Monday, May 03, 2010


Specter/Sestak: Do the I(VR)s Have It?

Is Joe Sestak closing the gap between Arlen Specter and himself through television ads, or was the race always close?

About a month ago three polls conducted for the 2010 Pennsylvania Democratic Senatorial primary were released within a week of each other, and they all showed vastly different results. Quinnipiac had Specter leading Sestak by 21%, Susquehanna by 14%, and Rasmussen by 2%. This past Saturday I tweeted "IVR polling was much more accurate in 04 Rep primary with Specter v. Toomey... Does this mean Ras[mussen] is right?" The tweet spoke to something I noticed two weeks ago when referencing back to polling on the 2004 Republican Senatorial Primary in Pennsylvania. In that contest, then Republican Arlen Specter just escaped a strong challenge from now Republican nominee Pat Toomey. In the final month of that contest, automated phone polls conducted by SurveyUSA showed at times a much closer race than live interviewer polls done by Quinnipiac and Franklin and Marshall.

Three weeks to a month before the 2004 primary, Quinnipiac had Specter up by 15% and Franklin and Marshall by a nearly identical 13%, but SurveyUSA had him up by only 6%. Then 10 days before the primary, all the pollsters agreed that Toomey was only 5-6% behind. On the eve of the primary, Quinnipiac gave Specter a 6% lead, but SurveyUSA saw a 48-48% tie. On election day, Specter won by only 1.5%.

Today, as we stand two weeks before the 2010 Democratic Senatorial Primary, a new live-interviewer poll from Muhlenberg College paints a much closer race than previous live interviewer polls. Like the live interviewer polls taken around this point in 2004, Specter has a 6% lead over his opponent. This result is close to the Rasmussen poll released about three weeks ago.

Why was the automated phone polling right in 2004 and looks to be onto something in 2010? It could have to do with the tighter likely voter screen automated phone polling usually uses. Base voters (who would have favored a challenge from the right by Toomey in 2004 and Sestak in 2010) are the voters who are most likely to actually vote. It is the reason that both the Keystone and SurveyUSA polls found Toomey performing 5+% better 2004 when applying stricter voter screens. It should also be noted that base voters are also more firmly committed to their candidate, which even the Quinnipiac poll, that gave Specter a 21% lead over Sestak, showed.

The bottom line is I think this election is probably going to be a close one, and Specter better hope for a healthy turnout.

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