LA Senate poll: Landrieu stuck in the mid-40's, undecideds strongly disapprove of Obama

I feel like I owe you guys some decent news after Monday’s pessi-fest and Noah’s Tuesday pile-on.  He made amends this morning with the Ernst news; now it’s my turn.  Gravis Marketing conducted a poll of Louisiana’s Senate race, the results of which we’ve reported exclusively at Townhall.  The bottom line: In both the two-way and three-way models, incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu is knotted up with her Republican challenger(s) and is bogged down in the low-to-mid 40’s:

LASen TwoWay
LASen ThreeWay

In the probable event that this race moves to a December 6 runoff between the top two vote-earners (if none of the candidates hits 50 percent), the head-to-head Cassidy/Landrieu numbers will become paramount.  Landrieu is in the fight of her life, trying to fend off residency questions, a private jet scandal and her own 97 percent pro-Obama voting record.   On that score, ten percent of likely Louisiana voters say they are currently undecided, according to the new survey.  A look at one key cross-tab provides a window into how that cohort might be disposed to break:

Within the still-sizable cohort (10 percent) of undecided voters, nearly two-thirds identify as political “independents” who don’t align themselves with either major party.  President Obama’s job approval among Louisiana independents is underwater by 45 points (24 percent approve / 69 percent disapprove) in this poll, suggesting that the bulk of undecided voters are at least somewhat inclined to break against Democrats.  Obama’s overall job approval rating in the state is a paltry 37 percent, with a 58 percent majority disapproving.

This speaks to Sean Trende’s analysis about late-breaking undecideds in “wave” cycles, even if the wave is relatively mild.  The NRSC emailed out a polling analysis over the weekend explaining why — at least at this stage — they’re not concerned by polls that show Democratic incumbents leading by a few percentage points…if those incumbents are failing to break out of the mid-40’s range:

The DSCC has spent more than half of their TV expenditures in these three states [Colorado, Iowa and North Carolina]…Despite this onslaught of Democratic spending, these races remain a dead heat. They are spending millions to tread water. Here’s why that is a bad thing for Democrats: When reading polls, it is important to remember that all candidates are not created equal. Incumbent Senators are a known quantity with voters, whereas Challengers are introducing themselves to the electorate. Voters who are familiar with an incumbent but do not support them on the ballot are essentially window shopping for a new Senator. That is why this group of voters traditionally breaks against the incumbent by a two-to-one margin (or stays home on Election Day).  In other words, for every four undecided voters, one will typically vote for the incumbent, two will vote for challenger, and one will stay home. This means that for every point the incumbent is short of 50%, they need 4% of voters in the undecided category to make up for it. An incumbent Senator sitting at 45% in the polls needs undecided voters to total 20% in his or her state to make up for it, or the math just doesn’t work….Are Democrats reassured that their BEST polling shows their own candidate[s] well short of 50% with the environment stacked against them? We wouldn’t be.

Can some of that explanation be chalked up as partisan spin?  Sure.  Wouldn’t Republicans prefer to have their candidates leading in mid-September?  Of course.  But an exhaustive analysis of the last six Senate cycles by the brilliant Dan McLaughlin fortifies the theory that the GOP — based on polling trends and history — remains a favorite to recapture the Senate (emphasis original):

It is mid-September, with just over seven weeks to Election Day, and as discussed below, all the fundamental signs show that this is at least a mild Republican “wave” year. A review of the mid-September polls over the last six Senate election cycles, all of which ended in at least a mild “wave” for one party, shows that it is common for the “wave party” to win a few races in which it trailed in mid-September – sometimes more than a few races, and sometimes races in which there appeared to be substantial leads, and most frequently against the other party’s incumbents. Whereas it is very uncommon for the wave party to lose a polling lead, even a slim one, after mid-September – it has happened only three times, one of those was a tied race rather than a lead, and another involved the non-wave party replacing its candidate on the ballot with a better candidate. If these historical patterns hold in 2014, we would therefore expect Republicans to win all the races in which they currently lead plus two to four races in which they are currently behind, netting a gain of 8 to 10 Senate seats.

Click through for various reasons why McLaughlin (and Trende, and Stu Rothenberg) all describe the current cycle’s fundamentals as significantly Republican-leaning, then pull up a chair and dig through McLaughlin’s in-depth data mining.  Most interesting to me is his chart illustrating late September polls vs. final results from contested 2006 Senate races; that year shares a lot of parallels with 2014 (sixth year of an unpopular president’s term, intense voter frustration with the direction of the country, and significant in-party vulnerabilities on both the domestic and foreign affairs fronts):

Republicans lost three races that year in which they were nominally ahead in the polls on September 20th — in each case, the “leading” GOP candidate was frozen several points below 50 percent during the September stretch.  And every close race of the cycle, save Tennessee, eventually cascaded into the blue column. McLaughin’s big picture finish:

We have a sample of 34 races [since 2002] where the wave party [trailed] in mid-September: The wave party won 21 out of these 34 races, 10 of them against incumbents of the non-wave party. It gained in the 2-party vote in 25 out of 34, gained by 2 points or more (enough to wipe out a 4-point lead) in 18 races, and gained by 2.5 or more in 16 races. The wave party won nine races where it trailed by at least 3.5 points, eight where it trailed by at least four, five where it trailed by at least 6.5, and three races where it trailed by 9 points at this juncture. And of the ten races where the wave party overcame at least a 2.5 point poll deficit, six were against incumbents – not reassuring news for Kay Hagan or Mark Udall.

Interesting stuff.  There’s no guarantee that history will repeat itself in November, of course, or that the “fundamentals” will remain as slanted toward Republicans as they seem to be at the moment.  Still, those are powerful factors that can’t be shrugged off.  As I’ve traveled to a number of grassroots conservative gathering in recent weeks, I’ve encountered strangely polarized attitudes on the battle for the Senate:  Misplaced overconfidence and misplaced despair.  People who assume the GOP has this election in the bag are mistaken, and risk perpetuating a nonchalance that the party’s candidates can ill afford.  But those who are convinced that Republicans are going to blow it are also off-base, and risk perpetuating a harmful defeatism heading into the campaign’s final stretch.  Keep calm and carry on.  The numbers will sort themselves out eventually.  I’ll leave you with Trende’s response to a PPP poll showing Sen. Pat Roberts trailing by seven points in Kansas to a Democrat-turned-independent, in the midst of ongoing ballot upheaval: