Thursday, August 11, 2005

SurveyUSA Poll Numbers Show Kilgore Ahead; It's not the lead but where it comes from that counts

A survey conducted by SurveyUSA for WSLS-TV in Roanoke and released on Tuesday shows Kilgore leading Kaine by 5% (margin of error 4.2%) (48%-43%) with only 4% undecided. It's not the fact of the lead that matters; it's pretty close to the margin of error. It's the inside numbers that are interesting.

The poll indicates that 30% (vs. 61% for Kaine) of pro-choice voters among 568 likely voters surveyed intend to vote for Jerry Kilgore. At the same time, 71% of pro-life voters (vs. 20% for Kaine) intend to vote for Kilgore. (Potts is irrelevant in this poll that has him at 3% overall.) But the main two guys split evenly the voters who say that they are "not sure" whether they are pro-choice or pro-life.

What does this say? Here's how I see it.

Pro-life voters are rarely unsure and almost always single issue voters. For them the abortion issue is what I call a "torque issue," meaning an issue with an emotional driver that gets people to the polls. The pro-life voter's belief is visceral, usually tied to strong religious beliefs, and emotional.

Pro-choice voters are unlikely to be single issue voters and often see the abortion issue as a complex, multi-faceted issue on which they have conflicting views depending on the circumstance (e.g., late term abortion, abortion as "birth control", etc). This makes them "unsure" how others would define them or how to categorize themselves. Typically, the pro-choice voter's belief is intellectual, not tied to religious beliefs, and dispassionate. Choice alone does not carry sufficient torque to drive them to the polls, unless there is a real threat to Roe v. Wade, as there was perceived to be during the Wilder campaign following the opinion in the Webster case.

And, what does this mean? If abortion continues to be a key issue in this campaign, and the President does not nominate a "nut job" to the Supreme Court, the issue creates an advantage for Kilgore because it drives turnout for him but not Kaine.

There is another set of numbers in this poll that I find surprising -- the numbers on race. The poll reports that 54% of White voters, 60% of Hispanic voters, and 55% of "other" voters support Kilgore.

The only racial group in which Kaine leads is among African Americans where the split is 72% to 17% with 7% undecided. That sounds like good news. But, maybe not???

According to political pundit and distinguished professor Larry Sabato, a Democrat needs 40% of the white vote and a solid black turnout (high turnout, high percentage) to win the Governor's mansion.

The apex of black turnout in percentages was Wilder's election in 1989 (17%). In 1993, black turnout was 14%/Allen got 18-19%; in 1997 it was 12.5%/Gilmore got 18-19%; and in 2001 it was 15%/Earley got 10% (vs. 20% when he ran for AG). Gilmore got 62% of the white vote in 1997. Earley only got 50% to Warner's 44%. Warner won with 44% of the white vote and outstanding black turnout (15%/90%).

If Sabato's numbers are right (and one other political analyst has been quoted as saying that Allen and Gilmore got 11% of the black vote), Kaine has two issues to confront ... he needs to move up from less than 40% of the white vote, and, at the same time, he needs to drive turnout among black voters (to Warner levels, 15%) and reduce the percentage of black voters who intend to vote for Kilgore (from 17% in this poll to 10% or below).

An interesting challenge to say the least.

Now, it may not matter (because Hispanics are still such a small fraction of likely voters; 3% in this poll)... or the sample size may be too small (total sample was less than 600; how many were actually Hispanic) ... but how the heck does one account for the fact that the poll shows Kilgore with 60% of the Hispanic vote?

Could it be that most of the likely voters are Puerto Rican, who as US citizens, may not care much about immigration issues or they are Cubans who mostly vote Republican or Catholic voters tuned into the election because of the emphasis on social issues... but whatever accounts for the disparity (and the poll shows NO undecided Hispanics), it will be interesting to see if Kilgore's support fades at all after this week's all out assault on immigrants.

A more critical issue for Kaine is that the "gender gap" in this poll is only 3% in his favor among women (within the margin of error; it could be as low as -1.2% or as high as 7.2%) and 14% the wrong way among men. This is a problem for Kaine who needs to replicate Warner's performance; women were 52% of the electorate and he ran 14% ahead of Earley. And, the problem is magnified by the much larger disparity in support among men, Kilgore leads by 14%; in 2001 Warner only trailed Earley among men by 5%.

What can Kaine do about this? Again, he faces a conflict. He needs to talk more about issues women care about (like the pre-school initiative he's advocating this week), and continue to try to find ways to appeal to men (although the pugilistic style he's adopted may help with men, it may turn women off).

Another conundrum.

But, the good news is that it's August and the election's still close. That wasn't the case in 1993 or 1997 where the deal was sealed before Labor Day.

There are still political waves out there on the horizon. Some may turn to soup before they reach the gubernatorial surfers (like that tax thing they both tried to surf). Or, one may build to the perfect glassy perfection of a wave that one of these political surfers will catch and ride to shore, scoring all the points needed to win.

I, for one, will be standing on the shore watching and hoping that the guy who catches the great wave, works it well and bursts out of the tube on election day with a big smile on his face is Kaine.

Resource: You can find Sabato's numbers in two issues of The Virginia News Letter published by the Cooper Center at UVA. A Democratic Revival, Vol. 78 No. 2, Feb. 2002 and A Century in the Making, Vol. 74 No. 1, Feb. 1998. Find them online at

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