Times Poll Gives Zeldin an 8-Point Lead

Gershon, undeterred, cites a ‘Kavanaugh blip’

Weeks before the Nov. 6 election, Representative Lee Zeldin holds an eight-point lead over his challenger, Perry Gershon of East Hampton, in the race to represent New York’s First Congressional District, according to a New York Times Upshot/Siena College poll released last week. 

The poll, however, is based on just 502 respondents of 27,178 calls made, according to the Times website. “Each candidate’s total could easily be five points different if we polled everyone in the district,” says the site, which shows Mr. Zeldin, a Republican seeking a third term, leading 49 to 41 percent, with 10 percent either undecided or refusing to answer. “And having a small sample is only one possible source of error.”

According to the poll, conducted from Oct. 4 to Oct. 8, Mr. Gershon suffered from a lack of name recognition just a month before Election Day. While 29 percent of respondents view him favorably against 27 percent unfavorable, 44 percent responded “don’t know.” 

Mr. Zeldin, a former state senator who unseated Representative Tim Bishop in 2014, was seen favorably by 48 percent, versus 35 percent unfavorable. Seventeen percent responded “don’t know.” 

Barack Obama narrowly won New York’s First Congressional District in 2008 and 2012, but Donald Trump won the district by 12 points in 2016. That year, Mr. Zeldin easily prevailed against a challenge by former Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, winning by 16.4 percentage points. 

“The recent poll commissioned by The New York Times and conducted by Siena College reflects the continued widespread support our congressman, Lee Zeldin, has in every corner of this district, because of his proven record of securing wins for the community he grew up in,” Chris Boyle, the Zeldin for Congress communications director, said in an email yesterday. “This is also the result of hundreds of volunteers and supporters on the ground walking door to door, making phone calls, and requesting lawn signs to help get the message out.” Mr. Boyle said that Mr. Zeldin and his supporters would nonetheless “take absolutely nothing for granted these final weeks” before the election. 

Mr. Gershon said yesterday that he does not believe the Times-Siena poll accurately reflects the race. Subsequent polling by his campaign has him trailing by less than four percentage points, he said. “What I think the Times poll shows more than anything else is there was a ‘Kavanaugh blip,’ ” he said, referring to rising poll numbers for Republicans following the fraught hearing and investigation into the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court. “I’m not concerned with it.”

Democratic voters do appear far more motivated this year than in 2016. Turnout in the June 26 primary election, in which Mr. Gershon bested four other Democratic hopefuls, was significantly higher than in 2016. According to the Suffolk County Board of Elections, 22,240 Democratic votes were cast in June, versus 12,641 cast in the 2016 Democratic primary. 

The website FiveThirtyEight gives Mr. Zeldin a 6-in-7 chance of winning, predicting a 52-to-45-percent margin of victory. Its model forecasts a 49.3 percent turnout in the district. “NY-1 is 10.4 points more Republican than the nation overall,” the site says, basing its assertion on how the district has voted in recent presidential and state legislative elections. 

The Cook Political Report and the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics also project Mr. Zeldin’s re-election. However, “The margin of sampling error on the overall lead is nine points, roughly twice as large as the margin for a single candidate’s vote share,” The Times’s website states. 

The pollsters note that results are necessarily inexact. “Even if we got turnout exactly right, the margin of error wouldn’t capture all of the error in a poll,” the authors write. “The simplest version assumes we have a perfect random sample of the voting population. We do not. People who respond to surveys are almost always too old, too white, too educated, and too politically engaged to accurately represent everyone.” 

Respondents, for example, skewed older: just 9 percent were ages 18 to 29. Sixty-one percent fell into the 30-64 demographic, and 30 percent were 65 and older. More than six times as many respondents identified themselves as white versus nonwhite. Pollsters compensated by giving more weight to respondents from underrepresented groups, according to The Times’s website. 

Among respondents who were undecided or refused to answer, “These voters most closely resembled Democrats,” the site says, based on answers to questions about issues.

President Trump won 51 percent approval in the Times-Siena poll versus 43 percent disapproval among respondents. Forty-nine percent prefer that Republicans maintain control of the House of Representatives, against 43 percent preferring a Democratic majority. Fifty-three percent supported Mr. Kavanaugh’s nomination, versus 41 percent opposed. Forty-one percent did not believe the allegations of sexual assault made against him, versus 31 percent who did and 27 percent who said they did not know.

Forty-six percent of respondents said they would prefer their representative support President Trump and his agenda, with 47 percent saying that he or she should serve as a check. Mr. Gershon has echoed the latter sentiment, saying that a Democratic-majority House is important for that reason.

Mr. Gershon disputed the Times-Siena poll’s assertion of 51 percent approval for President Trump. “All our data says Trump is under water in Suffolk County,” he said. “The Times poll had Trump a couple points above water, which tells me that either people’s opinion changed radically in a couple of days, which I find very hard to believe, or the poll picked up an outlier, maybe because of the Kavanaugh effect.”