My Polling Wish List

Some people have wedding registries. Some have baby registries. Some even have birthday registries (although I've read enough advice columns to know that's pretty tacky). ...
by | August 3, 2008

Some people have wedding registries. Some have baby registries. Some even have birthday registries (although I've read enough advice columns to know that's pretty tacky). I want a polling registry.

I'm asking you to give me thousands of dollars to conduct some polls.

Now, I know what you're thinking: "Heck no! The proliferation of polling is degrading American political discourse!" But, hear me out. Not every important election has been polled to death -- or has been polled the right way.

Here is my polling wish list.

Delaware (governor)

I understand that not everyone cares who is governor of Delaware, but this could end up as one of the two or three closest gubernatorial races in the country this year. The Republicans' likely nominee, Bill Lee, took 46% of the vote when he ran against Gov. Ruth Ann Minner in 2004.

This year, Minner is term-limited. Lee only faces nominal primary opposition, but the Democrats have two statewide elected officials squaring off in the September 9 primary. In other words, there are some good reasons to think Lee will exceed his 46% total from 2004, which would obviously make for a really tight race. Yet, so far as I can tell, the general election has never been polled.

Indiana (president, with Evan Bayh)

A bit of Electoral College math for you: Virtually all available polling shows Barack Obama leading in every state that John Kerry won in 2004. That's 252 electoral votes. Obama has led John McCain in every poll conducted this year in Iowa, a state that President Bush won by only 10,000 votes in 2004. Iowa has 7 electoral votes.

Indiana has 11 electoral votes. If Obama win the Kerry states, Iowa and Indiana, he gets exactly to the magic number of 270. He doesn't have to win Ohio or Florida or Virginia or Colorado or New Mexico or Nevada or Missouri.

While Obama has been overperforming in the Hoosier state, it's still an unlikely target for him. No Democrat has carried Indiana since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Bush took 60% in Indiana in 2004.

An unlikely target, that is, unless Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh is Obama's running mate. There's justified skepticism when it comes to the ability of running mates to bring states. John Edwards certainly didn't help John Kerry very much in North Carolina.

However, Bayh, unlike Edwards in 2004, is widely popular and well-established in his home state. So, rather than theorizing, some pollster ought to be testing just how much Bayh could help Obama in Indiana.

Maine (president, by congressional district)

This one is more of a statement of principle than anything else. Maine and Nebraska are the two states that award electoral votes by congressional district (after giving two votes each to the statewide winner). Yet pollsters often don't break their results down by congressional district when they survey the two states. It seems like a pretty basic principle that polls should reflect relevant election laws.

Since Nebraska and Maine adopted this system, they've never actually spilt their votes -- all three of Nebraska's districts are reliably Republican and both of Maine's districts favor Democrats. Maine's 2nd district, however, could represent a sneaky target for McCain this year.

As of 2005, Maine had the oldest median age in the country. In a year where an age gap has emerged -- old voters favor McCain, young ones prefer Obama -- you'd have to think the McCain campaign has at least looked at whether he can compete there.

The only poll that I know of that offered district-specific results in Maine was one in June that gave Obama a 20% lead over McCain statewide --  Obama was ahead by 27% in the 1st district and 11% in the 2nd district, which is the Northern portion of the state. However, the most recent poll, from Rasmussen, only gave Obama a 9% lead statewide.

Now, assume that the wide disparity between the districts from the first poll is correct. Also, assume that the second poll has Obama's statewide margin right. What you end up with is Obama having a 17% lead in the 1st district and only a 1% lead in the 2nd district. Interesting, right?

I actually think both of those assumptions are wrong, but one of these years one of the districts in Maine or Nebraska will become competitive. We won't know when, unless pollsters give us the numbers.

South Dakota (abortion ban)

South Dakota voted on a ban on abortion in 2006 that only included an exception if the life of the mother was in danger. Voters rejected that idea 56%-44%.

Now, pro-life activists are back with a new measure that also includes exceptions for rape, incest and the health of the mother. You can make an argument that those exceptions will make the ban more palatable to South Dakotans. You can also make an argument that South Dakotans are sick of rehashing this debate and will reject the proposal as a result.

You can't, however, make either of those arguments based on solid empirical evidence right now. No one has polled the question since it qualified for the ballot. Given that the South Dakota law would represent a milestone in the most divisive social policy debate of our generation (by setting up a challenge to Roe v. Wade), this seems like an important topic.

Vermont (governor)

Jim Douglas faces a challenge unique among the nation's 50 governors. To win reelection, the Vermont Republican doesn't just have to get the most votes. He has to get more than 50% of the vote. Otherwise, based on the Vermont Constitution, the election is thrown into the state House of Representatives.

That provision is relevant this year because Douglas faces Democrat Gaye Symington, the Speaker of the House, as well as independent Anthony Pollina, who took 10% of the vote when he ran for governor in 2000. Douglas is a Vermont institution, but Symington is a tougher opponent than most he has faced and, as always, Douglas will be running in an overwhelmingly Democratic state.

The really intriguing outcome is that Douglas wins the most votes, but doesn't make it to 50%. Then the Democrats who control the House will have to decide between Symington or Douglas. (This is roughly analogous to the super-dramatic scenario where McCain wins the popular vote, but Obama and McCain tie at 270 in the Electoral College, throwing the election into the U.S. House of Representatives.) Unfortunately, this is another gubernatorial race that hasn't been publicly polled.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer

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