Sestak Leads Specter 52%-44% Among PA Dems Who Know Both Candidates

by: Chris Bowers

Tue Jun 09, 2009 at 13:25

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I have obtained a complete copy of the GQP polling memo, commissioned by a labor-funded 527, on the potential Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary. You can read the entire memo here. (15 page PDF). The toplines, showing Specter ahead 55%-34%, have already been reported upon in a number of sources. However, there is a lot more to see than those numbers.

More in the extended entry.

Chris Bowers :: Sestak Leads Specter 52%-44% Among PA Dems Who Know Both Candidates
Here are just some of the highlights: (May 14-18, 608 registered Democrats likely to vote in the primary, MoE 4.0 for the entire group, larger for smaller subsets)

  1. Specter leads generic Democrat 50-37: In addition to the trial heat against Sestak, the poll also tested Arlen Specter against a generic Democrat, showing Specter with a 50%-37% advantage. However, a closer look shows that Specter's support is soft:

    Specter vs. Generic Democrat (page 5)
    Definite Specter: 22%
    Probably Specter: 23%
    Lean Specter: 5%
    Lean Generic: 3%
    Probably Generic: 14%
    Definite Generic: 20%

    Notably, "Definite Specter" and "Definite Generic" begin statistically even. There is a lot of room for persuasion on both sides, and no clear advantage in hard-core support.

  2. Sestak already leads among voters who know both candidates: Perhaps the most remarkable number of all in this poll is that Joe Sestak is already leading Arlen Specter among the 30% of voters who know both candidates (p. 4-5):

    Among voters that know Sestak (mostly in the Philadelphia inner suburbs) he enjoys an 18 - 4 favorable-unfavorable ratio, and among voters who already identify both candidates, Sestak actually leads Specter in the initial head to head 52 - 44 percent.

    With numbers like these, claims from Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell that Sestak has no chance are unmasked as either absurd or desperate. Sestak is already winning among Democrats who know both candidates. Rendell might have even seen this poll before he made those remarks, since it was completed ten days beforehand.

  3. Belief in why Specter switched is top determining factor in vote: Specter leads by 56% among voters who think he changed parties because he agrees with Democrats, but trails by 32% among voters who think he switched parties to save his job. As such, the primary campaign will likely turn on perceptions of why Specter switched (page 4):

    Nearly half of voters agree with the statement that Specter switched parties and became a Democrat "mostly because he agrees with the Democrats more on issues," while the other half says he became a Democrat "mostly because he couldn't win election as a Republican."

    This appraisal strongly impacts voting preferences. Among those inclined to believe Specter switched because agrees with Democrats more on the issues, he trumps a potential Democratic challenger by 56 points, 74 - 18 percent. However, among those who believe Specter's primary rational was political expediency, he trails a generic Democratic candidate by 32 points, 28 - 60 percent, suggesting that should more primary voters come to believe that Specter won't be a Democrat when it counts, the race could dramatically shift away from him.

    Most voters already view Specter as doing whatever it takes to save his own job, but, as the memo notes, his numbers in this area are "par for the course with politicians." (page 3) Defeating Specter will require making him appear exceptional, even for a politician, in doing whatever it takes to save his job.

  4. Sestak's message tests higher than Specter's: The messages GQR tested for both candidates give the edge to Sestak (page 6-7):

    In the exchange of positives, voters give Specter's independent message a mean rating of 6.9 on a 1-10 scale, while Sestak's message garners a 7.4 rating. Importantly, undecided voters rate Sestak's message higher than Specter's message by more than 3 to 1. In the follow-up vote after primary voters hear the messages about the candidates, undecideds break for Sestak by 3 to 1, which helps close the gap between the two. Sestak also makes up ground among what could be considered Obama's base in Pennsylvania-voters in the Philadelphia market, African Americans, and younger voters.(...)

    Three specific charges resonate most powerfully. Specter's past votes in support of the Republican agenda of tax breaks for companies that move jobs overseas (39 percent very serious doubts), Medicare cuts and Social Security privatization (41 percent), and Bush's tax policies (35 percent) put him directly at odds with the Democratic electorate and raise serious doubts for large majorities of primary voters-especially among core blocs of the Democratic electorate such as women, seniors, union households, and American Americans.(...)

    Conversely, despite the fact that this is a Democratic primary audience, the least troubling negatives for voters are the so-called inside baseball attacks, such as his quote that he switched parties because he saw a poll, or placing special emphasis on the fact that he took votes against Democratic initiatives after he switched parties. Similarly, his record on Supreme Court nominations in the past is not of particularly high importance. The strongest issues on which to frame the situation are the economic ones that directly affect people's lives.

    This all leads to a core conclusion that Specter's performance in supporting the Democratic agenda over the next year might be the determining factor in the campaign. However, I wonder if even that will be enough to save him, as newfound support for those priorities can also be portrayed as merely an attempt to save himself, and does not change the underlying perception that you can't trust Specter to stand with Democrats over the long-term.

The polling memo also features complete crosstabs, and numerous different messaging tests. Check it out.

Finally, a quick note on why this poll is showing a closer campaign than the other polls on the race. First, discard all polls taken in the week immediately after Specter's switch. Not unlike a convention bounce, a campaign launch, or winning an early presidential primary state, the huge amount of favorable, free media Specter received that week was certain to temporarily skew public opinion in his favor.

Second, compared to the Quinnipiac poll in late May, which showed Specter ahead 50%-21%, this poll was of likely voters instead of registered voters. It also had fewer undecideds, breaking roughly 3-1 in favor of Sestak compared to Quinnipiac. Notably, that is exactly the break predicted by the polling memo quoted here.

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Given the popular support for a public option (4.00 / 7)
if Sestak were to come out in favor with guns blazing it would help us on many fronts.

Hasn't he yet? (0.00 / 0)
I thought he already did.

Yes, Virginia, there are progressives in Nevada.

[ Parent ]
Signaling support versus active campaigning (4.00 / 5)
that mobilizes voting blocs behind a trigger-free public option are two very different things

[ Parent ]
Good analysis. (4.00 / 4)
I'm not from there, but I think Sestak would have a good chance.  He's a Democrat.  As you said, Sestak can easily portray Specter's switch as based on saving his ass and nothing more.  Specter's early vites show that.  And all the votes for Bush.

It's time for a Democrat in Specter's seat.  And Specter is not it.  

On Number #3 (4.00 / 6)
Specter's going to regret admitting he switched for political reasons:

"Specter admits party switch driven by desire to keep seat"

(with video)


Barney Frank:

I have to say I don't think he did our profession any good. First of all, to announce that it was done purely so he could survive. Secondly, his performance since then has been very disappointing. In particular, what troubled me was when he was quoted as saying, "Well..." In terms of no Jewish Republicans, the answer should have been, Who cares? That's not a relevant issue. But then, when he said, Oh, but I'm confident the courts in Minnesota will do justice to Norm Coleman, and then said, Oh, I forgot which side I'm on!--forget about forgetting which side he's on. What that says is, his view of what the law should be depends on what party he's in. This notion that your view of what's an appropriate legal decision depends on your party is shocking for a guy who's supposed to be this great lawyer.

there's an erratic behavior pattern there that's very troubling. I think at this point it's entirely reasonable for some Democrats to think about challenging him.


Good. (4.00 / 3)
I hope Sestak's lead will only grow as more Democrats find out just how deep Specter's "commitment" is. And yes, my previous statement still stands. Unless and until Specter shapes up, it's time for PA Dems to ship him out of the Senate.

Yes, Virginia, there are progressives in Nevada.

I'm not supporting him until I know his record. (4.00 / 1)
I don't have time to look it up in full today, but I would be wary of throwing support behind any candidate without having a fuller understanding of his or her actual record in public office.  It's not enough for a politician to claim to be progressive; he or she must BE progressive.  Here are links to Sestak's record, as posted on

From the second link:

Joe Sestak missed 69 of 2186 roll call votes (3%) since Jan 4, 2007.

All right, so he has a very good attendance record.  This means he works his butt off.  That's encouraging for determining work ethic, but further analysis must be made based on how he votes on issues.

"On Passage - House - H.R. 1709 STEM Education Cordination Act of 2009 - Under Suspension of the Rules," Sestak chose not to cast a vote.  Not knowing exactly what this bill would have done upon passage, I won't comment on his failure to vote yea or nay.  If this was a good bill, he should have voted in support of it.  Sestak also did not vote "On Passage - House - H.R. 1736 International Science and Technology Cooperation Act of 2009 - Under Suspension of the Rules."

"On Passage - House - H.R. 626 Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act," Sestak voted aye.  Good job on that.

The following link:

Offers a fuller list of legislation and motions he has voted on.  I suggest someone do thorough evaluation of the legislation in question, see if it and Sestak's votes measure up to progressive standards, and report back.  We cannot, should not, and must not back a candidate simply because he isn't the guy we detest more.  We did that with Obama, and look where that got us - Bush's third term.

most rating systems like him (4.00 / 1)
Progressive punch, for example, gives him a 93% rating and puts him in the top half of the most progressive house dems, so clearly a better choice than Specter.  

[ Parent ]
progressive punch (0.00 / 0)
rates Joe Lieberman as more progressive than Russ Feingold, so their standards are a bit strange.

My blog  

[ Parent ]
Lieberman's good at CYA floor votes (4.00 / 2)

 He does most of his backstabbing in committee and cloture votes.

 Those ratings are of limited value for that reason.  

"We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn

[ Parent ]
That's because Feingold's terrible on corporate issues (4.00 / 1)
He's great on civil liberties and foreign policy issues, but he loves his handouts to Big Business.

Forgotten Countries - a foreign policy-focused blog

[ Parent ]
They rate correlations (0.00 / 0)
It really is a measure of 'how often x votes with most democrats'  

There are a lot of wonky results there, and you don't get credit for protest votes, or for messaging, or for committee work.  But it is at least something that can be quickly looked up to get a first order look, and it is something that is generated using an automated system, and thus isn't filled with a ton of personal bias.

[ Parent ]

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