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11/4: The Rap on Polls


11/4: The Rap on Polls

What happened in the race for New York City mayor?!  Mayor Michael Bloomberg squeaked out a slim victory over Democratic challenger Bill Thompson last night despite the healthy lead given to Bloomberg by all the pre-election polls.  The short of it … the scenario is a textbook case of pre-election poll analysis.

Lee Miringoff

Lee Miringoff

It is not unusual in contests between a well-known incumbent (Bloomberg) and a relatively unknown challenger (Thompson) that the incumbent ends up getting pretty much the same number he was attracting in pre-election polls.  Undecided voters tend to find the challenger or not vote at all, having already rejected the incumbent.

In the closing weeks of the campaign, all public pre-election polls had Bloomberg in the low 50s, regardless of the margin over Thompson.  This is reminiscent of the outcome in 1994 when pre-election polls showed then three-term incumbent Mario Cuomo with a huge lead over relatively unknown challenger George Pataki in the New York State race for governor.  The bad news for Cuomo was that he was below 50% despite his big “lead.”

It is not surprising, therefore, that the 2009 race for mayor got closer in the end.   The Marist polls showed the trend that Democratic voters were “coming home” to Thompson.   These polls revealed growing support for Bill Thompson among Democrats (more than two-thirds of the New York City electorate) and African-American voters (about one-quarter of the electorate).  This trend continued through Marist’s final look at the electorate on Sunday and on election eve in a mixed, data collection mode research project.  Thankfully, the election of President Barack Obama last year put to rest the unsubstantiated but popular view that African-American candidates are undercounted in pre-election polls in black/white contests … the so-called, “Bradley Effect.”

Having said this, it was a rough night for incumbents, and change is still in the air.  Tuesday’s electorate was motivated by economic concerns and laid the blame on the doorstep of government executives.  From a three-term county executive in a local New York county to New Jersey’s Governor Corzine (even with the White House’s best efforts), voters rejected the status quo.  Bloomberg narrowly escaped.

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Lee M. Miringoff is the director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. Follow Lee on Twitter at @LeeMiringoff.



  1. Thomas Moore

    November 11, 2009 at 3:25 PM

    We have a great opportunity to break the stranglehold the Democratic and
    Republican parties have held for decades. Why not register Independent and join the Indies collation to take back America? Indies target the biggest fears politicians have. Fear of not being re-elected, term limits and tax revolts. Indies have more choices to select the most qualified person to represent us. We need new faces with innovative ideas to create new J-O-B-S.

    Heads they win, tails we lose. How lobbyists steal taxpayer dollars.
    “Democracy is dead … lobbyists rule America”

  2. Terry Carter

    November 11, 2009 at 3:20 PM

    I’ve never been part of a poll but I have to wonder if people really give true answers to the pollsters questions. Most of us are very secretive about who we plan to vote for or how we lean politically and I don’t think a lot of people feel coomfortable exposing themselves to a stranger. Most of us don’t let family members know!

  3. Barbara

    November 4, 2009 at 1:22 PM

    Thompson’s better-than-expected showing cannot be discounted.

    Two clear reasons:

    First, Bloomberg circumvented the wishes of NYC voters and abolished term limits via the New York City Council. New Yorkers don’t take kindly to their legally mandated wishes being disregarded. Bloomberg should have stepped away and run again in 2013. Suggesting that his tenure couldn’t be interrupted because he was the only one who could solve New York City’s problems was arrogant in the extreme.

    Secondly, Bloomberg outspent Thompson by an unseemly amount, flooding voters with annoying telephone solicitations and media ads. There is resentment that he “bought” the election.

    In no way does Michael Bloomberg have a clear mandate. Because of Bloomberg’s sense of self-importance, many New Yorkers voted tor Thompson –even though they may have regarded Bloomberg as the better administrator.

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