NEW HAVEN — This year there’s no U.S. Senate race in Connecticut, but the gubernatorial contest is keeping political scientists from several universities busy.
Gathered Monday at Southern Connecticut State University for a discussion, Jennifer Dineen of the University of Connecticut, Laura Baum of Wesleyan University, Scott McLean of Quinnipiac University, Gary Rose of Sacred Heart University, and Art Paulson of Southern Connecticut State University agreed that the race between Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Republican Tom Foley, and independent Joe Visconti was “a toss up.”
Before Monday’s panel started the most recent public polling from Quinnipiac University had Foley up six points over Malloy, but political scientists warned that looking at the horse race doesn’t always tell the whole story.
“There’s a lot more to the story than these numbers show,” Dineen said.
The Quinnipiac University’s poll asked whether a voter was voting for a candidate or against a candidate.
“Roughly 60 percent say they’re voting against Gov. Malloy rather than voting for Foley,” Dineen said. “And believe it or not, I think this is good news for the governor.”
“I think it’s good because I think voters voting against a candidate are less motivated than voters who are voting for someone,” Dineen added.
A Democratic leaning poll released minutes after the panel ended Monday showed Malloy up 8 points over Foley.
McLean agreed with Dineen that when it comes to polls, sometimes the public gets too hung up on the horse race. He encouraged the six high school classes who attended the discussion Monday to go below the question and look at the breakdown of the numbers.
Who is answering the question? Is it a male or a female and are they a Democrat, Republican, or unaffiliated voter?
When the Quinnipiac University poll was released in early September the unaffiliated voters were clearly favoring Foley, McLean said. However, some Foley voters were not so sure they would stick with Foley “so we have to consider that these numbers are not likely to hold firm throughout the entire election.”
At the time of the Sept. 10 poll there were about 28 percent of unaffiliated voters who hadn’t heard enough about Foley to know if they even like the guy, McLean said.
At the same time, McLean said he was skeptical of the Public Policy Polling survey that showed Malloy 8 points ahead of Foley. He said he thinks the race is much tighter than the spread showed in either poll.
He said Malloy’s base is largely in urban areas, but polls have shown a lot of Democratic voters don’t like Malloy. McLean said that means Malloy’s strategy will be to target Democratic voters who live in cities and tell them how bad Foley is “and what horrible things he will do.”
That’s a formula for this race to get even more negative.
“I see this as a really perfect storm for a really negative campaign,” McLean said.
Based solely on TV ads it’s already the third most negative governor’s race in the country, according to Laura Baum, director of the Wesleyan Media Project.
Only 8 percent of the ads being aired in the governor’s race here are purely positive ads and 66 percent are purely negative ads, while about 26 percent are mixed with both positive and negative messages, Baum said.
Does negative advertising create voter apathy?
Dineen said she doesn’t think negative ads increase apathy as much as they increase voter disengagement.
“I think candidates are spending a lot of time talking about what’s bad about the state and what’s bad about each other and not enough time talking about what’s good about them,” Dineen said.
That could lead to lower voter turnout in an election year during a period when fewer voters have been going to the polls.
Gary Rose of Sacred Heart University warned that midterm elections are much different than presidential elections. He said the electorate will be much smaller and the demographic characteristics of voters in midterm elections are different than those in presidential contests.
“It is going to be an older electorate,” Rose said. “It’s also going to be a more Caucasian electorate . . . and it’s also going to be an electorate that’s more moderate to moderately conservative, which is different from a presidential contest.”
He said those three factors help the Republican Party. He said Republicans do tend to show up in midterm elections at a higher percentage compared to Democrats.
However, like previous midterm elections this one will have no impact on the next presidential election, according to Rose.
Paulson, chairman of SCSU’s Political Science Department, said that historically the president’s party loses seats in the U.S. House and Senate during midterm elections.
“It is more likely than not that the Republicans will gain the six seats they need to control the Senate,” Paulson said. “The Democrats are likely to lose probably less than 15 seats in the House, but obviously Republicans will keep the House.”