Articles and Analysis


Riehle: New Data from Majority Watch

Topics: 2006 , IVR , IVR Polls , Pollsters , The 2006 Race

This "Guest Pollster Corner" contribution comes from Thomas Riehle, a Partner of RT Strategies

Editor's note: In a 2:30 p.m. press conference, Riehle announced that when the sum up results of the 63 surveys they have conducted since August and consider races where a candidate hold a lead beyond the margin of error, Democrats currently lead or safely hold 217 seats and while Republicans lead in or hold 198 seats. Democrats will need to win 218 seats to gain majority control. Full data are now available at www.majoritywatch.com, including a summary of all top-line results to date. The Pollster.com House Race page is updated to include all of the new Majority Watch data.

Majority Watch, a project of RT Strategies and Constituent Dynamics, sponsored by Waggener Edstrom Worldwide, is the most comprehensive project ever undertaken to identify and conduct polls in most of the highly contested House races across the country. In August and September, Majority Watch polled in 30 House districts. On October 1, we polled Mark Foley's Florida 16th district with two simultaneous polls, one in which respondents were informed that a vote for Foley would count for the Republican candidate to be named later, and one in which respondents did not get that information.

Today, Majority Watch begins to release results from Round II. In 32 races polled in the current cycle:

  • Republican incumbents who seemed to be in trouble in late August have held on or even improved their positions. In Washington's 8th C.D., Republican Rep. Dave Reichert has moved from 3 points behind to 3 points ahead of Democrat Darcy Burner, 48%-45%. In Virginia's 2nd C.D., Republican Rep. Thelma Drake has moved from 8 points behind to a marginal 2-point lead over Democrat Phil Kellam, 48%-46%. In Indiana's 2nd C.D., Republican Rep. Chris Chocola has moved from 12 points behind to only 4 points behind Democrat Joe Donnelly, 46% for Chocola to 50% for Donnelly. In Colorado's 7th C.D., Majority Watch polling shows Republican Rick O'Donnell is tied with Democrat Ed Perlmutter in the race to fill the open seat, essentially unchanged since August. All of these were among the first races Democrats targeted, and that early warning may have given Republicans the head's up they needed to remain competitive and avoid getting swept away.
  • Most Republican leaders have survived the worst of Foley's Folly, but in localized areas where there was a local media hook for the story (Florida, New York, possibly Arizona), damage may have been severe for many Republicans, at least at this time -- there's still time to recover.
  • On the positive side for Republicans, neither Speaker Denny Hastert (ahead by 10 points, 52%-42%) nor House Page Board chairman Rep. John Shimkus (ahead by 17 points, 53%-36%) seem to have suffered. The highest profile Republican House incumbent closest to Washington, D.C., Rep. Frank Wolf in Virginia's 10th C.D., remains ahead of Democrat Judy Feder, 47%-42%.
  • On the other hand, in Ohio, where the Republicans were already beset by the culture of corruption charge, Republican Conference Chairperson Deborah Pryce is behind by double digits, in Ohio's 18th District Republican Joy Padgett trails Democrat Zack Space by 9 points, and even in Ohio's 2nd C.D., Rep. Jean Schmidt is marginally behind Democrat Democrat Victoria Wulsin by 3 points, 45%-48%.
  • In New York, NRCC Chairperson Tom Reynolds has stumbled badly, trailing Democrat Jack Davis by 16 points, 56% for Davis to 40% for Reynolds. In the open seat in New York's 24th C.D., Democrat Michael Arcuri has opened a significant lead, 53%-42% over Republican Raymond Meier. Even Republican Rep. Peter King, never shy about pointing out when the leadership is wrong and vocal in his anger at how House leaders have handled the Foley case, seems to have suffered -- his is only marginally ahead, 48%-46% over Democrat Dave Mejias.
  • In a surprise, Arizona Republican Rep. Rick Renzi is marginally behind Democrat Ellen Simon, 50%-46%.
  • The Philadelphia suburbs remain troublesome for Republicans, with Republican Rep.s Jim Gerlach and Curt Weldon trailing their Democratic challengers.

Majority Watch takes advantage of new technologies, married to the oldest standards of sampling and vote modeling, to extend the practice of public opinion polling down to the level of House races. Calls are made by IVR recordings ("robo-calling"). The sample is drawn from voter lists of active voters, with Majority Watch controlling in-home selection in those households where more than one voter resides. The calls are kept extremely short in order to keep response rates as high as those for many publicly-released telephone interviewer polls (about 20% response rate using the standard AAPOR definition). And consumers are increasingly comfortable pushing buttons to respond to recorded voices -- can any reader say he or she is unfamiliar with the notion of "press 1" for one thing or "press 9" for another? These "robo-calls" perform not much differently than traditional telephone interviewer calls for very short, "horse-race" polls.

Majority Watch is currently polling in ten more House districts for release next week (GA-08, IL-08, IL-10, NH-01, NH-02, NY-19, NY-20, NY-25, NY-29, and OH-01), at which time we will have solid polls, with about 1,000 voters, in each of 55 House races. Depending on developing political circumstances, we may further expand the list and conduct more polls after next week.


Gary Kilbride:

Thomas, I really applaud this effort. Exciting to see House polls released en masse, along with a new theory of automated polling. And definitely the ideal year for it with so much focus on the House. Your numbers are already receiving big play on political sites, primarily left leaning sites due to the summary of the bottom line.

The high sample size gives me reason to hope the numbers are accurate, but naturally it's somewhat like a horse who is a first time starter. The pedigree and confirmation may look great, but I'll need to see at least one outing.

I'm a bit concerned the current poll numbers skew misleadingly toward Democrats due to the Foley scandal. I posted on many sites within the past few days that it could show up in individual races also, not merely the 21 and 23 point generic leads, which Charles Franklin described as absurd, and I concur. Today we have examples: SurveyUSA insisting Brown leads DeWine by 14 and McCaskill ahead of Talent by 9. IMO, those are similarly absurd. And it makes me skeptical about some of the results in House polls, particularly where they do not jive with previous findings, or subjective judgments of where the races stand.

I hope Constituent Dynamics does provide another round of polling, preferably in a couple of weeks when the Foley issue will be less prevalent and the landscape more narmalized. In particular I think it would be very revealing to see how House districts polled prior to Foley, the ones released in the first wave, differed in the second batch. My neighboring district, NV-3, would be one example. I think Constituent Dynamics polled Democrat Tessa Hafen within 51-43 of Jon Porter at that point.


Henry Olsen:

The extremely low percentage of undecideds in virtually every race is highly unusual. Even high profile top of ticket races usually have at least the 4-5% undecideds here, and often more. What accounts for the low percentage of undecideds?


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