Don’t Count Whitman Out

by John J. Pitney, Jr.

Jerry Brown leads Meg Whitman by ten points in the latest Field Poll. Whitman’s campaign, however, notes that Field took the poll over a twelve-day period, which is not a good way to gauge late changes in voter preference. The campaign instead points to a couple of recent internal polls:

In a survey conducted by Hill Research Consultants among 604 likely voters on October 26th and 27th, the race for governor is tied 43% Whitman to 43% Brown with 4% voting for another candidate and 10% being undecided or refused to respond. In a separate McLaughlin & Associates survey conducted among 900 likely voters on October 25th, 26th and 27th (300 each night), Meg Whitman has a slight lead over Jerry Brown 44% to 43% with 6% voting for another candidate and 7% remaining undecided or refused to respond.

A dose of skepticism is in order. Nate Silver points out: “What we’ve found is that polls commissioned by campaigns and released to the public show, on average, a result that is about 6 points more favorable to their candidate’s standing than nonpartisan polls released at the same time.”

But even so, Whitman may still have a shot. In wave elections, candidates on the right side of the wave often outperform their poll numbers. In 1994, for example, one late survey had George Pataki down by 13 points in his bid to unseat New York governor Mario Cuomo. Pataki won, and ended up serving three terms.

John J. Pitney Jr. is the Roy P. Crocker professor of American politics at Claremont McKenna College.