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2014 Midterm Elections: How Did We Do in the Governor’s Races?

Friday, November 07, 2014

There were governor’s races in 36 states this fall, and as usual we polled them all. But as in the case of the Senate races, the ones that we determined were not competitive were only polled once or twice at most.

A couple states we didn’t revisit for this reason surprised us. Democratic nominee Anthony Brown seemed a shoo-in in July in deep blue Maryland, but Republican hopeful Larry Hogan picked up momentum in October and won instead. In Vermont, incumbent Democrat Peter Shumlin is ahead as we expected, but since neither candidate got more than 50% of the vote, the state legislature will make the final decision.

To see a comparison of our numbers to the final outcomes in all the governor’s races, click here. Also included for comparison is the Real Clear Politics average of all the most recent polls, not just ours, in each race.

We showed nine governor’s races as Toss-Ups going into Election Day - Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan and Wisconsin. Five of those races proved to be just as close as we projected.

We had the ultimate winner ahead in three out of the other four states, but they won by wider margins than we expected. In Illinois, for example, while several other October polls and the overall Real Clear Politics average showed Democrat Pat Quinn winning, Rasmussen Reports found Republican Bruce Rauner ahead by one. Rauner ultimately won the race by 4.8%.

In Wisconsin, however, our Oct. 20-21 survey showed Democrat Mary Burke ahead of incumbent GOP Governor Scott Walker by one point. The Real Clear Politics average of all recent polls of the race, including ones much closer to Election Day, put Walker ahead by just over two points. Walker won that down-to-the-wire contest 52% to 47%.

In every other state but Kansas, the candidate we showed ahead in our final survey appears to be the winner.

As was the case in our Senate surveys, Kansas was our one major mistake. We showed Democrat Paul Davis ahead of Republican incumbent Sam Brownback in surveys from August on, with Davis holding a 52% to 45% lead on October 20-21. Two weeks later, Brownback emerged as the winner 50% to 46%. There clearly was a strong Republican surge in traditionally red Kansas over the final days of the campaign, primarily due to a major effort on the part of the GOP to hold the seat of Senator Pat Roberts. Brownback has had major budget problems, and 58% of Kansas voters told us in mid-October that the state was worse off than it was four years ago. Other pollsters erred in Davis’ direction, too, but the bottom line is we didn’t get it right.

See how we did in this year’s Senate races here.

The late Republican swing we saw nationally in the Senate races did not seem to hold as true with the governor’s races, although in a number of states such as Arizona, Iowa and Texas most undecideds appear to ultimately have voted for the GOP.

We’ve learned a couple things this election cycle. Pay closer attention to the races we write off early in the process, and poll more in the final days. We did seven races the final week before Election Day, but clearly that wasn’t enough.

Some critics were saying before the election that many polls were undercounting Democrats. If anything, we may have undercounted Republicans this time around, although the GOP appears to have benefited hugely from voters not affiliated with either major party shifting in their direction on Election Day. It remains to be seen whether those voters will vote Republican again in 2016.

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