freedomfry @ : The horse race
There are three elements that every campaign is fighting with: money, resources, and time. Fighting against the clock, you are trying to raise money to send out resources (television ads, door-to-door campaign workers, issue briefs) in order to best deliver your message and win the election.
One of the best ways to gauge how well your message is being received is through polls. The media is often accused, and with fairly good reason, for being more obsessed with the horse race--who's up, who's down--rather than the issues. But a story about a recently released poll is far easier to package than a candidate's position on, say, abortion, adoption, and stem-cell research, and is much less likely to tick members of the readership/viewing public off.
Understanding what is being reported in a poll is important as well. Polls done internally by the campaigns and by political campaigns tend to not be publicized unless they are good news. Most campaigns with the funding to do it will have monthly polls, escalating to weekly and even daily polls as Election Day gets closer. Polls are conducted after launching new political ads and occassionally after the opposition has launched some that might be considered damaging.
Here are some things to look for when reading poll results:
1) Number of people surveyed.
In order to be accurate, a poll must include at least 500 people on a state-wide level. This ensures the greatest cross-section of population has been interviewed and provides for a margin of error between 4 and 5 percent. Anything more than that and the poll cannot be really considered accurate.
2) The kind of people surveyed.
Right now, most polls are asking all people of voting age, in order to get the greatest cross-section. As the election gets closer, they will start specializing with likely voters and undecided voters. People who aren't planning on voting don't really help to paint an accurate view of what is going to happen on election day. For primary voting, the pollsters will ask people to identify themselves as Republican or Democrat, mostly because asking a Republican who they are voting for in the Democratic primary doesn't do anyone any favors.
After that incredibly long-winded introduction, here are the most recent poll numbers in our races...Alaska
: Polling conducted by local television station KTUU released on June 1 shows Democrat challenger Knowles leading Republican incumbent Murkowski 45.7 percent to 41.4 percent. Knowles has increased his lead from the last poll, where he and Murkowski were running at a virtual dead heat. This is extremely bad news for the incumbent: historically an incumbent running at under 50 percent in the polls in June is unlikely to recover by November.Colorado
: Polling conducted in late April had Democrat Salazar leading both of his Republican opponents: he was up 52-36 percent against Coors and 48-37 percent against Schaffer. The poll had a margin of error of 4 points.Florida
: Because the field is so wide open, no polling has really been conducted.Illinois
: Polling conducted on May 31 by the Chicago Tribune/WGN TV shows Democrat Obama leading Republican Ryan 52-30 percent with a 4 point error margin.Louisiana
: Initial polling around the state has the top two contenders for the open primary (scheduled for November 2) to be Republican Congressman Daniel Vitter against Democratic Congressman Chris John.Missouri
: A February poll conducted by Division Research had Republican incumbent Bond leading Democratic challenger Farmer 49-39 percent. North Carolina
: A Mason-Dixon poll conducted May 15 through 17 has Democrat Bowles leading Republican Burr 55-45 percent.Oklahoma
: In the Republican primary, Wilson Strategies polling has Humphreys and Coburn in a dead heat, each receiving 21 percent of the vote with a 5.7 error margin.Pennsylvania
: Quinnipiac University in Connecticut conducted a poll on May 27 that has Republican incumbent Specter leading Democrat Hoeffel 49-37 percent with a 3.7 error margin. Polling done by Triad Strategies on May 30 had Specter leading with 52 percent of the vote.South Carolina
: No polling yet--I'm expecting some to be released after the run-off on June 22.South Dakota
: A Zogby poll conducted March 19-20 has Democrat incumbent Daschle beating Republican Thune 52-39 percent with a 4.5 margin of error. A Mason-Dixon poll conducted in March had Daschle only leading by 2 points. The Daschle campaign says that their internals confirm the Zogby results.Washington
: A poll conducted by Fairbank, Masin, Maullin, and Associates at the end of April has incumbent Democrat Patty Murruy up by 22 points over challenger Netercutt.
If the election was held today:Republicans