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Tennessee Governor Race

2018 Midterms: Reviewing How We Did And One Big Headscratcher…

Before last week’s midterms, we released four public polls covering key races in Tennessee and Florida.

Overall, the accuracy of our polls was quite good.

In Florida, we were one of the few polling organizations to accurately predict narrow one-point wins by former Governor Rick Scott over incumbent Bill Nelson in the senate race and Congressman Ron DeSantis over former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in the race for governor.

Since it’s Florida, we will not know the final vote tally for at least another week while recounts, competing lawsuits, and numerous court decisions decide the final outcome. Regardless, we nailed the election night totals.

Florida Post Mortem.png

In Tennessee, we correctly forecasted an easy win for Republican Businessman Bill Lee over former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean in the governor’s race. Lee won by a surprising 21 points. The RealClear Politics average predicted a 14-point win and our polling showed a nine-point win.

In looking at the polling of the race, it appears most of the undecided voters ended up voting for the Republican candidate, Bill Lee.

TN Gov Post Mortem.png

The real headscratcher for us was the Tennessee Senate race. Our polling, along with a nearly concurrent poll conducted by East Tennessee State University, indicated a very close race.

Our polling showed former Democratic Governor and Mayor of Nashville, Phil Bredesen tied with Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn at 47% of the vote with 6% of likely voters undecided.

TN Senate Post Mortem.png

Election night, Blackburn won the race easily by 11 points. (55% to 44%)

So what happened? It appears undecided voters broke en masse to the Republican candidate (Blackburn) just as they did in the Tennessee Governor’s race.

We compared our polling by region versus the preliminary vote totals by region. As you can see below, our margins are close to the actual vote in East and West Tennessee.

Targoz Post Mortem Polling Estimates.png
TN Actual Vote By Region.png

So what happened in Middle Tennessee? We had Bredesen up 8 points in Middle Tennessee, but Blackburn won her home region by 6 points. Before serving as governor, Bredesen served two terms as Mayor of Nashville so it was expected that he would do quite well in the region, which also trends Democrat. Blackburn has lived and represented Williamson County (which is just south of Nashville) for many years. However, these results were still a surprise.

We took at a look at the turnout for the state and Metro Nashville Davidson County and Shelby County (Memphis). Statewide, it appears turnout was up 55% over the 2014 midterm elections. In Shelby County, turnout was only up 47% from 2014 and in Metro Nashville Davidson County just 50%.

TN Post Mortem Turnout.png

At first glance, it appears turnout in Davidson and Shelby, both Democrat strongholds, was a bit lower than expected and lagged the increases we saw across the rest of the state. It will be a few more days until we get precinct level data, but it looks like turnout in Shelby and Davidson should have been higher which would have it made it a closer race.

It should also be noted that strong storms roared across the state and the Middle Tennessee area the evening before and during the early morning of election day. Amid power outages and at least one reported death as a result of the storm, turnout could have been negatively affected by the bad weather.

There is one other thing to note about these results.

After the 2016 election, some pollsters and analysts suggested Trump’s surprising win was the result of “shy” Trump voters who were fearful of publicly identifying as a Trump supporter in polls and surveys. I should note, we were not surprised by the win. Our online polling indicated a close race and Trump win in 2016.

Regardless, many pollsters chalked up their misses in 2016 to quiet Trump supporters, and to not including enough working class/blue-collar voters in their polls. To combat this in 2018, most pollsters made changes to their methodologies to ensure voters from all educational backgrounds were included in their surveys, and the results of 2018 shows some improvement.

However, the Tennessee results where it appears undecided voters in both races broke heavily for the Republican candidate is very concerning to me. If we accept the shy voter theory, measuring public opinion in the increasingly uncivil environment we face today will become even more challenging. It’s certainly something we will be investigating over the next few months as more data from this election is released.

Hopefully, we can gain some clarity on these issues before the 2020 elections.

Tennessee Poll: The Race for Senate is Too Close to Call

Like much of the nation, turnout for the midterm election in Tennessee is setting new records. Interest and participation in this election is extremely high compared to recent history.

In the race for Senate, Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn and Democratic former Gov. Phil Bredesen are tied (48% to 48%) among likely and early voters. When undecided likely voters are pressed to make a choice (Leaners), both remain tied (49% to 49%).

In the race for Governor, Republican businessman Bill Lee holds a commanding 9-point lead (52% to 43%) over the Former Democratic Mayor of Nashville Karl Dean. When undecided likely voters are pressed to make a choice (Leaners), Lee’s lead remains at 9 points (53% to 44%).

Among early voters, Blackburn holds a 2-point lead over Bredesen and Lee holds a 6-point lead over Dean.

Election day turnout will play a significant role in the selection of Tennessee’s next Senator.

In the Governor’s race, it appears roughly 4% to 5% of likely voters are crossing over from Lee and voting for the relatively conservative Democrat Phil Bredesen who served two terms as Governor in the Senate race.

As mentioned earlier, the state of Tennessee is on pace to set a record for the highest voter turnout in a midterm election. If turnout mirrors the 2016 election for President, Blackburn could achieve a narrow win. Among voters who voted in 2016 and have or plan to vote in 2018, Blackburn leads by 4 points, and Lee leads by a commanding 15 points.

TN Senate Ballot 2016.png
TN Governor Ballot 2016.png

Most public polls show Blackburn and Lee with commanding leads. Based on the results of this poll, it’s possible we will be up late Tuesday night to learn who will represent Tennessee in the Senate next year. Concession speeches in the Governor’s race could occur very early next Tuesday evening.


This online poll was conducted with 802 registered voters from October 28-31, 2018 by Targoz Market Research. Respondents were selected from ProdegeMR’s online panel respondents who were matched to voter records from 2016 and 2012. Of the 802 registered voters in the sample, 480 were identified as likely voters including 228 who said they have already voted.

The results reflect a representative sample of registered voters. Results were weighted for age, gender, region, race/ethnicity, income, and political party. Additional behavioral weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

[The poll was conducted by Targoz Market Research of Nashville, TN and was not commissioned or paid for by any candidate or political organization.] RandyEllison@targoz.com; RandyEllison@Twitter


Ballot Results: Tennessee Senator

QUESTION: If the Tennessee election for U.S. Senator were held today, would you vote for: (ROTATE)

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Ballot Results: Tennessee Governor

QUESTION: If the Tennessee election for Governor were held today, would you vote for: (ROTATE)

TN Governor Ballot 2018.png