Tag Archives: Castleton Polling Institute

The VPR Poll: Pants On Fire, and other observations

Rich Clark was worried about inaccurate results. That’s why he didn’t want to survey Vermonters about their preferences in the August primary.

Okay, but when you look at the results of his VPR Poll, you realize that some of those people are lying their asses off. Which kinda makes the whole accuracy concern seem a bit irrelevant.

The biggest whoppers came when respondents were asked how likely they are to vote. 87 percent said they were very or somewhat likely to vote in November. In actual fact, we’ll be lucky to hit 60.

As for the primary, 68 percent claim to be very or somewhat likely to vote. More than half of those people are lying. The biggest primary turnouts in recent years were 23 percent in 2010 and 30 percent in 2000, the year of the Great “Take Back Vermont” freakout.

Which makes me wonder. If that many people are lying about that, why should we believe the rest of their answers?

After the jump: analysis of their possibly truthful answers. 

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The VPR Poll: Point/Counterpoint

Apparently my previous post pricked some delicate sensibilities at VPR’s brand spankin’ new $10,000,000 Palace Of Genteel Broadcasting, because within a few hours this blog had received comments from VPR News Director John Dillon and Director of Digital Services Jonathan Butler, attempting to explain why their Castleton Polling Institute survey didn’t include the question foremost in political junkies’ minds: how are the primaries for governor and lieutenant governor shaping up?

Their explanations were earnest, extensive, and only partly convincing. I’ve still got problems and unanswered questions.

Starting with this. Nowhere in its poll-related online content, as far as I can tell, do they disclose the lack of direct, “who would you vote for?” questions on the key statewide races. Did it not occur to anyone in the P.O.G.B. that listeners might wonder about this singular omission?

Apparently not. Either that, or they were embarrassed about it and were hoping to slip it under the door while nobody was looking.

Well, on to the explanations. Which bore striking similarities, almost as though somebody had a meeting.

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So unbelievable.

VPR rolled out its latest poll today, conducted by the Castleton Polling Institute. I dutifully pored over the results, about which more later. But for now, one simple stupid thing.

There was an impressive array of questions about issues of concern, Vermonters’ impressions of candidates, how they feel about the presidential election…

… but nothing about voter preferences on the August primary races. No head-to-head numbers. No question asking “If the primary were today, who would you vote for?”

(Or, “for whom would you vote” if you insist.)

So I Tweeted an inquiry and got the following, stupefying response.

“We didn’t do a head-to-head.”

As in, “We didn’t ask the question that would be foremost on the minds of those who care about the polls.”

Double-u Tee Eff.

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About that Shumlin approval poll

Bit of a surprise came to us late last week, with news of a survey showing Governor Shumlin had suddenly enjoyed a surge in popularity.

The results were released by Morning Consult, a national polling agency that gave Shumlin a 55 percent approval rating after collecting data online between January and May. Shumlin jumped nearly 10 points from the last time Morning Consult polled Vermonters, in November, when 46 percent of respondents gave him a thumbs up.

"What should I do now, Scotty?" "Ya got me, boss." (Photo from VPR)

“What should I do now, Scotty?” “Ya got me, boss.” (Photo from VPR)

The results are also at odds with a February poll from the Castleton Polling Institute that put the Governor at 37 percent approval, and the previous two Castleton surveys: in September 2015, Shumlin was at 40 percent; in March 2015, it was 41 percent. That’s awfully darn consistent.

The Democratic Party was quick to promote the Morning Consult number. Understandable; it would be the best possible news for the party and its gubernatorial candidate. It would prove broad support for the Democratic agenda, and it would mean the candidate wouldn’t have to create distance between her- or himself and Shumlin.

As for me, well, color me skeptical. After all, what has happened since February — or November — to bolster Shumlin’s popularity? He didn’t score any high-profile victories in the Legislature. And he’s taken quite a hit from the EB-5 imbroglio, since he’d associated himself so prominently with the scandal-plagued developers.

Is there some other counterbalancing factor — some political “dark matter” exerting a positive gravitational pull on Shumlin’s numbers? Or is it just an outlier?

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The VPR Poll: the gubernatorial race

Big day in Vermont politics. VPR commissioned a wide-ranging poll from the Castleton Polling Institute. During today’s “Vermont Edition,” there was a painstakingly thorough (read: boring) examination of the presidential results, which contained no real surprises*. What I was most interested in is the gubernatorial race: as far as I can tell, this is the first real poll taken since the field took its current shape.

* Bernie’s whompin’ Hillary; Trump has a big lead over Rubio and Kasich, with Cruz in fourth.

The poll also contains some striking findings on issues, which I’ll address in a separate post. Preview: several “hot-button” issues don’t seem to concern the electorate very much.

First, a note on the gubernatorial numbers. All respondents are included in both the Democratic and Republican races. The question is: “Of the two candidates running for the [Democratic/Republican] nomination for Governor, which do you prefer?” Republicans got to weigh in on the Democratic race, and vice versa. So the results may be a little funky — although to be honest, the Dem/Repub/Indy breakdowns aren’t substantially different from the overall numbers. Still, take these results with a small grain of salt.

Topline for the gubernatorial findings: Phil Scott is way out in front, and will be difficult to catch.

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A handful of numbers, signifying not much

Today’s big political news is yesterday’s release of a new poll from the Castleton Polling Institute. It measured name recognition and favorability for the declared gubernatorial candidates. The headline number, that Phil Scott has 77% name recognition, is not a surprise at all. He’s the only one in the field who’s run statewide general-election campaigns, and he’s done so each of the last three times. He’s also held numerous high-profile events, such as his Job For A Day Tour and the annual Wheels for Warmth charity drive. It’d be a shock if he wasn’t the most widely recognized.

(The importance of statewide campaigns in building familiarity can be seen by Scott Milne’s very strong 74% and Randy Brock’s respectable 60%.)

Overall, it’s so early in the campaign that the poll is largely meaningless except as a baseline for future polls. That’s exactly the word chief pollster Rich Clark used in characterizing the survey; he downplayed “any sort of predictive value.” Indeed, there’s nothing here that a good candidate can’t overcome in the 11 months until the primary. But hey, the goat’s been slaughtered, so let’s read the entrails.

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Vermont Republicans: Not buying the snake oil

This week, the Castleton Polling Institute released a presidential poll of Vermont voters. The number that made headlines: Just as many Republican voters favor Bernie Sanders as any Republican candidate.

The actual result: Bernie’s in a three-way tie with Donald Trump and Ben Carson among Republicans, at a measly 12%. (It’s also worth noting that Hillary Clinton gets 4% support among VT Republicans.)

That’s interesting. But to me, there are two more notable takeaways from the poll.

First, Vermont’s Republican electorate remains splintered and undecided. The fact that no candidate got more than 12% is awfully telling. The real winner is “Not Sure,” with 28%. In other words, Vermont Republicans are thoroughly underwhelmed by what they’ve seen so far. I mean, 16% of them are backing a Democrat, for goodness sakes. That’s almost half who can’t settle on a Republican candidate.

Second, the state’s Republican electorate is relatively immune to the blandishments of snake-oil salespeople.

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Shumlin’s numbers are down. In other news, Sun Rises In East.

That’s not a Gatorade bath, Governor: it’s a big ol’ bucket of cold water.

For the first time in Gov. Peter Shumlin’s tenure, more Vermonters disapprove of his job performance than approve of it.

A new VTDigger/Castleton Polling Institute survey shows that 47 percent of those surveyed disapprove of the job Shumlin, a Democrat, is doing as governor and 41 percent approve.

You know, the fact that his numbers are down is completely unsurprising. Indeed, when you consider that he only got 46% of the vote last November, the bigger surprise is that 41% of us still got Shumlin’s back.

Look at what’s happened since that disastrous November vote: Shumlin abandoned his signature proposal, single-payer health care; the state’s budget deficit continued to grow; the Democratic legislature rejected much of his third-term agenda; the government faces major challenges on school funding, Lake Champlain, and that darn budget.  It’s not exactly shocking that he’s down to 41%.

Still, the Governor is underwater for the first time in his tenure. That’s not good.

The VTDigger/Castleton poll is very thorough, and offers a wealth of subsidiary numbers. The one that ought to worry Shumlin the most: only 62% of Democrats view him positively. That means he’s lost nearly 40% of the loyalists.

His 37% support among independents looks worse — and indeed, that’s how it’s interpreted by Vermont Pundit Laureate Eric Davis. He notes that neither party can win without the independent voters, who form a majority of our electorate. But when President Obama’s approval hit a low of 40% shortly before the midterm elections, he had 33% support among independents. Shumlin does better than that. But even at his lowest point, the President still enjoyed broad support among Democrats. That’s no longer true for Shumlin.

And that’s why you hear a lot of speculation around Montpelier about a possible Democratic primary. There’s a great deal of disaffection on the left, and definitely room in the Democratic Party for a challenge to the incumbent. It still seems unlikely; Vermont politicos show a great deal of deference to incumbents, and Shumlin would remain a formidable figure in a primary.

What’s more likely, if the numbers keep getting worse, is that Shumlin himself might think better of another campaign. “More likely” but not likely; it’s hard to imagine Peter Shumlin retreating into a hidey-hole without a fight.

It is interesting, though, that House Speaker Shap Smith appears to be laying the groundwork for a statewide run. On his own initiative, he has assembled two high-powered, and heavily centrist-leaning, committees to tackle tough issues: education and economic growth. That’s a sign of someone who’s looking to (a) craft new approaches to those issues while also building consensus, and (b) establish connections and build credibility with the business community and others who might prove useful in a run for Governor.

The Vermont Republican Party certainly sees him as a threat, given their endless series of (largely ignored) press releases about the alleged failures of the “Shumlin-Shap Smith economy.”

On the other hand, we are less than five months past the 2014 election and 19 months away from the next one. A lot could happen. There are definite signs of progress in the legislature; not on the budget so far, but on a range of other issues, from education to energy to child protection to the environment.

If the legislature has a productive session and manages to close the budget gap in a reasonable way, the Governor will get at least some of the credit. If things start to look brighter in Vermont by this time next year, so will Shumlin’s approval numbers. He could still get his mojo back. And betting against him is never a good investment.

So what happened with the polls?

Ah, the opinion polls, with their oft-trumpeted 4% margins of error.

Well, they missed the Governor’s race by a lot more than that, didn’t they?

The consensus, such as it was, gave Governor Shumlin a 12-point edge. Right now, the Associated Press has him at 46.4% and Scott Milne at 45.4%. Feel free to check my math, but I think that’s a margin of one percent. 

The polls were off by almost 11 percentage points.

The difference? Virtually every undecided voter went for Scott Milne. Which is unheard-of; usually, the undecideds don’t all go stampeding in one direction.

Plus, the Associated Press is reporting that Vermont had a record low turnout. The Democratic GOTV machine just couldn’t overcome the broad disaffection with the current administration, and the widespread belief that this election wasn’t close, which made it easier to stay home.

So, Milne got a larger chunk of a smaller electorate.

Let’s take the most recent Castleton Polling Inistute survey, reported on Oct.12.

gubernatorial-race

From Oct. 12 to last night, what happened? Governor Shumlin lost a sliver of his support while convincing no undecideds. Scott Milne gained a whopping ten percent by nabbing all the undecideds and poaching nearly two-thirds of Dan Feliciano’s supporters.

What does that say? It says that Governor Shumlin lost the middle, in spite of all his triangulating. And he lost ALL of the middle. And, I suspect, a fair bit of support on the left, who either sat out the Governor’s race or made a protest vote for Milne or a write-in. (Doug Racine, anyone?)

Or just stayed home, not feeling motivated to re-elect Shumlin and feeling (falsely) secure in the knowledge that their absence wouldn’t make much difference in what was thought to be a Democratic cakewalk.

The new polls, part 2: The only thing Shumlin has to fear is Shumlin himself

(See also part 1, which addressed the Phil Scott/Dean Corren results.)

The latest gubernatorial poll from the Castleton Polling Institute (courtesy of WCAX-TV) is a picture of stagnation, with an electorate disappointed in the incumbent, but finding no acceptable alternatives. The results are right in line with other recent surveys, with the helpful addition of Dan Feliciano clarifying the picture somewhat.

The numbers: Shumlin 47, Milne 35, Feliciano 6, and undecided at 8.

A secondary result, underpinning the above: 45% approve of Governor Shumlin’s performance, 41% disapprove. Bad numbers for an established incumbent, especially for one who was in the 60s at his height.

But while the poll is bad for Shumlin, it’s also bad for his challengers. As WCAX’s dueling analysts put it:

“I don’t think Mr. Milne has given the public a reason to vote for him and that is what Mr. Milne’s challenge is going to be in the next six weeks,” said Mike Smith, Republican political analyst.

How about a shot of 5-Hour Energy?

How about a shot of 5-Hour Energy?

“I think these numbers show that there’s one candidate against Peter Shumlin and that is Peter Shumlin,” said Steve Terry, Democratic political analyst.

Milne is stuck in the mid-30s. And Feliciano, for all the insider buzz about his candidacy, is only taking a small chunk of the conservative vote. Six percent is a lot for a Libertarian, but not much for someone who’d positioned himself as the real alternative to Shumlin. As I wrote before, there’s a whole lot of value in the Republican brand, and a deep loyalty among core Republican voters.

As for the independents and undecideds, they’re stuck. Given the 41% Milne/Feliciano total, I infer that Milne has gained a small number of centrists simply by Not Being Shumlin, while he’s lost a few percentage points to Feliciano among the True Believers. Overall it’s a wash, and not nearly enough to win. And the Governor is the only candidate with the resources to get his message out between now and Election Day. Although the big headline was that Shumlin is under the 50% mark, he still stands a solid chance of not only gaining a pure majority, but getting up into the mid-50s. That’d be a decent, if not overwhelming, mandate.

So, in a solidly blue state, why are Shumlin’s numbers so mediocre? The experts point to the obvious: Vermont Health Connect, the human services troubles, and the Jeremy Dodge land deal.

The first two I buy. The last, nope. I don’t think anybody outside the political media remembers that deal. After initial missteps, Shumlin dealt with it wisely and effectively. Remember “it’s not the crime, it’s the coverup”? Well, in the Dodge deal, there was no coverup. There was a fast and fair resolution.

All right, so now I have to offer my own explanation. In two words:

The doldrums.

Which is partly the VHC and human services problems. But more than that, it’s the lack of real, tangible, landmark achievements.

Which is reflected in Shumlin’s third campaign commercial, focusing on the GMO bill. Now, nice as that bill was, it was a sideshow in this year’s legislative session. And, as Paul Heintz pointed out, it’s a stretch to give the Governor much credit:

For years, Shumlin said he backed GMO labeling in concept, but believed that mandating it was legally perilous. He argued that any such attempt would suffer the same fate as Vermont’s 1994 law requiring dairy products produced with recombinant bovine growth hormone to be labeled as such. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals struck it down in 1996 and awarded damages.

But leave that aside for the moment. The bigger question: Is the GMO bill really the Governor’s signature accomplishment for 2014?

I guess it is. Given the size of the Democratic majority and the big issues facing Vermont, that’s a little bit underwhelming. And I think the voters are underwhelmed. One of Scott Milne’s best lines in yesterday’s WCAX debate concerned school funding: “The Governor had huge approval ratings and big majorities, and he didn’t do anything.”

Shumlin’s signature issue, single-payer health care, is still a mystery shrouded in an enigma. He can’t brag about it, because he hasn’t done it yet. Or even offered a plan. That’s not exactly motivational.

There are solid reasons to defend the Governor’s record. He’s dealt with the aftermath of the 2008 recession and Tropical Storm Irene. He’s had to pull rabbits out of his hat to keep the state budget under control as the federal stimulus funds ebbed away. He’s also taken some good, incremental steps in areas like human services and college affordability. The minimum wage hike was nice. He’s done a lot on renewable energy. His opioid initiative holds great promise, but has yet to bear fruit.

Those are not accomplishments to be sneezed at. They are strong indications of substantial administrative competence. That’s important. But it’s not inspirational.

I think that, more than anything else, Vermont voters are uninspired. When Shumlin launched his active campaign in early September, his challenge was to light a fire in his supporters — and perhaps even in himself. So far, he hasn’t really done it.

IF he does it between now and Election Day, he’ll get into the mid-50s. If he doesn’t, he’ll limp across the finish line in the 50-52% range.