The Hanna-O’Brien Race-November 2, 2012

Posted at: 11/02/2012 12:41 PM
By: Dr. Timothy Kneeland -- Political Blogger

The release of the most recent Siena Poll (November 2, 2012) showing a 19 point swing in the 55 Senate District race between Sean Hanna and Ted O’Brien has a number of local political experts scratching their heads.  Just a month ago, Siena showed Hanna up by 8 point – now O’Brien is leading by 11 points.   Such a dramatic change in number in a relatively short period of time is, to say the last, uncommon.

Several factors are in play here.   The pollsters increased the sample size, which slightly decreased the margin of error from the earlier poll, but the pollsters also increased the percentage of Democrats sampled from 37% to 40%.    They also slightly increase the number of voters from the city of Rochester.

These differences explain only a small amount of variation from the earlier poll.  
I think the most critical factor in this poll is the inclusion of a new question, “Regardless of who you support, which candidate do you think has been waging the more negative campaign?”   Questions such as this may skew the response of those polled because they suggest that one candidate has been more negative than another.   Asking whether the campaign has been more or less negative than other campaigns this year or in the past would have framed this question as less leading.  It lead those polled to say by a two –to –one margin that Hanna had the more negative campaign with some affect on the responses to other questions.    

No doubt the negative tone of the campaign and the amount of money spent by Hanna in this race explains why those polled said 2:1 that Hanna had the more negative campaign.  The sheer volume of ads by Hanna and others would make this response likely.    That Hanna has been running a negative campaign is indisputable and also explains a shift in the voter preference in this race.   As I have stated repeatedly in earlier blogs, independent voters do not appreciate the partisan politics and negative tone of contemporary politics.  It tends to turn them off and may even have the opposite effect that the ads intend.   In this case we have some proof of this.  O’Brien’s favorability rating among Independent voters was up a sharp 17%, while Hanna’s fell by 1%.   More importantly, Hanna’s unfavorable rating among Independent voters grew by 16% -- now half of all Independent and other voters have a n unfavorable view of Hanna.   There is a mathematical formula yet to be written about the proper balance of negative ads v positive ads in a political campaign –Hanna’s campaign could have used it this time around.

With just days to go in the election is it over for Hanna?  No.   The poll – taken in the aftermath of Sandy, taken with new a new question about negative campaigning and fewer policy questions, and with a slightly different sample is an outlier.  It does not reflect the political reality of the district and this remains a close election which Hanna can still win.   O’Brien and his staff should be pleased that with little money and not much effort that seem to be winning, but with days to go ahead of the actual election they should not rest on their laurels.   As I always say, with complete sincerity, it is up to the registered voters on Election day to determine the outcome.