Friday, November 03, 2006

Hibbitts: Saxton Less Popular Than Bush

Sweet fancy Moses Malone, if that's not the damndest thing I've seen in a poll this entire cycle...having gotten the news from PoliticalWire that the new Hibbitts poll was finally out, I scanned through the questions, read the polltest putting Kulongoski ahead by 7 points (matching a Rasmussen poll earlier this week), and then started to drift back through the other questions.

At first I was annoyed to discover that they're already lying to me; the survey is of likely voters and yet none of the screening questions are shown--and the first question is marked Q1. Like hell it's the first question! Whichever question it actually was, it tested right track/wrong track feelings specifically about Oregon. The numbers there are toxic to Saxton's chances; a plurality of Oregonians actually like the way things are going, overall. Not by any appreciable amount, but the drumbeat Saxton has relied on a steady beat of references to voter dissatisfaction--and even left-of-center voters grumbled during the primaries about their ennui over Kulongoski's first term, so it seemed a reasonable gambit. But without a favorable environment for change, a challenger is in deep trouble.

I have to confess I misread the approval question for a moment. I compared Kulongoski to Saxton (I thought), and noticed that Ted's numbers seemed to have gone down from the last Hibbitts poll, which was strange because they'd gone up in the Rasmussen. In fact, they were tied, with Ted just one point higher in approval at 38%, Saxton at 37%.

And then I noticed my mistake--I was reading Bush's numbers first, not Kulongoski's. And then I realized, good God--President Bush is more popular than Ron Saxton in Oregon? To be fair, Bush's Q Ratio--the percent of respondents who have heard of the person--is 99%, while Saxton's is still just 91%. So Bush will naturally have higher numbers on each side of the ledger to spread around. But for Saxton, a "don't know" or "neutral" vote is nearly as bad as a disapproval vote. Challengers don't get votes from people who aren't sure about them, unless they get the chance to learn more--and at this stage of the game there's almost nothing left to talk about between the two. These are not so much potential voters, more like voters essentially lost to Saxton.

Once I got reoriented to Kulongoski's actual figures, the news didn't get any better for Saxton. Ted is at the 50% approval mark, which is another one of those environmental factors a challenger has a hard time overcoming. By a margin of fifteen points in this survey, voters are generally happy with Kulongoski. Who votes out someone they're happy with? Nobody, that's who.

An aside here about Hibbitts et al: I've said before I think they do reputable work, and KATU/Oregonian seems to be a fairly benign force behind the commissioning of the poll. But something about the numbers he gets always skeezes me out. I think it's the sense that they're unnaturally low. Incumbents in the low 40s but looking good, and challengers in the 30s but not out of it, just doesn't read right this late in the campaign. I have no scientific claims to make about my premise, it's just a personal thing.

On gut instinct, Rasmussen's numbers look more rational. One of the suggested advantages of robopolling is that people feel freer talking to a computer, and show their truer feelings, which leads to fewer undecideds and refusals. One thing Rasmussen does not appear to do well is account for minor candidates, which Hibbitts does...almost too well. Mary Starrett at 6%? If that's right, that's yet another giant red flag for Saxton. How do his people look over these numbers and tell their man, "Here's our plan to make up that deficit?" Can they pierce Kulongoski at this point? Likely not. Can they bring up his Q rating? Maybe, but how does a likely voter not know who the Republican candidate is? Can they vanquish Mary Starrett? If she's really that high as kind of a conservative voter protest, that answer is also a big no.

Les AuCoin, who certainly has seen his share of polls over his career, is less sanguine. He sees trouble in the fact that a higher total voted "Not Ted" than for him, and that's never a good sign. I agree, but that position has to ignore the validity of Starrett's 6% number, which ends up being a very good thing for Ted rather than a bad thing, taking as it does away from Saxton's base. If you believe the poll in the aggregate, you pretty much have to believe in the parts as well, and under that analysis some of the "Not Ted" vote is as valuable as his own vote. Les also worries about the undecided remaining, but the favorable environment needed to cause a big break to the challenger at the end just isn't there for Saxton this time.

Hibbitts also did some initiative polling, and the news is sweet indeed for most progressives. Measures 43 (notification), 45 (term limits) and 48 (TABOR) are all headed for defeat at this stage, none pulling near 50%. As a yardstick, any measure not exceeding 50% before the count is a dead duck after the count, so if the results are to be believed, there is widespread suspicion about what's on the ballot this season. The way TABOR has been beaten about the head and face statewide editorially, I'm not surprised at its low score, but frankly the 42% 'Yes' for parental notification surprised me. The No on 43 camp was well funded and had lots of ads, more than the Yes 43 people, but for casual voters I expected a higher "common sense" appeal that would lead to more affirmative votes. I doubt many survey respondents saw the "abusive rapist dad" ad before being called, but as the last image of the campaign on the topic, it may well carry sway into the final days.

The momentum is building for an election of quick lurching to the left, at all levels of governance. It's not here yet, and it doesn't happen if we all start celebrating now, but I'm starting to get tips from insiders who have early return breakdowns, and things are ahead of expectations in key areas. More on that to come. As far as Saxton goes, there is absolutely no movement in this race, and that's a killer for him. Kulongoski appears to have righted the ship, convinced people he wasn't doing all that bad a job, and probably benefits quite a bit from the national Democratic wave. Take him off that tossup list, boys!