Thursday, December 12, 2013

About Those Polls and the U.S. Senate Race ...

Posted By on Thu, Dec 12, 2013 at 1:33 PM

Yesterday we passed along two sets of poll results involving next year's U.S. Senate race.

One set of numbers came from the campaign of Democratic Senate candidate Terry Adams, who had commissioned a poll from the left-leaning firm Public Policy Polling. The other was included in the most recent Vanderbilt University poll.

In our post yesterday, we said the two polls "offered conflicting pictures" of the Republican primary between Sen. Lamar Alexander and his Tea Party opponent — and Boner Award Winner! — state Rep. Joe Carr.

For the rest of the day, we heard detailed explanations from all over the place about how our take — such as it was — on the polls was wrong. OK. For the sake of argument, let's try again.

Here are the results of the poll from the Adams campaign, conducted by PPP:

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A couple things which should indeed be noted here: As with a poll commissioned by the Alexander campaign in August, this poll was paid for by a candidate and conducted by a firm whose leanings are favorable toward that candidate. There are indeed some news organizations that refrain from even acknowledging internal polls. As we noted yesterday, PPP's methodology has been criticized in the past.

A state Republican source questioned the poll's credibility further, telling Pith that "it's clearly not JUST collecting political intelligence, but also pushing a viewpoint." That's evidenced, they say, by the portion of the results where we're told what voters thought after they "learn about Adams experiences as a veteran, and small business owner, middle class background, and statewide roots." It does seem fair to wonder, what did poll respondents "learn" about Alexander?

Even a Democratic source told Pith they were ready to dismiss "a candidate poll that is always designed to favor the one who's paying for it" — until they saw the results of the Vandy poll.

That poll showed Alexander with a 42-19 approval rating lead over Carr amongst Tea Party members. Amongst Republicans, the Senator leads Carr 57-15, and for the full sample his lead is 49-14.

The Democrat in our ear highlights the same fact that the Knoxville News-Sentinel's Tom Humphrey rightly pointed out in a blog post yesterday: Both polls show Alexander below 50 percent. Moreover, Alexander's Tea Party support lags well behind Gov. Bill Haslam's, whom the Vandy poll shows with 76 percent approval among Tea Partiers.

All that said, the Vandy poll shows a large gap between Alexander and Carr that the Adams poll (conveniently, perhaps) didn't find. You can guess how Lamarland feels about the numbers.

“The Vanderbilt poll is close to our internal numbers, and the PPP poll is in another universe," Team Alexander pollster Whit Ayres tells Pith in an emailed statement. "Sen. Alexander continues to have strong support across the board, especially among conservative, Republican and tea party voters.”

While you're guessing, take a stab at how the Carr camp feels about all this.

"No matter how you slice it, these recent poll numbers are horrible news for Senator Alexander," Carr communications director Hillary Pate tells Pith. "The Vandy poll show his favorability dropped 20 points among Tea Partiers, and the PPP numbers showed what our campaign has known along — this Republican primary is highly competitive."

Ahem. This Republican primary is not highly competitive. As the National Journal put it in a piece arguing that Republican incumbents don't have much to worry about this time around, "state Rep. Joe Carr, is nonviable, even to harsh Alexander critics."

In any case, since there's general agreement — we look forward to your emails, dissenters — that the Adams campaign poll might not give us the most reliable view of things, let's look at the Vandy poll, a non-partisan survey that looks at a wide variety of political issues and figures, as opposed to just this race. What does it say to us?

We concur with Friend of Pith, Tennessean reporter Chas Sisk, who said the takeaway from the poll seemed to be that Lamar! might indeed have cause to worry if he were facing a stronger primary opponent. (We heard as much from conservatives yesterday, who saw the poll numbers as confirmation that Alexander wasn't untouchable, just out of reach for a candidate like Carr.) That seems right for the primary, as well as the general election.

The Adams campaign may prove capable of garnering some support from desperate Democrats, but it would take a particularly strong candidate to unseat Alexander this time around, even if he is somewhat weakened. Since some of you may well be hearing Adams' name for the first time, in this post, there's a decent chance he's not that guy.

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