Are the Polls Undercounting Latino Obama Backers?
Shortly after the 2010 midterm elections, Jim Margolis, a longtime Democratic pollster who’s now a top media consultant for Obama’s reelection campaign, cowrote a memo outlining how the Democrats had managed to save his then-boss, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). During the fall, Reid had looked like he was going to get swept away in the tea party wave that handed the GOP a majority in the House of Representatives. Polls showed Reid trailing his Republican opponent, Sharron Angle, by an average of nearly 3 points. Republicans were about to knock off the second Democratic Senate leader in a row, having ended Tom Daschle’s Senate career in 2004.
Then something weird happened. Reid won—by almost 6 points. In Colorado, another state with a large Latino population, Democratic Senate candidate Michael Bennet eked out a 1-point win despite polls showing his GOP rival, Ken Buck, up by an average of about 3 points. For good reason, politicos have calloused fingers from hitting refresh on New York Times’ numbers guru Nate Silver’s website, but even his model predicted likely Republican wins in Nevada and Colorado in 2010.
“Nobody had Reid winning, nobody had Reid ahead,” says Brad Coker, a pollster for Mason-Dixon, the firm hired by the Las Vegas Review-Journal to poll the state. “People underestimated the ability to turn out Hispanic voters the way they had turned out for Obama.” In the memo written after Reid’s win, Margolis and Reid pollster Mark Mellman said the same thing: Latino voters, undersampled by pollsters and written off as unlikely voters, had made a huge difference for Democrats.