Two new polls on the Vermont governor’s race show vastly different results, and the difference may be owed to how many Democrats were surveyed.
According to polling by VPR and WCAX, Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott is beating Democrat Sue Minter. By how much is a question of whom pollsters sampled.
A shock poll last week from VPR and the Castleton Polling Institute has Scott up by one point — 39 to 38 percent. The WCAX poll, released Monday, shows the lieutenant governor leading by a seven-point margin, at 47 to 40 percent.
Both polls sampled roughly 600 people, and both targeted “likely voters.” But which poll is accurate depends on which polling firm accurately guessed the mix of Democrats and Republicans who will show up and vote on Election Day.
In the Oct. 19 VPR poll, 55 percent of respondents were Democrats. About 28 percent were Republican, and another 16 percent fell into the independent-or-other category.
In the WCAX poll, conducted last weekend in partnership with Braun Research, just 33 percent of respondents were Democrats. About 17 percent were Republicans, and 52 percent fell into the independent-or-other box.
Knowing which voter sample matches the Vermont electorate is tricky, as the state lacks any party registration. However, political parties have ways of tracking loyal voters.
Vermont Democratic Party Communications Director Christina Amestoy didn’t return Watchdog’s request for internal statistics on party membership. But Jeff Bartley, executive director of the Vermont Republicans, said VPR’s sampling is off the mark.
“The VPR poll oversampled Democrats, which 55 percent is a ridiculous number to subscribe too,” Bartley said.
“But if they’re oversampling 55 percent Democrats and Phil Scott is still winning, and he’s doing well among those Democrats, that bodes well for us.”
Bartley said WCAX’s sampling numbers match his party’s internal statistics on Democrat voters, but not Republican ones. At just 17 percent, Bartley says Republicans were “under sampled.”
“We did a poll in 2014 that really dove into the electorate, and about 27 percent self-identified as a Republican. I think 34 percent self-identified as Democrat, and the rest were other or independent.”
Party affiliation isn’t always definitive when Vermonters step into the voting booth. Vermonters are known to be ticket-splitters, meaning they’re willing to vote for the other party.
The Vermont GOP estimates that as many as 40 percent of Vermonters are willing to cross party lines, and Bartley said the VPR poll showed solid support for Scott among Democrats.
Recent elections reveal certain voting patterns in Vermont. In the past three election cycles, the Democratic candidate for governor — Gov. Peter Shumlin — bested Republican challengers by an average of 51 percent to 44 percent.
The past three presidential races weren’t close, however, with Democratic candidates winning 64 percent of the vote, compared to 33 percent for Republican opponents.
Some Vermont Republicans see a Trump wild card, hidden from pollsters, that could give them solid victories on Election day. While most pollsters sample likely voters, millions of Trump supporters are new voters who haven’t voted regularly in the past and don’t typically follow politics.
“Trump’s supporters are very unlikely voters,” Bartley said. “I hypothesize that we’re going to see 10,000 or 15,000 people show up to vote on Election Day that don’t typically do, and they’re going to do it because of Donald Trump.”
Event without “unlikely voters” in the mix, Bartley said he likes where things stand based on the WCAX poll.
“I think they undersampled Republicans, and Phil Scott is still up by seven points. Again, it looks good for the party.”