Why Republicans Aren’t Worried About PPP’s Latest Survey

From the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt:

Apparently No One’s Really Persuaded by PPP’s Latest Survey

So, how worried should Republicans be about losing the House? A PPP poll suggested they should, surveying GOP districts, asking a series of questions prefaced with the claim that the incumbent House Republican is responsible for the shutdown, and finding (surprise!) those incumbents in bad shape against generic Democrats.

The Huffington Post’s Mark Blumenthal and Ariel Edwards-Levy:

The drop in congressional approval measured by Gallup will likely lead to drops in the “reelect” numbers for incumbent Republicans. However, skepticism is in order for the MoveOn/PPP results mostly because they were conducted by a Democratic pollster and sponsored by a liberal advocacy group. Our analyses have shown that polls with partisan sponsorship typically exhibit a bias of 3 to 4 percentage points in favor of their sponsor on vote preference questions.

Frequent PPP critic Nate Cohn noted on Monday that the “generic” question (which pits incumbents against an unnamed challenger) overlooks the importance of viable challengers: “Democrats aren’t yet poised to mount serious challenges to a clear majority of the Republicans running on competitive turf, let alone actually win. So you should probably take this morning’s PPP poll with an additional grain of salt: it’s about how House Republicans would fare against a ‘generic’ Democrat, not the mediocre one they’ll face in 2014.”

Stuart Rothenberg just rips PPP to shreds:

PPP isn’t your typical polling firm. Its surveys often are intended to boost Democratic recruiting, fundraising or prospects. In this case, the “polls” were almost certainly commissioned to create a narrative about the political repercussions of the shutdown and the nature of the midterms.

It’s no coincidence, then, that the PPP memo accompanying the results, written by Jim Williams, observes, “The surveys challenge the conventional wisdom that gerrymandering has put the House out of reach for Democrats.”

Not surprisingly, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent out multiple fundraising emails in the hours after reports of the PPP polls surfaced, and dozens of Democratic candidates and liberal groups did the same.

That’s the standard modus operandi these days on both the right and the left: have a sympathetic media organization or polling firm assert some alleged finding, and then have fellow travelers cite the initial report to try to raise cash or create momentum. It is becoming (yawn — excuse me) a little trite.

Rothenberg continues:

Of course, the “polls” did not include head-to-head ballot tests of likely nominees (even though the surveys could have included candidate names in many contests), but instead relied on a messy question that was part “re-elect” and part “generic ballot.” The results are of little or no use because that is not the choice voters will face on Election Day.

Moreover, at least five of the 17 Republicans who are “losing” either have no serious opposition or have less-than-top-tier opponents at this point: Steve King (Iowa’s 4th District), Andy Barr (Kentucky’s 6th), Kerry Bentivolio (Michigan’s 11th), Patrick Meehan (Pennsylvania’s 7th) and Sean P. Duffy (Wisconsin’s 7th). Bentivolio may not survive a GOP primary.

Each PPP survey asked seven substantive questions and four demographic ones. Some of the questions were loaded, and as I have noted previously in dissecting PPP polls, the “more likely/less likely” question is a horrible one to use in surveys because it tends to measure the underlying attitude rather than gather useful information about an issue’s eventual importance as a vote cue.

Even a writer at Daily Kos had to note:

Informed ballots such as these, though, must always be viewed with caution. They represent an ideal environment where one side is able to widely disseminate its preferred message, without pushback or interference from the other side. In other words, a scenario nothing like what you encounter in the real world. That said, though, these polls show that hammering Republicans over the shutdown has the potential to be effective across a very diverse array of districts. And while 3 points might not sound like a lot, seven Republicans and nine Democrats won House races by less than that amount in 2012.

It’s also worth noting that, like informed ballots, polling against generic candidates represents a sort of idealized situation as well. In some races, Democrats may not land serious challengers; in others, Democratic candidates may stumble or fail to gain traction. On the flipside, sometimes an actual candidate will perform better than a generic unnamed option because of their strong personal attributes. Early on, when you’re more than a year out from Election Day, generic ballots can serve as a helpful metric, but reality will ultimately diverge in most cases.

Keep in mind, the majority party in the House when the country is angry at Washington, with a slow economy, is going to face some dangers.

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