State and national blogs have been all abuzz with headlines referencing U.S. Sen. Richard Burr’s (R-NC) potential vulnerability citing new polling information released by Civitas (find our press release here) and Public Policy Polling (PPP). These articles seem to be somewhat surprised that the Senate race is closer than they thought it should be.
While the generic ballot tests have shown a neck-and-neck race, when you dig inside the numbers, things don’t look all that bad for Burr.
1. All polls have shown him in the lead against any of his announced rivals in head-to-head matchups. The one Democrat that polled ahead of him (Attorney General Roy Cooper) passed on the race. Compare that to some of his colleagues in the Senate like Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), former Presidential candidate Chris Dodd (D-CT), or many of the other Senators up for re-election that are actually trailing in the polls and Burr’s position looks even better.
2. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) won’t have the resources to pour into North Carolina like it did in 2008. According to the Cook Political Report, there are 13 other US Senate races more competitive than Burr’s – many of them occupied by Democrats. The DSCC will be forced to use the money that would be spent against Burr on protecting its incumbents. Whoever the Democratic nominee will be cannot count on the DSCC to invest the estimated $11 million that it spent last year in support of Kay Hagan.
3. With the voters most likely to vote in 2010, Burr is doing quite well.
We asked a screening question in our poll to gauge voters’ likelihood to vote in 2010. Among those who said they were “definitely voting” in 2010, Burr’s lead is nine points. Among those who are “very likely” to vote, his lead grows to 12. Compare that to the “Somewhat Likely” voters where Marshall actually holds a 3 point lead. The voters most likely to show up and vote are breaking Burr’s way – Marshall’s support is among less likely voters.
That is also proven out in looking at the voter’s past history. With respondents in our poll that voted in the all of the past three elections (which compromises 50 percent of the sample), and thus the most likely to vote in 2010, Republicans hold a 10 point generic US Senate ballot advantage (45-35) vs. a one-point Democratic advantage when all voters are sampled. Among the same group of 3 out of 3 voters, Burr’s lead over Marshall swells to 15 points (45-30).
4. There is starting to be an “enthusiasm” gap among voters that favors Republicans. Seventy-two percent of Republicans surveyed say they are "definitely voting" in 2010 while only 67 percent of Democrats say the same. That equates to roughly 140,000 less Democratic voters showing up — a rather significant number. Among those "definitely voting," Republicans have a two-point Senate generic ballot lead compared with a one-point deficit among all voters.
Additionally, the new voters in 2008 that swept President Obama and other Democrats into office in 2008 don’t appear to be as likely to return to vote in 2010. Only 55 percent of voters whose only voting history was the 2008 elections say they are “definitely voting” in 2010.
While the generic ballot question may on the surface appear that the NC Senate race has the potential of being a close race, when you consider all other factors, that one number does not tell the entire story. The tide certainly looks much better for Republicans in 2010, the Obama turnout machine does not appear to be in place in North Carolina, the DSCC has other targets and can’t invest nearly the resources as last year and those voters most likely to head to the polls next November are favoring Burr and Republicans at higher numbers than casual voters.
Is Burr a lock for reelection? Absolutely not. But when you consider all the other factors at play, things aren’t as bad for him as many are making it out to be based on the latest polling data.