For the entirety of our general election season, there will be only one public opinion poll that took the temperature of the race. That would be the September VPR/VPBS poll, conducted by the estimable Rich Clark.
The results of said poll, released about two weeks ago, were very good for Republicans. Gov. Phil Scott had a commanding 21-point lead over Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman. In a hypothetical 2022 matchup with Sen. Patrick Leahy, Scott had a rather stunning four-point lead. In the Lite-Gov race, Scott Milne was a little behind Molly Gray; the latter two results were within the poll’s margin of error. Also, the governor had a higher approval rating than any of Vermont’s three members of Congress — even Bernie.
This poll looms large in the narrative of the campaign because, well, it’s the only one. But what if the poll missed the mark? There’s reason to think that it significantly underestimates support for Democrats. We won’t know for sure until the votes are counted, but here’s the case for That Poll Was Hot Garbage.
When the survey first came out, critics in Democratic circles pointed to the question about the election of 2016 Here were the shocking results:
Yeah, well, in 2016 Clinton actually took 57% of the vote to Trump’s 30. The numbers fed speculation that the pool of respondents was not representative.
At the time, Clark offered a rationale that, honestly, I didn’t entirely follow. But he referred to a common factor in polling: Voters are prone to misreport who they voted for in past elections in a way that favors the winner and downgrades the loser.
That may be true, but still, it’s an awfully large discrepancy, and it’s all on Cllinton’s side of the ledger. And there’s an argument that 2016 is an exception because of the widely-held antipathy toward Trump. Given how things have gone since he took office, is it really reasonable to think that more than one-third of Clinton voters are now disavowing their choice?
As for Leahy, he took 61 percent of the vote in 2016, his most recent re-election campaign. (Against Scott Milne.) I realize there’s a soft, warm Vermonty glow around the governor these days, but has Leahy done anything to plunge all the way down to 38% in their hypothetical matchup?
And U.S. Rep. Peter Welch earned the approval of 57% of respondents (and 57% support in the “if the election were held today, who would you vote for?” question). That’s nice, but in 2018 he took 69 percent of the vote. What has he done since then to lose 12 percent?
The Scott/Zuckerman result is a little fishy as well. Again, Scott has the aura, but is it reasonable to think that Zuckerman would only draw 24% support if the election were right now? He’s running a better campaign than Christine Hallquist in 2018 or Sue Minter in 2016, but both of those candidates drew more than 40%. It’s hard to imagine Zuckerman faring that much worse.
These are bits of circumstantial evidence, but they all point in one direction: A significant overstatement of Republican support.
Beyond all that, there’s the fact that Donald Trump is spectacularly unpopular. Moreso now than in mid-September when the poll was taken, but he was awfully unpopular back then. Anti-Trump voters will be highly motivated to turn out. Now, quite a few of them will vote for Biden and Phil Scott, but that many?
Let’s put it this way: It’s a strange moment for a poll to show weakness among Democratic politicians and strength among Republicans. I offer no proof, just food for thought. And reason for Zuckerman to keep on truckin’. Or should I say tractorin’?