Charles Franklin | October 31, 2009
The new Siena College poll of NY-23 has mixed news for both parties now that Scozzafava has suspended her campaign. The key question is how does her vote split between Owens and Hoffman. (And keep in mind she'll still be on the ballot, so some will vote for her anyway, and we have no idea how many that will be.)
Thanks to Siena for releasing cross tabs which allow us a much better look into the data. Here's hoping this practice becomes more widespread.
First, just as they are tied in vote, Owens and Hoffman are tied in favorable/unfavorable views. Owens registers 40/35/24 fav/unfav/dk, while Hoffman is at 41/37/22. Scozzafava has suffered from the campaign, with a poor 29/51/20 showing.
So while the campaign has been intense, Dede has been the primary victim, with Owens and Hoffman emerging at this point with essentially identical favorability profiles.
The next question is how do Scozzafava voters feel about Owens and Hoffman? The answer is pretty much the same, and not very positive.
Owens is 19% Fav, 50% Unfav and 32% DK. For Hoffman it is 15%, 57% and 28%. That's a tiny edge to Owens, but it is so small and flies against party identification that it is hard to see this as better than a wash. Certainly it doesn't look like Scozzafava voters will see Owens as a highly desirable second choice, but at best a poor second.
The undecided voters (9% of the sample) are also evenly split in the favs towards Owens and Hoffman, with identical 24% favs, and a 24% unfav for Owens to a 20% unfav for Hoffman. As befits undecideds, mostly they don't have an opinion: 52% DK for Owens, 56% dk for Hoffman.
Conclusion: probably remains an even split, based on these results.
What about Party Identification? Here is some bad news for Owens. He's losing 25% of the Democratic voters, versus only a 13% defection rate among Republicans.
Fully 14% of Dems say they will vote for the Conservative Hoffman. Another 11% were going for Scozzafava. Even if you think all those Scozzafava Dems come back to Owens, the party is not as unified as it needs to be.
Independents are also leaning Hoffman by 40-35, with only 15% supporting Scozzafava up for grabs.
Ironically, it may be the 29% of Republicans (45% of the Siena sample of likely voters) who could be attracted to Owens. They've by definition resisted Hoffman, but now with the party united behind him, it seems unlikely Owens can capture a disproportionate share of these Republicans who resisted the Conservative's siren song.
For Owens to make gains here, he has to see Dems coming home overwhelmingly from Scozzafava (not unreasonable) and to see a lower defection rate for Hoffman (somewhat harder to do.) And he also has to hope that the Scozzafava Republicans are so upset with Hoffman that they defect to Owens (but we just saw above that Scozzafava voters generally split their affections evenly. We don't know how Scozzafava Reps specifically feel about Owens and Hoffman, so perhaps that group breaks more but given the power of party id, it seems unlikely to be especially fertile territory for Owens.)
It is the combination of these results that led me to say the Siena poll is bad news for Owens in my earlier "quick post". Now the logic is better laid out. It isn't that this looks like terrible news, but there isn't much good news in it either. A toss up remains a tossup, but with some partisan forces acting mostly in Hoffman's favor rather than Owens'.
Finally, there is one interesting note that COULD be a plus for Owens. Scozzafava and undecided voters are MUCH more like Owens supporters than Hoffman on one key point: They like President Obama quite a lot:
If this race were a referendum on Obama, then the Hoffman voters look just like they should-- angry anti-Obama folks, while the Scozzafava and undecided look a lot more positive to Obama, and hence potentially attractive Democratic voters.
Perhaps the best move Owens can make in the last three days is to drape himself in the cloak of Obama, hoping to bring home those wavering 25% of Dems, and use this favorable view of Obama among Scozzafava and undecided to bring in the margin of victory.
Conversely, if Hoffman wants to win the Scozzafava and undecided, he should probably push Republican loyalty more, and opposition (especially angry opposition) to the president less. He's already won over the voters with pitchforks and tea bags. He needs a strategy to close the deal with Reps and others who don't actually despise the president. (Recall the district went 52-47 for Obama.)
So after all that, it still looks like a tossup on the two simplest most direct measures: current vote choice and favorability. When we try to parse the Scozzafava voters, they mostly look like a tossup, with at most a sliver of extra support for Owens. But at most a sliver.
Owens must win back defecting Dems to have a chance. And some nationalization of the race even at this late date might help more than emphasizing partisanship alone. The former can both bring home Dems and win over some Scozzafava support.
What the data don't address is how much the Republican party (and its national leadership) now united behind Hoffman can swing the majority of Scozzafava voters.
Bottom line is this will be fun on Tuesday night.
(Special thanks to Siena's Steven Greenberg and Don Levy for getting me some extra detail on what is surely a very busy day for them.)