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New Nevada polls have conflicting results for presidential, Senate races

Nevada polls released Tuesday show very different results in the presidential and U.S. Senate races, which most analysts believe could come down to the wire on Nov. 6 in the battleground state.

In one GOP-leaning poll commissioned by the Nevada Retail Association, Republican U.S. Sen. Dean Heller leads Democratic challenger U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, 44 percent to 39 percent, and President Barack Obama and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney are tied at 46-46.

In a separate auto-dial survey by the Democratic-leaning group, Public Policy Polling, Berkley is leading Heller, 48 percent to 44 percent, and Obama has expanded his lead over Romney, 52 percent to 43 percent.

Yet a third new presidential poll in Nevada by the American Research Group, Inc., put Obama in front of Romney, 51 percent to 44 percent, in the state three weeks before early voting starts Oct. 20.

Most recent polls have shown Obama edging Romney here by a few points and Heller opening a small lead over Berkley, including a SurveyUSA poll commissioned by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The Nevada Retail Association survey questioned likely voters on cellphones and land lines, making the results more reliable than the automated Public Policy Polling survey on land lines only. The retail poll was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, a GOP-leaning group. The Democratic survey also over-sampled women, 55 percent to 45 percent men, which could skew the results toward Berkley and Obama.

Otherwise, the two Senate surveys interviewed the same percentage of Hispanics, 14 percent, and about the same breakdown of Democrats, Republicans and nonpartisan voters that roughly matched voter registration in the state.

Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling said Democrats could still be enjoying a post-convention bump in the polls, but even he said he can’t account for the large differences in the surveys.

“I think it’s quite likely the reality probably lies somewhere in between, which would be a modest lead for Obama and tied in the Senate race,” Jensen said in a phone interview. “This is probably one of those cases where you can’t really say one of those polls is right and one of those is wrong.”

David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said the retail association poll seems closer to the mark, although conducting surveys in the state is notoriously difficult.

The population is highly transient with people moving in and out and around Nevada, he said.

Also, the growing Hispanic community, which makes up 26 percent of residents, is hard to survey. That is especially the case if the pollster doesn’t use cellphones and a Spanish-speaking interviewer to give a more accurate result.

“I think this just shows how tough it is to poll here,” Damore said. “I think Obama is probably up four points or so; otherwise he wouldn’t be coming here again on Sunday. And Heller’s probably up within the margin” of error over Berkley, meaning both contests are likely still in near dead-heat territory.

In the retail association poll, only
4 percent said they were undecided. But “none of the above” won 9 percent, suggesting those voters are unhappy with their choices. Previous polls by the group last year and in February didn’t include the “none” category, and the undecided voters were at 9 percent and 8 percent.

The Public Policy Polling survey reported 8 percent as undecided in the Senate race and didn’t include “none.”

The Nevada retail association poll of 500 likely voters was conducted Sept. 19-20. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points. Those surveyed included 41 percent Democrats, 36 percent Republicans and 22 percent nonpartisans.

Democrats said that Romney’s pollster, Neil Newhouse, is one of the partners and co-founders of Public Opinion Strategies.

The PPP survey of 501 likely voters was taken Sept. 18-20. It had a margin of error of plus or minus about 4 percentage points. It surveyed 42 percent Democrats, 38 percent Republicans and 20 percent nonpartisan. It was commissioned by the League of Conservation Voters.

The American Research Group, Inc., survey questioned 600 likely voters Sept 20-23 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Contact Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919. Follow @lmyerslvrj on Twitter.

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