Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

Kansas May be Slipping Away

In Polling, Senate on October 7, 2014 at 10:26 am

A new NBC News/Marist College poll provides some dire news for Republican Sen. Pat Roberts. Everyone knows the senator is enduring a rough election cycle, largely because of the rancorous Kansas political climate, a large number of the senator’s own unforced errors, and a shrewd coalition move between local Democrats and Independents. But this particular poll (released Oct. 6; 1,282 Kansas residents; 1,097 registered Kansas voters; 636 likely Kansas voters) places Roberts in his largest deficit situation of the campaign.

According to the data, Roberts trails Independent Greg Orman 38-48 percent among those in the likely voter category, and 36-46 percent within the registered voter segment. NBC/Marist has been among the more inaccurate pollsters in past election cycles, so their sounding the political death knell for a candidate is not necessarily taken as a sign of things to come, but this particular survey should be given greater credence.

Though one could question its methodology, the end result appears sound. The pollsters testing of residents, the sampling period not being disclosed – just that the questions may have been asked in October (the survey is labeled October 2014 and it is certainly released during such a time frame, but that doesn’t necessarily mean all the interviews were conducted in the early portion of this month) – and, we don’t know the duration of the sampling period. All of this potentially skews the data gathering process.

Though the NBC/Marist data may be systemically flawed, the final results appear plausible when compared with other pollsters’ findings. President Obama’s job approval is 18 points upside-down, the right track/wrong track question is heavily pointing to the respondent group being dissatisfied (69 percent wrong track), and neither party is positively viewed in relation to congressional job performance (D: 27:61 percent positive to negative; R: 21:64 percent). All of these answers would be expected from a representative group of the Kansas electorate, which gives greater credibility to the Senate result.

For months, polls have been showing Gov. Sam Brownback (R) trailing his Democratic rival, state House Minority Leader Paul Davis (D). New data is also showing a tightening of the race, with Brownback seizing at least modest momentum. While this NBC/Marist poll projects Roberts as being 10 points down, the same respondents give Democrat Davis only a one point, 44-43 percent, lead. Therefore, if those comprising the sampling universe are moving closer to Brownback, yet away from Roberts, then this should cause the senator and the Republican leadership major concern.

It is clear the Roberts strategy is to paint Orman as a liberal; simply a Democrat cloaking himself on the Independent ballot line. Orman’s strategy is to dodge all issues and point to the mess both parties have created in Washington. He then hopes to convince a majority of voters that his presence as a true Independent in such a body will somehow improve the situation.

NBC/Marist suggests that the Roberts strategy is failing. But, with the crucial final weeks of the campaign cycle still remaining, anything can happen. Expect more of the same attack mode coming from the Roberts camp. The senator’s negative image is likely too ingrained to substantively change, so his campaign effort must make Orman an even more unappealing figure to the voter base than Roberts.

The Kansas race is now at the top of the Senate Republicans’ priority list. Losing what should be a safe Republican state will likely cost the party its chance to regain the Senate majority, so the stakes couldn’t be higher.

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