September 22, 2010

Cuomo Drops Below 50% - and Lizards Say He's Goin' Down

Hatched by Dafydd

A follow-up on our previous post, Oh Don't Be Such a Baby, about the hard charging Republican Carl Paladino, who is giving heir apparent Andrew Cuomo an unexpected run for his gobs of money in the New York gubernatorial race.

After paraphrasing Abe Lincoln by saying "I like this Republican; he fights," I added the following parenthetical and perhaps cryptic remark:

(Check back in two weeks and see whether Andrew Cuomo has dropped below 50% on Rasmussen; if he has, he's toast.)

Obviously I had no foreknowledge, or I would have written, "Check back tomorrow." Because today -- yesterday's tomorrow -- I woke up to this New York Times story about "Republican" Mayor Michael Bloomberg of NYC endorsing Democrat Andrew Cuomo, son of liberal icon, former Gov. Mario Cuomo.

And why is Bloomberg endorsing Cuomo? First, because Bloomberg is that rara avis, an actual, honest-to-wickedness RINO, a lifelong Democrat who switched to the GOP just because the Democratic mayorial primary was too crowded; and second, because of this tidbit buried in the story:

Released Wednesday by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, the poll found that Mr. Cuomo, the state attorney general and Democratic candidate for governor, leads Mr. Paladino by just 49 percent to 43 percent among likely voters, driven by overwhelming support for Mr. Paladino by voters considering themselves part of the Tea Party movement.

The poll surveyed 751 New York voters defined by Quinnipiac as likely to vote in November -- as opposed to earlier polls that surveyed all registered voters -- and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points.

This is the first poll in the entire campaign in which Andrew Cuomo was not above 50%, and generally far above -- as high as 60% in the last Quinnipiac poll less than a month ago.

Why did I write that slipping below 50% likely means that Cuomo is "toast?" It's a well-known maxim of polling: When the incumbent is below 50% in a two-person race this close to the election, and the challenger seems to have momentum, then the incumbent is very likely to lose.

The reason is that the incumbent in a race is a known quantity; voters have had years to decide what they think about him -- there's nothing new and exciting about the office-holder. Contrariwise, a challenger is often new and fresh, and he always has room to grow in stature and popularity... or to plummet to the depths.

But with the election looming, almost certainly anything really bad about the challenger that can be brought out already has been, especially if the incumbent is a savvy campaigner. Typically, the race "tightens" as the election looms... which usually means the challenger moves closer to the incumbent.

Andrew Cuomo is not actually the incumbent, of course; it's an open seat, as current appointed Gov. David Paterson is not running for "reelection" -- an odd word for a man who was never actually elected on his own to any post higher than state senator. Paterson withdrew from the race due to widespread voter anger at his fiscal mismanagement of the state and looming witness-tampering and Superbowl tickets scandals, all of which led to an unpopularity that made the idea of Paterson running for reelection almost a joke.

But Cuomo now occupies the "pseudo-incumbent" position: The entire electorate knows every detail about his career, his positions, his plans, his rhetorical style, his ambition, his ruthlessness, his parentage, and everything else, and has known for nearly three decades. Andrew Cuomo personifies the political establishment and "business as usual" in New York state.

It's unlikely that anybody who is not supporting Cuomo today will suddenly decide to support him on election day; typically, the undecideds at that point will break to the challenger... if Cuomo could have made the sale with them, he already would have. And despite the possibility that Rick Lazio could run as a third-party Conservative -- which I doubt, actually, if it looks like it would throw the race to Cuomo -- the Quinnipiac poll found only 1% of respondents saying they planned to vote for someone other than Cuomo or Paladino in the election; so it's a two-man race.

Barring some really nasty October surprise regarding Carl Paladino (which seems unlikely, given the unfriendly media scrutiny so far), I believe Paladino will continue drifting up, while Cuomo slowly sinks:

  • Following Paladino's primary victory on September 14th, Cuomo's lead over Paladino plummeted from 30-40 points down to 16 points from Rasmussen, and now down to a scant 6 points from Quinnipiac; the last Quinnipiac poll in August had Cuomo ahead of Paladino by 37 points, and the previous Rasmussen poll in July had Cuomo ahead by 29 points. Paladino has all the "big mo."
  • Much of Paladino's support comes from Tea Partiers, whose number is growing.
  • The enthusiasm gap strongly favors Republicans this year.
  • By a large plurality (41%), likely voters in the Quinnipiac survey say that the most important quality that will guide their choice for governor is that the candidate "can bring about needed change to Albany" -- beating "shares values" (22%), "Honest/Trustworthy" (21%), and "Right experience" (10%). "Change" always favors a little-known challenger over a better-known establishment figure (think Barack H. Obama over John McCain, or George W. Bush over Al Gore).

For all these reasons, unless this Quinnipiac poll turns out to be an outlier, I say Andrew Cuomo is toast -- and Tea-Party Republican Carl Paladino is the next governor of New York state.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, September 22, 2010, at the time of 5:51 PM

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