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.