The mysteries of Massachusetts polling
Democrats love the results of the latest Boston Globe/ University of New Hampshire poll showing their Senate nominee in Massachusetts, Martha Coakley, up by 15 points. But Republicans are rooting that Public Policy Polling (PPP) has it right: Its poll shows Republican Scott Brown one point ahead of Coakley. If PPP is on target, my friend and colleague Kathleen Parker could prove prophetic in her Sunday column about the special election for Ted Kennedy's seat.
Which poll will prevail? Well, when Nate Silver, the intrepid (and very careful) numbers guy at fivethirtyeight.com, says he’s not sure, I’m inclined to uncertainty, too.
My gut tells me that Coakley will pull this out. That's partly because Massachusetts is such a Democratic state and partly because these polls give Democrats fair warning that they may have a fight on their hands -- they will thus put a lot more resources into the final week than they might have otherwise. (Those who believe the race actually is close point to the fact that the Coakley campaign was rather laid back over the holidays, while Brown continued to scrap.) I also think Coakley has a base of female voters who want a woman in a top job, after years of Massachusetts voters rejecting one female candidate after another.
The one factor that gives me pause is that my dear native state has many more moderate-to-conservative voters than most outsiders realize. On a day of bad Democratic turnout, Brown would have a shot. If he comes close but falls short, expect a lot of gnashing of conservative teeth that the national party didn’t put enough into this race early on.
One very good thing that could come out of this polling war: There are a slew of contradictory polls out there purporting to know where things stand for the November 2010 elections. They use wildly different methods and come up with wildly different results. Commentators typically quote the polls closest to their own predispositions and ignore the others. Once the Massachusetts election is over, I hope Nate Silver and other analysts (including Jon Cohen and Jennifer Agiesta of The Post’s own able polling department) look closely at the methodology of all these polls to figure out whose methods makes sense and whose don’t. (Josh Marshall discusses this issue, as does the conservative site Hot Air.)
Massachusetts is a perfect test case for voter screens (which try to judge who will vote and who won’t) because special elections typically have low turnouts, making voter screens especially important.
In the meantime, the good news for Republicans is that Brown seems to have made a race of this when no one expected him to. The good news for Democrats is that if they win, it will be counted as a win and not dismissed as meaningless. The good news for Massachusetts: No one but political junkies expected to be paying much attention to this race. Now, lots of people are. And if news organizations send reporters to the Bay State this week, it will at least be good for the state’s economy. Massachusetts could use a boost after the Patriots’ sad loss to the Ravens on Sunday.
| January 11, 2010; 9:27 AM ET
Categories: Dionne | Tags: E.J. Dionne
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