Sorting through the final day polls and spin

Each side is trying to frame the news cycle for the late voters, but the recent polls and turnout patterns continue to point to a Republican landslide, with Dino Rossi having the momentum.

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Dino Rossi

Each side is trying to frame the news cycle for the late voters, but the recent polls and turnout patterns continue to point to a Republican landslide, with Dino Rossi having the momentum.

It’s been an eventful day (Nov. 1) with new polls and each side releasing information intended to motivate their supporters and frame the news cycle.  When you clear away the spin, however, all objective signs now point to a huge Republican landslide, and to Dino Rossi's having the momentum in the final hours of this campaign.

Nationally, the final generic ballot numbers show the largest gap for the GOP in history, 8 percent in the average of all polls and 15 percent in the Gallup poll.  Gallup calls it “uncharted waters.” In 1994, Republicans gained 52 seats in the House.  Now, every national analyst says the GOP will gain AT LEAST that many seats.

Here at home, the day began with a new poll from PPP showing Rossi ahead 50 to 48, and noted that there was a “severe” enthusiasm gap here favoring Republicans. Then came the release of a new Rasumussen/FOX poll taken entirely on Saturday night, showing Murray ahead 49 to 47.

The Seattle Times then posted excerpts from a memo written by Pat Shortridge, Dino Rossi’s campaign manager, detailing voter turnout thus far.  Shortridge claims that Republican tracking is showing that Republican areas of the state are returning their ballots at higher percentage than are Democratic areas.  (Both parties track these returns daily.)

"As you'll note, in 2004, turnout in the heavily Democrat 7th CD was about 1.4 percentage points ahead of the state average. This year, the 7th CD is 3.3 percentage points behind the statewide average. Likewise, the 1st CD was 4 percentage points ahead of the statewide average in 2004. This year, it is 2.7 percentage points behind," the memo observed. "Further, in 2004, the more Republican 4th CD was 3.8 percentage points behind the state average, while the 5th CD was just under 2.5 percentage points behind. This year, the 4th CD is almost 5 percentage points ahead, as is the 5th CD." It's not quite apples to apples, since 2004 was a presidential election year.

Democrats, seeing a narrative develop that the election was slipping away, pushed back, releasing an internal poll showing Murray ahead by 7 percent.  In addition, UW professor Matt Barreto sought to throw cold water on the PPP results which contrast sharply with his Washington Poll results.

So what can we believe on this election eve?  First there is no doubt that the national Republican wave, which began with tea parties, townhall meetings, and Scott Brown, never subsided.  Every Democrat will have to swim against the tide to survive; the reverse of the recent anti-Bush elections of 2006 and 2008.

Second, I think the PPP poll is very significant.  PPP is a Democratic firm, and they polled over three nights, Friday through Sunday, so their data is the most recent, and they found a 3 percent Democratic advantage among likely voters.  Their sample seems accurate.  Most importantly, they found that among people who said they had already voted, Rossi leads by 52 to 47 percent.  This tracks with the earlier SUSA poll that also showed Rossi leading among people who have already voted. 

Finally, there is the fact that Republican areas of the state are indeed returning ballots at a higher rate than Seattle and other Democratic areas.  This is true even within King County, in addition to the statewide data released by Shortridge.  The King County elections website includes information on mail ballots returned. As of Sunday night, the rate of return in the suburban areas of the county was running roughly 3 percent ahead of the rate of return in Seattle.

The findings in the PPP poll among those of who have already voted, and the data regarding ballot returns, make it clear that as of Sunday night there certainly was an “enthusiasm gap” in Washington state favoring Republicans.  Combine that with Rossi’s lead in every poll among independents and you have to say Rossi has the advantage in this very close election.  You also have to say that it appears every Democrat outside the city limits of Seattle, Tacoma, and downtown Spokane, is in danger heading into tomorrow. All this also gives credence to what national analysts are saying will be a Republican midterm landslide as big or bigger than 1994.

Either Dino Rossi or Patty Murray is going to lose this election, and inevitably the losing candidate and campaign team are criticized for something they did or didn’t do.  I think both the Rossi and Murray teams have run great campaigns. I think they both followed the right strategies with the right messages. They have both done all that could be done in this unique election year. Now we await the verdict.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Chris Vance

Chris Vance

Chris Vance, a former Republican party chairman, is a senior fellow at the Niskanen Center.