Warwick, RI — It’s one of the tried-and-true conversation drivers during election season: The telephone survey.
These informal polls — which ask a series of questions aimed at determining the likely outcome of an election — lead to headlines like this one, from WPRI-TV on the race for Rhode Island Governor: Raimondo Holds a Slim Lead.
And, in turn, the appearance of a too-close-to-call race keeps viewers and readers tuned in throughout the rest of the election cycle — who’s going to watch if there’s no suspense?
But the question remains, in light of this week’s WPRI/Providence Journal poll: Is the governor’s race really as close as the survey suggests?
Using the Sept. 9 primary as a guide — and each candidate’s potential for getting out the vote — the answer seems to be, at this point, ‘no.’
In September, Democratic voters cast 128,000 total votes in Rhode Island, compared to 32,000 for Republicans — a 4-to-1 advantage. Warwick’s numbers were a bit below the state trend — about 11,000 Democratic votes were cast in the city compared to 4,700 Republican votes, slightly less than a 3-to-1 margin.
State Treasurer Gina Raimondo collected nearly 54,000 of those Democratic votes, while Cranston Mayor Allan Fung managed about 17,500 on the GOP side.
According to WPRI, 505 “likely” voters were surveyed in the recent poll — but it appears that the overwhelming Democratic advantage wasn’t specifically taken into account.
To be fair, WPRI’s reporting on the poll does mention that Raimondo’s potential Democratic voters “make up a far larger share of the Rhode Island electorate,” leaving as a footnote the one factor that may make the election a rout for Raimondo — which, in gubernatorial election terms, would be a 48-41 percent victory. [Moderate candidate Bob Healey is shaping up to be a spoiler, though it seems likely he’ll take more potential Fung voters while being the reason Raimondo doesn’t clear the 50-percent threshold for a majority.]
Pollster Joe Fleming noted a 19-percent undecided figure, and said that group will “decide the election.”
That’s true, as it is in most elections — but in this case, it’s probably not in the way that Fleming suggests.
Fleming’s assertion is based on the premise that his poll accurately reflects the electorate at large — but it doesn’t, and so it gives a flawed view of the potential turnout for each candidate.
With far more potential Democratic voters — and the addition of Andrew Childs, the GOTV expert who led David Cicilline’s efforts in the 2012 Congressional campaign — Raimondo has, arguably, the easier road to bringing in enough votes to win.
Calling people who already voted Democratic in September and maintaining contact with them through Nov. 4 — which is, without a doubt, Childs’s strategy — is going to result in far higher vote totals for Raimondo.
Now, certainly, there is still the potential for “October surprise” news that potentially turns off voters who’d otherwise support the candidates, but the lack of a divided field like in 2010 means this election will come down to one simple fact: The candidate who can bring out more loyal voters will win.
Going strictly by the numbers, Fung has to bring out all of his potential voters plus carry unaffiliated voters by a huge margin [and overcome Healey’s vote tally, which could be as high as 10 percent] to even finish within 5 points of Raimondo.
Problem is, Fung can’t do that effectively in the next three weeks if he still has to introduce himself to truly unaffiliated voters, who are notorious for paying attention to elections at the last minute.
It could also be argued that in September, the last time unaffiliated voters had a choice, they voted Democratic — making the hill that much steeper for Fung to climb.
So, while the storyline of a close race may be good for media types — and, to be sure, for campaigns looking to keep their potential voters paying attention — in this case, it’s not completely accurate.
Verdict: The 2014 governor’s race is Gina Raimondo’s to lose.
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