Jay Cost | On North Carolina and the State of the Midterm Battle

Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling (PPP) has released a new poll of the North Carolina Senate race, featuring Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan squaring off against Republican state house speaker Thom Tillis, with ostensibly good news for the Democrat: She’s up seven points and expanded on her lead. Their headline: “Hagan continues to grow lead.”

But dig a little deeper and the story is mixed for the Democrat. Hagan’s seven-point lead is due largely to the libertarian candidate, who is polling 8 percent. In no cycle since 1986 has the libertarian pulled more than 3.4 percent in North Carolina; on average the libertarian has won 2.1 percent of the vote. And a deeper dive into PPP’s cross-tabs suggests that a large portion of the libertarian support is actually Republican.

In the head to head match-up, excluding the libertarian, Hagan’s lead is 3 points, which is less than the 4 point lead she posted in their last head-to-head poll. Moreover, she pulls just 42 percent of the vote, a bad spot for any candidate with 90%+ name recognition.

Another complication worth noting: PPP has a peculiar method in the spring and summer months, when they poll “voters.” I do not mean registered voters or likely voters, but people who voted in previous cycles, including presidential ones. This means that they are inevitably sampling an electorate that is much broader than what we will see in November. Turnout in 2012 was 60.2 percent of the voting age population in North Carolina; in 2010 it was 36.4 percent. I know of no other pollster that uses this methodology.

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