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Polls or Fundamentals in N.Y. 1st District Race?

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop won re-election to New York’s 1st district by fewer than 600 votes in 2010. This year he’s facing the same opponent and the race optics have changed.

Let’s start with the polls themselves. The Democratic survey is a traditional poll conducted by a respected polling firm. The GOP survey is an automated survey conducted by a polling firm without much of a track record and appears to be connected with Rasmussen Research, a GOP firm that is not usually included in a list of the most respected survey firms.

Interestingly, Pulse Opinion Research isn’t Altschuler’s regular polling firm. John McLaughlin of McLaughlin & Associates, an established GOP firm, did the Republican hopeful’s polling last cycle and will do it again this year. My guess is that when the Altschuler campaign saw the House Majority PAC survey, it decided to do what most insiders refer to as a “quick and dirty survey” to rebut the Democratic poll.

While the Pulse Opinion Research poll showed Romney leading in the presidential race in the 1st district by 14 points,
Garin-Hart-Yang had Obama up by
5 points, 49 percent to 44 percent.

Given where the presidential race is nationally and how the district voted four years ago, I would expect current polling to show something from a small Obama lead to a small Romney lead. The president’s lead in the House Majority PAC might be a few points too big, but it’s probably a better reflection of the competitiveness of the race than the Pulse Opinion Research survey.

The two surveys also had different results on Bishop’s and Altschuler’s name identification.

The Garin-Hart-Yang survey showed Bishop’s image at 45 percent positive/
27 percent negative. It found Altschuler’s at 25 percent positive/24 percent negative. The Pulse Opinion Research automated survey found Bishop’s ID at
50 percent favorable/43 percent unfavorable and Altschuler’s at 53 percent favorable/34 percent unfavorable.

Even though Altschuler and Bishop ran against each other in 2010, it’s hard to believe that about 90 percent of likely voters now have an opinion of both men, as the GOP survey showed. And after the bitter race last time, it seems unlikely that both candidates would have favorable ratings of more than 50 percent.

Which survey should you believe? I can’t be sure, so I tend to fall back on the district’s fundamentals and look for reasons the 2012 vote might be different from the results of two years ago.

Maybe Suffolk County is changing. After all, less than a year ago, Babylon Town Supervisor Steve Bellone (D) defeated Republican nominee Angie Carpenter, the county’s treasurer, to become the new Suffolk County executive.

But it’s always wise not to read too much into a local election. Bellone, 42, outspent his 68-year-old GOP opponent heavily, and Carpenter wasn’t regarded as a strong candidate. And Bellone’s record in Babylon of cutting taxes and cutting town employees isn’t particularly identified with the national Democratic Party.

There is one obvious way the 2012 contest differs significantly from the 2010 race, but it benefits Altschuler.

Bishop was the Independence Party nominee in 2010, and he earned 7,370 votes on its line. But this year, Altschuler is the Independence Party nominee, and that development alters the 2010 baseline vote for the two candidates and changes the arithmetic of the 2012 race.

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