I promise you that this is the most comprehensive analysis of PPP's VA-05 poll, ever.
You have been warned.
Let's look at where Perriello starts out at.
While PPP polled multiple scenarios, including two with an independent candidate, we can sort the straight match ups of Perriello against a named Republican into three categories: Hurt, Boyd, and everyone else. With very low name ID, the polls of Verga, McKelvey, and McPadden are virtually the same as asking a match up of Perriello versus an unnamed Republican. This is NOT a negative for these candidates, just a fact. These three scenarios give us an insight into the natural lean of the district and just where Perriello starts out.
The average of these three poll is Perriello with 44.67% and the generic Republican with 35.67%. Let's round this off to 45% to 36%, with 19% undecided. The good news is that Perriello is under the 50% he needs to win in this straight match up. The bad news is that he's still performing well overall. That 45% is far better than any other Democrat candidate in the 5th District since Goode switched. That's just behind Obama's performance in the district from 2008. Perriello gives up around 6% of Obama voters, with another 10% still undecided. That 6% is largely white noise in the poll, it also has Perriello picking up around 8% of McCain voters. The 10% could just be people who are playing hard to get this early on in the election cycle. More of the undecideds are McCain voters; 27% of them are undecided in this generic match up.
Perriello is looking at a natural base of 45% against a generic Republican, with a tiny bit of room to grow by bringing home the remaining Obama voters. Let's look at these numbers another way, by party affiliation.
Against a generic Republican, Perriello pulls home 85% of self-identified Democrats with 3% going to the Republican. 12% are undecided. Among Republicans, 70% go to the unnamed generic Republican and 5% to Perriello, again white noise. 25% are undecided. Independents are almost a complete tie, with 37% favoring Perriello, 39% favoring the Republican, and 24% undecided.
With 12% of Democrats undecided and 10% of Obama voters undecided, there's a small but significant group from 4.7% to 4.8% who are undecided in the poll but either an Obama voter or a Democrat (likely both). We don't know how much this overlaps, but I'm going to assume significantly. With Perriello already at 45% against a generic Republican, he's dangerously close to the 50% + 1 mark just by consolidating his base in the district.
Now let's look on the Republican side.
The generic Republican is putting up only 36% against Perriello. Most of this is due to the high number of undecided McCain voters, 27% of them are undecided. Among McCain voters, 65% initially favor the generic Republican, compared to the 84% of Obama voters favoring Perriello. This could just be a story of McCain voters not wanting to commit to an unnamed Republican. But let's take a closer look at the numbers.
Around 8% of McCain voters favor Perriello, for a total of 4% overall as white noise (comparable to the 3% of voters overall who are Obama voters but backing the Republican). In the district, around 33% of the poll are McCain voters favoring the unnamed Republican. So the election starts with just under 14% of voters as undecided McCain voters. Far more than the about 5% of voters who are undecided Obama voters.
Looking at the partisan affiliation, the levels of support among Republicans translates to 24.5% of voters being Republicans supporting the Republican candidate, just under 2% being Republicans supporting Perriello, and just under 9% being Republicans who are undecided. Remember that around 5% of voters are Democrats who are undecided.
10% of voters are Independents supporting Perriello. Around 10.5% are Independents supporting the unnamed Republican. And 6% are Independents who are undecided.
Undecided Republicans (9%) outnumber undecided Independents (6%). And undecided Independents (6%) narrow outnumber undecided Democrats (5%).
What happens when we poll a candidate with some higher name ID?
Let's look at Boyd first.
Perriello brings home 46%, a slight increase from the generic Republican. But Boyd polls at 42%, a significant increase of 6% from where the generic Republican ran.
First, among Democrats, Perriello wobbles every so slightly from the average of 85% to 84%. Boyd jumps to 7% of Democrats, mostly by reducing the number of undecided Democrats from 12% to 9%. But in the big picture this changes the number of undecided Democrats from 4.7% to 3.5%. This is a relatively minor shift.
Among Independents, Perriello again wobbles from 37% to 39%. This is a minor shift, not even 1% of total voters. Boyd jumps to 45% of Independents, representing a shift of 2% of voters. The number of undecided Independents drops down to 4%.
Finally, Republicans. Boyd climbs to 79% of Republicans, which shifts 3% of total voters from being undecided Republicans to Republicans backing Boyd. But Perriello picks up some Republicans too, enough to climb from 2% of voters as Republicans supporting Perriello to 3% of total voters representing Republicans supporting Perriello. Another minor shift.
Overall, once you start putting a face, or at least a name voters recognize, to Perriello's opponent, he picks up minor support while the Republican begins to gain significant ground.
The story is the same with Hurt. The story is virtually the same among Democrats and Independents when Hurt replaces Boyd. Hurt has slightly higher Republican support than Boyd, shifting around 5% of total voters from being undecided Republicans to Republicans backing Hurt. This 2% difference between Hurt and Boyd is pretty minor when you consider that Hurt has more than twice as much name ID as Boyd. I think this just represents the tendency for Republicans to come home once there's a name they know behind the GOP ticket. Once Boyd or any other Republican gets to Hurt's level of name ID I expect them to be polling about the same.
The conclusion is that Perriello is in a strong position right now, hovering around 45% of the vote. Within the poll, Republican candidates with name ID are able to bring home higher numbers of the Republican base to pull even with Perriello. Pulling even is mostly a matter of switching Republicans from undecided to voting Republican. By pulling off 3% to 5% of voters, having a known Republican candidate changes the balance of undecided voters. We now have undecided Republicans down to 6% to 4%, about even with undecided Democrats (5%). And about even with undecided Independents (6%).
That's a pretty balanced group of undecided voters. At this point we could just conclude that this will be a close election between two evenly matched candidates. But there are some additional observations that need to be pointed out.
First, Perriello has been hammered in his first term in office. Over the stimulus just weeks into Perriello's term in office. Over cap and trade. Over loyalty to Pelosi. Over health care. We've practically ran a campaign against him in 2009 and he's still pretty solid overall.
Second, no one has been hammering Hurt, or Boyd, or anyone on the GOP side to the same degree that we've seen ads against Perriello. I think voters are angry at the Democrat Party and have a natural leaning to vote the bums out. But Perriello's sitting on a huge pile of cash to wage a long and hard fight against the Republican candidate.
Third, we don't have to just stop with the straight up polls of Perriello against a named Republican. We have two more polls to consider.
First, the Tea Party.
Let's break this down again by party.
Among Democrats, Perriello goes from 84% of Democrats with just Hurt in the race to 85% of Democrats when there is also a Tea Party candidate. Hurt goes from 6% of Democrats to 5% of Democrats. These are very, very minor shifts. The Tea Party candidate picks up 4% of Democrats, just at 1.5% of voters overall, reducing the number of undecided Democrats from 4% to just over 2%. There's almost nothing going on among Democrats when there's an additional choice. And I wouldn't expect there to be! But this demonstrates that Perriello has NOTHING to fear from a Tea Party candidate.
What about Republicans? Perriello goes from 4% of Republicans to 5% of Republicans. Undecided Republicans stay at 11%, representing 4% of voters. I'll throw out right here that I'm interesting in knowing what's going on with those 4% of undecided Republicans. They aren't angry Tea Party supporters refusing to back Hurt, since they are there with or without the Tea Party. Are they remaining hold outs who don't know Hurt yet? Or some really liberal Republicans still not willing to admit they'll vote for Perriello?
The big news is that Hurt goes from 85% of Republicans to just 55%. The Tea Party candidate picks up 29% of Republicans. In the big picture, 55% of Republicans translates to just 19% of voters. The Tea Party candidate's support from Republicans translates to 10% of voters. This is big news because we noted before that 24.5% of voters were Republicans willing to back the unnamed, generic Republican candidate. When the Tea Party is put up as a choice, Hurt can't even get that much support. Doing the math, Hurt had picked up from Republicans 5% of voters by being a known Republican, but falls back 10% when the Tea Party candidate is offered as a choice. Hurt's name ID is helping him run closer to Perriello, but given the option of a third party there's a significant chunk who abandon him. My belief is that the number of Republican voters that Hurt picks up would be picked up by any Republican with significant name ID. But only Hurt has the unique problem of creating a third party threat.
Let's look at Independents before we finish. Perriello lingers at 35% when the Tea Party candidate is on the ballot, virtually unchanged from the 36% without. Hurt drops to 21% of Independents, or 6% of voters overall. That's also less than the support an unknown Republican receives from Independents and half of what Hurt gets without a Tea Party candidate on the ballot. And the Tea Party candidate gets 29% of Independents, or 8% of voters overall. Undecided Independents are at 15%, or 4%. That's down slightly from the undecided number when Hurt is just on the ballot alone, but not by much. Hurt ran ahead of the generic Republican among Independents, slightly, but has significant problems when there's a third choice in the ballot for angry Independents.
The story as I see it is that around 45% of the voters will be Perriello voters no matter what (almost!). The Republicans have a floor of 36% of the vote without a Tea Party candidate and can pick up 5%, if not more, once they get a Republican candidate with name ID from their Republican base and pick off minor amounts of Independents, around 2% of voters. But we also have around 19% of voters that split off for the Tea Party and they come from both Republicans and Independents. 10% of voters are Republicans willing to support a Tea Party candidate and 8% are Independents willing to support a Tea Party candidate. It's important to note that just as many, if not more, are self-identified Republicans. The Tea Party movement is both within and outside of the Republican Party. But there are enough Tea Party activists who are already self-identified Republicans for me to laugh at the suggestion that these are outsiders crashing the GOP and taking over. We're reforming the party from within while drawing on strength from without!
So that's all there is, right?
There's one more poll. Tom Perriello versus Robert Hurt . . . versus Virgil Goode.
This one gets good.
Virgil Goode is the ONLY candidate to make a dent on Perriello's Democrat base. Perriello is down to 80% of Democrats, Goode gets 14% of Democrats. This translates to 5% of the voters being "Goode Democrats" on top of the number of voters that are Democrats but supporting Hurt, around 1% of voters (virtually meaningless). The number of undecided Democrats also shrinks dramatically, only 4% are undecided and this is virtually no one (1% of all voters). Note that Perriello drops from 84% of Democrats against Hurt to 80% of Democrats against Hurt and Goode, a shift of between 1% to 2% of voters. Goode doesn't do that much in pulling off Democrats from Perriello, but rather gives undecided Democrats a choice they know and can feel good about. Goode helps crystallize the choice for Democrats. This level of support is pretty close to what he received back in 2008.
Now we turn to the Republicans. Perriello does about the same among Republicans with Goode in the race as without. The story is that Goode wins 64% of Republicans to Hurt's 25%. 8% remain undecided, which is close to the percentage that remain on the fence with just Hurt on the ballot. This tells me that the pool of undecided Republicans when Hurt is on the ballot alone are not hold outs who don't know Hurt, they are still generally there when Goode's on the ballot and they certainly would know him. Instead, I suspect they are more liberal Republicans who may have supported Perriello in 2008 and are now undecided as to what to do in 2010. At 2% to 3% of the vote they are minor but might be important in a close race.
Goode's Republican support represents 22% of all voters in the district. Hurt's 25% of Republicans is far less than his support when facing off against the Tea Party. It represents just 9% of voters overall. Are these die hard partisans who will vote for any Republican on the ballot, no matter what, or a pool of Republicans that don't like Goode for some reason? If it becomes a straight Goode vs. Perriello race I'd want to watch these voters carefully.
Among Independents, Perriello clings to 30% support for 8% of voters overall. Just down from his 10% on the generic ballot. 15% remain undecided, 4% of all voters. That's close to the number with just Hurt running. But Goode gets 51% of Independents and Hurt is at only 11%. That translates to 14% of voters and 3%, respectively. Again, the Hurt supporting Independents with Goode on the ballot are minor but could be significant given that they aren't supporting Goode even in this scenario.
Goode holds Perriello to 41%. Goode shows small, but significant, appeal to some parts of Perriello's base of support. Goode also shows an ability to rally the opposition to Perriello by cutting the number of undecideds in half (specifically undecided Democrats and undecided Independents, NOT undecided Republicans). Hurt's level of support should raise some questions about if they are Republicans and Independents who would prefer Perriello over Goode or if they just instinctively favor the named Republican against a third party.
Having looked at the race with both a Tea Party candidate and Virgil Goode in the race, I make these additional conclusions.
A significant number of Republicans and Independents are open to support a Tea Party candidate. Robert Hurt is the only Republican running who would almost certainly trigger a significant candidacy by a candidate favorable to the Tea Party. Hurt's strength against Perriello is entirely due to his higher name ID.
Virgil Goode is able to make a minor dent on Perriello's numbers and draw a significant number of voters from the ranks of undecided Democrats and Independents. But by including Hurt in the poll we can't tell what his supporters would do in a straight Perriello vs. Goode scenario, with or without the GOP party label.
Until we can determine if Goode really wants to run, either as a Republican or Independent, the best way to defeat Perriello is to unite the opposition to him. Hurt cannot do this, only another Republican can.