THINGS CHANGE …
Recent news flashes from the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) touted a series of Quinnipiac University polls taken in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Part of a broader 2016-themed “swing state” survey, the polls found freshmen GOP Senators in these three states – Marco Rubio, Rob Portman and Patrick Toomey – enjoying favorable reelection prospects.
According to the data, Florida voters approve of the job Rubio is doing by a 47-35 percent margin – and believe he should be reelected to a second term by a 44-37 percent margin. In Ohio, voters approve of the job Portman is doing by a 40-21 percent margin – with the first-term Senator enjoyed a 37–28 percent “deserves to be reelected” spread. Finally, Toomey’s approval advantage in Pennsylvania stood at 43-25 percent, with his reelection margin at 37-29 percent.
This is good news for the GOP, right? After all Barack Obama won these three states in both 2008 and 2012 – so the fact three freshmen GOP Senators are poised to hang onto their seats is a positive thing for the party, correct?
Yes … and no. As one pollster noted, Toomey’s numbers in particular “aren’t very different from then-Sen. Mark Udall’s numbers” in a June 2013 Quinnipiac poll. And we all know what happened to Udall.
“It’s wise not to read too much into early surveys, remembering that national atmospherics and state-specific factors will have a substantial impact on how races develop,” pollster Stuart Rothenberg wrote. “Don’t ignore where candidates start. But always remember that where they end can be very different from where they begin.”
This isn’t to say early polling is useless. Surveys such as this one provide important mile markers for pundits and press (as well as prospective challengers). Also, for candidates and campaigns internal early polling represents a chance to test messages that could help them define upcoming races on their terms.
But “national atmospherics” and state-by-state influencers are both fickle forces … capable of shifting on a dime and developing velocities all their own. Just ask Mark Udall and countless other elected officials who have seen early leads evaporate – turning likely victories into surprise defeats.