New York political junkies woke up this morning to a stunning new poll from Siena Research Institute. The poll conducted on NY’s 20th Congressional District shows a massive surge for Republican challenger Chris Gibson, who overcame a 17-point deficit and now leads the race by 9 — a 26-point swing in only a month.
The dramatic shift in the race did not go unnoticed. Maggie Haberman at Politico wrote that the poll “surprised” even “veteran political watchers in the state.” While Chris Gibson is truly an exceptional candidate and his fantastic performance in recent debates has no doubt boosted his polling, reports are now coming out that the large polling swing is the result of a change in Siena’s likely voter methodology. It sounds benign, but it has some real serious implications for how the media and political watchers perceive New York races. The resulting methodology shift might be hinting at a far weaker performance for Democrat incumbents in New York.
According to Siena pollster Steve Greenberg, each week Siena is able to “tighten” their likely voter population through survey questioning as the elections near. New York has a late primary in September, so the nuts and bolts of voter decision making occur in a short amount of time. In NY-20, likely voters have leaned dramatically for Republicans in the last 30 days. Could the same be true for other upstate districts?
Today’s NY-20 poll not only shows a large swing as a result from methodology, but also points to the possibility that Republican polling might have been on the conservative side. Only a week ago, campaign polling had Gibson leading the race by 2. That sort of surge is not unprecedented, although it certainly raises some questions.
New York has always had a large potential for massive Republican gains. Only two of New York’s 29 congressional seats are held by Republicans, despite a fair number of districts being carried by McCain in 2008. That’s why Nate Silver is projecting a total of 9 seats in play.
Despite Republican polling which consistently provided a strong showing from candidates in these battleground districts, the races have received little media attention — in large part because of Siena’s polling.
Siena College represents the only nonpartisan polling on New York’s congressional races and a majority of the polling for the gubernatorial and Senate races. NY’s 25th Congressional District provides us an excellent example of how Siena’s polling has impacted the narrative of the race. After Republican pollsters gave Ann Marie Buerkle a one-point lead over incumbent Democrat Dan Maffei, Siena released a conflicting poll showing Maffei leading by 12. Syracuse’s largest paper, the Post-Standard, downplayed the Republican poll in light of the recently commissioned Siena. This poll will be nearly a month old when voters pull the lever in November, but it will be the last look the media has at “nonpartisan” polling.
NY-25 is far from the only district showing a surprisingly strong Democrat incumbency. Here’s a list of Siena’s polling over the last month:
NY-24: Democrat incumbent Mike Arcuri over Republican Richard Hanna, 48-40%
NY-1: Incumbent Tim Bishop 51% to Republican Randy Altschuler 39%
NY-23: 44-39% for Democrat Bill Owens over Matt Doheny.
Despite the polling, groups like the NRCC and American Crossroads are investing heavily in these races, an indication that they like what they are seeing in internal polling, and given the unbelievable shift in NY-20, they may be well positioned. If NY-20 is not just an isolated movement of voters, but indicative of upstate congressional races, the big election surprise on November 2 will be NY.