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Sunday, November 2, 2014

About the Hogan Poll Showing Him Ahead by 5 Points....

I have no idea how the MD gubernatorial race between Republican Larry Hogan and Anthony Brown will end, but the race appears to be very close. The Cook Political Report recently classified the contest as a tossup.  The Hogan camp caused a stir this past week by releasing an internal campaign poll that showed Hogan beating Brown 44-39%. Right away I was suspicious - a dead dog with a D after its name on the ballot would draw more than 39% in Maryland -right? So I contacted the Hogan campaign and convinced them to share all of the internals of the poll including questions asked and demographics of the sample and voting coalitions. Try as I might I could not find a flaw in the methodology or the questions. The sample size is a bit small so the error margin is a bit larger than usual. But if you consider the succession of polls from the Washington Post, to the Baltimore Sun, to Gonzales Research Marketing, and now to the Hogan poll there has been movement toward Hogan. Also, the three debates were good for Hogan. The first two were a tie, but Hogan won big in the third debate. Contrary to the dangerous candidate Brown accused Hogan of being, voters saw a candidate who was about as extreme as a vanilla milkshake.

The poll appeared to have a proper sample. It assumed an electorate that was 55% Democrats, 26% Republicans, and 19% Independents. Some have argued this is a bad sample as Democrats were 62% of the early voters and Independents were only 10% - wrong. Early voting attracts partisans eager to vote, but early voting is not a predictor of overall turnout.  In 2010, Democrats were 57% of the electorate and they have lost registration ground since then.

The Brown campaign has tried to downplay the poll, pointing to the 2 to 1 early vote Democratic turnout advantage last week. Problem is, that advantage was 3 to 1 in 2010. So Democrats are doing worse this election cycle than in 2012.  Of course in 2010 O'Malley crushed Ehrlich by a 14 point margin - so Democrats can lose some ground and still deliver for Brown. Then again, Ehrlich ran a horrible campaign in 2010 and surrendered votes a better GOP candidate would've won. This time around it's Brown who is running a bad campaign. As noted by Heather Mizeur, Brown's campaign has been relentlessly negative and, as described by the Baltimore Sun, "strikingly dishonest." Who knows how all of that will shake out.

The sample also assumed an electorate that would be 29% African American - essentially what it was in 2012. Based on weak primary turnout in PG County and Baltimore City, the final share may be lower than 29%. The poll found Hogan beating Brown 3 to 1 among white voters, but Hogan was only attracting 13% of the African American vote. Hogan was winning Independents by 2 to 1 and was receiving a 25% of the Democratic vote. The numbers all made sense. There were many undecideds and the poll pointed to a lot of unease with Brown.

And the most interesting aspect of the poll, to me, were the questions asking "How much have you seen, read, or heard recently about Anthony Brown/Larry Hogan and his campaign for Governor?" Then folks were asked "would you say you have a MUCH (more/less) favorable impression of him?" Now 2/3 of respondents said they learned some or a lot about Hogan during the campaign and by a 55-32% margin, what they learned made them feel more favorable toward him. But 3/4 indicated learning some or a lot about Brown and by 34-48% margin what the learned made them feel less favorable toward him.
It suggests Brown's negative campaign has backfired.

Is the poll a fluke? A bad sample? We'll find out Tuesday. But the findings certainly help to explain all of the high profile visitors like the Clintons and Obamas trying to rally support. The finding also help explain the recent mailing by the MD Democratic party that attempted to link the election to the incident in Ferguson, MO. The poll found Brown receiving 60% of the African-American vote. Hogan was at 13%. So 27% of African-Americans were undecided a week before an election where Brown could become the state's first African-American governor. You have wonder, if Brown can't count on the overwhelming support of the Democratic party's most loyal voters then how many other normally Democratic voters are equally ambivalent about him?

As a political scientist, I'm trained to predict the the future based observation of the past. As such, I have to believe that Brown is likely to win this race. Democrats have tremendous structural advantages in the state and come Tuesday we could see Hogan win by 3 or lose by 10. But it is becoming easier to see Hogan's path to victory. Though it's still hard to see how Hogan could be 5 points up in a state that has only elected two GOP governors in the last 45 years. It's hard as well to accept that Brown could be doing worse than Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. But this poll reveals real trouble for Brown. And he may well find himself the second MD heir apparent to have stumbled on his way to the coronation.

Tuesday will tell the tale.