Talk radio has been abuzz the past two days debating whether Republican voters’ willingness to “throw away their vote to send a message to the party” was worth the cost of losing the House seat for New York’s 23rd Congressional District. Rush Limbaugh in particular has directed attention upon the practicality of a revolt against the Republican establishment that appointed the liberal Dede Scozzafava as the party’s nominee in light of the fact that the effort would likely result in Democrat Bill Owens winning the seat as Scozzafava and conservative Doug Hoffman split the Republican vote.
But what if Doug Hoffman actually wins this election? Few seem to be considering this possibility. However, two recent polls released this week indicate he has surged into the lead. Obviously, people should take the results of obscure and possibly biased polls with a grain of salt, but the Club for Growth/Basswood Research poll released Monday has impressive enough internals to merit serious consideration.
Mark Blumenthal at Pollster.com examines some of these internals:
Leading questions? For what it’s worth, the Basswood questionnaire provides more complete disclosure than the other public polls, in that it provides full text and results of the demographics (omitted by Siena) and the full text of the likely voter screen questions (omitted by both Research 2000 and Siena).
Implausible demographic weighting? Nearly half (49%) of their likely voters are under 45 years of age. Both the national and New York exit polls for the 2006 general election report only 36% in that age category, and if anything, exit poll estimates tend to be too young.
The sample was also weighted geographically, according to Basswood pollster Jon Lerner, so that the percentage contributed by each county in the sample conforms to the distribution of voters in the 2008 and 2006 elections. I have not attempted to gather county level vote returns for NY-23, but Basswood included the weighted value for each county in the filled-in questionnaire so anyone can evaluate its geographic representation. Among campaign pollsters, that sort of geographic weighting is standard practice.
Unorthodox sample frame? Hardly, although there is an important difference in the sample frames being used in NY-23. Siena College and Research 2000 are using a random digit dial sample — one that reaches every working landline phone in the district by randomly varying the final digits of telephone numbers in exchanges within the District. When I spoke to him by phone last night, Basswood pollster Jon Lerner confirms that he sampled from a list of registered voters, selecting those who had cast ballots in either the 2006 or 2008 general elections.
Here is the actual questionnaire: http://www.clubforgrowth.org/media/uploads/NY-23-top-lines.pdf
As a political junkie, I have come to appreciate the science of evaluating the validity of various polls. Unless Club for Growth/Basswood is outright fabricating results, I’m inclined to believe they are correct in concluding Hoffman has made incredible gains over the past week even though they clearly support Hoffman… because their internals verify. A second poll released yesterday by Neighborhood Research for Minuteman PAC also found Hoffman leading by 5 points over Owens with Scazzafava’s support collapsing. They did not release internals.
An upset victory by Doug Hoffman would send huge reverberations to the Republican establishment who appointed her. Michael Steele and his vision for the party would greatly marginalized. So-called mainstream Republicans such as House Minority Leader John Boehner and possible presidential candidate Newt Gingrich would be exposed as the minority in the party as a consequence of their endorsing a liberal, losing nominee. Meanwhile, genuine conservatives such as Sarah Palin and the host of conservative commentators who had the courage to stand up for Hoffman will have taken a huge step forward in reclaiming their party.