For a candidate who has trailed by as much as 22 points in recent polls, even a sliver of good news is cause for celebration.
Every poll taken over the past few months has shown Republican Gov. Jan Brewer beating Democrat Terry Goddard by double digits, with some showing him down by as much as 22 points. But though they all show different margins of victory for Brewer, a couple of polls have shown Goddard narrowing the gap as Election Day approaches.
An Oct. 11 Rocky Mountain Poll showed Brewer with an 11-point lead, three months after the same poll showed Brewer trouncing the two-term attorney general by 20 points. Rasmussen Reports, the only outfit that has polled the race on a regular basis, showed Brewer’s lead dropping from 22 percentage points in early September to 16 at the start of October.
A poll by Colorado-based Project New West showed Goddard down by just seven points in late Septmber, though it only surveyed voters in Arizona’s 5th Congressional District. And an internal poll conducted for the Goddard campaign in early October by pollster Bruce Merrill showed the Democrat trailing by 9 percentage points.
Goddard spokeswoman Jeanine L’Ecuyer said the campaign still has a lot of ground to cover, but said Goddard is encouraged by the positive trend.
“We’re not winning. This definitely shows we have work to do. But it’s encouraging because … when you see movement like that in numbers, that says people are listening, where perhaps they had not been before,” L’Ecuyer said.
The Rocky Mountain Poll, which surveyed 366 likely voters from Oct. 1-9, showed 46 percent of likely voters choosing Brewer, while 35 percent picked Goddard. Libertarian Barry Hess and Green Party candidate Larry Gist each got 2 percent, while 15 percent said they were undecided. The poll of likely voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 5.2 percentage points.
The numbers got even better for Goddard when the poll included all 555 registered voters who were questioned – not just those who said they are very likely to go to the polls on Nov. 2 – were included. By that measurement, Brewer had just 38 percent to Goddard’s 35 percent, with a margin of error of 4.2 percentage points.
Unfortunately for Goddard, the 3 points is only a best-case scenario that is unlikely to play out on Nov. 2, said pollster Earl de Berge, whose firm, Behavior Research Center, conducted the poll. Those who didn’t identify themselves as likely voters probably won’t cast ballots this year, meaning Brewer’s lead is a lot closer to 11 points than 3, he said.
“That’s optimum for him … if there’s a very large turnout,” de Berge said of the 3-percentage point deficit Goddard had among all registered voters in the poll. “If there’s a lower turnout, which is obviously going to be reality, then the governor has a strong lead on him.”
Furthermore, Republicans said they were far more likely to go to the polls, de Berge said, an “enthusiasm gap” that is being mirrored in polling across the country in an election year that most expect to favor the GOP. De Berge said 89 percent of Republican respondents said they were very likely to vote in November, while only 65 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of independents said the same.
The Rocky Mountain Poll showed Goddard getting 60 percent of the Hispanic vote compared to Brewer’s 13 percent, and some observers predicted high Latino turnout after Brewer signed SB1070, Arizona’s strict illegal immigration law, in April. But despite widespread Latino anger over the law, which vaulted Brewer into the lead in the Republican primary, a Pew Hispanic Center poll released Oct. 6 showed that only 51 percent of Hispanic voters said they were likely to vote in November compared to 71 percent of registered voters overall, though the poll was not specific to Arizona.
“I think it’s a huge question mark,” L’Ecuyer said of Hispanic turnout.
Among male voters, whom de Berge said tend to vote more conservatively, Goddard trailed Brewer by 16 percentage points in the Rocky Mountain Poll. Goddard led Brewer by 12 percentage points among female voters, and by 22 percentage points among non-Hispanic minorities.
Brewer spokesman Doug Cole said the narrowing lead Goddard has seen in the past couple weeks is typical in any race as Election Day nears, and said the governor still leads by double-digits in nearly every poll taken. He said the campaign’s internal polling shows Brewer up by 12 percent.
“His likely voters (number) is consistent with all previous polls. Double-digit lead,” Cole said.
The only polling that matters is polling on likely voters, Cole said, meaning the 3 point lead Goddard had among all registered voters in the Rocky Mountain Poll is meaningless. And the gap between Republicans and Democrats who identified themselves as likely voters means Brewer is still comfortably in the lead.
Brewer has consistently refused Goddard’s request for more debates, and recently told Capitol Media Services that she would only join a second debate if her lead narrowed significantly. Cole said Goddard still has a long way to go before Brewer gets to that point.
“We’re done debating Mr. Goddard. He’s been in public service for three decades, and we’re not going to give him the opportunity to remake himself in the three weeks that are left in this election,” Cole said.
Goddard has gone on the offensive over Brewer’s lobbyist advisors and their ties to the private prison industry, her cuts to Arizona’s education system and her refusal to debate. L’Ecuyer said she believes Goddard’s numbers are on the upswing because those messages are resonating, and because voters are starting to ask more questions about Brewer’s performance as governor.
With 15 percent of likely voters undecided in the Rocky Mountain Poll, L’Ecuyer said that trend bodes well for Goddard.
“I think we’ve successfully raised questions about Brewer, and these are legitimate questions. These are things that have been around all along. The governor, frankly, has not wanted to talk about it,” L’Ecuyer said. “She’s avoiding reporters and she’s avoiding debates. She doesn’t want to have to answer questions until after the election.”
According to de Berge, L’Ecuyer may be right. He said the Behavior Research Center’s polling favored Goddard more heavily in the latter days of the poll.
“The other thing you have to pay attention to is that there is momentum. When there’s momentum, that changes everything,” de Berge said.