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Sunday, October 30, 2005

VA-Gov: Big Mo' for Kaine in WaPo Poll

Posted by DavidNYC

I always like to wake up to news like this on a Sunday morning (or afternoon, as the case may be). The Washington Post has a new poll out on the VA Gov race, and it's good news for Tim Kaine (likely voters, early Sept. in parens):

Kaine: 47 (44)
Kilgore: 44 (51)
Potts: 4 (4)
Undecided: 5 (2)
(MoE: ±3%)

Now, on one hand, it's been a long time since the WaPo has polled this race (why so lazy, guys?). But on the other hand, this poll has a big sample size and in fact has an MoE a full point lower than the last poll. And I don't think it's an outlier, either, because the race has undoubtedly tightened a lot and a bunch of recent polls have been giving Kaine small leads of late.

The bottom line is that the WaPo shows Kilgore nose-diving a full 10 points in some six weeks. The Kilgore campaign surely must be suffering from some agita right now. A couple points, though. First is that the WaPo claims that Kilgore's obscene death penalty ads backfired on him - 65% of those surveyed said they thought the ads were unfair. However, it's impossible to know how much of an effect those ads had, because the WaPo didn't ask a simple question: "Did these ads makes you more or less likely to vote for Jerry Kilgore." I'd like to believe the ad campaign backfired, but then again, there are people who, when polled, say that litterbugs should get the death penalty. How you feel about something isn't as important as how important that thing is to you.

The other observation (not mine) is more unsettling. Unnamed Dems in VA (grr, could you really not go on record about this?) are saying that Kaine has to be up at least 5 in the polls by election day in order to win. They point out that Mark Warner was up by 10 points in many polls right before he was elected in 2001, but only won by 5. I decided to check this claim out, and it's only sorta true. Here are all the independent polls I could find in the last month of the race:

11/1 Times-Dispatch +13
10/30 Mason-Dixon +6
10/30 Roanoke +9
10/25 WaPo +10
10/17 Mason-Dixon +3

I pulled this data together from the subscriber's section of Polling Report and the National Journal, so it should be pretty comprehensive. Anyhow, there are two conclusions you can draw from this. One is that Mark Warner was hitting above his weight and somehow crashed down from 5 to 8 points by election day. The other is that Mason-Dixon was a lot more accurate than the other pollsters.

Hard to know which view is right. In 1997, Republican Jim Gilmore beat Democrat Don Beyer by a hefty 13 points. Mason-Dixon's last poll that year showed Gilmore with a nine-point lead, so they were about 50% off the final tally. However, they did seem to sense a huge late Gilmore surge - their prior poll had him at +7, and the poll before that (taken at the beginning of October) showed the race tied. All of M-D's earlier polls also showed a one-or-two point gap. (This info is all taken from the National Journal.)

On the flip-side, two of the pollsters who got the 2001 race so wrong were much more accurate in 1997. Roanoke had Gilmore at +12, as did the Times-Dispatch. The WaPo only had Gilmore at +7, which makes you wonder: If they were so off for two VA Gov races in a row, maybe we shouldn't be paying them too much attention this time around, either. (The key difference this year is that there are no outliers at all.)

So where does this leave us? We can say that Mason-Dixon was pretty much spot-on in 2001 and got things sorta-right in 1997. We can say that the Times-Dispatch and Roanoke College were good in 1997 but had an off-year in 2001. And the Wapo - well, we've already complained about them. So whom to believe?

If you were paying attention to M-D last time around, then this CW that Kaine needs a five-point buffer is bunk. M-D showed Warner up 6, he won by 5 - pretty good. But if you think M-D just got lucky, and you think Warner truly did collapse from his Roanoke/Times-Dispatch/WaPo highs, then here's one very, very salient factor for you:

Bush currently has a 41-56 approval rating in Virginia. I don't have state approval ratings for George Bush in 2001, but his nationwide approval had hit 90% right after 9/11. If any voters were going into their polling places undecided that year, Bush's utterly untarnished halo would probably have been the deciding factor.

This year, of course, no dice. Bush may have dragged Warner down 5 points last time, but there's no way he's doing the same to Kaine this time. If anything, he'll drag Kilgore down a bit. So I'm cautiously optimistic.

(Thanks to reader UVA08.)

Posted at 02:37 PM in 2005 Elections, Virginia | Technorati

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"The bottom line is that the WaPo shows Kaine nose-diving a full 10 points in some six weeks."

I think you meant that it shows KILGORE nosediving 10 points, yes?

Posted by: Charles Gaba [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 30, 2005 05:21 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

Gah! Thanks, Charles!

Posted by: DavidNYC [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 30, 2005 05:32 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

The reason why any Dem needs to be up by 5 to win is that voter supression and election fraud will push the race towards the GOP in most states by about 5 points.

See Georgia (Max Cleland), Florida 2004, Ohio 2004, New Mexico 2004, ect ect ect.

Posted by: Jared86 [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 30, 2005 06:44 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

Good analysis David. Polling at this stage in the race is very tricky. In any case, I'd rather see Kaine up by at least an average of 5 points on election night to be on the safe side. I pray Dems in Virginia put up a strong and unprecendented fight with their GOTV(get out the vote) efforts.

Posted by: purpleday [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 30, 2005 08:16 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

Speaking as a relatively new Virginian, I figured the "5-point buffer" was a way of dealing with the VA GOP's superior GOTV machine. I imagine the base is more ornery then they were in 2001 (or 1997, or 1993, or ...), but they've still got a top-shelf operation and Mehlman is encouraging Maryland Republicans to come into the state to help out.

I know Kaine got a big cash infusion early on from Dean's DNC (which Kilgore of course tried and failed to make an issue, Dean being a wacky librul and all), and everyone I know here has been getting emails from the campaign to help organize lit drops and e-day car pools. So hopefully this'll be the year Democrats beat the spread.

Posted by: Gary Johnston [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 30, 2005 10:53 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

It's an off election year- in that other positions other than state wide positions aren't up for election such as presidential and congressional races. This is probably why the spread, and turn out are factors.

Posted by: bruhrabbit [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 30, 2005 11:16 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

The points raised by Gary and Bruh are good ones. However, the VA GOP can't consistently claim an ability to close 5-point gaps every gov-year election just through awesome GOTV. There are often broader trends at play, and I think this year (and hopefully next year) will see them in action.

The trend, of course, as I state in my post, is Bush's plummeting approval and general disgust with Republicans. This necessarily has to hurt the VA GOP.

Put another way: Even in the best of times, with Bush at Jesus-level approval ratings right after 9/11, the VA GOP could only close the gap by 5 points (assuming you don't believe Mason-Dixon). How could they do that well again this year, given how shittily their party is faring?

I'm not saying I think Kaine will definitely win - no, this will definitely be a nail-biter. But the GOP is a lot weaker now than 4 years ago, for certain.

Posted by: DavidNYC [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 31, 2005 12:26 AM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment


In the short term, for this election year, I think you are right. Bush's numbers are clearly hurting the Republicans running races. However, a caution that I have been saying all over the place, I hope Democrats are not depending on low Republican numbers in 2006. I believe this as the focus on strategy is a mistake. We hopefully will be using this downward turn as an opportunity to do more of what Reid is doing- namely brand the Republicans. He has done it in two ways in just this week alone: a) trying to redefine the S Ct debate as one of right wing extremists and b) calling for the resignation off Karl Rove (regardless of indictment). For me, I think no better example exists for the parralels of Democrats assuming low polling numbers in one year will effect another then Michael Bloomberg. Two years ago- as someone just reminded me- his polling numbers were at historica lows, and even by the time of the Democratic primary he had reversed this trend. Also, despite VA being conservative- just to return to that- it is a state that has regularly elected Democratic governors in a trendline not fitting with what it has done in terms of Presidential and congressional elections.

Posted by: bruhrabbit [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 31, 2005 12:34 AM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment