What the Latest Polls Told Us: Gillibrand in Trouble?

What the Latest Polls Told Us: Gillibrand in Trouble?

By Sean Trende - September 23, 2010

This edition will focus on the Senate and House races, because there were a lot of good crosstabs today that I wanted to dig into. Governor’s races will come later this afternoon.


New York – Here’s a pair of shockers that aren't shockers if you’ve been paying close enough attention to this race: SurveyUSA shows New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand leading Congressman Joe DioGuardi by a single point, 45 percent to 44 percent, while Quinnipiac shows Gillibrand with a 48 to 42 point lead. According to SurveyUSA, Gillibrand leads in NYC 54 percent to 35 percent, but is losing upstate and, more importantly, the New York suburbs. This is actually consistent with two things – DioGuardi’s Westchester base, and the revolt against Democrats in Nassau and Westchester Counties (little known fact — earlier this year, Democrats lost an Assembly seat in Westchester County that had given Obama 66 percent of the vote).

This gets back to something I wrote back in November of last year: The Clinton coalition really seems to be coming unglued. Northern suburbs swung heavily toward the moderate, fiscally conservative, socially cosmopolitan policies of Bill Clinton, which compensated for the loss of the South. The heavy spending of the Obama administration seems to be driving them the other way. This is a really ominous sign for Democrats, especially if it has some staying power.

In any event, Gillibrand has been below 50 percent for most of this cycle, which is why RCP has kept this race Likely Democrat. If you’ve been watching these polls and what has been going on in New York, the result isn’t all that shocking. Of course, DioGuardi’s reward if he wins will be running again in 2012 with Barack Obama at the top of the ticket.

Both SurveyUSA and Quinnipiac also find Senator Charles Schumer with a narrowing lead: SurveyUSA pegs it at 54 percent to 33 percent, while Quinnipiac puts it at 54 to 38 percent.

CaliforniaRasmussen Reports finds what other pollsters are finding here: Democrat Barbara Boxer is beginning to pull away from Carly Fiorina. Rasmussen’s last poll showed Fiorina up by a point, but the latest shows a four point margin in Boxer’s favor. Boxer leads by 3.5 points in the RCP Average, but seems to have a little bit of momentum behind her.

WisconsinCNN/Time released several new polls today, including one for the Wisconsin Senate race. Like other pollsters, CNN/Time finds businessman Ron Johnson pulling ahead of three-term Democrat Russ Feingold, this time by a six-point margin, 51 percent to 45 percent. Incidentally, even in an environment with a smaller enthusiasm gap this would likely still be close; Feingold’s lead among registered voters is only 48 percent to 46 percent.

Johnson benefits from a 16-point lead among men, compared to a 5-point lead for Feingold among women. Feingold and Johnson are both receiving 94 percent of the vote from their parties’ bases, meaning this will be fought among the 10 percent or so of independents who are still undecided. In one of those “this can’t be right” crosstabs (with an MOE of +/- 8 percent), Johnson is leading Feingold in Milwaukee County, which gave President Obama 67 percent of the vote.

Johnson is also leading handily in all the suburbs; areas where Clinton Democrats had made great inroads in the 1990s. Johnson leads by eight points in the RCP Average.

Colorado – The Colorado Senate race has been fairly quiet ever since Ken Buck won the Republican nomination. According to CNN/Time, Buck has a five-point lead among likely voters, which is consistent with what other polls are showing. The enthusiasm gap is definitely affecting Bennet negatively; among registered voters he leads 47 percent to 44 percent.

The race sports one of the worst gender gaps in the country – men break 20 points for Buck while women go for Bennet by 10 points. Bennet performs well in the major urban areas of the state (60%+ in Denver/Boulder), but the rest of the state is Buck country. Among the “new suburbs,” Buck leads by 15 points.

The bottom line is that Michael Bennet is an incumbent senator under 45 percent in most polls. That’s not a good place for him to be at this point. Buck leads by 2.4 points in the RCP Average.

Illinois – This is another race where polling has been surprisingly quiet and consistent. Rasmussen Reports has Mark Kirk leading Alexi Giannoulias 44 percent to 41 percent. The polls have closed by a point since the early September polling, but the number of undecideds has shrunk considerably. Kirk leads by a point in the RCP Average.

ArkansasReuters/Ipsos checks in on this Senate race, and finds the closest race yet for Senator Blanche Lincoln. Congressman John Boozman still leads by a hefty 53 percent to 39 percent margin, but this is the closest anyone has had this race in almost a year. Boozman nevertheless leads by 24 points in the RCP Average.

Delaware – CNN/Time finds that Christine O’Donnell’s bid to become the next senator from Delaware is fading. Among likely voters, she trails 55 percent to 39 percent. Oddly, if the 19th Amendment hadn’t passed, she would be competitive; she trails by three points among men but gets clobbered, 61 percent to 32 percent, among women. In the “sour grapes” department, the same poll shows Mike Castle winning handily.

O’Donnell is winning lower Delaware 48 percent to 42 percent, but, unfortunately for her, most of the state’s votes are concentrated in New Castle County, where she loses 62 percent to 34 percent. Coons is carrying the urban core 77 percent to 20 percent, and is even carrying the Delaware suburbs 55 percent to 41 percent, a highly unusual result for a Democrat this cycle.

Pennsylvania – Pat Toomey continues to hold onto a solid lead in the Keystone State. CNN/Time shows him leading Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak 49 percent to 44 percent, while Quinnipiac finds him up seven, 50 percent to 43 percent.

Quinnipiac finds President Obama at a 40/56 approval split, and 52 percent want to see the next senator from Pennsylvania oppose the President’s priorities, which is bad news for Democrats in this state up and down the ticket. Democrats are heavily concentrated in the 1st, 2nd, and 14th districts, which means that the President’s approval rating in the remaining districts must be abysmal. Toomey leads in the suburbs 54 percent to 38 percent, including a 48/46 win in the Philly suburbs. To put that into perspective, Obama won the Philly suburbs 58 percent to 41 percent, and Bush only carried the Pennsylvania suburbs 52 percent to 47 percent.


GenericMcClatchy/Marist polled registered voters, and found Republicans leading by two points, 47 percent to 45 percent. Of course, this is of registered voters, not likely voters, and so the actual spread among the electorate is probably a few points more in the Republicans’ favor. A more ominous sign for the Democrats is the fact that Republicans lead 61 percent to 34 percent among those who describe themselves as “very enthusiastic” about voting. Also ominous – the Republicans’ lead seems to be fairly evenly spread between the regions: -2 in the Northeast, +4 in the Midwest, +4 in the South, and +3 in the West.

When you get generic ballot results like that, you get House race results like this:

PA-03 – Independent Pennsylvania pollster Franklin & Marshall finds terrible news for Democratic Representative Kathy Dahlkemper. She trails her GOP opponent Mike Kelly 44 percent to 38 percent. President Obama’s approval rating is 36 percent, which, perhaps unsurprisingly, is similar to Kelly’s 38 percent. These are difficult numbers for a candidate to come back from.

Normally I don’t focus much on campaign polls, but these are shocking enough that they’re worth a mention:

MA-04Sean Bielat released a campaign poll showing him trailing Congressman Barney Frank (D) 48 percent to 38 percent. Obviously, this is a campaign poll, so take with the requisite grain of salt, but we should not completely dismiss the poll either; this is a district that Scott Brown carried. Frank hasn’t been below 68 percent in this district in a very long time, but as Chairman of the House Banking Committee, it is easy to see him getting tagged with the blame from bailouts and such. Bill Clinton has visited the district recently, so despite his denials, he’s probably seeing something in his internals that he doesn’t like.

Regardless, Barney Frank’s opponent shouldn’t be able to create a poll showing Frank below 50 percent in anything resembling a normal year. This is no normal year.

MS-02 – Again, take this with a grain of salt in this D+12 district, but the campaign of Bill Marcy released a poll showing himself ahead of eight-term Congressman Bennie Thompson 35 percent to 34 percent. It is worth noting that among registered voters who are “unlikely” to vote, Thompson leads by 15 points, 40 percent to 25 percent.

The poll’s 50/50 white/black split is a bit tough to swallow in this 63 percent black district. But three things are worth noting. First, polls have shown that the Democrats’ African American base is unusually depressed this cycle. Second, Marcy is African American.

Third, and most importantly, Thompson has had difficulty with African American opponents in good Republican years before. In 1994 he was held to 54 percent, in 2002 he was held to 55 percent, and in 2004 he was held to 58 percent.

Other Campaign Polls – Please note that these typically represent the best-case scenario for the candidate after multiple polls; when they show a candidate below 50 percent, it is generally bad news (and if they’re behind, it’s really bad):

WA-9, Benenson (D), Smith (D) 54 percent, Muri (R) 35 percent

FL-22, Anzalone-Liszt (D), Klein (D) 48 percent, West (R) 40 percent

VA-5, Benenson (D), Perriello (D) 44 percent, Hurt (R) 46 percent

TN-9, Yacoubian (D), Cohen (D) 66 percent, Bergmann (R) 23 percent

Sean Trende is senior elections analyst for RealClearPolitics. He is a co-author of the 2014 Almanac of American Politics and author of The Lost Majority. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @SeanTrende.

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