The Bulletin -- November 1, 2012

PA Pollster Never Gave Up on Romney

A Pennsylvania pollster with a sterling record of predicting margins in elections has been shouting into the wind for weeks that Pennsylvania was still in play in the presidential campaign when others had surrendered it to President Obama.

James Lee, President of Susquehanna Polling and Research, put President Obama’s lead, even before Romney’s stunning victory in the first debate, at a mere four points when other pollsters had the President up by as many as ten. Lee now reports Romney leading in Pennsylvania, 49 percent to 45 percent. Several other pollsters still give the President a narrow edge.

“You make a mistake thinking that the turnout in this election is going to be the same as the turnout in 2008,” said Lee, commenting on other polls. “When you go on that premise, you come up with bad results.”

Lee has an impressive track record and he backs up his methodology. He predicted that Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey would defeat his Democratic challenger Joe Sestak in 2008 by two points, which ended up being his precise margin of victory. Other pollsters had Toomey up by four or more. His was the most accurate poll of six in the 2010 Florida gubernatorial race. According to Democratic and Republican political strategists, he has also called numerous state House and Senate races right on the number.   

The difference is in the sampling. For the presidential race in Pennsylvania, Lee’s cross-section of likely voters has 94 Republicans voting for every 100 Democrats. Other pollsters have 90 Republicans voting for every 100 Democrats. He is also adamant that younger people and minorities will not come to the polls in the numbers they did in 2008.

(Pennsylvania has 3.1 million registered Republicans, 4.2 million registered Democrats, and about 1.1 million unaffiliated or other-party voters.)

A congressional race in western Pennsylvania is particularly telling. In the re-drawn John Murtha seat, Lee has the Republican candidate, Keith Rothfus, running ahead of Democratic incumbent, Mark Critz, by two points, but has Romney winning the district by 15 points.

It is customary for Republicans to win over some Democratic voters in western Pennsylvania on social issues. But Romney is also boosted in the west this election cycle due to the Administration’s undermining of the coal industry and its marginal support for drilling in the Marcellus Shale.

Contributing to the President’s shaky support statewide is the fact that he cannot rely on the suburban Philadelphia counties to add to the Philadelphia city vote. In 2008, suburban Philadelphia counties supported the President and offset lost Democratic votes in the west. This year, voters in the Philadelphia suburbs are split down the middle; advantage Romney.

“Four years ago, Obama won the suburbs by ten points,” Lee said. “Romney’s wealth is not an issue in suburban Philadelphia and they view him as a moderate, not a conservative Republican.”

Lee also cites that in more than 50 state House and Senate districts surveyed in the past few months, the President is underperforming his 2008 margins in nearly every district by an average of seven points.

Winning Pennsylvania will be crucial for Romney if Obama hangs on in Ohio, but Lee said another battleground state, Florida, is already in the books for Romney. Overall, Lee said we could be looking at a scenario where Romney wins the popular vote but loses the Electoral College. He also sees an outside chance for a Romney rout.

“In 1980, a lot of polls had the race close until the very end, but the momentum kept building for Reagan. The election was over that year by nine o’clock,” Lee said.