Are the State House races really as noncompetitive as St Pete Polls claim?

In the last few days, our friends over at Saint Petersblog have released polling numbers and data from several contentious State House races across Florida. The polls have been conducted by St Pete Polls, whom we have previously both praised  on this site. Before delving too deeply into the qualms I have about the polling data we have seen the past few days, I think it is important to start off by praising both Saint Petersblog and St Pete Polls for doing a service by offering public polls in State House races. For years state legislative race information was the exclusive province of “those in the know” (which often did include me) but Saint Petersblog has given the masses or at least those who are aware of the website an opportunity to get a feel for where things sit in multiple House races.

My first concern about the polling data is how the results have been weighted. It appears the weighting has in most cases favored the Republican challengers against Democratic incumbents with the sole exception of HD-68 where I believe Rep. Dwight Dudley leads but not quite by the 13-point margin represented in the polling data.  Similarly, former Rep. Shaun Harrison has opened up a 13-point lead against Rep. Mark Danish in the newest HD-63 St Pete poll. It has been well-known in Democratic circles that Danish is struggling and Harrison has likely pulled into a lead, perhaps a comfortable single-digit lead. But the 13-point lead seems preposterous, and given the makeup of HD-63 which includes many liberal USF college students being activated by NextGen and other left-leaning advocacy organizations, polling, especially that based largely on a 2010 turnout model is bound to be highly flawed and unrepresentative of probable Democratic performance. The weighting of each poll has assumed a massive Republican turnout advantage that resembles 2010 numbers, which is an issue we will get to in a minute.

Let us use the example of HD-63 to discuss why 2014 will look nothing like 2010. Progressive organizations whether they be concerned about the environment, reproductive rights, LGBT issues, or increased utility rates have been activated in a way that was unimaginable in 2010. In some respects, these groups are more active than they were in 2012 in the sense that a real effort this time around has been made to target House seats and focus much of the energy of outside liberal groups in protecting Democratic incumbents. When you consider the districts surveyed by St Pete Polls all have a Democratic bent with the exception of Rep. Carl Zimmerman’s HD-65, you realize that the efforts of progressive groups to activate non-typical off-year election votes are likely to shave several points off these polling numbers. In 2012 for example, the left-leaning advocacy groups that were active in the election cycle often were unaware of what legislative seat they were working in and did not plan their strategy around House district lines.

In HD-65, St Pete Polls found Republican challenger Chris Sprowles locked in a tight race with Democratic Rep. Carl Zimmerman. In recent days, it has become obvious that Zimmerman is potentially defying all expectations once again and sits in a strong position to hold this seat. While St Pete Polls shows a slight Sprowles advantage, the poll confirms the competitive nature of this race, one where I believe the Democrats might even have a slight edge of holding the seat. Rep. Zimmerman as we have discussed on multiple occasions previously on this website has routinely over-performed running ahead of top of the Democratic ticket even in his losing campaigns of 2006 and 2008 in a similar district. Should Charlie Crist remain competitive in this north Pinellas seat, Zimmerman very well could prevail.

The polling numbers from St Pete Polls would indicate a 2010 like “wave” election. In the Orlando area, the firm has Rep. Karen Castor Dentel trailing her Republican opponent by 18 points and Rep. Linda Stewart trailing her GOP opposition by 15 points. No doubt Democrats are struggling in the Orlando area as polling has shown for most of this election cycle. But the margins represented by the polling in these two seats are ridiculous when you consider the overall competitiveness up and down the ballot in both areas and the Democrats concentrated efforts in these two districts.

In the Orlando area, which trends younger than Pinellas or southeast Florida, many voters particularly those who trend towards the left politically only have cell phones. Again, St Pete Polls should be commended for attempting create a public snapshot of the situation in multiple legislative races, but flaws do exist in the highly robo-call dependent polling done by the firm.

Another of poll of note was in the Miami-based 112th, where Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez trails his Republican opponent by six points. The strong organization and structure of Governor Crist’s field operation in Miami-Dade County should give the incumbent a boost in this seat and if this polling is accurate, the race remains highly competitive.

All of this is not to claim the Democrats are going to have a big election night. In all likelihood it will be a tough night for Democrats throughout the state. Some  serious concerns already exist about VBM returns. The vote by mail returns from large counties have been “terrifying” to quote one well-connected Democratic operative I spoke to Saturday night. Still, I believe the fundamentals of this election continue to be far different than 2010 and while Republicans may pick up several legislative seats and perhaps every district we have discussed in this article, the margins I can assure our readers will likely be nowhere near what St Pete Polls claim at this moment. Furthermore, I would be surprised if the Democrats do not hold one or more of the seats where these polls show a Republican advantage.

Were St Pete Polls snapshots spot on, the RPOF is in fact wasting money in several seats they already have essentially won, and in HD-68 where they have little or no chance to prevail. The polls yielded results that indicate that only TWO seats in the state are in fact competitive – HD-65 (Zimmerman) and HD-112 (JJR). If this were really the case, why are the legislative committees of both parties pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars each inb multiple seats that are deemed non-competitive by these polls? One must assume the internal polls both on the Republican and Democratic side paint an entirely different picture than the St Pete Polls results show.

I once again commend St Pete Polls and Saint Petersblog for making the effort to give the public a snapshot look at legislative race. However, I would be surprised if come election night we were not discussing how off the mark the data from several of these polls were.

21 comments

  1. Blue Dog Dem · · Reply

    I get your arguments. I just think wasting energy on anything the hackish Saint Petersblog writes is silly.

    He may have even baited you and the democrats into this sort of article to get you on record implying stronger than expected democratic performance. He Peter is a clever and devious fellow. I would have avoided the entire back and forth if I were you.

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    1. Saint Petersblog matters in this world for better or for worse. Peter has been supportive of the independent media and this site and I am very supportive of the idea of doing public polling in state legislative races. I am just not sure this set of polls is an accurate reflection of the electorate, that is all. Nothing personal at all and I don’t believe we have any “baiting” going on, etc.

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  2. Tampa Bay Demo · · Reply

    Schorsch is paid by just about every republican candidate in a marginal seat. Krishnaiyer is closely connected personally to the incoming house leader.

    It is obvious that the golf between what St. Peter’s blog things and the squeeze thinks are simply based on the associations both bloggers involved. Both are comprised and questionable.

    The fact remains that is Darryl Rouson remained as House leader we wouldn’t be in this mess. But some folks led by this very writer made the case for his ouster and replacement by the ideological Pafford who cannot raise $$$.

    Democrats are now poised to lose across the board. Clelland is so done he’s not even discussed in this article.

    This article is nothing but wishful thinking and span from the FDP and their allies. Peter’s blog is nothing but wishful thinking and spin coming from the RPOF. The truth lies somewhere in between.

    As for the polls themselves this firm is nothing but a set up so peter sure can claim to have all sorts of data and information that other journalists don’t have. That is all it is. It’s not legit.

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  3. I think it’s important to point out that many candidates are stronger than the pollster is suggesting. I think it was right for Kartik to correct that sentiment.

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    1. Right, no one is claiming the Democrats are going win all or even most of these seats in play. But these polls indicate that the races are all noncompetitive with the exception of the Zimmerman and JJR races, and that is simply absurd. EVERY SINGLE race St Pete Polls surveyed is hyper-competitive and probably realistically within 5 points. No question the Democrats are struggling in the seats where SPP shows the GOP candidates ahead. But to publish 13, 15 and 18 point margins is borderline laughable. Same thing in the Dudley-Young race. I believe Dudley as used the utilities issue to pull ahead and Crist’s local strength will help him. But no way is he double-digits ahead.

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  4. I agree with pretty much everything you have said here. Our recent state house polls are based upon a 2010 turnout model, which does not seem very likely to be repeated this year. The extent to which the DEMs will get their voters out remains the big question. So far, the turned-in mail-in ballots advantage hasn’t dropped below 12% for the REPs, but the last two weeks in more recent elections have been big for DEM mail-in submissions. Our polling also doesn’t account for the rise in new Hispanic voters, which in the Orlando and Miami areas will make our polls less accurate due to our only polling in English and not polling cellphones. Another concern to mention is the smaller samples in some of these races, we have never been able to get a sample over 300 in the HD-112 race, and several in the Orlando area are just over 300, making them less accurate than the 600+ sample polls we can turn out in the Tampa Bay area.

    As for individual races,
    HD-63, in 2010 young voter turnout was very bad, and we don’t call cellphones, so not only wouldn’t we contact them in this district, but if we had they would only account for a tiny slice of the sample. 2010 turnout was R+7 even though registration numbers have D+9, so if turnout efforts on the DEM side pan out, it will be a much more competitive race than what our polling shows.
    HD-65 has been very close for the last 3 cycles in this heavily Republican district, and no matter which candidate wins, it won’t be by much.
    HD-68 was very interesting because our polls last month showed only a 1-point gap, then the mailing blitz commenced and voters learned that “Bill Young” wasn’t their former Congressman, and his support fell dramatically(As a side note, this is my district, and I still don’t know what Young stands for besides supporting the military).
    HD-112, the DEM voter turnout in 2010 in this district was HORRIBLE. Voter registration has DEMs dead even with REPs, but the 2010 turnout was R+14. If the Crist machine is effective here then a victory by Rodriguez is easily within their grasp.

    As I’ve told several of our clients, polling based on 2010 demographics represents a best-case scenario for Republicans, and polling based on registered voters demographics represents a best-case scenario for Democrats. The final totals will end up somewhere between those two sets of results, and several of our clients have us poll on both to give them a much better picture of the possibilities.

    In a contrast to this, our recent statewide polling is based upon a forecast turnout of R+3, with greater young voter and minority voter shares of the vote than happened in 2010, and the last poll we did on Friday shows a Crist lead of 2%. It’s going to be a very interesting night on November 4th.

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    1. I think even looking at the early absentee returns, the numbers are very different than 2010. We were talking about differences the other day in class and there is simply a different looking electorate than 2010. There are a lot of things different, but that would definitely throw off the numbers. So yes – I echo the statement that November 4th will be a very interesting night!

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    2. Thanks for the response and clarifications Matt. Interesting analysis and how these polls were executed and thanks again to you and Peter for doing this, in order to give the public a snapshot of the polling data in several legislative seats where public polling was NEVER available before you started this project.

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  5. Broward Voter · · Reply

    Well argued and it seems based on Matt’s comments even Peter and Matt know the margins in these polls are unlikely to be found on election night. So in other words these races unlike what the polls show remain highly competitive.

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  6. sandyo4era · · Reply

    I would think that Republican disgust at Fangate would leave Rick Scott scrambling in the dust. Democrats are Already disgusted, as they don’t “drink the KoolAid” like Gop-ers do.

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  7. Pinellas Democrat · · Reply

    Kartik,

    I find your new role as a party spin machine unbelievable. Why aren’t you pointing the finger at the party and their complete lack of organization for a year and half prior to the election. Why is it the party is missing in action and the only thing that might save the progressives is a single billionaire and his PAC?

    You can’t win an election sitting on your hands for a year and half. Waking up 90 days before an election is a failure in leadership.

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    1. We can have that discussion after the election. For now let’s deal in truth and realities. We have been very open about our criticisms of the party’s organization but once we hit the post-primary period the time came to deal in the actual factors in this election. Some folks have chosen to sit this election out or throw stones to fit their own personal agendas. We will not do that. We are progressives and support progressives ideals and candidates.

      I would also point out I am finding the Florida Republicans have a lot more internal issues than many Democrats who sit in awe of them may realize. Those flaws could be exploited aggressively beginning in 2016, but that is a discussion for another time.

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    2. I think it is important to point out that this article is a critique of the polls, not a glowing defense of the party over the last couple of years. There is a difference.

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  8. democrats on the ground · · Reply

    Thank you Kartik for pushing back against this bs narrative Peter Schorsch has tried to create. Since he collects money from all of the Republican challenger in these marginal seat he has chosen to take a strong stand in favor of these candidates even as noted above by his pollster taking the worst potential model for Democrats and applying it to polling then claiming these races are not competitive.

    I cannot state in enough words how important this article is for everybody in the state to read. Well done and you deserve some sort of award for this.

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  9. concerned voter · · Reply

    It is obvious that Peter an outcome in mind and padded the results of these polls. His pollster basically admits this much. But that does not change the fact that the Democrats are trailing in all these races and if the results go as they look like they will the Democrats will fall below 40 seats in the house. That is the bottom line / that is the take away that is something that you seem to be avoiding talking about. Why doesn’t this website write an article about how difficult is it it is going to be for Charlie Crist as governor when the Republicans pick up all these house seats? That is the topic the squeeze has wanted to avoid for weeks now. The coziness between this blog and the new house leadership and let me state that they are not a legitimate leadership that orchestrated a coup to get into power is obvious with all of these posts. Were Darryl Rouson still the leader we wouldn’t be talking about falling below 40 seats and we wouldn’t have these mindless defensive posts constantly on this website. We would be talking about picking up seats and we would be talking about pushing for 50 and taking advantage of Charlie’s coattails.

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  10. Let’s all agree that polls are tealeaves- reading; the only poll that matters is the one on Nov. 4th, election day! I know and you know that it matters immensely if it is GOP-paid pollsters or Dem-paid pollsters are doing the polling. We know that the Republican party nationwide has a bad habit of putting up near-ax-murderers to run and by luck become “place-holders.” (witness: Ninny Brown-Waite, Richard Nugent, many characters who turn out to have very checquered pasts) I exaggerate, but you get my implication. Totally unfit to serve. Do I need to invoke the names of a certain Alaska half-governor or an elitist misfit billionaire who fell flat on his face after frittering some $15B of his own cash on a prez run? It boggles. My pitch is this to Pinellas and beyond: let’s assume that Charlie Crist will be our next governor; if we want dissonance and gridlock, vote these various name-users and second-bests with an “R” after their names (think Young here). If, on the other hand, you want this key county–Pinellas–to thrive over the next 4 years, please then vote for a slate of Democrats, who will work with their Democratic governor, for the good of all Pinellas. Consider also the Dem mayors of St. Pete and Tampa. I don’t relish and have had up to my eyeballs the poor excuse for legislative pablum we have been offered up in FL for the last 15 years, e.g.: 10 or fifteen outrageous abortion screeds every Session; reactionary to the Reconstruction position (I am talking slavery!) stonewalling re increasing FL minimum wage; near-fascist sellout to the power co’s and big corps in general, to the detriment of every low and middle-income Floridian, and on and on. Bottom line: we need a dramatic change in the makeup of the FL Legislature, THIS election day.

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  11. So it’s okay that new House leaders will drop 4-5 seats in an election we should have gained in because Kartik the numbers maestro says we are over-performing and Saint Petersblog is Republican so they don’t matter. Sheesh.

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    1. IT APPEARS REP. ROUSON AND HIS ALLIES ARE THE MORE BOTHERED BY THIS ARTICLE THAN PETER OR THE RPOF. THAT SHOULD TELL EVERYONE SOMETHING!

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  12. OrlandoChris · · Reply

    What I can’t understand is how some democrats still are falling for this Crist trick. He was a loser republican, then tried to fool the Independent voters, which were too smart to fall for it and now he is tricking many democrats, who seem to be sucking it up like soup and it is embarassing. I am ashamed of the ones that STILL believe the lie. I guess for some people they need to suffer from the mistake before they realize it. So be it then, I feel sorry for all of us. Like him or not, Adrian Wyllie is our only choice in this election.

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  13. Concerned Democrat · · Reply

    Agreed!

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  14. […] the CD-13 Special Election in 2014, both high-profile statewide Democratic Primaries in 2014, and contrary to our editorializing did very well on General Election Day […]

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