Monday, October 18, 2010

A Tale of Two Internals

More than two weeks ago Chip Cravaack's campaign released an internal poll showing him 3 points behind Jim Oberstar, 45-42. This put not only the CD8 race on Republicans radar, but next door in CD7 they assumed Colin Peterson must be vulnerable too. In response to the increasing chatter about weather he was in a tight race or not Peterson's campaign released an internal poll of their own showing him wiping the floor with Lee Byberg 54-20.

Not only can we learn something from these two polls, but how the series of events unfolded is also of educational value.

The Public Opinion Strategies poll released by Cravaack was criticized by the Oberstar campaign, and most of the left-leaning blogosphere, as being a push poll. It's worth noting however that Neil Newhouse, a POS spokesperson, denied this to MPR, stating:

We certainly ask a couple of issue questions about the congressman based on his record, but we certainly did not ask any questions before the ballot test that would bias in any way the numbers that I've given you.

POS is a Republican pollster and they don't have a terribly great track record, but I'm going to to take them at their word that they asked the ballot sample questions first and treat the results that way. There are certainly reason's why the Cravaack campaign would put their finger on the scale, so to speak, but that will be discussed later.

That being said it's still an internal poll. We don't know how many of these have been commissioned, what those polls showed, what the trend lines are, what the partisan composition is, nothing other then the top lines. It's entirely possible that they have four other polls sitting around showing a much larger Oberstar lead and that this poll was the outlier they were looking for.

Additionally Nate Silver has found internal polls to overstate support for the candidate who commissioned it by about 6 points. This makes sense not because internal polls are less accurate, but rather only the ones favorable to the candidates releasing it tend to get released. You have to figure that for every internal that gets released there is at least one sitting around showing less favorable results.

Incumbents who get over 60% of the vote rarely lose re-election and Jim Oberstar has passed the 60% mark in every election he's run in the last ten years, finding himself as low as 63% against Rod Grams in 2006. While CD8 is only a D+3 district, Jim Oberstar has dominated it so for him to now be getting less than 50% support would require a shift of incredibly dramatic proportions.

The poll released by the Peterson campaign is much more straight forward, since it's an internal all of those same caveats apply as before but since the margin of the poll is so lopsided it's unlikely any of that matters. If the partisan ID is a little weird, or it's the best of a few polls isn't going to make much of a difference when one candidate is up by 34 points.

I do think that the series of events surrounding these polls can shed some light on the state of these races though. Clearly the reason for Chip Cravaack's campaign to release that poll was for fundraising, Jim Oberstar has a commanding cash-on-hand advantage and they desperately needed to do something to close that gap and with Michele Bachmann and Randy Demmer's campaigns soaking up a lot of that cash this was their best bet.

It seems to have worked in that regard, but the downside to this strategy is that if your opponent was overlooking you, they won't be anymore. In the 2009 Massachusetts special election Scott Brown had an internal poll showing him down by only nine points, this was way before anyone thought he could win that race. Their campaign sat on that poll, preferring to let Martha Coakley think she could cakewalk to the finish line. Of course, Scott Brown had no problems fundraising for that campaign and so there wasn't a need to release that poll for those reasons.

Not too worry though, was the thinking, Jim Oberstar would soon release his own internal poll showing a more realistic result. That still hasn't happened. Colin Peterson released an internal almost immediately after chatter about his race possibly being tight because of the CD8 poll. This is usually what an incumbent does, they squash chatter of a tight race as soon as it pops up, because chatter begets chatter. Instead you have Cravaack releasing a poll and Peterson responding to it and they are not even running against each other.

1 comment:

  1. You mean we can't just take these polls at face value? The campaigns put up these results in the INTERNET, for crying out loud.