Kansas GOP Insider (wannabe): Poll Finds Tight Race for Mary Pilcher-Cook Seat

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Poll Finds Tight Race for Mary Pilcher-Cook Seat

Public Policy Polling did some polling for Democratic candidate Vicki Hiatt and determined that Hiatt has a 3 point lead against Kansas State Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook. Many people are calling the Senate District 10 race a "battleground."

Hiatt and the Twitter trolls are touting the poll as some sort of bright light. The poll revealed that 43 percent of respondents said they plan to vote for Hiatt to Pilcher-Cook's 40 percent. Seventeen percent of the respondents were undecided --17--with less than three months to election day. The margin of error was 4.4 percent.

I may be weird, but this poll doesn't trouble me and here's why:

Public Policy Polling's Record

Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight actually reports that PPP has been accurate in 82 percent of the 383 races its predicted in 2016.  Good enough for a B-plus in Silver's gradebook.

That said, since 2008, the polling outfit's numbers have missed the voting margin of error 5.2 percent. This means while its prediction may have been accurate 82 percent of the time, the prediction was wrong by about 5 points. 

Public Policy Polling's Bias

This polling outfit's most egregious example is a 2015 poll in which the pollsters asked both Democrat and Republican voters if they supported bombing Agrabah. Of course, the left-leaning pollsters tweeted out later that "30 percent of Republican primary voters nationally say they support bombing Agrabah. Agrabah is the country from Aladdin. #NottheOnion." 

What they didn't tell people is the 20 percent of Democrats polled said the EXACT same thing--they supported bombing Agrabah. It should be noted that Republicans were asked this question after hearing eight questions about terrorism, while Dems were asked this question without those terrorism-related questions preceding it. 

PPP later admitted that it decided to use the "gotcha" question after getting the idea from Twitter trolls. The question is an example of confirmation bias. PPP believes Republicans are dumb and viscous and went out of its way to attempt to craft data to support the assumption. Despite Democrats answering the same question in similar fashion--even without being led to make the connection between terrorism and Agrabah--PPP made tweets and headlines about Republicans' response, virtually ignoring the Dems' similar answers.

It's difficult to take PPP seriously. The polling outfit may not be the Onion, but the fact that they admit getting questions from Twitter trolls suggests otherwise.

The Undecideds

Mary Pilcher-Cook won her last election in 2012 by 58 percent. That's a pretty big margin of victory. She admittedly had some tail winds, but those tail winds give her a bit of a cushion. Those 17 percent may need a little encouragement, and I think Pilcher-Cook will work hard to get those folks to break in her direction. Many likely will anyway. A whole lot of voters are going to look at the ballot and realize their choice is between a Democrat and a Republican. My money is on a whole lot of those Kansans choosing the Republican.

The Margin of Error

The point spread is within the margin of error. The only reason to release this polling information is to attempt to create a narrative that your candidate is winning to depress turnout on the other side and to rally your own voters to get in there because it's close. I realize those two things seem at odds. They're not. This is psychological warfare, and politicians use polls for more than just gauging public support. In this instance, I think Hiatt is hoping to capitalize on the perceived lead in order to raise money. 

The Trump Numbers

Somehow a greater percentage of respondents voiced their support for Donald Trump than for Pilcher-Cook. That extra 2 percent of voters is highly unlikely to cast a ballot for Hiatt. According to the poll, 45 percent of respondents said they'll vote for Trump, compared to 39 percent of respondents who said they'll vote for Hillary Clinton. 

Hiatt's Favorables

Hiatt is an unknown. In this cycle, that may work to her advantage in some ways. According to the survey, 12 percent of respondents had a favorable opinion of Hiatt, and 79 percent were undecided. Human nature says when people are undecided they are far more likely to dance with the devil they know than with the one they don't. 


This isn't included in the poll, but it's fairly important to note. Hiatt's favorables show she has a high mountain to climb. That requires cash, and Hiatt simply didn't have enough of it at the filing deadline. At the end of July, Hiatt had a little less than $11,000 on hand. Pilcher-Cook, on the other hand, had a little less than $56,000.


  1. The ill advised Owen Donohoe attempt to take back a seat he previously held from a solid dependable conservative may affect the Pilcher-Cook race as well. She and Owen could be looked at as belonging to the radical right. Pilcher-Cook's attempt to outlaw surrogate parenthood a couple of years ago was off the charts and could make her more vulnerable than she should be.

  2. Your works are great. I love to read more of your articles.