 15% are very closely following news about the midterms — down from similar periods before the elections in 2010 (25%) and 2006 (21%)....As Pew Research has tracked midterm news interest throughout the year, attention to the elections consistently has lagged behind what it was four years ago. In eight surveys this year, news interest in the midterms has never topped 16% in a given week." [Pew Research]
But higher in battlegrounds? - Election turnout guru Michael McDonald: ""national numbers due to lack of competitive statewide races in largest states, turnout will still be high in key races"
CBS ALSO FINDS LOW SUPPORT FOR OBAMA'S HANDLING OF ISIS - Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Anthony Salvanto and Fred Backus: "President Obama continues to receive negative ratings for his handling of the situation with ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria. Forty percent approve of the job the President is doing on ISIS, but more (51 percent) disapprove. In September, the split was 39 percent approval, 48 percent disapproval. A month ahead of the midterm elections, Republicans hold a large advantage on the issue of terrorism -- as they did in September. Fifty-three percent of voters think the Republican Party will do a better job dealing with terrorism, while far fewer - 32 percent - pick the Democrats." [CBS]
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THURSDAY'S 'OUTLIERS' - Links to the best of news at the intersection of polling, politics and political data:
-Americans remain more likely to say the ACA has hurt than helped them. [Gallup]
-Sean Trende takes a look back at Kansas' political history. [RCP]
-NBC partners with SurveyMonkey for a poll on Ebola. [NBC]
-Micah Roberts (R) says the president made a mistake by saying his policies were on the ballot. [POS]
-Talking Points Memo's Daniel Strauss talks with AoSHQ's Jeff Blehar [Bloggingheads]
-George Gallup wrote a prescient 1928 thesis on the future of news. [Atlantic]