Fiorina, Boxer tied in PJM/Cross Target poll

Can Carly Fiorina do what other Republicans haven’t since 1988 and win one of California’s US Senate seats in a general election?  The last Republican elected to represent the Golden State in the upper chamber was Pete Wilson in 1988, who gave it up when elected Governor in 1990.  Barbara Boxer has been seen as somewhat vulnerable but Republicans have been long seen as too weak to take advantage of it.  However, a poll commissioned by Pajamas Media from Cross Target shows Fiorina slightly edging Boxer in a head-to-head matchup:

A poll taken Sunday, June 13th, showed Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and California Attorney General Jerry Brown in a statistical tie with their respective opponents, Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman. (Full results are here[pdf].)

The poll, conducted via telephone for Pajamas Media by CrossTarget, was of 600 likely California voters, and has a margin of error of 4%. The CrossTarget poll was an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) poll, using the same technology and methods as the polls CrossTarget conducted for PJM in the Massachusetts election in January, in which PJM/CrossTarget was one of the first to predict Scott Brown’s election.

Fiorina got 47.0% of the respondents, while Boxer only got 46.5% — a virtual tie.  However, for a three-term incumbent, that is a poor result, and not exactly an outlier.  Polls taken in California have shown Boxer’s support hitting a ceiling in the mid-40s, a sure sign of trouble for any incumbent in any year, let alone in 2010.

The sample looks a little odd, though:

In a surprise result, party affiliation reported by respondents showed a 3% majority for the GOP; these results were adjusted to match the usual proportion of a 7% Democrat majority. If party identification has really shifted by 10% toward the GOP in California, this would have dramatic implications for the election in California and for the United States as a whole.

I’d call an R+3 result in a California survey more than a “surprise result.”  It’s probably an indicator of shaky sampling.  California turning into an R+3 state in this cycle may be possible, but it’s highly unlikely. Cross Target did readjust the results back for a D+7, which looks more like reality, so the tie actually is the result of that adjustment. However, the sample had just 17% of its respondents identify as independents, which looks low even in a closed-primary state.

The other question may be the choice of Sunday for the survey, although that would presumably play against Republicans.  There is a great deal of controversy over weekend polling, with Republicans usually alleging that they give the GOP a disadvantage.  It’s safe to say that many people aren’t home on Sundays to answer these calls, and those that do may not represent the population at large as well as surveys taken during the week might.

Still, these results are well within the numbers seen for these candidates in other polls; this is hardly an outlier.  The fact that Boxer had to get rescued at all from a sampling adjustment speaks volumes about her vulnerability, and the opportunity that Republicans have in aiming for her seat.

Update: I forgot to qualify the first sentence as a California US Senate seat; rewritten.  Thanks to Marlon W for the heads-up.