Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Virginia Gov. Polling Trends Show Deeds Gaining Ground

Cross-posted to Daily Kos

Well, I’ve had some time to look at the latest PPP poll, and the fact is that it holds the best news for …. wait for it …. Creigh Deeds!

I know I’m in the tank for Creigh and therefore biased, but hear me out on this one.

I have had, and still have, my doubts about the PPP poll for a few reasons (and I say this as someone who knows little about the science of polling). I don’t like their methodology of responding by pressing telephone buttons. I’m not convinced that their respondent dispersion across telephone area codes accurately reflects the Old Dominion’s Democratic voting population, and I fear that it may, ever so slightly, overweight NoVA and Hampton Roads while underweighting Richmond and rural Virginia. Lastly, apropos of nothing, PPP is from North Carolina, and what can I say, it bugs me that a North Carolina polling firm is encroaching on a Virginia election.

Some of these weaknesses can be seen in the data. For example, Republicans gave Brian Moran a Favorable/Unfavorable/Not Sure rating of 46/0/54. That is simply not believable or meaningful.

But all those complaints aside, for all of its flaws this is the third poll this organization has provided (Feb.3, March 3 and March 30), and since it is using the same methodology each time, its trends are arguably revealing, even if it usefulness as an accurate snapshot is not. And it is those trends that clearly show the race, while still firmly up in the air, is going Creigh’s way.

The Favorable/Unfavorable Spread

On Feb.3, the following percentage of respondents had no opinion on the candidates, respectively:

Deeds: 67
Moran: 57
McAuliffe: 47

Thus, Deeds was the least known of the three by a wide margin. In the most recent poll, from March 30, those percentages had been reduced as follows:

Deeds: 57
Moran: 51
McAuliffe: 39

Deeds is still the least known, but not by the same margin. Indeed, 10% of respondents had formed an opinion of him over the last 60 days; 6% of respondents for Brian Moran, and 8% for Terry Mcauliffe.

So, how is each candidate doing among these most recent deciders. We can evaluate that by comparing the Favorable/Unfavorable from Feb. 3 to those of March 30.

Here are the Feb. 3 results (followed by the spread):

Deeds: 23/11 +12
Moran: 34/10 +24
McAuliffie 30/23 +7

Here are the Favorable/Unfavorable results from March 30 (again, followed by the spread):

Deeds: 31/12 +19
Moran: 34/15 +19
McAuliffe 32/29 +3

See what is happening. As voters are making up their minds on the candidates, both Moran and McAuliffe are going backwards, while Deeds is surging ahead. Of course, polls are not quite so neat, but here is one way to look at it from a macro level: of the respondents who made up their mind about Deeds between Feb. 3 and March 30, 80% came away with a favorable impression of Creigh, while only 10% did not (the rest, presumably, lost to the God of Rounding).

Of the voters who formed an opinion about Brian Moran, however, some 85% formed a negative opinion of him, with 0% forming a positive one (again, rounding with the law of small numbers accounting for the discrepancy). As for McAuliffe, 75% of the voters who reached an opinion came to an unfavorable opinion about him, while only 25% came to a favorable opinion.

Ok, But What About The Horse Race?

Looking at the absolute numbers from the most recent poll (March 30), Brian Moran declared victory for this round of polling, justified because he pulled ahead of Terry Mcauliffe:

Moran: 22
McAuliffe: 18
Deeds: 15
Undecided: 45

Here is how they polled March 3:

Moran: 19
McAuliffe: 21
Deeds: 14
Undecided: 46

But take a look at how they polled Feb. 3:

Moran: 18
McAuliffe: 18
Deeds: 11
Undecided: 53

From early March to late March, McAuliffe and Moran exchanged supporters, but undecideds did not budge. There was a movement from undecided respondents from February through March, with at a clear plurality arguably settling with Creigh.

In this respect, these numbers support the clear Favorable/Unfavorable findings, above, that this race is moving, slowly but surely, Creigh’s way, although that said, it is difficult to draw any firm conclusion from this set of data.

When looking at the March 30 results, however, several anecdotal factors jump out that suggest this poll may be overestimating support for both McAuliffe and Moran, and thus underestimating support for Creigh:

- In the 276 area code, which is Southwest Virginia, the most rural part of the state and a natural Deeds constituency, McAuliffe is pulling an astounding 19% (see below for a possible explanation of this).
- In 703 AC (28% or respondents), which is Northern Virginia and Moran’s strongest territory, only 32% are undecided. In comparison, 68% are undecided in 276 AC, 47% in 434 AC and 39% in 540 AC, all three area that are rural in nature (representing 32% of respondents) and more likely to lean towards Creigh. In other words, Creigh has greater potential in his strongholds than Moran has in his.
- The 757 and 804 area codes, representing Hampton Roads and Richmond, respectively, are harder to decipher, at least to the extent that no candidate lays a natural geographic claim to those areas by virtue of demographic identification. But, again, Deeds owns the most attractive Favorable/Unfavorable split in those area codes.

So, What Might Be Happening?

Brian Moran was fast out of the gate in this contest, even though Creigh was the first to declare. Early on, Moran set up the more extensive organization, raised the most money, paid the most consultants and concentrated on gathering the most endorsements. Much of his support developed and coalesced early in the race.

McAuliffe came into the race like gangbusters, with a lot of money and personality to spare, not to mention national media connections that got him a lot of press and a ready base of support among Hillary Clinton supporters (perhaps explaining that 19% in the 276 area code).

For the first 45 days of the year, Creigh was in Richmond, somewhat invisible, doing the job he was elected to do, representing the people of his district in the General Assembly. Brian Moran, of course, famously resigned his seat just before the session began so he could campaign and fundraise during the session, and Terry McAuliffe has never held public office. So Creigh was a bit late from the starting gate, in terms of exposure, campaigning, fundraising and organization.

Moran and McAuliffe have been out there for a while, and Democrats remained undecided. Now, slowly, but surely, Creigh has been catching up, and as he does, and as Democratic voters are taking a closer look, they seem to be liking what they see and gravitating toward him.

As far as trends go, Newton's Laws of Motion applies. A candidate in motion will continue in motion until something stops him.


  1. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  2. Agreed. Great analysis!

    It gives me more hope for Creigh.