On Tuesday, Ed FitzGerald campaign manager Nick Buis sent a fundraising email touting a new poll. Public Policy Polling (PPP) recently released a survey showing Ohio’s Republican Governor, John Kasich, trailing his likely challenger, Democrat Ed FitzGerald, by 3 points.
Naturally, it was way too early for polls to really carry any weight, but it is fundraising season and the email may prove effective for that end. On top of that, most voters are probably not yet ready for daily news stories in their faces about this poll and that poll. Still, PPP’s results do not mesh with the other early polls: Quinnipiac polls from June, April, and February showed Kasich up by 14, 9, and 10 points, respectively.
But does any of these polls mean anything at this point? Not likely.
Running up to the 2010 Election, comparable early polls had then-incumbent, Democrat Ted Strickland, leading his prospective challenger by similarly large figures. Prior to the 2006 Election, polls had Strickland leading his likely opponent by reasonably narrow margins. In both cases, these polls ended up being wrong in predicting the eventual outcome.
Each election also has unique circumstances. 2006 was a huge Democrat year, with Ohio proving a double-whammy: the Republican president was unpopular and Ohio had a decade-and-a-half of GOP governors, the last of which was likewise unpopular after a series of scandals. Strickland won by a 2-1 margin in the biggest route in recent Ohio history. Early polls showing a convincing but somewhat close Strickland win were not accurate, at all.
In 2006, there was no incumbent, as two-term Gov. Bob Taft was leaving office; but in 2010, there was: Strickland. Since incumbents are generally difficult to beat, Gov. Ted Strickland initially seemed to have a good chance to win, as 2009 and early 2010 polls indicated. Yet again, 2010 was another swing election, and John Kasich knocked off Strickland, riding a GOP anti-Obama wave into office. For his own part, Strickland had his own issues, with economic problems and a state security breach; so this was a case of an incumbent on a downward tilt.
Once again, early polls show the incumbent up big. While the PPP survey could eventually prove meaningful, for now, it looks more like an anomaly. This time around, however, the incumbent appears to be in a much better position than last time.
According to “a team of well-established political prognosticators,” the Ohio gubernatorial race is labeled as “likely Republican” while the left-leaning Mother Jones published a piece detailing Kasich’s “renaissance” with Ohio voters. Even the Plain Dealer’s Thomas Suddes concedes that Kasich “won’t be easy to beat.” All of this is predicated on Ohio’s improving economy and Kasich’s political recovery from the Senate Bill 5 fiasco just two years ago.
As of right now, 2014 is also shaping up to be a more GOP-friendly election year, especially with a Democrat in the White House and all of the ongoing scandals (or “scandals,” if you will). Motivation to cast an anti-Obama vote and to reelect a Republican governor might be enough for Kasich to win.
Still, voters have short memories in politics, so anything can happen between now and then to turn the tide in favor of Ed FitzGerald. Bottom line: polls in August the year before an election tell us practically nothing about the following November.