If 2010 does not wind up being the Year of the Republican in Washington State, it will almost certainly be the Year of the Befuddled Pollster.
The challenge Washington State has presented to opinion takers and campaigners was significant enough to warrant a lengthy post on The New York Times Five Thirty-Eight blog earlier this week.
The inconvenient thing about Washington State, however, is that the polling there has been all over the map.
Indeed, this has been a problem for some time. In April, one survey showed Mr. Rossi ahead by 10 points, while another had Ms. Murray ahead by 17.
Things seemed to have improved last month, when several polls were in the field at the same time, and essentially all showed Ms. Murray with a small but meaningful lead.
Since then, however, the problem has gotten worse again. Rasmussen Reports has deployed four of its ubiquitous surveys in the state in the past three weeks, each showing the race essentially tied. And a Republican pollster, working for the conservative-leaning American Action Forum, showed Mr. Rossi ahead by 6 points. But yesterday, a poll by a local nonpartisan polling firm, Elway Research, gave Ms. Murray a 15-point advantage.
Now in comes The Washington Poll, giving statistical demographers more reasons to start tugging on follicles already placed on the endangered list.
Released Friday on the U.S. Senate race between Republican challenger Dino Rossi and Sen. Patty Murray (D), The Washington Poll shows Murray with a nine point lead among voters certain of their choice, an edge for the incumbent that tracks closely with the Elway Poll released earlier in the week, but clashes strongly with other credible polls that have shown Rossi and Murray in a near-dead heat.
The poll also asked about voters’ attitudes about the national health care law and what they heard may give the Rossi campaign its next television ad in light of the claim by Murray in Thursday’s televised debate that she not only read the 2,600-plus-page Obamacare bill, but, in fact, helped to write it. According to The Washington Poll, Murray voluntarily placed her fingerprints on a piece of legislation that 49 percent of voters in Democratic Washington state disapprove of compared with only 38 percent approval.
Is it possible to poll a sample that turns out to be representative of the broader population on one question (lack of support for nationalized health care) but not on another (the nine point advantage for Murray)? Maybe. Although pollsters will stand by their science, in moments of common sense they might also admit that polling large masses of humans is a bit like plunging a spoon into a banana split to determine the ratio of its ingredients. Although the scoop taken may contain the cherry, all scoops will not feature such a prize, but the proportion of hot fudge to vanilla ice cream may be a good approximation of what is in the rest of the sundae.
The Washington Poll also asked a slate of questions on a number of hot button topics and state ballot measures that may make it hard for conservatives to quickly throw this one in the trash.
The poll carries a message that could spell defeat for many Democratic state legislators, such as state representative and House Finance chair Ross Hunter, who worked to put I-960's supermajority requirement for tax increases on ice. By a margin of 27 percent -- 57-30 --those surveyed approved of requiring a two-thirds majority for raising state taxes.
On I-1098’s proposal for a state income tax, voters rejected the measure 51-42. Those results come from a sample in which 70 percent of respondents stated that they have paid anywhere from moderately to extremely close attention to the I-1098 debate.
On I-1100’s pitch to privatize liquor sales, responses ran 47 percent in favor of privatization, 49 percent against. Perhaps with Costco conducting in-store, price comparison campaigning between now and Election Day, those numbers could tip in favor of I-1100 supporters.
The measure to repeal sales taxes on candy, soda, bottled water and other items taxed by this year’s state legislature -- I-1107 -- showed a 20-point margin for passage.
Respondents also strongly rejected the idea that the Tea Party stood for racial intolerance. Asked whether they supported the NAACP’s resolution claiming the Tea Party was an organization driven by racism, only 22 percent approved of the group’s move to paint the grass roots organization in such a light. Furthermore, the survey a small margin of support for the Tea Party movement, in general, 39-36.
The dichotomy will be obvious to some. Why are voters moving strongly to reject big government on the state level, but invite more of it on the federal level by supporting Patty Murray for re-election? That question may form the basis of a discussion that begins November 3rd.