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Optimistic poll reading can't hide Landrieu's vulnerability

There’s much less than meets the eye on the surface concerning a recent poll put out by a liberal outfit concerning the reelection chances of Sen. Mary Landrieu a little less than two years from now.

Public Policy Polling reported that Landrieu bested hypothetical matchups in a contest on the strength of a rating of 47 percent approval, 45 percent disapproval. This provides an interesting contract to another recent poll that gave her a “likeability” rating of 59 percent. The ranges in which she would defeat presumptive GOP challengers were from 3 to 12 points. She had double-digit leads against the two most likely such challengers, Reps. Bill Cassidy and John Fleming.

The Landrieu camp might be of good cheer to learn of this sign that at this time she is quite competitive – not the greatest thing for an incumbent who to feel secure should be over 50 percent in approval and whose likely opponents have a large number of respondents to the matchup questions who as of yet are unable to rate them – until they look at the distribution of respondents in terms of how they voted last November. In this sample, only 54 percent voted for former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, while 40 percent voted for Pres. Barack Obama.

This is opposed to actual spread of 58-41. As it is unlikely that in three months voting sympathies would have switched so much as to have roughly 4 percent of the population lie about voting at all, or that among those who actually didn’t vote that the distribution would change meaningfully, this points to a trait of PPP polls – they usually oversample Democrats and/or those with leftist sympathies. For the sake of comparison, being as the translation of presidential vote to senatorial vote is not perfect, let’s assume there’s a three point swing had the sampling been more faithful to the actual underlying population.

In that instance, Landrieu is in some trouble, now under water at 44-48. Add to her complications that the 2014 electorate’s composition will be less favorable to her than the 2012 was for state Democrats, or in 2008 for her last election. This is because presidential elections draw most disproportionately low information, low interest voters – especially among blacks when a man racially identified as black runs for president. These voters disproportionately have favored Landrieu.

Instead, the 2014 electorate is much more likely to look like that of 2010, with a significantly lower portion of these voters, when in that senatorial election Sen. David Vitter, despite his well-publicized admission of a “serious sin,” in winning by almost 20 points humiliated his Democrat opponent who ran a strategy similar to that Landrieu has in her previous attempts and will no doubt try again this time – downplay ideology and votes way out of step with the Louisiana public, and play up a few votes for popular special interests here and there and emphasize the pork she has brought back to the state. It is highly unlikely she would lose so decisively, given she is the incumbent and the resources that brings to bear in a campaign, but the comparison does serve to highlight the unfavorable environment with which she must contend.

In short, the voting public the PPP poll assumes should not be that close to what actually manifests on Nov. 4, 2014, and the most optimistic rendering of her chances continues to be they are uncertain. The most pessimistic would be she is in trouble with these numbers which is why she continues to be listed from many quarters as one of the most endangered, if not the most endangered, Senate Democrat of the cycle.

POSTSCRIPT: A reader reminds that the days of the polling occurred right at the beginning of Carnival weekend and extended all the way through Mardi Gras. Granted, north of U.S. 90 there's precious little Carnival activity, but considering that Republicans more than Democrats (and to a lesser extent, conservatives more than liberals, even as there is dispute as to the reasons why the partisan relationship has been witnessed for decades) feel happiness in their lives, you might expect they'd be the ones more likely to hit a parade or party -- or show up to work instead of taking the day off. Maybe Democrats disproportionately stayed home, preferring to scan websites in order to leave vitriolic posts or spleen-venting comments on various VRWC theories, blaming Bush and the Koch brothers for every imagined evil in the world, etc.?

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