Turnout Confounds Election Predictions

Turnout Confounds Election Predictions

7:52pm Nov 05, 2014
Excerpt from State Board of Elections Nov. 4 press release
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Turnout was a factor in Tuesday’s election, but not in the way many people expected. A record number of people voted. But it only added up to 44 percent of registered voters, pretty typical for a mid-term election. That was a problem not just for Democrats, but also for pollsters.

Many public opinion researchers across the country spent Wednesday trying to figure out where their election predictions went wrong. Among the races that proved hard to predict was North Carolina’s U.S. Senate race.

A poll from Elon University had incumbent Kay Hagan with about a four-point lead heading into the election. Challenger Thom Tillis ended up winning by a little more than one percentage point. Ken Fernandez is the director of the Elon Poll. He says the poll results were based on some assumptions that turned out not to be true.

"I think that a lot of people, including myself, looked at the amount of national attention that was directed at the Senate race - the amount of money, record-breaking money," he says. "I was so confident that the turnout would be greater than 44 percent, which was basically 2010 which was sort of a sleepy midterm."

Fernandez says some issues developed late in the campaign that may have had an effect on the outcome. He points to the overturning of the gay marriage ban in North Carolina, the Ebola outbreak reaching America, and increasing violence in the Middle East. But he also credited the Republican ground game in getting out the vote.

High Point University’s last poll, about the same time as the start of early voting, found the race to be a dead heat. Survey Director Martin Kifer says he predicted that – despite all the attention – this year’s election would closely mirror 2010.

"A midterm is almost always a midterm, and this was about as good a proof of that as you can find," he says.

Looking at polls across the nation, Kifer says it appears that some models in major races overestimated Democrats share of the vote.

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