Andrew Smith, director of the UNH Survey Center, has predicted that incumbent Governor John Lynch will be reelected with between 55 and 58 percent of the vote. I don’t think so.
The Real Clear Politics average of major polls has Lynch up 50 to 40.3 percent over challenger John Stephen, with 9.7 percent undecided. But at this late point in the election, the “incumbent rule” cannot be ignored, which seems to be what Smith is doing.
Essentially, the “incumbent rule” is that voters who are still undecided late in an election disproportionately break for the challenger. And so the important number is not the spread between the incumbent and the challenger, but where the incumbent is polling.
The rule of thumb is that if the incumbent is polling at 50 percent or higher, he is likely to win. At 48 to 49 percent it is a toss-up. And incumbents polling at 47 percent or less are likely to lose.
Smith’s own polling has Lynch…
…up 17 points, 51 to 34 percent. So apparently Smith has undecided voters, which are 15 percent in his poll, breaking less than 2 to 1 for Stephen, which is very low. Assuming a 3 to 1 split, which better reflects the incumbent rule, Smith’s own polling suggests less than 55 percent for Lynch.
No offense to Mr. Smith, or any of the pollsters, but I prefer to use the Real Clear Politics average. Assuming a 3 to 1 split by undecided voters for Stephen, we would expect Lynch to win in a normal year, by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent.
Of course, we should keep in mind that this election is anything but a normal year. It is national referendum on Barack Obama’s first two years as President, which is not a good thing for Democrats. According to the Real Clear Politics average, 60 percent believe that the country is on the “wrong track.”
Smith believes that Obama won’t drag Lynch down because Lynch’s approval numbers were so high to begin with and because Lynch has “de-linked” himself from national politics. I have a different take.
No poll taken since September shows Lynch at more than 51percent, and that includes the PPP poll, which has a pro-Democrat bias. Stephen’s numbers in every poll have gone up. On the other hand, with the exception of ARG, Lynch’s numbers have stayed the same or gone down from the prior poll.
The ARG poll, which is the most recent poll we have, shows a surge in support of 9 percent for Lynch from the prior week, from 42 percent to 51 percent, coming apparently from undecided voters not from Stephen voters. This type of break is just the opposite of what we would expect based on the incumbent rule. So I think either the first poll was understating Lynch’s support, the second overstating or probably most likely some combination of the two.
My take is that the true number for Lynch at this point is under the 50 percent average shown by Real Clear Politics, and that his support is much softer than Stephen’s. I’d call it a toss-up at this point.
But don’t take my word on it. Why would the New Hampshire Democrat Party be pouring money into negative attack ads against Stephen, if they agreed with Mr. Smith’s polling?
Edward C. Mosca
Mosca Law Office
27 Webster Street, 2nd Floor
Manchester, NH 03104