Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

Polling the Other Side in Wisconsin Senate Race

In Polling, Senate on July 2, 2012 at 1:59 pm

It doesn’t often happen that one major party candidate releases a poll of the other party’s primary, but that is exactly what Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2), the consensus Wisconsin Democratic Senate nominee, just did.

Not surprisingly, the Baldwin poll shows something different than the numerous Wisconsin Senate polls already in the public domain. According to her Feldman Group poll (June 19-21; 507 Wisconsin GOP primary voters via Interactive Voice Response system) it is venture capitalist Eric Hovde who has now pulled even with former governor Tommy Thompson and forged well ahead of former representative Mark Neumann (R-WI-1) and Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald.

Hovde is committing millions of his own money to the race and positioning himself to the right of the field. There is no question that his spending will make him a factor in the campaign, but it is questionable as to whether he has rundown Thompson at this point in time. According to the Feldman Group poll, Hovde actually holds a 27-26-13-9 percent lead over the former governor, Neumann, and Fitzgerald, respectively.

It is unlikely that the Feldman poll is correct. For the past year, six different public polls have been released from three independent pollsters and all show ex-governor Thompson with a formidable Republican primary lead. Though none of them project him topping the majority mark, they all post him to spreads between six and eighteen points.

The latest survey, from Marquette Law School (June 13-16; 344 Wisconsin GOP primary voters), taken in virtually the same time period as the Baldwin poll, tells a much different story. This study posts Thompson to a 34-16-14-10 percent lead over Neumann, Hovde, and Fitzgerald.

A couple of key points must be examined about the Baldwin poll. First, the numbers tell the story Baldwin wants told, but that may not be the precise election status. Since most of the general election surveys give Thompson a growing lead over her, it would be in Baldwin’s interest to see him defeated in the Republican primary. The same polls that indicate she is trailing Thompson by a relatively substantial margin have her running even or slightly ahead of the other GOP candidates. Ms. Baldwin usually fares best against Hovde, the man her poll now casts to be in a dead heat with Thompson.

Secondly, the Interactive Voice Response system is fully automated and normally not viewed to be as reliable as the live interview surveys. This, in and of itself, does not invalidate the poll, but it’s very different result when matched to the aforementioned Marquette Law School survey must be scrutinized. Though the Marquette sample size is smaller than the Feldman Group poll for Baldwin, it still tells the more plausible story because it closely reflects the patterns reflected in the other available data.

Right now, with Thompson enjoying very high name ID and acceptable favorability ratings, it is reasonable to conclude that he is the likely Republican nominee. The crowded GOP field will actually help him secure the nomination because the anti-Thompson vote will split among more than one opponent. Though he might not obtain a majority of the vote, it is clear, six weeks away from the election, that Tommy Thompson has the inside track toward the nomination and, despite what the Baldwin campaign says, the four-term Republican governor is the most likely GOP Senatorial nominee.

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