Depressing Race

Taking polls, and trusting them, is dangerous work in an election like the one coming up Tuesday in Massachusetts. As a special election, the race between Scott Brown and Martha Coakley is the only election being decided on that day. Either you're very excited about going to vote to replace Ted Kennedy, or, the day after a long weekend, you're likely to miss the chance.
A new poll taken by the liberal website Blue Mass Group shows Coakley up by 8%. This runs counter to my perception of reality, as I am convinced that the Coakley people think they've blown it and that Scott Brown will win, an argument which I'll pose in a moment. Consider that as you take a look at the poll results. QUESTION: If the 2010 special election for U.S. Senate were held today, would you vote for Martha Coakley, the Democrat, Scott Brown, the Republican, or Joseph Kennedy, the Libertarian candidate?
Martha Coakley 49% 82% 7% 36%
Scott Brown 41% 12% 85% 49%
Joseph Kennedy 5% 1% 2% 11%
Undecided 5% 5% 6%
Notice the independent voters. Independents are always the critical class of voters, as they're the most likely to be in play, but they make up more than half of Massachusetts voters.
Particularly interesting in these numbers is the breakdown of unenrolled (independent) voters.  Brown is ahead in that group 49-36; significant, to be sure, but not the overwhelming advantage suggested in the Rasmussen (71-23) and PPP (63-31) polls that came out recently.
Research 2000 makes me a bit nervous with their description of who their polling - determining likely voters is key in creating a meaningful survey, but their description of their technique sounds odd.
The Research 2000 Massachusetts Poll was conducted from January 12 through January 13, 2010. A total of 500 likely voters who vote regularly in state elections were interviewed statewide by telephone.
Are they likely voters? Or do they vote regularly? These are two different things, and being a regular voter is not enough to make you a likely voter on Tuesday. Unfortunately, the architecture of their likely voter construction is not available.
The trouble in Massachusetts is not that people would vote Republican – it’s that the liberal base is so depressed that they’re choosing not to vote. In the poll that showed Brown winning by one point, 66% of Republican voters said they were “very excited” about turning out – whereas only 48% of Democrats said the same. And independents, who voted with Democrats in 2006 and 2008, support Brown by a two-to-one margin.
Which independents will show up to vote? Not casual ones, the sort who will be swayed by a Kennedy Klan endorsement or even a Bill Clinton appearance. The I's who will vote are motivated, and there's nothing about Martha Coakley that's motivational.
If you don’t believe that poll, the “enthusiasm gap” has been mirrored in national surveys. A Research 2000 poll from late November asked if respondents were “definitely going to vote” in 2010. Only 56% of Democrats said “yes,” compared with 81% of Republicans – a wider gap than what we see in Massachusetts. If this holds up, said Markos Moulitsas, “we’re gonna get killed.”
It gets worse. Look at the problem the left leaning Research 2000 has had calling some recent races.
In 2009 there were two statewide races for governor.  In New Jersey, R200 showed Republican Christ Christie winning by only 1%, but on election day Christie won by 4.3%.  R2000 was off by 3.3%, favoring the Democrat, but within their 4% margin of error. In Viringia, R2000 showed Republican Bob McDonnell with a 10% lead, but on election day McDonnell won by 17.5%.  R2000 was off by 7.5%, favoring the Democrat, and well outside their 4% margin of error.
Most every poll that's been released on this race indicates that the lower the turnout, the better Scott Brown's chances are of beating Coakley. In other words, he has the largest number of motivated voters - if only motivated voters show up, Coakley's croaked. The new Rasmussen Reports poll shows that Brown is ahead by two percentage points among those who are absolutely certain they will vote. A week ago, he trailed by two among those certain to vote.
Which brings me around to why I think the Coakley people feel this race is all but over. Coakley went on the air with her first TV commercial in the middle of last week, just after the first Rasmussen poll showed her with just a 9 point lead. After a day or two of a puffy commercial, they've gone all negative. Smarmy, evil sounding ads, one after another, in heavy rotation, are pummeling voters with Brown Hate.
We know two things about attack ads. First, they take a toll on the attacker. The attacker has to have enough credibility with voters to be able to undermine her opponent's credibility and survive the boomerang effect. Second, they depress turnout.
Scott Brown was on the air before Coakley, running ads that built a positive image of him as a fiscally responsible candidate in the image of Jack Kennedy, and a family man who stood outside the machinery of power politics. Coakley was coasting, taking her election for granted, so Scott got to establish rapport with voters. She lacks the credibility to dismantle the positive image he's created, something her camp knows, but is ignoring. Why? They have no choice.
We already know that Scott benefits from a lower turnout, yet Coakley is depressing turnout by running a negative campaign. Women, in particular, who favor Coakley, are turned off by attack ads. Yet, she attacks relentlessly. Why? She has nothing left but to hope that she can destroy Brown. Not likely, but what else can she do? If she thought she still had a chance, the attack ads would not be so relentless. They'd be mixed up with more positive ads of Coakley, and they'd be mixed with more issue ads to show her seriousness. Apparently, in the eyes of her campaign brain trust, it's too late for that. That's my take.