A new poll was released this week from Suffolk University about the upcoming race for U.S. Senate and governor in Minnesota. The poll shows Governor Mark Dayton and U.S. Senator Al Franken with comfortable leads over their Republican rivals and the data is consistent with other polls released in the last few months. But one of the more interesting aspects of the poll from Suffolk University is the large number of identified "undecided" voters. The number of undecided voters presents an opportunity for both Democrats and Republicans this election.
Republicans pointed out that Dayton and Franken had favorable ratings of under 50 percent - citing the "incumbent rule." According to the rule, when an incumbent is polling below 50 percent, it is usually a sign of electoral trouble for the incumbent. The poll from Suffolk University reported Dayton with a 45.63 percent approval rating, with Franken's approval rating at 46.38 percent. But is an incumbent's approval rating the only factor in determining their electoral future?
In 2010, polling-guru Nate Silver wrote "incumbents polling below 50 percent often win re-election..." In his article, Silver highlighted that a high number of undecided voters "implies greater volatility and means there is more campaigning left to do." I agree. The high number of undecided voters in this poll provides an opportunity for both Democrats and Republicans. The race between the two sides will be to determine who can reach the undecided voters and win their support.
Dayton and Franken have a one-two punch advantage over Republicans in reaching the undecided voters. First, they can use the bully pulpits of their elected offices to be active incumbents over the next few months. They can show all voters they are part of the solution, instead of part of the problem. Second, Dayton and Franken have raised more money for their campaign operations and they can spend money defining their records and any potential Republican challenger. It will be months before Republicans determine who will be the final candidate against Dayton and Franken. The fundraising totals and the current campaign calendar favor the Democrats.
For Republicans, they need to raise as much money as they can and then deliver a message that can win over undecided voters. The race for U.S. Senate and governor will be more defined and the polls will tighten when the candidates and their allied groups take to the airwaves and begin to message in television campaign ads. The opportunity or challenge for Republicans is funding a paid-media strategy and reaching the undecided voters before Democrats.