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NH-Sen: Like the small state it's in, the University of New Hampshire receives outsized attention when it comes to politics. Thanks to their regular polling of a state that often hosts contested elections (not to mention its first-in-the-nation presidential primary), UNH has ensured that political observers will always talk about the data it churns out, justified or not.

And it's not justified. UNH is one of the worst pollsters out there.

That didn't stop traditional media reporters from breathlessly declaring that New Hampshire's Senate race, which Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen has had well in hand for some time, was suddenly a "dead heat" when UNH released a new survey Thursday evening showing her up just 46-44 on Republican Scott Brown. (Remember him? The former Massachusetts senator who seems to have a hard time remembering he's carpetbagging to a different state?) And boy, check out UNH's trendlines!

Trendline of UNH's 2014 NH-Sen polling between Jeanne Shaheen (D) and Scott Brown (R)
The problem, though, is that no other reputable pollster has shown the race that close all year. In fact, here's what things look like without UNH in the mix:
Aggregate chart of 2014 NH-Sen polling between Jeanne Shaheen (D) and Scott Brown (R), not including UNH
Now, UNH's numbers are a bit fresher than what's out there, so it's worth asking whether anything has dramatically changed in this race since last month, when UNH found Shaheen up by a 50-38 margin. But Andy Smith, who runs UNH's polling center, barely even tried to offer an explanation for this huge shift, claiming that Shaheen's campaign was being "being weighed down by national politics, particularly the declining popularity of President Obama." Say what?

Please read below the fold for more on this story.

Aggregate chart of Barack Obama's job approval ratings for 2014
Those train tracks are a chart of Obama's national job approval ratings from all pollsters from the start of 2014 until today. The guy's not popular, clearly, but if one thing's for sure, his popularity hasn't declined—and certainly not since July alone. Did Andy Smith even look at this data before pronouncing Shaheen a victim of "Obama drag"? It's hard to imagine that he did.

But that's standard operating procedure at UNH, where inexplicable gyrations are forever ignored, brushed aside, and swept under the White Mountains. How could you possibly explain this impossible zig-zag in another race UNH has polled often, New Hampshire's 1st Congressional District?

Trendline of UNH's 2014 NH-01 polling between Carol Shea-Porter (D) and Frank Guinta (R)
Are we honestly meant to believe that Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter was up 16 points on Republican Frank Guinta in October, only to find herself down 6 in January, then back up by 9 in April, and then back down by 3 in July? New Hampshire politics may be volatile, but this is cockamamie stuff. Smith didn't even try to justify this, merely claiming that "[s]upport for Shea-Porter has remained stable" (not true) while "support for the lesser-known Guinta has fluctuated somewhat." Fluctuated somewhat!

(And as an aside, please note that we called out UNH earlier this year when Shea-Porter was riding high. Our objections to UNH have nothing to do with whether their polling is good for Democrats or bad for Democrats. UNH's suckiness is a serious problem no matter which party they seem to be favoring.)

One thing UNH's defenders like to point out is that the school's last polls of the cycle have often been closer to the mark, and that's true. For instance, they found Obama up 5 points in New Hampshire just before Election Day 2012; he won by 6. They also had Democrat Maggie Hassan winning the governor's race by 9; she prevailed by 12. But that hardly exonerates them. UNH's presidential polling was absolutely berserk over the final month of the race:

Trendline of UNH's 2012 presidential polling in New Hampshire between Barack Obama (D) and Mitt Romney (R)
So we're meant to believe that Obama started October up 15 points, then collapsed into an outright tie a month later before surging to a 5-point edge in the final few days before the election? No friggin' way—and we know this just didn't happen because the Obama campaign's own national polling, the most accurate in the land, never budged more than a couple of points all year long. So who you gonna trust, David Axelrod or Andy Smith?

All that said, it's certainly possible that New Hampshire's Senate contest has tightened. But even if for some reason you trusted UNH completely, you should never rely on one single poll to form an opinion on a race. Certainly you'd never try to predict the outcome of a baseball game based solely on the score after one inning. It may well be that the next poll—the next 10 polls, even—all show the same thing as UNH has here. If that happens, then maybe UNH was right. It's certainly not impossible, after all. But it's also possible they'll just get lucky—or will be entirely wrong. And given how erratic they are, the latter is a safer bet.

So why does UNH produce such erratic polling? No one can truly say. There are lots of bad pollsters out there, whether in Republican boiler rooms or on leafy college campuses, though it probably doesn't help when your interviewers are bored undergrads trying to get through call lists as quickly as they can to earn school credit. Still, there should be much greater quality control at the top. No respectable outfit would release numbers than bounce around so comically without first trying to get to the bottom of the problem.

But that, of course, means recognizing you've got a problem in the first place. And when you're used to getting lots of attention, it must be awfully tempting to look the other way when you've got a headline-grabbing poll like UNH's latest. Beltway reporters still have a lot of affection for Scott Brown, whom they imagine actually lives up to the barn coat-wearing, regular-guy-Republican image he's always tried hard to project. And they also love a good horserace. Andy Smith gave 'em one, whether it exists or not.

Race Ratings:

We're changing ratings on four races this week, three in favor of the GOP and one in favor of the Democrats. As always, you can find our complete race ratings charts here, for all three sets of races: Senate, gubernatorial, and House.

AR-Gov (Tossup to Lean R): Both sides are spending big in Arkansas, and the race is not over by a long shot. But it's hard to dispute that Republican Asa Hutchinson has opened up a tangible lead against Democrat Mike Ross. Ross has not led in a single publicly released poll since early April, and even the state Democratic Party could only release numbers showing Ross tied. Outgoing Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe's popularity or some well-placed attacks on Hutchinson could still keep Ross in this thing, but right now it looks like Hutchinson has the advantage. (Jeff Singer)

OH-Gov (Lean R to Likely R): Three years ago, GOP Gov. John Kasich looked like he could be pretty vulnerable for re-election, after voters decisively rejected his attempt to weaken collective bargaining rights by repealing it at the ballot box. But Kasich proved to be a smart campaigner, masking his propensity for douchey behavior and tacking to the center with ads that could been aired by a Democrat.

And speaking of Democrats, Kasich's opponent, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, has really hurt himself of late. His image as an upright, law-and-order reformer has taken a big hit with revelations that he drove state-owned vehicles without a valid driver's license for years. His fundraising has also dried up and his top staffers have fled with just weeks to go before the start of early voting. Ohio is a big, expensive state, and the DGA is almost certainly going to prioritize other pickup opportunities.

MN-01 (Likely D to Safe D): Despite representing a swingy district for years, Democratic Rep. Tim Walz has largely avoided drawing any tough Republican challengers. National Republicans never seemed very excited about their preferred candidate Aaron Miller, and they're even less excited about Jim Hagedorn, who beat Miller in the Aug. 12 primary. Hagedorn has raised very little money and his only claim to fame is being the son of former Rep. Tom Hagedorn, who left office in the early 1980s.

Hagedorn also has some considerable flaws that won't be solved even if he raises more money. As a conservative blogger, Hagedorn has a long track record for writing offensive comments about ... well, about everyone, but particularly women. Neither national party nor any of their allies have made any real moves here, and while Minnesota will host several competitive races this year, it doesn't look like this will be one of them. (Jeff Singer)

MN-08 (Lean D to Tossup): Rick Nolan's comeback in 2012, after more than 30 years out of the House, was one of last cycle's feel-good stories. However, Nolan's still fundraising like it's the 1970s. His opponent, sporting goods heir Stewart Mills, can self-fund but hasn't done so yet because he's led in the money race without even cracking open his own wallet. The DCCC has been not-so-subtly prodding Nolan to get his fundraising in gear and added him to the Frontline program for its most vulnerable incumbents. In addition, the pro-Dem House Majority PAC and the AFSCME have stepped in recently with their own advertising. While we haven't seen any polls of this race, this is one where outside groups' actions tell the story. (David Jarman)


OR-Gov, -Sen: Republican Dennis Richardson's campaign against Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber has been on very few people's radars, but Richardson and his allies are tying to change that. On Thursday, the RGA released a very dusty poll (from June!) showing Kitzhaber up only 42-38. Now, Richardson is touting an August poll from Moore Information showing him down only 45-41. Ever the team player, Richardson also released the numbers for the U.S. Senate race, showing Republican Monica Wehby trailing Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley by a wider 47-38 margin.

Independent polling has consistently shown Kitzhaber up by double digits. Moore does not have much of a track record when it comes to polls from within one month of election day. Here's what we have on them for 2010:

AZ-Gov: Moore Information: Brewer (R) 51-34; actual: Brewer (R) 54-42; error: +5 R

ID-01: Moore Information: Minnick (D) 37-31; actual: Labrador (R) 51-41; error: +16 D

OR-05: Moore Information: Bruun (R) 44-40; actual: Schrader (D) 51-46; error: +9 R

Moore's biggest miss, the ID-01 contest, may not actually be their fault. This race reportedly shifted fast, with then-Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick losing his lead late in the game. Moore correctly argued at the time that eventual winner Raul Labrador was closing, which is what happened. The OR-05 poll, which missed the mark by nine points, is harder to defend.

Moore only released one pre-election poll in 2012. In CA-21, Moore found Republican David Valado up 53-33; Valado won 58-42. They did, however, have one iffy primary poll this cycle. They surveyed the Alaska Senate Republican primary on behalf of eventual winner Dan Sullivan in the final weeks of the contest. They found Sullivan leading Mead Treadwell 42-25, with Joe Miller at 17. On Tuesday, Sullivan beat Miller 40-32, with Treadwell at 25, quite a bit different from what they predicted.

That still leaves us with our original question: Is Richardson really threatening Kitzhaber? The strangest aspect of Moore's poll is the fact that Merkley's lead is consistent with the polling averages but Kitzhaber's isn't. The pair have tended to move in lockstep. But taking a step back, we're dealing with a couple of polls from Republican pollsters with a dog in this fight. Moore's track record may not be terrible, but this isn't the cycle to start trusting GOP pollsters without outside confirmation. (Jeff Singer)


AZ-01: Oh, sweet Jesus:

Tobin says he's hearing about worries from constituents that the recent wave of undocumented youth from Central America could cause an Ebola outbreak in the United States.

"Anything's now possible," Tobin said last week. "So if you were to say the Ebola virus has now entered (the country), I don't think anyone would be surprised."

That's Andy Tobin, state House Speaker, Republican congressional hopeful, and preferred choice of the GOP establishment. What a guy.

WI-06: With official tallies now certified to the state election board, state Sen. Joe Leibham has decided not to seek a recount of the Aug. 12 GOP primary won by fellow state Sen. Glenn Grothman. Grothman held a 215-vote lead on election night, which expanded slightly to 219 votes after the results were recanvassed; a recount would have been exceedingly unlikely to change that outcome. Grothman will face off against Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris in November.

Grab Bag:

FL Redistricting: Well, that ended with a predictably desultory whimper. Terry Lewis, the Florida judge overseeing a lawsuit against the state's congressional map, has accepted the minimalist changes made by legislative Republicans to comply with his earlier ruling finding the lines unconstitutional and rejected claims by plaintiffs that the new map is still flawed. Lewis also decreed that this year's elections will go forward with the existing map while the remedial districts won't be used until 2016.

Plaintiffs, who've displayed incredibly poor judgment throughout this whole process, could still appeal, but at this point, they may not be able to appeal the judge's underlying ruling finding the original map invalid (which they should have done right away). They may only be able to appeal the judge's acceptance of the new map, and his decision to wait until next cycle to implement. In other words, there's probably not a whole lot that can change at this point. Really lame.

Ads & Independent Expenditures (Jeff Singer):

AK-Sen: The International Association of Firefighters shells out $164,000 for an as-of-yet unseen ad against Republican Dan Sullivan.

AR-Sen: Americans for Prosperity goes negative on Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor once again.

CO-Sen: Next Gen Climate hits Republican Rep. Cory Gardner with $728,000.

GA-Sen: We recently highlighted an EMILY's List buy for $1 million, and now we have the ad. The narrator accuses Republican David Perdue's company of discriminating against women while he ran it. Meanwhile, the NRSC shells out another $478,000 against Democrat Michelle Nunn (here and here).

KY-Sen: What's a few hundred thousand more between friends? The Kentucky Opportunity Coalition hits Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes with another $177,000 (here and here).

LA-Sen: The DSCC spends another $341,000 against Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy, likely in support of this ad.

MI-Sen: The League of Conservation Voters hits Republican Terri Lynn Land for her ties to the Koch Brothers, citing the environmental damage the Kochs have done to the state.

NH-Sen: We have a size of the buy for a recent Next Gen Climate attack ad on Republican Scott Brown: $1,032,000.

AZ-Gov: With the Aug. 26 Republican primary almost here, former Mesa Mayor Scott Smith has two last-minute positive ads (here and here). We also have a very rare sighting: An ad for Secretary of State Ken Bennett. Bennett has long been an afterthought in this contest, with his opponents and their allies not even bothering to attack him. Bennett's own ad is pretty dull, with him just talking to the camera.

FL-Gov: Next Gen Climate ties Republican Gov. Rick Scott to big polluters. In what's become a big theme in anti-Scott ads, the spot throws in a clip of Scott evading questions at a hearing over his then-company's alleged Medicare fraud.

IL-Gov: DGA goes right after Republican Bruce Rauner's business career, leading with recent revelations about Rauner's accounts in the Cayman Islands.

MD-Gov: Democrat Anthony Brown goes positive.

CA-26: Freshman Democratic Rep. Julia Brownley is out with her first spot, where she declares she'll stand up for the rights of women and families.

GA-12: In the NRCC's spot, a woman with a monkey on her shoulder decries Democratic Rep. John Barrow for voting for wasteful spending. I didn't make that sentence up.

IA-04: Democrat Jim Mowrer is one of the few challengers to hold more cash-on-hand than the person he's trying to unseat. Mowrer, who is taking on unhinged Republican Rep. Steve King, is taking advantage of his financial edge to air his third spot of the cycle. Mowrer describes how he lost his father at a young age, and the family only survived because of Social Security. Mowrer then declares he'll defend Social Security.

IL-10: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce hits Democratic Rep. Brad Schneider for voting with Democratic party leaders, while portraying former Republican Rep. Bod Dold as an independence voice.

IL-17: Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos' first spot features a veteran decrying how too many American flags at military funerals were actually made in China. The man praises Bustos for introducing a bill to require the government to only buy American-made flags.

NJ-03: Republican Tom MacArthur accuses Democrat Aimee Belgard of lying about his ethics.

Weirdly, the narrator declares, "The [Belgard] ad falsely states MacArthur cheated disaster victims." As a viewer (albeit one not inclined to like Tom MacArtur to begin with), the only part of the ad is the "MacArthur cheated disaster victims" line. For a look at why it's usually a really bad idea to repeat your opponent's accusation against you even when refuting it, check out this great article by Brad Phillips of Mr. Media Training.

NH-01: We have the size of the buy for a recent American Unity PAC spot for Dan Innis in the Republican primary: $329,000 (here and here).

Originally posted to Daily Kos Elections on Mon Aug 25, 2014 at 05:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Whew, thanks David, I was worried about NH-Sen (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mconvente, Pilotshark, hbk, buffie

    I volunteered for Shaheen in all of her gubernatorial races and her first (unsuccessful) Senate run in 2002, and the breathless polling headlines got me worried. I fervently hope you're right and UNH is wrong (again).

  •  Nunn 47 Perdue 40 according to Landmark Poll (4+ / 0-)

    of GA Senate released last week.

    •  I think we'll hold on to the Senate (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      katesmom, buffie

      A win in Georgia would throw a big monkey wrench in the GOP's plans, and despite Daines's current lead, MT does have a tradition of electing Democrats to the Senate even as they elect the GOP to the House and presidency.

      "Valerie, why am I getting all these emails calling me a classless boor?"

      by TLS66 on Mon Aug 25, 2014 at 06:42:44 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Are you intentionally ignoring a plausible (0+ / 0-)


    In way of a disclaimer, I'm not claiming that a drop in undecideds IS the explanation, merely that it could account for a decent piece of the change.

    So could random variation.

    LG: You know what? You got spunk. MR: Well, Yes... LG: I hate spunk!

    by dinotrac on Mon Aug 25, 2014 at 06:13:00 AM PDT

  •  Polling is becoming free ads for the GOP (7+ / 0-)

    The way the media simply regurgitates ALL polls whether they're accurate or BS is rapidly leading to polling becoming a pseudoscience rather than a statistical science.  The GOP has learned they can put out a push-poll or any deliberately distorted BS poll and the media is going to jump all over it.  Add to that all the bad robo-calling polls or simply bad pollsters like UNH and you've got a real mess.  Averaging polls with so many bad polls out there is going to distort the picture also.


  •  Dubya would have killed for Obama's (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Stude Dude, buffie

    current poll numbers by the end of his term. I'm not that fussed about them to be honest.

    Why do I have the feeling George W. Bush joined the Stonecutters, ate a mess of ribs, and used the Constitution as a napkin?

    by Matt Z on Mon Aug 25, 2014 at 08:31:09 AM PDT

    •  I don't get why they're so low. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Matt Z

      It's not like he's Richard Nixon mired in Watergate.

      "If this Studebaker had anymore Atomic Space-Age Style, you'd have to be an astronaut with a geiger counter!"

      by Stude Dude on Mon Aug 25, 2014 at 10:43:40 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The MSM has poisoned people (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        buffie, Stude Dude

        against the President. If people actually knew what he'd accomplished instead of the media doing the Republicans' work for them his approval would be in the high 60's.

        Why do I have the feeling George W. Bush joined the Stonecutters, ate a mess of ribs, and used the Constitution as a napkin?

        by Matt Z on Mon Aug 25, 2014 at 10:45:21 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Trust me, I deal with NH republicans alot.... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BlueDragonNH, Stude Dude, buffie

    these are some of the dumbest shitheads on earth. I don't even know how they can pull off being so knowingly ignorant. Sit around the table with a bunch of them and your head will explode within minutes.

    So it's no surprise to me they be all for this pretty boy air head male example of the "dumb blonde" stereotype.

    Seriously, Brown is a poster child for how you can have an advanced degree and still be dumber that a random potato.

    It would be funny if it weren't so sad and dangerous.

    A total lack of responsibility to the Nation to send quality individuals to Congress to represent the needs of society ... or even their own best interests. New Hampshire's economy is in the shitter worse than most, all due to Republican/Conservative economic policies and yet they are oblivious to what is undermining their own personal economics. Idiocy to the nth degree.

    We call it .... COW HAMPSHIRE

    •  Really? (0+ / 0-)

      NH's economy is much better than RI's (which has a heavily Democratic government), with a lower unemployment rate, and better than many other states around the country. And the title "Cow Hampshire" goes back decades and decades, long before the Bush financial implosion of 2008. So the NH GOP doesn't deserve the blame for that (although the national GOP may). I left NH 10 years ago, but at that time, there were quite a number of Republicans who were reasonable and fairly intelligent people with whom one could have a useful conversation, and find common ground on some issues. Maybe they've all gone loony since then, but I doubt it.

      I will be interested in seeing the results of the GOP primary -- and wondering how many Democrats will cross over and vote in it to make mischief.

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