Most Polls Got Cantor So Wrong

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Wednesday, 11 Jun 2014 06:58 AM

By Elliot Jager

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The media is likely to spend days trying to explain Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor's defeat at the hands of tea party challenger, David Brat in Virginia's 7th Congressional District.

One explanation as to why the polls were so wrong is that public opinion surveys "can be blurry snapshots," according to Hoover Institution political expert Bill Whalen.

Polls had Cantor leading Brat 52 percent to 39 percent. What they may have failed to take into account was the combination of a low turnout and a surge of committed voters. Just one-twelfth the district's population voted – roughly 64,000 ballots were cast. "A small turnout translates to a more passionate electorate" with tea party members upset about immigration reform and other hot button issues more motivated to vote than other Republicans, writes Whalen.

In fact, Cantor appears to have lost Henrico County his home base, according to Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report.

Secondly, polls put out by Cantor's own camp proved misleading, according to FiveThirtyEight. "You shouldn't trust the internal polls put out by candidates. Just a few weeks ago, Cantor released a survey showing himself up 34 percentage points."

That internal poll was conducted by McLaughlin & Associates which has called "many races wrong in the past two years," according to FiveThirtyEight. McLaughlin said its margin of error for the late May poll was 4.9 percentage points, Politico noted.

Cantor held a comparatively narrower 13-point edge in a Vox Populi survey which gave him the 52-39 lead with 9 percent undecided, according to Politico. The Daily Caller which commissioned the poll reported  that just over a week before primary day, Cantor was "struggling" to win the primary.

Public Policy tracking of Cantor's popularity could also have offered a clue. It showed him with a 40 percent unfavorable rating against 26 percent who were favorable.

Business Insider reported that maybe Cantor did know things were looking down given how much he outspent Brat on the race. The release of favorable internal polling showing a wide lead may have been an effort at political spin.

Ultimately, Brat beat Cantor by 11 points, 55.5 percent to 44.5 percent, Politico reported.

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