All About the Screen

January 10, 2010 4:11 a.m.

Special elections are notoriously hard to poll because it’s hard to figure out just who is going to show up to vote. (That’s the reference to the ‘screen’ — how the pollster figures out who is a likely voter.) But this is a helluva a spread. Public Policy Polling last night released it’s survey of the special election to fill the seat of Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts. And they have Republican Scott Brown actually one point ahead of Democrat Martha Coakley. That’s essentially a toss up. But still. The thought that the GOP might take Kennedy’s seat — is a huge deal not only in symbolic terms but also in very real practical ones: it might well put an end to Health Care Reform for good.

But here’s the thing, the Boston Globe also has a poll out this morning. And they have Coakley up by 15 points.

So what explains this crazy spread? One thing to note is that the PPP poll is a bit more recent, though seemingly not enough to explain the huge spread. At least not all of it. Another interesting thing about the two polls is that they’re not that far off on Coakley’s number: PPP has her at 47% and the Globe has her at 53%. The difference is in Brown’s number — 48% vs. 36%. As I said, I think the whole story here is that screen the two pollsters are using to see who’s is going to vote.

Now PPP is actually a Democrat-associated firm. So while I think I think they’re top-notch, no one who’s inclined to be suspicious should have any thought that they’re somehow biased in favor of Republican candidates.

How have they done recently? Well, we have two races to look at. PPP came out with a raft of polls just before the November special election and noted that they were seeing a much more Republican electorate than other pollsters were. They picked up the fact that Christie was starting to surge in the last couple days in New Jersey — they had Christie up by 6 points. But they also had Doug Hoffman clobbering Bill Owens by 17 points in their final poll, even though Owens won.

All of which tells me there’s some reason to think that PPP is oversampling Republican voters. But I wouldn’t bet money on it. If Dems won’t avoid a very, very bad day on January 19th, they need to really get in gear on this race.

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