Parsing the Polls: Can Tom DeLay Win Again?
After The Fix made a brief mention earlier this week of the new Houston Chronicle poll showing Rep. Tom DeLay (R) trailing in his reelection bid, it seemed fitting to take at deeper look into the numbers and what they mean for DeLay's chances in this week's edition of "Parsing the Polls."
In order to get a fuller perspective on the results, I spoke to the two men who conducted the poll: Robert Stein, a professor at Rice University, and Richard Murray, the chairman of the University of Houston Center for Public Policy. I also talked to the DeLay camp to get their perspective on the survey. More on that below, but here's a taste: DeLay spokeswoman Shannon Flaherty said that the results reflect the "dwindling credibility of the Chronicle and its pollsters."
On its face, the survey spells bad news for DeLay. In a hypothetical general-election matchup he trails former Rep. Nick Lampson (D) 30 percent to 22 percent. Former Republican Rep. Steve Stockman, who is running as an Independent this year, took 11 percent.
Both Stein and Murray said a seeming erosion in DeLay's support is the biggest surprise to them in the survey. More than half (51 percent) of all voters who said they supported DeLay in 2004 said they would not do so again in 2006. Among this group, the largest bloc -- 33 percent -- said they either would vote for none of the current crop of candidates, were undecided or refused to answer. Eleven percent said they would switch their allegiance to Stockman, while eight percent said they were planning to vote for Lampson.
Stein and Murray dub this group "DeLay Defectors," and in cross tabs of the poll provided to The Fix the two men tried to get a sense for who those voters were.
The profile? A Republican woman who identifies herself as politically moderate-to-conservative and has not closely followed the recent spate of news stories about DeLay.
Fifty-four percent of the "DeLay Defectors" were women. Thirty percent identified themselves as either "liberal" or "moderate" in their politics, while 63 percent said they were "conservatives." Two-thirds of the defectors called themselves Republicans compared to 27 percent who identified themselves either as independents (15 percent) or Democrats (12 percent).
Asked about how closely they followed the indictment of DeLay by Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, only 15 percent of the defectors said they have watched it "very closely" compared to 45 percent of the so-called DeLay loyalists who were watching the story with that same level of scrutiny. One-quarter of DeLay defectors have kept a very close eye on his resignation as House majority leader, compared to 42.5 percent of his staunch backers. On the stories surrounding fallen lobbyist Jack Abramoff, 14 percent of the defectors said they have been very closely monitoring the coverage -- half the percentage of DeLay allies that said the same.
"He was running rather poorly with Republicans and it wasn't because of the [news] coverage," concluded Stein. "People who were most attentive to these three stories were his biggest supporters."
Murray concluded that the best -- and perhaps only -- way for DeLay to win reelection is for the "real world situation" to change -- meaning that the Texas Republican would need to be entirely cleared in the Texas indictment and also exonerated in the Abramoff investigation. "The best he can hope for is some more bad news [stories] but no indictments," said Murray.
Not surprisingly, the DeLay camp takes issue with the results. Flaherty said DeLay's internal polling shows a vastly different political landscape than the Chronicle survey -- though she refused to discuss those results publicly for fear of revealing the campaign's strategy.
Flaherty also disputed the poll's methodology. Asked for an example, she cited the fact that on the Republican primary ballot question the pollsters included the 31 percent of people who said they were planning to vote in the Democratic primary. While Texas does hold an open primary -- meaning Republicans, Democrats and independents can choose to vote in either party's primary -- no person can vote in both primaries, explained Flaherty. "That's why these professors are out running media polls and not winning races," she said.
January 18, 2006; 8:20 AM ET
Categories: House , Parsing the Polls
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