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Friday, November 5, 2010

Making Sense of the Pat Toomey-Joe Sestak Senate Race

Everyone has an opinion about the election results this week. It was a landslide for the GOP, the Democrats Still Have the Senate, the people are furious with Obama, what Sarah Palin will wear to her inauguration, etc. Extreme caution must be taken to find one message out of 435 heavily gerrymandered US House races, 37 Senate races, 37 Governor races, and thousands of state house and local races.

According to the United States Elections Project of George Mason University total voter turnout was 41.5% nationwide this year (typical for an off year election), down from 61.6% in 2008 (high for a Presidential year). Rates varied from a high of 60.1% in Minnesota to a low of 28.3% in the District of Columbia and 29.4% in Mississippi. Older voters are more likely to turn out in off year elections.

Exit polls can be valuable in learning what the voters who turned out are thinking, depending on how the questions are worded and how the sample is collected. To show how complex just one race can be, I will dissect the Senate Race in Pennsylvania (42.1% voter turnout) which I've written about before with the exit poll from CNN. The poll sampled 2,672 voters at randomly selected polling places and accurately predicted that Pat Toomey would win 51% to 49% (the linked page does not explicitly show that but one can work backwards with the numbers presented to find the predicted percentages. I can go through it if someone wants to see.). The poll has a +/-2% margin of error. I looked for the full exit poll data on Fox News's web page but could not find it. The full PA Senate exit poll can be read here.

Senate, House, Governor Races - Election Center 2010 - Elections & Politics from CNN.com

**Related post**
Pat Toomey in More than a 30 Second Ad

On the first page it shows that as usual women preferred the Democrat Sestak while men preferred Toomey by a slightly higher margin. Women turned out in slightly higher numbers.

Gender
Sestak
Toomey
Male (49%)
44%
56%
Female (51%)
54%
46%


57% of White voters preferred Toomey while 93% of African Americans preferred Sestak. Latino and other racial groups comprised only 5% of the sample.

Looking at the breakdown of voters by age provides a good lesson for why it's important to ask deeper questions sometimes. The first table presented shows a clear upward trend with older voters showing a stronger preference for Toomey with younger ones for Sestak and older ones turning out in higher numbers.

Age Group
Sestak
Toomey
18-29 (13%)
61%
39%
30-44 (21%)
54%
46%
45-64 (44%)
48%
52%
65 and Older (23%)
41%
59%


The next table shows a somewhat more complicated pattern when age is broken down into smaller groups. When the 45-64 is split into the 50-64 group is divided 50-50% between the two candidates and the 40-49 group goes 54-46% for Toomey. I would suspect that this difference is more pronounced when further broken down by gender and/or income. Sestak ran ads showing Toomey's support for privatizing social security which may have scared some adults close to retirement.

Age Group
Sestak
Toomey
18-24 (6%)
60%
40%
25-29 (7%)
62%
38%
30-39 (12%)
56%
44%
40-49 (19%)
46%
54%
50-64 (33%)
50%
50%
65 or Over (23%)
41%
59%

As expected, the poll then goes on to show that support for Toomey is stronger among higher income voters which is stronger when combined with race. The results are split about evenly within the margin of error with respect to voter education.

When asked about approval of President Obama 30% of those who somewhat disapproved of him voted for Sestak while only 18% of those who somewhat approved of him voted for Toomey. The table beneath that one shows that voters who did not consider Obama a major factor favored Sestak 61% to 39%.

Presidential Approval
Sestak
Toomey
Strongly Approve (23%)
97%
3%
Somewhat Approve (24%)
82%
18%
Somewhat Disapprove (16%)
30%
70%
Strongly Disapprove (37%)
5%
95%

Senate Vote Meant to Express…
Sestak
Toomey
Support for Obama (28%)
97%
3%
Opposition to Obama (36%)
8%
92%
Obama Not a Factor (33%)
61%
39%

When asked what the most important issue facing the country today, the economy was by far the most important issue on the voter's minds at 63% with 57% of those voting for Toomey. Health care was the second most important at 22% with 56% voting for Sestak. The war in Afghanistan was mentioned only by 7% and is not broken down by candidate. Likewise the hot button issue of illegal immigration was mentioned only by 5%. It does not say from which issues did the voters had to choose or if it was an open ended question.

Important Issue
Sestak
Toomey
War in Afghanistan (7%)
N/A
N/A
Health Care (22%)
56%
44%
Economy (63%)
43%
57%
Illegal Immigration (5%)
N/A
N/A

**Related Post**

We've All Neglected Our Wars (Me Too)

When asked about what Congress should do with the health care bill, those who wanted it kept either kept the same or expanded (52%) outnumbered those who wanted it repealed (45%). Those who wanted it repealed voted 90% for Toomey while those who wanted it left as is were 70% for Sestak. This reflects other national polls which show that those who want the health care law expanded roughly equal those who want it repealed (see related post POLL: Dislike of healthcare law crosses party lines, 1 in 4 Dems want repeal - TheHill.com (But Doesn't Ask Why)). It also does not as how those who want it expanded define expanded. Repeal is pretty clearly defined.

What Should Congress Do With
New Health Care Law?
Sestak
Toomey
Expand It (35%)
88%
12%
Leave It As Is (17%)
70%
30%
Repeal It (45%)
10%
90%

**Related Post**

POLL: Dislike of healthcare law crosses party lines, 1 in 4 Dems want repeal - TheHill.com (But Doesn't Ask Why)

Pre election polls showed considerable tightening of the race in the last month of the campaign and the exit poll showed that those who made up their mind in the last month broke for Sestak. Support for Toomey was higher in the rural parts of the state.

With all of these factors coming into play in just one competitive race, one can imagine how complicated it gets when there are all those other Senate, House, Governor, and State House races going on at once. This poll only applies to those who came to the polls on election day. It cannot make any statements about the 57.9% of the electorate in Pennsylvania who did not come to the polls that day. Also comment can only be made about issues that were asked about there are infinite possible combinations of other issues that were not asked about such as abortion. Barring any radical changes in the economy in the near future the State is likely to be a battleground state in 2012 though with fewer electoral votes you betcha.

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones Magazine offers his own analysis of national exit poll data comparing it to 2006 midterms. I will look at voter shifts from the 2006 race between Casey and Santorum.

Weird Findings From 2010's Exit Poll Data


In 2006, 57% of men and 61% of women voters voted for Bob Casey over the Democrat Rick Santorum. 55% of whites voted for Casey while 90% of African Americans voted for Santorum.
There were more specific questions on religion, abortion, the war in Iraq and some other issues. There were 2,421 respondents. The biggest shift appears to have occured among white and male voters in PA from 2006. In both polls there was little tailoring of questions to local issues such as Marcellus shale drilling. The full exit poll from 2006 for Pennsylvania can be read here.

**Update**

A blog by the Progressive Democrats of America of Beaver County, PA has an analysis of the 4th Congressional district race and how it affected the PA Senate race. They show that blue dog Jason Altmire's campaign depressed voter turnout in his district and hurt Sestak's Chances of winning. The full post can be read here.

Can the Democratic Party Survive the Blue Dogs?


The CNN exit poll did show lower percentages for the Democrat in Western PA than in previous years.

Total
Sestak
Toomey
Philadelphia (11%)
84%
16%
Philadelphia Suburbs (22%)
51%
49%
Northeastern Pennsylvania (16%)
47%
53%
Central Pennsylvania (22%)
34%
66%
Western Pennsylvania (29%)
48%
52%