Is Sestak Closing on Toomey in PA?

Filed in PoliticsTags: Democrats, Elections, Media Bias, Polls, Republicans, Senate

The latest news out of the Pennsylvania Senate race between Pat Toomey and Joe Sestak is that a few recent polls have shown Toomey's 10-point lead evaporate. First, Quinnipiac showed Toomey up only 48-46. Then PPP showed Sestak up 45-46. Now Morning Call shows the race tied at 43-43. So what gives? Is this race, that Rasmussen still lists as "Solid GOP", actually in trouble?

In a word: no.

To explain why, we'll need to look more closely at the crosstabs of these polls. But first, so you don't have to take my word for it, read what Jim Geraghty has to say over at NRO's The Campaign Spot.


Now, onto the analysis of the polls. For the sake of expediency, and since their crosstabs are available in the poll report, I'll focus on Quinnipiac. Specifically, I'll look at the party-affiliation breakdown for the Senate race, and for Obama's job approval.

Poll Results


  • Toomey: 46%
  • Sestak: 48%
  • Don't Know/No Answer: 5%


D R I Total
Toomey 7% 88% 56% 48%
Sestak 89% 8% 35% 46%
DK/NA 4% 3% 9% 5%

Obama Job Approval

D R I Total
Approve 85% 11% 30% 44%
Disapprove 13% 87% 64% 53%
DK/NA 2% 2% 6% 3%


The poll doesn't indicate its party-affiliation weight values, but based on the above polls, I calculate that this weighting is as follows:

  • D: 38.0%
  • R: 34.5%
  • I: 27.5%

And there's the problem with this poll: this party-affiliation weighting bears little resemblance to reality. Jim Geraghty's piece linked above does a great job of explaining how these numbers are completely inconsistent with the electorate. But to prove the point, I'll look at some comparisons (previous-election party affiliation breakdowns taken from the Geraghty post).

Obama Job Approval

First, I'll examine jjust one change from the previous Quinnipiac poll to this one:

President Obama gets a negative 44 – 53 percent job approval rating, compared to a negative 40 – 56 percent September 22.

Note that overall, Obama's approval numbers continue to decrease, not increase. Yet somehow, this poll (miraculously) discovered a seven-point swing in Obama's favor since the previous month. That, alone, is enough to raise questions about the validity of the poll's topline. Interestingly, adjusting the party-affiliation weighting from 38.0%D / 34.5%R / 27.5%I to 32%D / 38%R / 30%I returns Obama's Approval/Disapproval numbers to 40% Approve / 56% Disapprove, and result in a 52% - 42% Toomey lead over Sestak (which is essentially right where the race has been for some time).

Democrat Best-Case Scenario: 2008

Next, I'll adjust the party affiliation weighting from the above numbers to the 2008 election numbers. In 2008, the turnout was 44% Democrat, 37% Republican, and 17% Independent. These numbers, which clearly represent not only a best-case scenario, but also an absolute pipe dream, result in a 48% - 45% Sestak lead over Toomey.

Get that? In a pipe-dream scenario, the Democrat would only be leading this race by 3%.

Democrat Second-Best-Case Scenario: 2006

Since the 2008 results are clearly out of reach, let's examine the 2006 results, in which the turnout was 43% Democrat, 38% Republican, and 19% Independent. These numbers, which represent a huge Democrat midterm election (again, something that will not be repeated in 2010), result in a 48% - 47% Sestak lead over Toomey.

So, once again, a pipe-dream scenario results in the Democrat leading this race by only 1%.

Bad News for Democrats: 1994

Since 2010 is clearly a Republican wave year, let's examine the poll results adjusted for 1994 turnout in the state, which was 39% Democrat, 41% Republican, and 20% Independent. These numbers result in a 50% - 45% Toomey lead over Sestak.

The problem for Sestak is that even the clearly skewed Quinnipiac party-affiliation weighting shows a lower Democrat turnout in 2010.

The even bigger problem for Sestak is that not only is the Democrat vote suppressed, but also the Independent vote is breaking 2-to-1 in favor of Toomey, and the Independent vote is highly motivated (by similar 2-to-1 ratios, Independents disapprove of Obama's job performance, disapprove of Obama's handling of the economy, prefer their Senator to oppose Obama's agenda, would prefer the Senate to be controlled by Republicans, and believe that Toomey rather than Sestak shares their personal values; also, 82% of Independents are dissatisfied/angry with the way government works).

Charting The Results

For comparison, here are the results of the above analyses:

D R I Toomey Sestak
Quinnipiac 38.0% 34.5% 27.5% 48% 46%
Obama 40% Approval 32% 38% 30% 52% 42%
2008 Turnout 44% 37% 17% 45% 48%
2006 Turnout 43% 38% 19% 47% 48%
1994 Turnout 39% 41% 20% 50% 45%

Pennsylvania Gubernatorial Race

Perhaps the worst news yet for the Sestak campaign is that the Pennsylvania Senate race isn't the only statewide election this year. Pennsylvania also has a gubernatorial race, and that race has exhibited a very steady, 10-point lead for the Republican candidate.

Pennsylvania voters are not likely to switch parties between Gubernatorial and Senate candidates, and vice versa. Thus, if the sudden tightening of the Senate race is real, it should translate into a similar tightening in the Gubernatorial race. Unfortunately for Sestak, no such tightening exists.


Much ado about nothing. Make of it what you will, but the conclusion that Sestak is leading Toomey - or that he has even closed the gap - simply doesn't withstand a reality check.

By all appearances, Republican Pat Toomey will win the Senate race by 5-10 points over Joe Sestak.


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