With the results of this week's Public Polling Polling poll of the U.S. Senate primaries in Kentucky so different from the previous WHAS11/Survey USA polls, my inbox has been jammed with messages from pundits and politicos, all weighing in on the poll. The PPP poll gave Rand Paul at least a 15 point lead over Trey Grayson in the Republican primary, at least 10 points better than the month old WHAS11/Survey USA poll, which is a remarkable jump. The PPP poll also treated Democrat Jack Conway much better than the WHAS11/Survey USA poll did. While the PPP poll has Conway and Dan Mongiardo in a statistical dead heat, the WHAS11/Survey USA poll had Mongiardo up at least 7 points.
The PPP survey was conducted December 18-21, (which the Dan Mongiardo campaign has pointed out was during snowstorm induced power outages in eastern Kentucky). Others have admonished me not to compare two polls without knowing their sampling techniques. Instead, it is suggested that the only fair comparison is to look at gross indicators.
Amid the hue and cry, I reached out to one of the most respected pollsters in the country. Jan Van Lohuizen was President George W. Bush's personal pollster and has worked closely with Karl Rove. Van Louhizen is the president and one of the founding members of Voter Consumer Research in Houston, Texas. One of his current clients is GOP candidate Trey Grayson, whose campaign was sent a lump of coal in their stocking when the PPP poll showed Grayson trailing Paul among likely Republican primary voters, 44-25.
Van Lohuizen says his review of the PPP poll had him "wrinkling (his) forehead." He says the regional breakdown of prospective voters underestimates the voter turnout in Jefferson County. Louisville's 502 area code represents only 22% of those surveyed by PPP. The 270 area code, meanwhile, is 32% of PPP's respondents.
A key question every politico asks whenever a poll is conducted is whether the survey is of the general public or the more coveted likely voters. Van Lohuizen suggests the way that PPP determined the answer to that question in this poll was misleading:
Next year do you think you will vote in the Democratic primary, the Republican primary, or are you unsure or not planning to vote in a primary? If you think you will vote in the Democratic primary, press 1. If the Republican primary, press 2. If you’re not sure or don’t think you’ll vote in a primary, press 3.
Van Lohuizen says the question leads the prospective voter to believe that they have a choice of which primary to vote in, despite the fact that Kentucky's primaries are not open primaries. In fact, if a Kentucky voter wishes to change party affiliation, they must apply by December 31, 2009 to vote in the May, 2010 primary.
Another concern about the PPP poll is that some of the sub-samples (i.e. Republicans who voted for Barack Obama), are so small they do not represent a statistically reliable sample, Van Lohuizen said, adding that PPP's telephone methodology leads to a high refusal rate. He says the respondents who do stay on the phone tend to be more extreme in their political orientation, (more liberal or more conservative)
Finally, Van Lohuizen says the PPP poll shows a dramatic drop in Trey Grayson's name recognition compared to previous polls. Grayson's name ID was down 24% compared to a previous poll. While favorability or approval can fluctuate, Van Lohuizen says name recognition only goes up.
Regardless of all of these caveats, Trey Grayson's "steady as she goes" approach to the campaign is being challenged big time by a reputable polling company's results. Grayson has warned that Paul is likely to peak too soon, but one has to wonder if the Grayson camp is at all concerned that they are going to peak too late.
No word from potential late-entry Cathy Bailey, who said last month that she was considering a run for Senate because she was not convinced either Grayson or Paul had what it took to beat a well-funded Democrat effort to grab Jim Bunning's seat. Bailey had said Grayson had not lived up to "the hype."
As for Rand Paul, the PPP poll does a couple of things. First, it takes attention away from the controversy of Paul firing his spokesperson when a couple of bloggers revealed racist facebook posts by others that the spokesperson, Christopher Hightower, had not deleted. The bloggers also publicized Hightower's previous stint in a heavy metal band that sang some satanic lyrics. Secondly, it re-legitimizes Paul's chances, especially as he seeks more campaign donations.