A new poll from Public Policy Polling shows incumbent Democrat Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham with a three-point lead over GOP challenger Mark Ronchetti.
Paid for by New Mexico Political Report, the poll of 642 New Mexican voters gives Grisham a 45-42 edge in the New Mexico governor’s race, well within the 3.9-point margin of error, making the race a statistical tie.
For an incumbent Democrat in a blue state with a $6 million war chest, the poll isn’t good news for Grisham. Even worse, Ronchetti outperformed PPP’s June 2020 poll in the U.S. Senate race between against Ben Ray Lujan, then a six-term Congressman and assistant speaker of the House, by 12 points.
Ronchetti polled at 34% to Lujan’s 48%. Ronchetti lost by 6 points in that race, but he outperformed that poll by nearly 12 points, finishing the race with 45.6% to Lujan’s 51.7%.
Without Trump at the top of the ballot–which motivated Democrats to turn out in near-record numbers–Ronchetti very well may have won that race.
But 2022 is a different animal.
It’s not a presidential election year, for one thing, meaning turnout is unlikely to surpass 50% (favoring Republicans). Secondly, the governor hasn’t polled over 50% approval in any survey conducted this year. And thirdly, the yoke of “mean tweets” has been lifted from down-ticket races.
If Ronchetti outperforms PPP’s 2022 poll by the same 12-point margin he outperformed PPP’s 2020 poll, he will be New Mexico’s next governor.
The Animosity Quotient
What makes 2022 different from 2020 is three-fold: the absence of Donald Trump, a still floundering state economy, and an incumbent with the seventh-worst approval rating among U.S. governors nationwide.
PPP’s 2020 poll put Trump’s approval rating at 37%, and Grisham’s at 52%. In two years, Grisham has fallen four points (conservatively), and Trump is out of office. The “animosity quotient” pushed Democrats to the polls in droves to give Joe Biden an 11-point victory (up from 8 for Hillary Clinton in 2016) in 2020. Trump animosity pushed the state to a 69% turnout, nearly eclipsing the 70% that carried Barack Obama to a 15-point shellacking of John McCain in 2008.
While some Conservatives in New Mexico were critical of Ronchetti’s “insufficiently MAGA” persona in the primary, playing the part of a Conservative everyman proved effective.
New Mexico is a blue state where Democrats benefit from a 13-point voter registration advantage. Ronchetti’s moderate Conservatism carried him to a landslide victory in the June 7 primary, finishing 43 points over his closest challenger, with 58% support overall–in a five-man race, no less.
After COVID lockdowns, rising crime, a last-in-the-nation educational ranking, and consistent first-in-the-nation unemployment, New Mexicans are cooling to the latest iteration of the Lujan dynasty. Except for die-hard liberals, Michelle Lujan Grisham is increasingly difficult to support, and Ronchetti is positioning himself perfectly for a November upset.
Consistent Polling Margins
PPP’s poll was consistent with a May 2022 primary poll by SurveyUSA showing Ronchetti within four points of the incumbent, 43% to 47%. That poll had a 3.6% margin of error, also making the race a statistical tie. Eleven percent were undecided.
PPP Poll Accuracy Questioned
While there’s reason to question the accuracy of the poll based on methods alone (PPP’s text message questionnaires may be more representative than online polling, it is inarguably less accurate than land-line and cell phone polls), PPP’s alleged finding of 9% support for Libertarian candidate Karen Bedonie is cause for pause.
Libertarians are political purists who vote along strict ideological lines knowing not only that their candidate can’t win, but even if doing so means handing a victory to a Democrat than a more ideologically aligned Republican candidate.
Bedonie isn’t a Libertarian.
She’s a Republican who ran as a Republican in the 2020 district 3 House race but couldn’t qualify for the 2022 GOP primary and thus refiled as a Libertarian, which has a significantly lower signature threshold in order to make it on the ballot. Ideological purists cannot be impressed.
With 1.1% of New Mexico voters identifying as Libertarian (as of May 2022), and less than a thousand votes garnered in the June 7 primary, even Libertarians have to wonder how Bedonie is garnering 9% of New Mexican support, as claimed by the PPP poll.
If PPP is accurate, then Bedonie is on track to outperform her primary showing by 6,000 percent in the general election.
PPP has a 79% accuracy rating, according to Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight Pollster Ratings, but its national predictions in 2020 were only slightly more accurate than its New Mexico Senate findings in 2020.
PPP falsely predicted Biden victories in Florida (missing by 10.4%), Iowa (-9.2%), Texas, (-7.6%), and North Carolina (-5.4%). While it did accurately predict Biden victories in Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Georgia, it overestimated Biden’s margin’s by an average of 4.5% in those races.
Polls serve two purposes in politics: measurement and persuasion. Independent polls are more reliable than campaign push polls, but Bedonie’s position and PPP’s 2020 mismeasurements make the PPP poll questionable at best.
It’s only June. There’s a lot of the race left to be run. And if predictions of the impending recession are accurate, if gas prices remain high, and if COVID makes a resurgence that the governor responds to with the same lockdown policies that failed to slow the spread last time, polling data is likely to continue the national trends of swinging toward a Republican wave in November.
PPP’s consistency with other polls on Grisham’s approval rating signals a rough road to re-election for the incumbent. Grisham was polling at nearly 60% in September 2020.
Ronchetti faces the difficult position of appealing to moderates who are fed up with MLG without alienating Conservatives who view him as insufficiently MAGA. Walking that fine line may lie in the traditional door-to-door style campaigning that avoids the fireworks of polarizing statewide TV ads, allowing him to persuade individual moderate Democrats, appeal to Independents, and solidify the Republican base by reminding them that the best odds of ending MLG’s liberal reign in New Mexico is voting for a Conservative who is willing to accept less-than-ideal concessions with the majority Democrat legislature if it means moving the state away from the Woke policies that have left New Mexico at the bottom in virtually every national ranking in general well-being.