We noticed some recent polls by our friends at Monmouth and Quinnipiac on the upcoming August 13 special US Senate Primary here in NJ. These polls show overwhelming leads for Newark Mayor Cory Booker and (in Quinnipiac’s poll only) Republican Steve Lonegan. It would appear both will coast to easy primary victories, and face off in the October 16 special election.
Or will they? Our take here at Eagleton is we simply don’t know. Monmouth’s poll is probably as good as it gets right now, in that they polled using a “listed” sample, rather than the typical random digit dial sample. They used the list of registered NJ Democratic voters, and looked at turnout history (which many people are surprised to find is public information.) Given the unprecedented nature of this primary – being held in the middle of August when half the state is probably down the shore – about the only way to really get a sense of who might vote is to look at who regularly votes in primaries and talk only to those people. These are unusual people – turning out in primaries on a regular basis – who are clearly committed to the process. So if anyone will turn out in August, they will.
But will they? In the end we just don’t know. Unless there is a significant effort by the campaigns to get people to vote absentee – by mail – if they will be out of town, it’s clearly a crapshoot guessing who will vote. Monmouth says they “screened for likelihood of voting in the upcoming August special primary.” But they don’t seem to say how they did this screening, unless it was the one question about awareness of the primary that they released. Frankly, awareness matters, but it is probably not an adequate screening tool. Monmouth notes that their screening suggests a relatively high level of turnout, towards 400,000 Democrats, about 22% of all Democrats. Consider that in 2008 just over 340,000 Democrats voted in the contested regular Senate primary. Much lower turnout seems likely in August 2013.
Here at Rutgers-Eagleton we have made the decision not to poll the primary. The reality is that it is expensive to do polls, and we need to conserve resources for the two fall elections – the October special Senate general and the regular November general. But we are also guided by the simple fact that we could not come up with a way to identify “likely” August voters, no matter how hard we thought about it. It may be that the likely screen is not that critical; that Booker has such an overwhelming lead that any polling will more or less get the winner right. But it could also be that his opponents will be much more effective at turning out their supporters at this odd time of year, than seems likely right now. In any case, from our perspective, polling this race may well result in misleading information on its status, and probably will not add any real useful information that would be worth dedicating some of our limited resources, when there will be so many other things to look at this fall.
So we wish Monmouth and Quinnipiac well on their efforts, and we’re glad someone is about to be out there doing it.