Warren's Strategy Is Working

Image via YouTube

Two new polls released this weekend showed Elizabeth Warren gaining a slight lead over Senator Scott Brown, but not by enough to make the race anything but a toss-up. Still, there are lessons in the new numbers. Here are a few take-aways:

Warren looks like she’s slightly ahead: Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm whose numbers tend to find bigger leads for Democrats than other polls, found Warren ahead with 48 percent of likely voters versus 46 percent for Brown. That’s a big change from their poll in August which saw Brown ahead by five percentage points. Still the margin of error was +/- 3.3 percent, so her 2 point lead means the two are essentially tied.

Western New England University’s poll done with MassLive.com gave Warren a bigger lead with 50 percent to Brown’s 46 percent. That’s outside also within their margin of +/- 4.6 percent.

But it’s too close to call: As the election gets closer, polls come out faster and their results vary, so we don’t put too much faith in one of them over another. Talking Points Memo calculates the average of recent polls, and gives Warren 48.1 percent to Brown’s 46.5. That’s very close. There’s a reason neither campaign had a very strong reaction to this news.

Warren’s strategy is working: Warren’s campaign wants to make the race about the national Republican party to attract voters who might like Scott Brown personally but dislike the national Republican agenda. Western New England’s poll notes that Warren’s big move comes just after her appearance at the Democratic National Convention, a week during which Democrats got to make their case. PPP found that Warren moved up in the polls almost entirely because more Democrats have decided to vote for her. PPP explains:

53% of voters want Democrats to have control of the Senate compared to only 36% who want Republicans in charge. More and more Democrats who may like Brown are shifting to Warren because they don’t like the prospect of a GOP controlled Senate.

Warren’s argument that a vote for her keeps the Senate in Democratic hands seems to have convinced Democrats, at least.

Brown’s strategy is working, too: Brown, meanwhile, has been distancing himself from the national party by speaking out against them, as when he called for Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin to withdraw. He is doing this to depict himself as moderate to attract independent voters. Though the WNEU poll found an overall lead for Warren, it found a 22 point lead for Brown among independent voters. PPP had similar results, saying, “56 percent of voters think he’s ideologically ‘about right’ to only 29 percent who think he’s too conservative.” In that sense, he’s convincing the people he’s targeting. But are there enough of them?

With both strategies working, this race could be about turnout: Jeffrey Toobin’s New Yorker piece on Warren shows how
“arithmetic” could really decide the election. He writes:

In the 2010 special election, Brown received some 1.1 million votes, about 52 percent of the approximately 2.3 million cast. In the 2008 election, Barack Obama received about 62 percent of the 3 million votes cast in Massachusetts. John McCain received 1.1 million votes, almost exactly the same number as Brown did two years later. Assuming a similar turnout in the Presidential election year, there will be about 700,000 voters whom Brown has never faced, and they all voted for Obama.

PPP describes another group of voters that might break for Warren because Obama faces reelection: undecided voters.

Although there aren’t a lot of undecided voters left, they seem more likely to break toward Warren than Brown- they’re supporting Barack Obama for President by a 76-2 margin- and at the end of the day most of those folks will probably vote the same party for both offices.

And WNEU notes that the lead for Warren among not just likely voters but registered voters is much wider. It’s 53 percent to 41 percent. So if turnout is higher than expected, Warren seems likely to catch a lot of the votes.

The debates could be important: Warren and Brown will face off in their first of four debates this Thursday evening. There aren’t a lot of undecided voters, but given how close the race is, they provide a good opportunity. WNEU’s poll also found that 21 percent of respondents said they’d be willing to change their mind, so a runaway performance for either candidate might matter.

So there you have it. It was a good couple of polls for Warren, but it’s still just as close a race as ever.