Plentiful N.H. Polling Shows Narrowing U.S. Senate Race

Republican Scott Brown and Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (AP)
Republican Scott Brown and Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (AP)

A new CNN/ORC poll finds Scott Brown tied with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in the U.S. Senate race in New Hampshire. While polls conducted earlier in the race suggested Brown’s foray into New Hampshire was a longshot, recent polls have shown a much narrower gap, and the race is now clearly one to watch as the two parties vie for control of the Senate.

The HuffPollster model (below) estimates a 4.6 percent gap between the two candidates. Various Senate models show forecasters give Brown between a 25 percent and 35 percent chance of winning, and the race still leaning Democratic. But recent polls have certainly buoyed Republican optimism that victory may be within reach.

Getting to this point has required a fairly significant narrowing of the 15-or-so-point gap that was present in early polling on the race. In doing so, Brown has taken a different route than he did in Massachusetts, where he relied on his personal affability to win over voters. In Massachusetts, his sparkling favorability ratings often placed him atop the list of the state’s most popular leaders. This time around, he has narrowed the gap without being as well liked by New Hampshire voters. Among likely voters in the CNN poll, 46 percent view him favorably, and 48 percent view him unfavorably. This is a lower favorability rating than his opponent, who is viewed positively by 54 percent of voters, and negatively by 42 percent.

The fact that the poll shows the race tied despite this gap in favorability appears partly related to the national political environment. Just 38 percent of voters in the same CNN poll approve of the way Barack Obama is handling his job as president, while 60 percent disapprove. With such lopsided margins disapproving of the president, it appears his downward pressure on support for the Democratic candidate may be helping to keep this race close.

No Surprise: Party Polls Don’t Agree

This is the fifth poll on the Senate race released since the primary, which was just seven days ago. Of the others, three were conducted on behalf of partisan groups, and one was from Rasmussen. Not surprisingly, the partisan polls showed the candidate from their own party doing better than the CNN poll or the polling average would suggest.

Party-sponsored polls that are released to the public often show better results for their own candidate when compared to other polls. This is largely due to the strategy behind poll releases. While public pollsters release their polls regardless of which candidate is ahead, private pollsters tend to release only those polls that serve the interests of their preferred candidate. So if an internal poll comes back with their candidate looking better than what the media polls show, it is more likely to be chosen for public release. In some instances, campaign pollsters also may incorporate assumptions about the electorate into their polls that are more favorable to their candidate, since a campaign’s strategy often relies on a specific composition of the electorate.  And so, as expected, the two Democratically sponsored polls show a more positive outlook for Shaheen (leading by 6 and 7 points), while the Republican poll showed Brown up 2 points.

Love Talking To Pollsters? New Hampshire’s Your Place

If five polls seems like a lot for one state, it’s nothing new for New Hampshire. The state’s small size and large share of closely watched races mean New Hampshire residents are polled far more than residents of any other state.  TWEET With the first-in-the-nation presidential primary, its status as a swing state in the presidential general election, and a Senate and gubernatorial election this year, there have been a lot of races generating national interest.

From the 2012 race through to this writing, there were 117 publicly released polls in New Hampshire, with a total of 85,209 individual interviews (phone calls, online interviews, etc). This works out to one interview per 16 New Hampshire residents. Next closest is Montana, with one interview per 25 residents. The rest of the states have at most one per 44 residents. While a few other states have had a higher number of polls, no other state has seen such a concentration of polls per resident of the state. To see how far ahead New Hampshire is relative to population, explore the chart below:

Of note is that these ratios include all residents: citizens and non-citizens, voters and nonvoters, adults and children. If the same figures were narrowed down to the smaller groups pollsters often target, such as likely voters in a given election, the “poll interview to population ratio” would look even higher in New Hampshire. These figures also do not include private campaign polls that are conducted and not released. The more competitive, nationally watched races the state hosts, the more of these private polls there will be. This means New Hampshire will again be in pollsters sights.

All of this adds up to a basic fact of political life in New Hampshire: If you vote, you can expect to hear from pollsters pretty regularly.

Steve Koczela is the lead writer for Poll Vault and president of The MassINC Polling Group.

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