Friday, September 24, 2010

Dayton’s Demise? Thoughts on the Latest MN Gubernatorial Poll

The latest Fox 9 Rasmussen poll suggests mixed news for all three of the major gubernatorial candidates. However, for Mark Dayton it represents confirmation of a central fact: Whatever lead he had coming out of the primary or advantage he had over Emmer this summer has shrunk or disappeared, depending on how you slice the numbers, and he faces important challenges as he moves toward November 2.

First the numbers. The new poll puts Emmer ahead of Dayton 42% to 41%, with Horner back at 9%, with a margin or error of 4.5% Compared to the recent KSTP and MPR polls, it confirms a tight race that is effectively a statistical deadheat. The poll also represents a gain in numbers for the two main candidates, but a significant drop for Horner compared to other polls.

However, those numbers include “leaners” or those leaning toward a particular candidate. If leaners are excluded, it is 35% 34%, 18% respectively for Emmer, Dayton, and Horner. This is similar to recent polls. The importance of looking at percentages with and without leaners tell us something about Horner’s recent surge. As I have argued, Horner has some momentum and people are giving him a second look but they are not ready to commit and thus the learners seem to fall for Dayton and Emmer when push comes to shove. An earlier Rasmussen poll suggested voters less likely to support a third party candidate this year compared to the past.

The Minnesota electorate is polarized, and that may not work well to Horner. It may also be the afterglow of the Arnie Carlson and Star Tribune “non-endorsement” endorsement may have faded. Bottom line: Horner has a window but the leaner totals suggest that it is closing quickly.
Digging deeper, more interesting statistics are present. Buried in the poll is a bit of news for Dayton, among those certain to vote, including and excluding leaners, he enjoys a a 47% to 44% lead.

But there are also some other concerns. Eighty-percent of GOPers support Emmer, 73% of DFLers support Dayton. The GOP base is more solid for Emmer than Dayton, again suggesting that Horner is not making as much of an inroad into the moderate GOP as he needs. In fact, both including with and without learners, Horner is stealing more from Dayton than Emmer.
Further, there is a gender gap here. Emmer gets 43% if the male vote to 31% of the female vote. Dayton captures 31% male and 36% female. The gender gap is 12% among males favoring Emmer, 5% among women, favoring Dayton. Not a big lead for women. More bad news for Dayton: 57% of males said they are likely to vote, only 47% of females. Males are also angrier. Emmer has done a better job motivating the angry (white) male voter to show up and support him compared to Dayton. He needs women to support him but they are not as motivated to support him.

Where Dayton does have a silver lining is among moderates. Only 15% of moderates support Emmer, whereas 43% go for Dayton. Include leaners, Dayton has a 51% to 21% lead.
The battle to win Minnesota is among the swing voters, mostly including female voters, especially in the suburbs. Dayton needs them to show up and vote for him. He does not have a big lead among them and they may not show up on November 2. He needs also to shore up his base and get them out to vote along with the moderates.

What is Dayton’s current problem? In part he is a victim of a year where the GOP are motivated and the Democrats are not. Obama and the economy are souring life for Democrats including Dayton. But Dayton has been tagged as a classic tax and spend liberal and he has not messaged well in the last few weeks. He seems to be suffering from John Kerry disease. By that in 2004 Kerry seemed to retire or not campaign well after winning the primaries and then after the convention. This is when he was swiftboated.

Dayton’s seems unfocused and off message now. He needs to go on the offensive and motivate the soccer moms and the base. Attack Emmer as a threat to K-12 and Horner as wanting to tax kids clothing. Both messages resonate with soccer moms. But also, Dayton needs to message to them and spend a lot more time in the suburbs campaigning.


  1. There's no such thing as soccer moms anymore. The new female swing voters are Obamacare moms. They're skeptical that Obamacare will reduce health care costs so they're opting for Republicans.

  2. David, you forgot to mention the Ras bias in all of this analysis. Rasmussen polls have consistently been tilted towards GOP candidates nationwide. (and not just this cycle)

    Dayton looks much better when a more accurate sample is used (not oversampling Republicans which this poll CLEARLY did, actually calling cell phone only voters, not using robo-calls, etc.). The recent Minnesota Poll from the Strib shows this pretty clearly; even if their poll may have slightly oversampled Democrats (a point I'm not willing to concede without a fight) dayton is still in good shape, especially for a candidate who has been mostly off the air for September...