Arizona Closer Than Expected?
A new poll out of Arizona raised quite a few eyebrows yesterday:
(CNN) – A new poll of likely voters in Arizona shows the race for the White House is a close contest in the state.
President Barack Obama stands at 44% and GOP challenger Mitt Romney has 42% in the Rocky Mountain poll released Saturday. The margin is within the poll’s sampling error.
With 11 electoral votes, the state has been considered to be leaning in Romney’s favor.
The state’s two most populous counties, Maricopa and Pima, came out in support of Obama, while Romney has a lead in the rural counties. Men are evenly split between the two candidates, and the difference between the candidates among women is only three points.
Obama is the heavy favorite among the state’s Latinos, who split for him 77% to Romney’s 10%.
Since 1952, the state has gone to the Republican candidate in every presidential race except 1996. President Bill Clinton won the state that year by a three-point margin – 47% to 44% – over Bob Dole, while Reform Party candidate Ross Perot and others picked up about 9% of the vote.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona won the state’s presidential vote in 2008 by nine points and in 2004, President George W. Bush won the state by 11 points.
Considering that every recent poll of the state had shown Romney with a comfortable lead, this is surprising to say the least. There had been some polls early in the spring that showed a close race in Arizona, but they were quickly overridden by others showing Romney far ahead, and its stayed there for months. That’s why I tend to think that this is likely an outlier, and Nate Silver isn’t all that impressed by the poll:
I would not be too worried about the topline numbers if I were Mr. Romney’s campaign — or too enthralled with them if I were Mr. Obama’s. The survey contacted relatively few respondents — about 500 voters — and even a good polling firm can and will produce an outlying result or two with a sample size like that.
It is plausible that Mr. Obama could win Arizona if he is running strongly nationwide — but it is much less likely that he will do so in the current national environment, where the race is almost tied.
Consider that, in 2008, Mr. Obama lost Arizona by 8 points despite winning nationally by 7 points.
Part of that is because Arizona was John McCain’s home state. Historically, the home-state advantage for a candidate is on the order of 7 points. In other words, had Mr. McCain been from another state, Arizona might have been a toss-up in 2008.
Even so, that was an in election in which Mr. Obama had a clear victory nationwide. If Mr. Obama recovers from his debate swoon and wins another clear victory this November, Arizona could fall into his column. But it is unlikely to prove decisive in a tight national race.
Silver’s model gives Romney a 96% chance of winning Arizona in November as of today, and the RealClearPolitics average is +5.3 points in Romney’s favor. Given this, we’d need to see a lot more data before considering Arizona a toss-up state, something that would be very dangerous for Romney’s chances at victory.