Lane Changers?

Every now and them we conduct a poll that produces results that stubbornly swim against the current. That usually brings out our CSI lab coats to figure out why, and we sometime end up calling the results a simple outlier and letting it die on the vine. This one may be different. Over the last three nights, we’ve polled Virginia’s U.S. Senate race pitting former DNC chair/former governor Tim Kaine against former governer/senator George Allen. First the numbers:

Poll type: Automated Date: October 7-9, 2012 - Participants: 1,296 Likely Voters - Margin of Error: ± 2.9%
Tim Kaine (D)George Allen (R)UndecidedGOP / DEM / IND
41.26%46.01%12.73%34 / 32 / 34

Any time our numbers go that much against the grain of conventional wisdom, you can bet on us re-visting the race soon. But we decided to publish the results because there’s something interesting going on in Virginia and other states. There is a significant percentage of voters who are shifting their self-described political party affiliation; we refer to them as lane changers. People who are strict party loyalists sometimes find it disconcerting that affiliations can shift like this. In truth, its probably more accurate to simply call these lane changers Independents, but we’ve seen a lot of it lately, and that may why so many are wringing their hands about pollsters’ mix of GOP/Dem/Ind in their polls.

In our opinion, those who try to shape their samples based on the 2008 presidential mix are missing the boat. While digging into the reasons our numbers are different–and out of curiosity–we weighted the raw numbers out of Virginia based on that 2008 presidential ratio. Lo and behold…it moves Kaine AHEAD  by four points, about the same lead the the Real Clear Politics average is showing in this race. That doesn’t mean that other pollsters are using the wrong mix, but it makes us wonder.

In the Virginia Senate race, we’ll take our lumps if we’re wrong and we’ll self-report if future polls show we’re off the mark. But we think others ought to jump into this one and see if Mitt Romney’s sudden surge is having some coattails here.