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Polls tell different tales of gubernatorial race
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A tale of 3 polls

Georgia Newspaper Partnership (taken July 8-13)
John Oxendine    34%
Karen Handel    23%
Nathan Deal    18%
Undecided    19%

Rasmussen Reports (taken July 13)
Nathan Deal    25%
Karen Handel    25%
John Oxendine    20%
Undecided    14%

InsiderAdvantage (taken July 14)
Karen Handel    24%
Nathan Deal    16%
John Oxendine    15%
Undecided    22%

Who’s winning? Only Tuesday will tell.

On the heels of a Georgia Newspaper Partnership poll that placed John Oxendine in the lead for the Republican nomination for governor, two polls released Thursday show endorsements for his top opponents may knock the insurance commissioner out of even a chance at an Aug. 10 runoff election.

The GNP poll, like a number of earlier polls, had Oxendine in first place. Former Secretary of State Karen Handel was second, and former U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal of Gainesville was third.

But the new polls, taken after Handel and Deal scored major endorsements this week, showed a significant shift in voter opinions.
One poll, conducted by Rasmussen Reports, put Handel and Deal in a tie for the top spot in the state’s gubernatorial primary, both with 25 percent.

A separate poll by InsiderAdvantage placed Handel in the lead, with 24 percent. That poll had Deal in second place with 16 percent, Oxendine third with 15 percent and former state Sen. Eric Johnson fourth with 13 percent.

The state’s Democratic and Republican primaries are Tuesday.

Polls showing Oxendine losing his lead may be a sign of the power of endorsements on voters who had no strong commitment to another candidate, said Charles Bullock, political science professor at the University of Georgia.

On Monday, Sarah Palin, former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential candidate, endorsed Handel.

A day later, Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, threw his support behind Deal.

“Maybe these endorsements did tip people who, prior to this point, had said, ‘Yeah, we’ll probably vote for Oxendine,’ but had no strong belief in that,” Bullock said.

Scott Rasmussen, president and founder of the Rasmussen polling firm, agrees.

“I think what this comes out with is a sense that this is a low turnout election. Handel and Deal are both benefiting right now from some endorsements they’ve got,” Rasmussen said.

The same day Gingrich endorsed Deal, Rasmussen, using an automated telephone system, randomly surveyed 943 people who said they were planning to vote in the Republican primary. Deal and Handel’s tie at 25 percent left Oxendine five percentage points behind at 20 percent.

Rasmussen polls conducted before the endorsements showed more support for Oxendine throughout the state, Rasmussen said.

“We have noted in other states all around the country that when Sarah Palin does an endorsement, it has a significant impact on the race,” Rasmussen said. “In South Carolina, Nikki Haley was in fourth place. When Palin came to town and endorsed her, she moved into first place and then, obviously took off from there.”

But Palin’s impact on Georgia’s voters remains to be seen. Rasmussen said the conservative star’s power to persuade might depend on how actively she campaigns with Handel.

In Haley’s case, Palin appeared with the gubernatorial candidate in South Carolina.

On Wednesday — two days after the Palin endorsement and one day after the Gingrich endorsement — InsiderAdvantage surveyed 728 registered voters who said they would vote in the Republican primary.

The polling firm found that Palin’s endorsement had an impact on Handel’s favor with Georgia women, according to InsiderAdvantage Chief Executive Officer Matt Towery.

“The next three days will decide this race, but it is my guess that Handel likely will have a spot in the runoff, barring some major shift in the trends,” Towery said in a news release.

Support for Oxendine in the Rasmussen and InsiderAdvantage polls released Thursday differs significantly with the results of the GNP poll released Wednesday.

That poll, conducted for the Georgia Newspaper Partnership by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research from July 8 to July 13, shows Oxendine with the support of 31 percent of likely Republican primary voters.

The Times and 12 other Georgia newspapers that make up the partnership commissioned the poll. It included a survey of 400 voters who personally told pollers over the telephone that they were planning to vote in the Republican primary.

Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon, said Oxendine’s lead began to shrink on the days Palin and Gingrich made their endorsements.

In the earliest days of polling, Oxendine had the support of 34 percent of the voters polled, but on the final day, Oxendine’s support waned to 29 percent, which was still within the poll’s margin of error of five percentage points.

“I suspect that when you stretch a poll out over ... five days, especially in the last couple of days of an election, you run into that,” Coker said.

Normally, poll results begin to converge as an election nears, Bullock said.

Why the polls are differing in support for Oxendine so late in the game is difficult to pinpoint, Bullock said.

“Perhaps what is happening is that these undecideds, now, with the election right on them are having to make a commitment one way or the other,” he said.

But the polls are all consistent, Bullock said, in showing that support is growing for Handel.

“She’s improving her position, and that is pretty consistent,” Bullock said. “That may be the only thing which is consistent, because we’ve gotten various indications of what’s happening to Deal.”

The Rasmussen poll shows Deal gaining traction, but Bullock said other recent polls show him losing ground.

Unless another poll comes out in the next few days, Bullock said it would be difficult to determine whether the Rasmussen poll demonstrates a real trend or not, meaning the only real indication of where the candidates stand will come when voters go to the polls.

 “We don’t really have any idea what that’s going to play out like on the actual voting day. At this point in time, it’s a question of which of these candidates can get their people to the polls,” Rasmussen said.