‘There aren’t any earth-shattering events in July’ — the value of summertime polling

By Matthew Stone, BDN Staff
Posted July 13, 2012, at 2:08 p.m.

The public polling available so far in Maine’s U.S. Senate race and other ballot contests has been infrequent — at least when compared to the daily polls that track movement in the presidential race.

But if there’s one thing to note about the handful of polls taking stock of Maine politics in recent months, it’s that they’ve been remarkably consistent, regardless of the pollster.

In the two days following last month’s primary, a survey done by the MassINC Polling Group for Boston public radio station WBUR found a wide lead for independent Angus King over Charlie Summers and Cynthia Dill, the former governor’s Republican and Democratic rivals for Maine’s open U.S. Senate seat.

The poll of 506 voters put King’s support level at 50 percent, Summers’ at 23 percent and Dill’s at 9 percent.

Two-and-a-half months earlier, before Republicans and Democrats had even chosen their nominees, a Maine People’s Resource Center poll found 56 percent of the 993 registered voters surveyed favored King, 22 percent favored Summers and 12 percent chose the Democrat in the survey, Matt Dunlap. Dill ultimately defeated Dunlap in the Democratic primary.

So what were we to expect from new polling data released this week (but from surveys conducted between June 20 and 25)? Pretty much the same.

And that’s what we got in a Critical Insights poll conducted for MaineToday Media that put King’s overall support at 55 percent, Summers’ at 27 percent and Dill’s at 7 percent. The poll’s findings on same-sex marriage — voters will decide in November whether to legalize it — also line up with previous surveys.

“It starts to set up some dynamics that we can identify,” said Amy Fried, a University of Maine political scientist, who specializes in polling, and a Bangor Daily News columnist. “Then, it can have political impacts” in terms of raising money and attracting new support.

Indeed, it’s hardly a coincidence that Senate President Kevin Raye moved to the top rung in the National Republican Congressional Committee’s “Young Guns” program this week after the Critical Insights polling showed the Republican within striking distance of incumbent 2nd District U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud.

The Young Guns program identifies promising Republican candidates in races where the national campaign committee is likely to invest its resources.

So polling early in the political season can establish a baseline for the rest of the race and alert political operatives to the races that should be on their radar screens. But can a poll in late June or July really inform voters about likely outcomes in November?

“It’s interesting information, but you won’t see any deal-breaking polls released or commented on in the summertime,” said David Paleologos, director of the Political Research Center at Suffolk University in Boston.

The Political Research Center, Paleologos said, doesn’t poll in July as a general rule.

“Polls taken in the summer are not less valid, it’s just that the probability of a response is lower because people basically tune out politics during the summer,” he said.

Plus, campaigns aren’t making their major advertising pushes during the summer months, and debates among the candidates are far less frequent than in the weeks leading up to the election.

“We’ve studied the cycles pretty closely, and we know there aren’t any earth-shattering events in July,” Paleologos said. “Most of the advertising dollars are held for the last six, eight, 10 weeks before the election.”

So it’s in September and October when polls will start to pick up on how effective the campaigns are and whether voter allegiances are shifting.

Not in July.

CORRECTION:

An early version of this story requires correction. The survey done by the MassINC Polling Group for Boston public radio station WBUR polled 506 voters, not 553.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/07/13/politics/there-arent-any-earth-shattering-events-in-july-the-value-of-summertime-polling/ printed on August 20, 2014