The Presidential Race In Oregon

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Tim Hibbitts, June 26, 2012

Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling (PPP) released an interesting poll on the Oregon Presidential and other statewide races recently. PPP generally has a strong track record, so the results are worth a look. They show the President leading Mitt Romney by a 50-42% margin, with Democratic candidates for the second tier offices (AG; SOS; and Treasurer) leading by between 12 and 18 points. It’s a bit early yet to get too worked up about any poll, but there are some messages, and a couple of head scratchers in the results:

First, the gist of the poll makes sense to us. While Oregon has not been heavily polled this year (as it is not seen to be a battleground state), the assumption has been that Obama would not sustain the historic landslide he won in 2008 (56.8 to 40.4%); and the state would be more competitive; but still comfortably in the Democratic column in 2012.

Let’s be as clear as possible, if Oregon becomes a true battleground state this year, Barack Obama is very likely to lose nationally. By contrast, an Obama win in Oregon in the 5-8% range (currently the most likely outcome) will probably suggest a very close national election.

Second, it is worth noting that in 2008 Obama led the Democratic ticket in Oregon (minus the unopposed AG race) and his presence doubtless helped Jeff Merkley take down Gordon Smith by a bit more than 3%, and likely helped Kate Brown and Ben Westlund too (they each won by about 6%). This year, it is distinctly possible that Obama will be bringing up the rear rather than leading the parade.

In sum, no or very short Obama coattails in Oregon in 2012. That could have some implications in swing legislative districts here and there. Delving into the internals of the poll reveals a couple of puzzling data points. The PPP poll shows the makeup of the electorate as 46% Democrat; 30% Republican, and 25% Independent. The current registration figures in the state are about 40% Democrat; 32% Republican; and 28% Independent/Other. We haven’t finished modeling what we expect the turnout mix to be this fall, but right now it looks to us that the electorate will likely be about 42% Democrat, 34% Republican and 24% Independent/Other. It will most definitely not consist of a 16 point Democratic edge. So, the PPP poll  has a Democratic lean to it (probably +4 Democrat; Republican -4). Playing around with weighting the numbers to reflect about a 42-34% Democratic turnout edge would bring Obama’s lead down to about 3-4 points. It’s not likely that close right now but this poll might overstate his lead a bit, and it is the President’s current good fortune that the poll shows Romney just isn’t very well liked among Oregon voters.

Lastly, PPP notes that erosion for the President has come primarily out of Independents, as Obama now trails Romney by 22 points (!) among this group; 52 to 30%. In our final 2008 poll Obama led John McCain by 23 points among Independents. But, the crosstabs from the PPP poll also show Obama leading Romney by 21 points; 54 to 33% among self described moderates. This is a bit of an oddity, as we don’t tend to find the two diverging by a net of 43 points in partisan races. Of course not every Independent is moderate; and vice versa, but it’s a bit of stretch to figure out how the President is losing Independents by 22 points yet winning moderates by 21. Perhaps it might be explained by the President winning Democratic moderates big but losing Independent moderates and conservatives by  crushing margins.

In any event, Obama coasted to a big victory in Oregon in 2008, this time his team is going to have to work for it.