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Tennessee Senate: Which Poll Is Right?

Two polls released today showed vastly different states of play in the Tennessee Senate race between Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D) and former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker (R).

The first was conducted by Zogby International and showed Corker with a 53 percent to 43 percent lead. The survey was in the field from Oct. 24-30 and tested 603 likely voters.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee responded with a poll of its own late today that showed Ford ahead 46 percent to 40 percent. Conducted by Hamilton Beattie & Staff, the poll spanned two days (Oct. 31 and Nov. 1) and tested 600 likely voters.

How can two supposedly scientific surveys show such vastly different results? The explanation lies in the approach the two polling firms took toward developing their samples.

Zogby uses random-digit dialing of liste numbers to select his sample, meaning that -- in theory -- any listed phone number has an equal chance of being dialed. When the pollster reaches a household the caller is run through a series of questions designed to figure out whether he or she is a registered voter and likely to vote in this election. The pollster must take the interviewee's word that he or she is both registered and likely to vote.

Hamilton Beattie (as well as most Democratic campaign pollsters) uses a state voter file to draw its sample. The voter file allows pollsters to pick particular people in particular households who they know are registered to vote and from past vote history are likely to turn out on Nov. 7.

Another potential difference in the numbers is the partisan breakdown of the two samples. In the Zogby poll, 40 percent of the sample was Republican, 33 percent was Democratic and 27 percent was independent or other. While Hamilton Beattie did not release the partisan breakdown of its survey, an informed Democrat familiar with polling in the state pointed to a July University of Tennessee poll that had a four percent Democratic tilt in the sample's partisan composition.

Again, as we have noted many times before on The Fix, polling is half science, half art. Constructing a sample that is reflective of what the Tennessee electorate will look like next Tuesday is an extremely difficult task. Polls conducted for both sides -- which are not being released publicly -- show the race essentially tied.

This race is one of three -- along with Missouri and Virginia -- that will likely decide which party controls the Senate when the next the 110th Congress convenes in January.

By Chris Cillizza  |  November 2, 2006; 5:55 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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Next: One Man, One Vote, One Big Mess


When deciding whom to vote for on Tuesday, please consider how your Senator voted on S 2611, the Senate Amnesty Bill. For those who need a refresher, the Senate bill provided:

Illegal aliens get in-state tuition discounts, while out of state US citizens do not
Illegal aliens have to be paid the prevailing wage, while US citizens do not
Illegal Aliens cannot be fired without just cause, a luxury not for US citizens
Illegal aliens would be eligible for Social Security, even if they stole someone's identity to sign up
Expands the visa lottery program, further increasing legal and illegal immigration
Employers of illegal aliens get amnesty too by being exempt from tax and criminal liability
Millions of additional taxpayer dollars to fund racist immigrant-rights groups
This bill could increase welfare costs by $11.4 billion per year
US citizenship for the low-low price of $2,000

The horrors go on, but this bill could easily be summarized as giving amnesty, citizenship, and massive entitlements to illegal aliens and their families.

91% of Democrats voted for this bill
58% of Republicans voted against this bill
Please remember this when you vote on Tuesday.

Posted by: VA Patriot | November 6, 2006 9:32 AM | Report abuse

Also two REP. Senators, during Reconstruction. Senators Hirem Revels and
Blanche Bruce, both from Mississippi.

Posted by: linsweet | November 3, 2006 11:01 PM | Report abuse

Here is how the early voting went in Tennessee.

Posted by: DC | November 3, 2006 10:57 PM | Report abuse

African American Senators-post reconstruction. Senator Brooks (Mass); Senatory Carole Moseby Braun and Senator Obama.

Posted by: linsweet | November 3, 2006 10:53 PM | Report abuse

TG, Thanks for reading. No thanks really needed for the service, I was drafted and was just one of 3,000,000. But do appreciate that it's the thought that counts.

See you at the polls Tuesday.

Posted by: proudgrunt | November 3, 2006 5:23 PM | Report abuse


Fair points, and by the way, thanks for your service. I mean that.

Posted by: TG | November 3, 2006 4:30 PM | Report abuse

TG - I fully understand that we are in a different communications age; but when the people controlling the source of the news haven't changed their mindset you will still be subject to being manipulated by them.

Do you think that Keith Olberman is on in the mess halls, or Bill O'Reilly? Joe Scarborough, or Hannity & Colmes?

Who controls the message? The organization. GI's by nature are not intellectually curious when they are in combat. They don't have the time. They focus on their mission, and absorb what is otherwise presented to them.

The Pentagon flacks are no different today than they were 35 years ago. They just have a wider variety of dissemination tools available.

Why do you think the Pentagon "embedded" reporters with troops in this war? To get better coverage for the news organizations? Hardly. It was to get the reporters to personally identify with the troops which they were reporting on. You'll notice that they didn't give reporters the ability to hop from unit to unit to get a feel for the overall operation. They kept them within very discrete units. Bonds quickly developed between troops and reporters because they were "in it together."

I recently read that when you're on the ground in small unit operations, you're not fighting for your country, you're fighting for yourself and your buddies. That's absolutely correct. Think that may have influenced the reporting for the first 3 months - Mission Acomplished ! In more than one way.

By definition with higher recruitment standards (until they had to be lowered recently to meet recruiting quotas), the troops we have are better educated than when we had a draft.

But, that doesn't mean that they aren't subject to being manipulated by the Pentagon. The troops are human.

I really liked the creativity of that picture of the troops with the sign which I saw on the front of the New York Post yesterday; but I've also been forwarded e-mails which make it obvious that a number of troops don't realize that the White House was using them as campaign pawns. The Chicken Hawks who got us into this mess have no regard for the troops, only their own ideology. The career officers who want that silver eagle, or even better a star, on their shoulders know how to play the game to keep superiors happy.

A lot of things are no different 35 years later, because they are in the basic nature of organizations and humans. F T A !

Posted by: proudgrunt | November 3, 2006 2:25 PM | Report abuse

I hate that this race will boil down to race, but what's going to hurt worse is that the national media and the rest of the country will only think Tennessee is just as racist as it was in the 50's and 60's if Ford loses. There has only been 3 elected black senators in the entire country. BTW, I believe there was two others, but it was during reconstruction.

Posted by: Nashville Son | November 3, 2006 12:14 PM | Report abuse


With all due respect, this is not the vietnam era. These guys have pretty good access to internet, television etc. from what I am told. Within 24 hours of Kerry's comments those guys came up with the spoof picture asking "Carry" to come rescue them from "Irak." My thought is they are pretty plugged in. My other thought is that the tension between criticising the war and seeming like you don't support the mission of the troops plays a role. I am not saying it is unpatriotic to criticize the war. What I am saying is what message do the troops hear when a guy like Kerry goes out there and calls what they are doing a disaster that has made the world less safe, that their mission was a failure and that their comrades died needlessly?

Posted by: TG | November 3, 2006 12:07 PM | Report abuse

Proud Army Wife: For the last month of my tour in Viet Nam I was assigned to read the Stars and Stripes every day, to identify for our Battalion Commander if the Battalion received any mention.

At that time, anti-war protests were very heated in Washington, DC. From the Stars and Stripes you got the impression that in one protest the demonstrators were stopped just short of attacking the White house. A month later I was back in the U. S. and happened to see some papers from the previous month. The actual story was that the demonstrations were held blocks away from the WH, and there was no indication that the demonstrators made any attemps to break thorugh the police lines to go to the WH. There were scuffles and arrests; which was par for the course at that time.

I've seen more than once the axiom that the First Casualty of War is the Truth. I also had first-hand contact with Army Correspondents who had no reservations about making up facts to fit the stories which they wanted published. The Pentagon flacks don't let the truth hinder what they want the public to believe. I've seen it time and again for the past 35 years.

If today's troops get their news only from Fox, Armed Forces Radio and TV, and the Stars and Stripes, then Corker will be their man. Fair and Balanced is a Casualty along with the Truth, when it comes to those news sources.

And the troops are worse off for it. Which is our loss.

Posted by: proudgrunt | November 3, 2006 11:43 AM | Report abuse


I think the spread is more like 5-7%. The first major election that I can recall this phenomenom happening was the 1982 California governor's race. Bradley, the African-American candidate, actually was projected the winner based on exit polling by some news organizations. This was consistent with pre-election polling. However, he lost by 2 or 3 points. The pollsters pretty much agreed that some voters lied to them to avoid appearing racist.

Posted by: JimD in FL | November 3, 2006 10:53 AM | Report abuse

I've seen stories recently that say black candidates in some Southern states finish as much as 10-15 percent pre-election poll numbers. I'm curious how valid people think that claim is, based on their past experience.

Posted by: iceman | November 3, 2006 8:57 AM | Report abuse

124,000 people voted early in Shelby through the close of early voting yesterday. By comparison, Hamilton and Knox (the two largest counties in traditionally Republican East Tenn) together had about 75,000 early voters.

A new Mason-Dixon poll is in the field and will be published on Sunday. Look for the sample balance. In past M-D polls, East Tenn has been oversampled compared to West Tenn.

Turnout will be the key -- not Corker smut ads.

Posted by: Chattanoogan | November 3, 2006 8:56 AM | Report abuse

By the way, both the Wilder (1989) and the Bradley elections (1982) I refer to ocurred before the two Helms vs. Gantt Senate races (1990 and 1996).

Posted by: JimD in FL | November 3, 2006 7:57 AM | Report abuse

For those of you discussing the "Gantt effect" - it was first encountered in California in the '80's when African American LA mayor Tom Bradley held a lead in all polls but lost narrowly. This phenomenom also turned up in Virginia when Douglas Wilder, another African American, narrowly won the governorship after holding healthy leads in the polls. Wilder is fairly light skinned. Some Republican pamphlets attacking him helpfully darkened his coloring so no one could overlook the fact that he is an African American. I understand that trick has been used on Ford, another fairly light skinned African American.

Posted by: JimD in FL | November 3, 2006 7:47 AM | Report abuse

I agree with Mike. I always think a poll released from a partisan source like the DSCC is fudged to make their candidate look better, and by a similar token, Zogby has shown himself to be an outlier among pollsters, often coming up with anomalous and even virtually impossible results. In the fall of 2002, Zogby found Coleman leading Wellstone by 9 points in the MN Senate race, only to say 3 weeks later that Wellstone had pulled ahead by 6. No way was either of those polls right. No way did that race flip 15 points in three weeks; no major event happened in the interim to cause that dramatic a shift.

People cited the Rasmussen poll in TN, and while their methodology may be debateable, their result seems closer to reality to me. My sense right now is that Ford is down by low single digits. He could win, he could lose. I don't know. But Wednesday, for the first time this year, I think Webb has a better shot at winning than Ford. Webb now has the lead in several polls, and maybe more importantly, the momentum. I think Rothenberg is right listing VA as leaning Dem at this point. MO is obviously much harder, given that virtually every poll our of MANY this year has found it to be a statistical tie (no surprise to those who remember MO's 2000 and 02 Senate races for this seat). There seems to be little question that MO will be the closest Senate race, and while I feel like McCaskill may have the slightest edge, I almost worry that Rothenberg is being too optimistic in listing the race as leaning Democratic. Then again, he's nonpartisan and more interested in getting the predictions right than in who actually wins, so if he thinks that, it gives me that much more hope.

At this point, I'm not sure Ford can pull off a win, but were I forced to pick, I'd say McCaskill and Webb do--thus giving Dems control of the Senate. And given the close and tightening numbers in AZ, Gov. Napolitano coasting to reelectin there, Dems looking strong in the 1st, 5th, and 8th congressional districts, the minimum wage ballot initiative there (among many others), the $10M Pederson has spent softening up Kyl, and the DSCC's buying up the last $1M of ad time there, I still think folks should keep an eye on the AZ Senate race as a possible sleeper upset. It's conceivable, if not likely, that Dems could lose in TN but win in AZ.

Posted by: Sandwich Repairman | November 3, 2006 5:26 AM | Report abuse

Polls are fine, but the best place to look for what is going on in TN is to look at the early vote returns.

Compared to the 2002 midterms and 2004 presidential election, the reliable democratic counties in TN are voting at 2004 presidential election levels, while the reliable republican counties (especially Knox) are voting at typical midterm levels.

It was for this reason that Corker decided to drop $2 million into the race yesterday -- he needs to get his people to the polls. Simply put the democracts in TN are more energized than the republicans. If this model holds, do not be surprised to see that the Zogby poll was woefully off base.

Posted by: politco hack | November 3, 2006 2:42 AM | Report abuse

First of all, I agree that the polling on this race is all over the place and it is probably closer than either poll shows.

Second, if Corker really was up by 10 points in no way shape or form would he spend another 2 million dollars for himself.

Three, people in TN and all over need to be reminded that if you vote for Corker you will effectvely be letting the GOP stay in the majority and will get more of the same in Iraq and this country. If you really truly believe we are on the wrong track vote for Ford.

Posted by: Eric | November 3, 2006 1:24 AM | Report abuse

proud amy wife, I'm sure Mr. Corker will be perfectly happy to send them back again. My nephew has gone twice and the second time he saw the light.

Posted by: tennessee girl | November 3, 2006 1:06 AM | Report abuse

FYI: The 101st Airborne DIV (FT Campbell, KY) just got back from Iraq about a month ago. Thanks to Kerry, the troops are eager to vote. I'm afraid Harold Ford may not like the results!

Posted by: Proud Army Wife | November 2, 2006 11:35 PM | Report abuse

Rothenberg still has Tennessee as a toss-up, but Virginia now as lean D.

Posted by: JNutting | November 2, 2006 11:34 PM | Report abuse

Sherwood's mistress is now claiming that he paid her $500,000 to stay quiet until after the election. . .NBC4 news

Posted by: star11 | November 2, 2006 11:33 PM | Report abuse

pertinent to one of the earlier threads today on how much illegals cost the taxpayers:

From the NYT: 'Under a new federal policy, children born in the U.S. to illegal immigrants will no longer be entitled to Medicaid.'

Posted by: star11 | November 2, 2006 11:25 PM | Report abuse

Charlie, it is this Harvey Gantt experience that I have always thought may be the more likely scenario in TN. I think Corker would have to do a major league screw up to lose as much as I hate to believe it. Stick A fork in it, Ford will not win this one.

Posted by: Stick A Fork In it | November 2, 2006 10:59 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: Greg,

"Anyone have an idea of what the partisan breakdown is of the electorate in Tennessee?"

East Tennessee has been dominated by Republicans since the Civil War, very few slaves were in East Tennessee due to the Mountains, poor for growing cotton, and thus this part of the state supported the Union. East Tennessee is the most populated division of the state.

Middle Tennessee until 40 years ago was domintated by Democrats, now Republicans might have a slight edge.

West Tennessee, with the largest city of Memphis, is dominated by democrats.

Posted by: DC | November 2, 2006 10:35 PM | Report abuse

I don't think anyone is saying that the Democrats WILL take control of the Senate, we say they have a chance to, and they do. Democrats have 3 races that are all but over, PA, OH, and RI. 1 race that leans to the Dems MT and 3 races that are toss ups TN, VA MO. Only NJ and as some people attemtp to claim MD are intereting races. Both races lean to the Dems at this point. It is ok to talk about the possibility of takingthe Senate, but there is no garunatee so Republicans really can't claim victory if they keep control. Dems should never have had a chance to take the Senate and they do, if anything that is a victory for the Democrats.

Posted by: Rob Millette | November 2, 2006 10:20 PM | Report abuse

The Democrat:

I think that what you wrote is very true and that is why I think that all of this talk about the Dems taking the Senate only sets up the Repubs to claim victory when they retain control of the Senate. It seems as though gaining control of the House and picking up two or three seats in the Senate with an eye on taking either the Presidency or the Senate in '08 would be an attainable goal and it shows progress without being disappointed AND it doesn't give the Repubs anything to talk about - except what they have lost, not what they kept.

Posted by: star11 | November 2, 2006 9:54 PM | Report abuse

I will be shocked, very shocked in fact, if the Democrats take control of the U.S. Senate. The unlikelihood of this occuring reveals what an uphill climb they would have in the next presidential general election. Nearly everything has gone this party's way and still it remains a longshot that they take the six important senate races.

Posted by: The Democrat | November 2, 2006 9:31 PM | Report abuse

How reliable are these telephone polls at this point? I, like many voters, no longer have a landline phone. Also, voter registration seems to be at a record high in many places, are pollsters getting these newly registered voters? I wonder how these polls are going to fair against the results.

Posted by: Melanie | November 2, 2006 9:21 PM | Report abuse

Does anybody remember the "Gantt effect" from polling in the Harvey Gantt-vs-Jesse Helms race years ago? People overreported their intention to vote for the (IMHO) better candidate, the black Charlotte mayor Harvey Gantt. In the voting booth, however NC voters couldn't collectively pull the trigger for a black senator.

Have we come far enough in the South? Will white Southerners still overreport their likelihood to vote for a black candidate, and then not be able to do it on Election Day? The GOP is betting that some very basic racism is still alive and well in Tennessee ("Harold, call me.")

Posted by: Charlie | November 2, 2006 8:59 PM | Report abuse

From what I can see- only FOX News has something on their web site as of 8:15. . .

'COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- The Rev. Ted Haggard resigned as president of the 30 million-member National Association of Evangelicals on Thursday after being accused of paying a man for sex in monthly trysts over the past three years.

Haggard -- an outspoken opponent of the drive for gay marriage -- also stepped down as senior pastor at his 14,000-member New Life Church pending an investigation by a church panel, saying he could "not continue to minister under the cloud created by the accusations."

"I am voluntarily stepping aside from leadership so that the overseer process can be allowed to proceed with integrity," Haggard said in a written statement. "I hope to be able to discuss this matter in more detail at a later date. In the interim, I will seek both spiritual advice and guidance."

Haggard, a married father of five, denied the allegations in an interview with KUSA-TV late Wednesday: "Never had a gay relationship with anybody, and I'm steady with my wife, I'm faithful to my wife."

The allegations came as voters in Colorado and seven other states prepare to decide ban-gay-marriage amendments next Tuesday. Besides the proposed ban on the Colorado ballot, a separate measure would establish the legality of domestic partnerships providing same-sex couples with many of the rights of married couples.'

Posted by: star11 | November 2, 2006 8:17 PM | Report abuse

There is no registration by party in TN. So it's really hard to tell. Having grown up in TN, though, most people that were the "conservative Democrats" that sean cites have totally changed their allegiances and consider themselves fully republican now. I'd say there's a clear edge for Republicans in voters basically like the methodology of the main-line polls. That's why Dem-sponsored polls always have a rosier outlook for the Dems, they oversample how much of the electorate Dems represent. I would say that reality is somewhere between the CNN poll from earlier this week and the rasmussen poll. Either way, Corker's got the lead.

Posted by: tennessean | November 2, 2006 8:03 PM | Report abuse

With such disparities in all the polls, I really don't understand why everyone is assuming the Dem's are going to take over the house and possibly the senate. Really, it's impossible to predict the outcome in the majority of these races - especially house races. It's interesting and fun to speculate, but if we've learned anything, polling has been flawed in the past.

Posted by: Jason | November 2, 2006 7:59 PM | Report abuse

I am not so sure that it is SO important for the Dems to get control of both houses - yes, it would be GREAT - but right now, I think the Dems are getting a little too giddy and perhaps a bit greedy - and then it looks bad when the Senate stays in Repub control. It is very important to gain at least 3 seats there, but I think it is always better to exceed expectations rather than fall short of them.

Posted by: star11 | November 2, 2006 7:13 PM | Report abuse

Greg, I am pretty sure there are more registered Democrats than Republicans in Tennessee. However, many of these are probably Conservative Democrats that now vote Republican.

Posted by: Sean | November 2, 2006 7:02 PM | Report abuse

Anyone have an idea of what the partisan breakdown is of the electorate in Tennessee?

Posted by: Greg | November 2, 2006 6:52 PM | Report abuse

As Mike posted, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. . .

Posted by: star11 | November 2, 2006 6:25 PM | Report abuse

And let's not forget MD - I still believe that no one is paying enough attention to this race. Shouldn't this race be a slam dunk for the Dems? If Cardin wins by 10 or more points, I look ridiculous - but I suspect it will be a lot closer than that. How close does it have to be to surprise people? Let me eat crow Wed or Thurs - that is fine.

Posted by: star11 | November 2, 2006 6:24 PM | Report abuse

Rasmussen has Corker up by 2, which is probably closer to being right. I live in Nashville. No way Corker is up 10, and no way Ford is up by 6.

Posted by: Mike | November 2, 2006 6:21 PM | Report abuse

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