A new poll released by Gravis Marketing last week shows that support for New York gubernatorial candidate Larry Sharpe has more than doubled in recent months to 12.8%. If born out by results at the ballot box, this would be a huge result for the Libertarian, who has been largely ignored by the mainstream media for nearly a year.

If the media are missing the big story in this race, it would hardly be surprising. So far their track record for judging the importance of candidates has has been abysmal. Most notably, the attention devoted to the celebrity-fuelled Cynthia Nixon campaign vastly outweighed its ultimate electoral importance.

Journalistic assumptions may be playing a reverse role with the Sharpe campaign, suppressing his media profile. This could in turn be having an impact on some pollsters, who tend to expect third party campaigns to fade in the final weeks before an election. All of this makes understanding what is really going on a serious challenge.

Is the Larry Sharpe poll surge real? Here is our analysis.

Grassroots support for Larry Sharpe appears to be growing, but by how much?

The Gravis poll, published October 10th, was of 783 likely voters with a 3.5% margin of error. The overall results were:

  1. Mario Cuomo (Democrat) 48.0%
  2. Marc Molinaro (Republican) 24.8%
  3. Larry Sharpe (Libertarian) 12.8%
  4. Stephanie Miner (Serve America Movement) 8.2%
  5. Howie Hawkins (Green) 6.1%

(full results here)

With just three weeks to go until election day, the poll clearly shows that third parties in general, and Larry Sharpe in particular, are having a very good election. Republican Marc Molinaro, always a longshot, may achieve one of the worst electoral results in New York GOP history (which have generally been pretty terrible for decades anyway).

According to the Gravis poll, Larry Sharpe is poised to (at least) make the Libertarians a real force in New York politics for years to come. The Gravis poll is not the only one on the market, however. Confusingly, another recent poll shows has produced a starkly different set of results.

The October 1st Siena poll

On October 1st, the Siena College Research Institute released a poll of the gubernatorial race that showed much more muted support for all third party candidates. Cuomo came top again with 50%, and Molinaro’s result was roughly the same with just 28%. But unlike the Gravis poll, Cynthia Nixon (who was still in the race – barely) was included in this poll and secured 10%. Everyone else was awarded scraps: Sharpe at 2%, and Hawkins and Miner at 1% each.

The results of the two polls are starkly different, but there are reasons for suspecting Siena may have a blind spot when it comes to candidates from outside the two traditional parties.

In an interview with News Growl for a previous article, Siena spokesperson Steven Greenberg made it clear that Siena expects third party support to fade in the later stages of a race and factors this into their polling. They are also happy to use polling questions that do not actually reflect the choices voters will be presented with on the ballot.

Besides an inbuilt bias against third party candidates, another explanation for the discrepancy between the two polls is the different options given. Siena reported 8% of likely voters were undecided, while the Gravis poll did not have an undecided category. This means undecided voters and voters who previously supported Nixon account for 18% of the Siena poll total. Depending on how these votes will ultimately be distributed, the Sienna poll and the Gravis poll may be telling roughly the same story.

The previous Gravis poll

The recent Gravis poll was also different from the Siena poll on two other important respects. One is it was paid for by Larry Sharpe’s campaign – a factor that automatically lessens its legitimacy in the eyes of many. Gravis is a reputable, nonpartisan polling firm, however, and it is named as one of 19 pollsters to pay attention to in 2018 by FiveThirtyEight.com.

Perhaps more importantly, this is the second poll of the race conducted by Gravis. A previous poll released in June allows us to compare how Sharpe’s support has changed when measured using the same methodology. Compare the two snapshots of the electorate, and the news is very good for Sharpe.

The June poll was taken when Nixon was still surging (reflected by a 14.6% result) and mopping up much of the protest vote. It also included an undecided option which took up a further 17.9% of responses. Every candidate in the October Gravis poll has seen an increase in support as the election nears, but Sharpe’s jump is by far the most dramatic.

Sharpe’s current 12.8% standing is more than double (a 232% increase, actually) over the 5.5% he was polling in June. In comparison, Howie Hawkins’s relatively strong campaign for the Greens also saw an increase in support between the two polls, but only from 4.2% to just 6.1%.

Putting aside Shape’s actual level of support, the Gravis poll is strong evidence that whatever support he does enjoy it is growing very quickly. This is backed up by another trend first uncovered in the June Gravis poll which, again, the media missed: the more people who know who Larry Sharpe is the better he performs in polls.

The hardest working man in politics?

The exciting takeaway for Libertarians reading the June Gravis poll was not Sharpe’s actual level of support, but how receptively those participating in the poll reacted to his campaign message.

In June, Gravis also produced a version of the poll that included only voters who knew who Larry Sharpe was, and among this group his support rocketed from 5.5% to 24.1%.

Like most third party candidates, Sharpe’s access to voters is constrained by the lack of name recognition, wall-to-wall television commercials, and free media coverage. But if Larry Sharpe’s level of access is constrained, he certainly does not act like it. His campaign schedule puts the rest of the field to shame (especially the two major party candidates).

In the first two weeks of October he has made over thirty campaign appearances, most broadcast via Facebook Live, receiving roughly 10,000 views each. From delicatessens, to churches, to gun shops, whether upstate or downstate, no gathering of potential voters is too marginal or inconsequential for Shapre and his running mate Andrew Hollister to show up and speak on the issues for an hour to ninety minutes.

The huge upswing in support captured by the October Gravis poll may simply reflect the fact that Sharpe has been putting in long hours meeting as many voters as he can for months and months and months. His message may be bypassing most of the media, but it appears to be reaching the people he speaks to.

Only one poll counts

Whether the Gravis poll or the Siena poll is more accurate, Larry Sharpe’s ultimate success will depend on the results at the ballot box on November 6th.

At the outset of the campaign, most Libertarians would have been happy just reaching the 50,000 vote requirement to get automatic ballot status in New York elections. Now, Sharpe and the Libertarian Party may be on the verge of seriously disrupting New York politics for years to come.

And Larry Sharpe may prove something else that should get the attention of campaign managers everywhere. If Sharpe receives a vote total anywhere near what is reflected in the recent Gravis poll he will prove that grassroots, retail campaigning still plays a vital role in the American political system today.

Just that on its own would be a serious revolution.

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