The first two polls released since Dean Barkley won the Independence Party primary last week still show a very close race between Norm Coleman and Al Franken, with Barkley receiving 13 percent (Minnesota Poll) and 14 percent (SurveyUSA) support among likely voters.

While Barkley’s numbers are up about 6 points from surveys conducted this summer before he won the IP slot on the ballot, his boost among Gopher State voters has not yet disproportionately deflated Franken’s numbers vis-à-vis Coleman.

At first blush, this is a bit perplexing. As detailed last month here at Smart Politics, Barkley’s policy positions on many issues substantively overlap with those held by Franken and the DFL. As a result, one would expect the DFL candidate to be more vulnerable to an Independence Party candidacy.

But the internals of the new polls tell a different story: according to SurveyUSA, Barkley is getting the nod from 10 percent of likely GOP voters and 11 percent of DFL voters (though Minnesotans self-identify more as Democrats than Republicans, so there is a little bit of an extra ‘hit’ here to Franken).

Why is this?

One possible explanation is that Barkley is bringing in a fair amount of new voters – both Democrats and Republicans – who would not otherwise have voted in the race. While that is theoretically possible, it is probably not the primary explanation (especially in a high-profile presidential election year): Barkley has only been campaigning for two months and does not have the treasure to compete with Franken and Coleman in media buys to get his name and views out to the public.

Another explanation is as follows: this election was set up from the start for a very strong chance at a Democratic pick-up. In general, the mood of the country (even with the McCain/Palin surge) favors Congressional Democratic candidates in swing states / districts this election, at least those with only moderately popular incumbents, like Coleman.

Franken, however, has proven in poll after poll to be even more unpopular than Coleman – with unfavorability ratings flirting with 50 percent since his campaign began in 2007.

Barkley, has thus been able to pick off the low-hanging fruit in the electorate – weakly identified partisans on the left and right – because of Franken’s, shall we say, ‘controversial’ personality and background, and the detrimental political environment facing Coleman.

As a result, Barkley is not damaging Franken’s chances nearly as much as he would if this were a year more favorable to Republicans; and he is not damaging Coleman as much as he would if Franken were not such a lightning rod candidate.

One reason polls back in June and July indicated Franken’s numbers were damaged much more than Coleman’s by Jesse Ventura’s potential candidacy is that Ventura appealed more to Franken’s “anti-establishment�? supporters (i.e. those intrigued by the cult of celebrity and those who want a political outsider to ‘shake up Washington’). Barkley does not offer the celebrity factor, and, though he is running on a third party platform, his policy views are not so different from the DFL en masse that it appears he will ‘shake things up’ (at least not to the extent of a Ventura candidacy).


  1. Mike on September 16, 2008 at 5:06 pm

    So eliminating the federal income tax is a Democrat idea, pay of the debt is a Democrat issue.

    In a race between two fiscal liberals Dean Barkley gives fiscal conservitives a voice. Stop spending my money and stop spending it now is only second to end the war as far as a political message that will get huge #’s on your side, and unlike end the war it does not require some complicated time consuming deadly costly event that is sure to get the voters mad.

  2. Eric Ostermeier on September 16, 2008 at 8:21 pm

    > So eliminating the federal income tax is a Democrat idea, pay
    > of the debt is a Democrat issue.

    What you are saying is that they are not identical on ALL issues – and my blog doesn’t contradict that. Franken, true, is not running on the debt issue, though, if it was asked of him in a debate I think you’d hear him at least give lip service to a similar position.

    > Stop spending my money and stop spending it now is only
    > second to end the war as far as a political message that will
    > get huge #’s on your side,

    Regarding the war – compare Barkley’s and Franken’s issue positions, and you’ll see they’re not far apart.

  3. Mike on September 17, 2008 at 12:12 am

    In 2006 the Democrats were given a mandate to end the war and end the war now. While Franken does hold that position he is more consistent to holding Democrat leaderships views on the war then to that of Paul Wellstone.

    Two years ago Democrats ran on the Franken message. They’ve failed to deliver. Franken might be different but I doubt it.

    But bottom line those of us on the far fiscal right can easily support Barkley, but wouldn’t dream of supporting Franken.

  4. Colin on September 17, 2008 at 5:05 pm

    So you’ve traded in Occam’s Razor for a Bic disposable razor, I see. The obvious explanation is that Congress has failed both parties and enjoys a lower rating than Bush.

    Many Republicans are voting against their party this time around because everything is falling apart around them and their party is spending like they’ve lost any notion of “conservative” meaning “to conserve.” Their own party now appears Communist for supporting government ownership of the banking industry. They also despise Democrats because they associate them with massive social spending.

    Fiscal conservatives will ultimately determine the result of this Senate election. Trying to frame the election as who is stealing whose votes implies that our votes weren’t ours, but belonged to parties of spineless spendthrifts to begin with.

  5. Eric Ostermeier on September 17, 2008 at 6:26 pm

    > Trying to frame the election as who is stealing whose votes
    > implies that our votes weren’t ours, but belonged to parties of
    > spineless spendthrifts to begin with.

    That reads as very defensive to my eye. You see, the phrase “stealing votes” does not appear anywhere in this blog. This blog is basically examining the race pre-Barkley and post-Barkley. After Barkley enters the race, the votes either have to come from new voters (which I posit, though question), or from those who were either going to vote for Franken or Coleman.

  6. Colin on September 18, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    I responded to the tone of your articles. Your previous blog on this topic was entitled “Why Dean Barkley Is Hurting Al Franken’s U.S. Senate Chances” and basically claimed that Dean Barkley was taking Al’s positions and voters. I correctly surmised that you’re accusing Barkley of stealing Al’s turf. Here’s what you wrote:

    > The Independence Party and Barkley backers will insist
    > they are not ‘stealing’ votes from anyone, especially
    > Franken. In a democracy, this is, of course, technically
    > true – no vote is ‘owned’ by any candidate or political
    > party. IP supporters will thus likely tout Barkley’s
    > demeanor and credentials (as well as the Gopher
    > State’s independent streak) for any support he receives.

    > This may have been true once upon a time, when
    > Independent Party candidates were more closely aligned
    > with the GOP or had a reputation for being ‘true
    > independents.’

    I would claim that Al’s positions aren’t Al’s positions nor are the DFL’s positions Al’s positions. At one event he talks about getting out of Iraq within 9 months but won’t cut funds, at the next he’s willing to cut funds, and later he wants those troops facing Iran. Try pinning him down on national single payer.

    You can tell that Barkley is, in fact, a moderate who welcomes part of Coleman’s base by his positions on guns, tobacco, and debt spending and his advertisements in ABATE publications.

    While I admit this article is taking an incredulous stare at the fact that your previous article was wrong, I don’t believe that you’ve fully accepted that this is, in fact, a competitive three-way race and that there are substantive issue differences between all three candidates if you can nail those positions down on the same day.

  7. Peter Tharaldson on October 1, 2008 at 11:26 pm

    Federalism, my dear Eric, Federalism…

    Independence candidates have been true to the concept that government works best at the local level. This has not changed from Dean Barkley 2008 to Tammy Lee and John Binkowski in 2006, to Jim Moore in 2002 and Jim Gibson in 2000 (I was Jim Gibson’s policy researcher).

    Democrats are so obsessed with Ralph Nader that they forgot what our impression is on federal races and federal policy. We have only had one presidential candidate and everone of these candidates I named above agreed with him on issue after issue….his name was Ross Perot.

    Truth hurts so here it is. As far as the Governor’s race in 2006 you danced with the devil and picked Mike Hatch. How could you have picked a worse candidate? He stood for practically nothing besides a sound bite, couldn’t even show up to the pride festival (we have libertarian perspectives) and was….mean. Roger Moe (2002) was co-architect of the….budget override (the other guy was Tim Pawlenty).

    Sorry…our policies and ideas, which are more robust and honest that the other two sides, have been remarkably similar across time. At the federal level it was the fiscal responsibility which Ross Perot briefly scared them into.

    Dean is the only candidate that has called for a spending freeze btw.

    Peter Tharladson
    5th CD CHair IPMN (out surfing late tonight while taking a break campaigning)

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