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October 22, 2006 - October 28, 2006

 

Karl Rove's Math

Topics: 2006 , The 2006 Race

Alert reader GS and AAPOR colleague CP alerted me to an intriguing (and somewhat contentious) NPR interview of chief Republican strategist Karl Rove conducted last Tuesday by correspondent Robert Siegel. Whatever one might think about Rove's spin, his comments remind us that for all the data we have gathered here on Pollster.com, the party strategists have their own flow of data that remains hidden from public view.

According to the transcript, the interview kicks off with Rove, "responding to a question about public polls and analysis predicting a Republican loss in November:"

KARL ROVE: I see several things; first, unlike the general public, I'm allowed to see the polls on the individual races and after all this does come down to individual contests between individual candidates. Second of all, I see the individual spending reports and contribution reports. For example at the end of August in 30 of the most competitive races in the country, the house races, the Republicans had 33 million cash on hand and Democrats had just over 14 million.

Siegel asked next about television advertising and their content. Then he came back to the topic of polls.

SIEGEL: We are in the home stretch though and many would consider you on the optimistic end of realism about...

ROVE: Not that you would be exhibiting a bias or anything like that, you're just making a comment, right?

SIEGEL: I'm looking at all the same polls that you are looking at.

ROVE: No, you are not, no you're not, no you're not, you're not. I'm looking at 68 polls a week [for candidates for the US House and US Senate, and Governor.]** You may be looking at 4 or 5 public polls a week that talk about attitudes nationally but that do not impact the outcome of individual races.

SIEGEL: If you could name races between, certainly Senate races, all...

ROVE: Like the poll today that showing Corker's ahead in Tennessee or the poll showing Allen is pulling away in the Virginia Senate race.

SIEGEL: Leading Webb, in Virginia, yea...

ROVE: Yeah, exactly.

SIEGEL: ...you've seen the DeWine race and the Santorum race and, I don't want to...you call [the] races.

ROVE: I'm looking at all of these Robert and adding them up. I add up to a Republican Senate and Republican House. You may end up with a different math but you are entitled to your math and I'm entitled to THE math.

SIEGEL: I don't know if we're entitled to a different math but your...

ROVE: I said THE math.

Now whatever one thinks of Rove's spin -- and I'm certainly dubious, at least with respect to the House -- he is probably not exaggerating the number of polls he sees a week in statewide and congressional races. The Republican campaign committees are likely conducting weekly tracking polls in at least a dozen competitive Senate races and 30 or more House contests. They have also probably fielded survey less frequently over the last month in another 40 to 50 less competitive House races to check their status. On top of that, many individual campaigns are sharing their own internal tracking polls privately with Rove and their national party.

The Democratic campaigns and the Democratic campaign committees have a similar research programs underway (and interests disclosed: my partners at Bennett, Petts & Blumenthal conduct some of the internal tracking polls for the DCCC and DSCC).

If you wanted to build the a true "dream" polling scorecard for the House, you would combine Rove's spreadsheet with the counterpart maintained by Rahm Emmanuel at the DCCC. The numbers in that combined scorecard spreadsheet would represent the collective efforts of the most pollsters with by far the most experience measuring preferences at the Congressional District level.

We cannot see that data, unfortunately, but we might be able to judge Rove's spin by the number of partisan polls that have been publicly released by the campaigns and party committees. Of the polls in our House database, 43 of the partisan polls released since Labor Day came from Democrats, only 11 from Republicans.

I am not giving away any trade secrets in pointing out that campaigns and party committees release internal polls only when they show good news for their candidates. Bad news rarely sees the light of day. If Rove's internal polls really add up to a "Republican House," it is hard to imagine we would not see more Republican polls showing it.

**I revised the "rush transcript" posted on NPR.org (also characterized as "transcribed excerpts") to include the discussion between Siegel and Rove on the races in Virginia, Tennessee, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The transcript omits that exchange and instead substitutes the phrase in brackets.

Correction: The original version of this post incorrectly reported the number of partisan polls released since Labor Day in our database as 47 from Democrats and 12 from Republicans. Apologies for the error.


The Overlooked Exit Poll Question

Topics: Exit Polls

New Pollster.com readers may not know it, but in the months following the 2004 election I devoted 68 posts and tens of thousands of words to the 2004 exit poll controversy. In about a dozen days, most of us will start thinking about exit polls again (although it looks like we may not have leaked exit polls to obsess about on Election Day this year). For tonight, however, I want to pass along one intriguing new finding buried in the latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll that sheds a little light on one particular aspect of the 2004 controversy.

Nearly everyone now agrees that the final, just-before-poll-closing exit poll results gathered by the news media consortium known as the National Election Pool (NEP) in 2004 showed a small but statistically significant discrepancy with the official results. The national sample showed Kerry ahead 51% to 48%, but Bush won the national popular vote by a 2.5% margin (50.7% for Bush and 48.3% for Kerry). On average, the statewide exit polls showed a similar overstatement.

A few days after the election, the late Warren Mitofsky, director of the 2004 exit polls, appeared on the Lehrer News Hour and offered a theory: "We suspect that the main reason was that the Kerry voters were more anxious to participate in our exit polls than the Bush voters." Three months later, the report issued by Mitofsky and his partner Joe Lenski again argued that the discrepancy occurred because "Kerry voters were more likely to participate in the exit polls than Bush voters." They also offered "hypothetical completion rates of 56% among Kerry voters and 50% among Bush voters" that would have accounted for the entire discrepancy.

Mitofsky's assertion was dismissed by conspiracy theorists that mocked it as "hollow" and "preposterous" and scathingly labeled it the "reluctant Bush responder" hypothesis. They insisted (despite plausible arguments to the contrary) that no evidence existed to support the idea of Democrats responding more readily to exit pollsters than Republicans.

Well, this week, the Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll asked a question that demonstrates Democrats' greater enthusiasm for exit polls:

Every election, the television networks conduct exit polls of people as they leave their polling places on Election Day. If you were asked to participate, how likely is it you would be willing to spend 10 minutes filling out a questionnaire? Scale: Very likely, somewhat likely, not very likely, not likely at all.

More Democrats (72%) than Republicans (66%) said they were likely to fill out an exit poll questionnaire. The gap was far bigger -- and highly statistically significant -- among those who felt strongly (typically a better predictor of actual behavior):  44% of Democrats said they would be "very likely" to participate in an exit poll compared to only 35% of Republicans.

The next question asked respondents whether they think "Democrats or Republicans would be more likely to share how they voted with someone they don't know who is taking a poll." While most voters (59% overall) were either unsure or saw no difference, those with an opinion were more likely to identify Democrats (28%) as more likely to participate than Republicans (13%). Moreover, both Democratic and Republican voters identified Democrats as the group more willing to participate in exit polls.

We'll come back to exit polls in about a week.  Meanwhile, those who want to consider these issues in more detail may want to review a series of posts I did earlier this year (Part I, Part II and especially Part III) in response to a Rolling Stone article by Robert Kennedy, Jr., as well as my exit poll FAQ.


Bafumi, Erikson & Wlezien: Forecasting House Seats from Generic Congressional Polls

Topics: 2006 , The 2006 Race

(Editor's note: Today's Guest Pollster's Corner contribution comes from Professors Joseph Bafumi of Dartmouth College, Robert S. Erikson of Columbia University and Christopher Wlezien of Temple University. The post is based on a larger paper available for download here).

Although the Democrats hold a large advantage in generic ballot polls, there has been considerable uncertainty regarding whether the Democrats would win the most House Seats. Doubts are often expressed about the accuracy of the generic ballot polls. How district lines are drawn raises further doubts about whether the Democrats could win a sufficient majority of the vote to win the most seats. We estimate how the generic ballot "vote" translates into the actual national vote for Congress and ultimately into the partisan division of seats in the House of Representatives. Based on current generic ballot polls, we forecast an expected Democratic gain of 32 seats with Democratic control (a gain of 15 seats or more) a near certainty.

To begin with, we estimate a regression equation predicting the House vote in the 15 most recent midterm elections, 1946-2002, from the average generic poll result during the last 30 days of each campaign. The generic polls turn out to be very good predictors, as we have shown. Based on the current average of the generic polls (57.7% Democratic, 42.3% Republican) the forecast from this equation is a 55% to 45% Democratic advantage in the popular vote (1).

But would this mean that the Democrats also win the most seats? The Democrats winning 55% of the vote would represent a 6.4 percentage point swing from 2004, when they received 48.6%. If Democrats were to win exactly 6.4% more of the 2006 vote in every district than they won in 2004, they would win 228 seats. However, an average swing of 6.4% percentage points will be spread unevenly-sometimes more than 6.4% and sometimes less. Moreover, the prediction that the average vote swing will be 6.4% is itself subject to error.

We take these considerations into account by a set of simulations described in our larger paper. The simulations suggest that a predicted national vote surge of 6.4 percentage points would yield the Democrats 235 seats, for a 32-seat gain. This is 7 seats more than we would get with uniform swing.

A Democratic pickup of 32 seats might seem high to some readers. For a reality check, we compared our district level predictions from our simulations with the results of available district polls. The two sets of numbers match nicely. Our simulations might even underestimate Democratic strength in the sampled districts.

bafumi%20figure-sml.jpg

Of course if the generic ballot numbers shift as the election nears, the forecast should be revised according to the weight of new polling information. Figure 1 shows how the forecasts can shift with possible changes in the generic vote. If current trends in the Congressional generic ballot polling persist, the Democrats are near certain to win control of the House (2). But if the lead dips into the single digits, the Republicans can rekindle their hopes of holding on.

(1) As of October 24, PollingReport.com listed the results of 6 likely-voter generic ballot polls conducted during the final 30 days of the campaign, by CNN (2), ABC/Washington Post, Fox/Opinion Dynamics, Gallup/USA Today and Newsweek. The results for ABC/Washington Post listed on PollingReport.com actually are for registered voters, and we obtained the likely voter results from the news release posted on realclearpolitics.com. (Back to text).

(2) Readers conditioned to the idea that their districting advantage would allow the Republicans to govern with a minority of votes cast might be surprised that the threshold in terms of the national vote at which control is likely to revert to the Democrats is only 51%. The explanation is the partisan asymmetry in 2006 retirements. Among retirees who had faced major-party competition in 2004, 19 were Republicans and only 6 were Democrats. Strategic Republican retirements in anticipation of a Democratic wave would cause an electoral ripple even if the larger wave does not arrive. Our calculations are that if there is no vote swing whatsoever from 2004 to 2006, the Democrats would pick up 5 or more seats just from the greater number of Republican than Democratic retirements. (Back to text).


On Waves and Stability - Part III

Topics: 2006 , The 2006 Race

In Parts I and II of this series, I summarized evidence of a wave of anti-Republican sentiment brewing nationally - in the form of Democratic leads on the "generic ballot" and greater enthusiasm about the election expressed by Democratic voters. Now, to once again borrow the metaphor offered by Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, let us consider the "stability of the system" that this wave will crash against on November 7.

The phrase "stability of the system" refers mostly to the advantages of incumbency. Incumbent members of Congress almost always win re-election. In November 2004, 401 incumbents sought reelection and all but 5 (or 99%) won reelection. That was a very typical result. Generally speaking, the more incumbents seeking reelection, the more stable the system.

One reason is that incumbents are almost always better known and better funded than their challengers. They have gained recognition from past campaigns, appear more often in local news coverage and have typically built up goodwill from years of taxpayer funded newsletters and constituent services. And they usually raise much more money for their campaigns. According to FEC reports (compiled by ThisNation.com), incumbent Congressional candidates had more than four times as much campaign cash at their disposal as challengers in 2004.

The congressional redistricting process is another big factor that has made the system more resistant to "waves" of political discontent, that has created what Bruce Reed recently described in Slate as a "firewall of safe districts that could enable the Republican party to survive what would otherwise be a China-syndrome political meltdown." The redistricting process also helps illustrate the relative instability of the system in 1994, when an anti-Democratic wave helped Republicans gain 54 seats in the House.

The redistricting of 1990 was unusual in that it helped undermine Democratic incumbents in the House. I will let the National Journal's Chuck Todd explain:

Thanks to President George H.W. Bush and the Justice Department, the '91 reapportionment created an opening for the GOP to run the table in the South and defeat a number of longtime white Democratic incumbents. How? By creating a slew of minority-majority congressional districts in places like Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. What the new maps did was pack a number of Democrats into fewer House districts, leaving a ton of 50- to 60-percent GOP presidential performing districts to be represented by Democrats. The '92 campaign cycle should have seen the GOP pick up a lot more of those seats, but they didn't thanks to the lackluster Bush campaign. Once '94 rolled around, these Democrats were still sitting ducks, and the Republicans scooped up easy targets.

The redistricting of 2000 -- and the subsequent efforts by Tom Delay and to redraw the map in Texas -- had the opposite and effect, helping Republicans protect their incumbents. Consider this analysis by the Pew Research Center. Between 1990 and 1992, the number of competitive House seats (defined as those where the winner received less than 55% of the vote) jumped from 57 to 111. There were 98 such seats in the 1994 election when Republicans "ran the table" in 1994. But the combination of the new Republican members steadily building on the advantages of incumbency and the redistricting of 2002 has steady reduced that number from to only 32 competitive seats in 2004.

10-27%20Pew%20Competitive%20Seats.jpg

The greater instability in 1994 compared to 2004 exists in other measures, although the contrast is not quite as stark. An unusually high number of retirements in 1994, helped create 28 open seat contests in Districts represented by Democrats. Without the protection of incumbency, Republicans rode the anti-Democratic wave to win 20 of those seats. This year features 20 open seat contests in 20 districts represented by Republicans, and at the moment the Pollster.com tally suggests Democrats have a decent shot at eleven of those seats. We show Democrats leading by statistically meaningful margins in seven, three are toss-ups and one district (Tom Delay's Texas-22) is widely considered to be leaning Democratic but lacks a public poll.

In 1994, as Chuck Todd points out, Democrats "had a huge freshman class" that was vulnerable to the Republican wave. That year, 13 of the 34 incumbents defeated by Republicans were freshman first elected in 1992. In 2006, according to Todd, "the number of vulnerable GOP freshmen this cycle numbers six (and that's being generous)."

And finally there is the usual money advantage helping incumbents. Consider this October 17 report from The Washington Post:

The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan newsletter about elections, identifies 31 House Republicans in closely contested campaigns. According to their financial reports filed over the weekend, they had a total of $32.7 million in cash on hand as of Sept. 30, compared with $14.5 million for their Democratic challengers.

The National Republican Congressional Committee circulated an internal memo yesterday -- which a Republican gave to The Post -- noting that GOP candidates hold an average cash advantage of $450,000 in 25 of the most competitive districts.

And those statistics do not include the late expenditures by the party campaign committees, such as the $8.4 million dollar advertising expenditure by the NRCC last week. As TPMCafe reported last week, that infusion meant additional large six figure media buys in eight of the districts "GOP strategists are most worried about."

That cash advantage is playing out in campaigns right now, with exchanges of negative advertisements flooding the airwaves in the most competitive districts. Will it help endangered Republicans incumbents hold off the wave of anti-Republican attitudes evident in the national surveys?

The campaign handicappers are uncertain, pointing out Democrats are still positioned to hold their own despite the Republican advantage. Charlie Cook points out in his most recent column that the Republican financial advantage at the national level is "the narrowest it's been in 20 years... The GOP spending advantage is there, but it's nothing like the 50- to 125-percent advantages that we have seen in previous elections." And that Washington Post piece included this observation from, Anthony J. Corrado, a campaign finance expert at Colby College:

What is notable this year, Corrado said, is that Democratic challengers have enough money to stage full-fledged efforts, and that is one reason the election appears to be so close. "Although they haven't matched the incumbents," he said, "challengers are raising the amounts of money that they need to be competitive."

Corrado makes an important point. Consider the Pennsylvania Senate race and the FEC reports on campaign spending as compiled by the National Journal. In the third quarter of this year, Republican Rick Santorum outspent Democratic challenger Bob Casey by nearly two-to-one ($9.6 million to $5.5 million), with most of that cash devoted to television advertising that flooded the states airwaves. Then consider the trend line plotted our Pollster.com Pennsylvania chart. If all that cash had an impact, it is awfully hard to see.

Which brings us back to Mark Mellman's riddle: Which will be more important, the size of the anti-Republican wave or the stability of the structure? The wave is certainly looks as formidable as the one in 1994, and Democrats seem to be holding their own despite the GOP cash advantage. While Democrats may not have as many openings in the House in terms of open and typically competitive seats as Republicans did in 1994, but they do not need as many to recapture the House. Our House scorecard shows Democrats now leading in just enough states to recapture a majority, but also shows 23 seats now held by Republicans still looking like toss-ups. But Mellman riddle remains.  We may not know which way those toss-up seats go until late in the evening on November 7.


On Waves and Stability - Part III


In Parts I and II of this series, I summarized evidence of a wave of anti-Republican sentiment brewing nationally - in the form of Democratic leads on the "generic ballot" and greater enthusiasm about the election expressed by Democratic voters. Now, to once again borrow the metaphor offered by Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, let us consider the "stability of the system" that this wave will crash against on November 7.

The phrase "stability of the system" refers mostly to the advantages of incumbency. Incumbent members of Congress almost always win re-election. In November 2004, 401 incumbents sought reelection and all but 5 (or 99%) won reelection. That was a very typical result. Generally speaking, the more incumbents seeking reelection, the more stable the system.

One reason is that incumbents are almost always better known and better funded than their challengers. They have gained recognition from past campaigns, appear more often in local news coverage and have typically built up goodwill from years of taxpayer funded newsletters and constituent services. And they usually raise much more money for their campaigns. According to FEC reports (compiled by ThisNation.com), incumbent Congressional candidates had more than four times as much campaign cash at their disposal as challengers in 2004.

The congressional redistricting process is another big factor that has made the system more resistant to "waves" of political discontent, that has created what Bruce Reed recently described in Slate as a "firewall of safe districts that could enable the Republican party to survive what would otherwise be a China-syndrome political meltdown." The redistricting process also helps illustrate the relative instability of the system in 1994, when an anti-Democratic wave helped Republicans gain 54 seats in the House.

The redistricting of 1990 was unusual in that it helped undermine Democratic incumbents in the House. I will let the National Journal's Chuck Todd explain:

Thanks to President George H.W. Bush and the Justice Department, the '91 reapportionment created an opening for the GOP to run the table in the South and defeat a number of longtime white Democratic incumbents. How? By creating a slew of minority-majority congressional districts in places like Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. What the new maps did was pack a number of Democrats into fewer House districts, leaving a ton of 50- to 60-percent GOP presidential performing districts to be represented by Democrats. The '92 campaign cycle should have seen the GOP pick up a lot more of those seats, but they didn't thanks to the lackluster Bush campaign. Once '94 rolled around, these Democrats were still sitting ducks, and the Republicans scooped up easy targets.

The redistricting of 2000 -- and the subsequent efforts by Tom Delay and to redraw the map in Texas -- had the opposite and effect, helping Republicans protect their incumbents. Consider this analysis by the Pew Research Center. Between 1990 and 1992, the number of competitive House seats (defined as those where the winner received less than 55% of the vote) jumped from 57 to 111. There were 98 such seats in the 1994 election when Republicans "ran the table" in 1994. But the combination of the new Republican members steadily building on the advantages of incumbency and the redistricting of 2002 has steady reduced that number from to only 32 competitive seats in 2004.

[PEW TABLE]

The greater instability in 1994 compared to 2004 exists in other measures, although the contrast is not quite as stark. An unusually high number of retirements in 1994, helped create 28 open seat contests in Districts represented by Democrats. Without the protection of incumbency, Republicans rode the anti-Democratic wave to win 20 of those seats. This year features 20 open seat contests in 20 districts represented by Republicans, and at the moment the Pollster.com tally suggests Democrats have a decent shot at eleven of those seats. We show Democrats leading by statistically meaningful margins in seven, three are toss-ups and one district (Tom Delay's Texas-22) is widely considered to be leaning Democratic but lacks a public poll.

In 1994, as Chuck Todd points out, Democrats "had a huge freshman class" that was vulnerable to the Republican wave. That year, 13 of the 34 incumbents defeated by Republicans were freshman first elected in 1992. In 2006, according to Todd, "the number of vulnerable GOP freshmen this cycle numbers six (and that's being generous)."

And finally there is the usual money advantage helping incumbents. Consider this October 17 report from The Washington Post:

The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan newsletter about elections, identifies 31 House Republicans in closely contested campaigns. According to their financial reports filed over the weekend, they had a total of $32.7 million in cash on hand as of Sept. 30, compared with $14.5 million for their Democratic challengers.

The National Republican Congressional Committee circulated an internal memo yesterday -- which a Republican gave to The Post -- noting that GOP candidates hold an average cash advantage of $450,000 in 25 of the most competitive districts.

And those statistics do not include the late expenditures by the party campaign committees, such as the $8.4 million dollar advertising expenditure by the NRCC last week. As TPMCafe reported last week, that infusion meant additional large six figure media buys in eight of the districts "GOP strategists are most worried about."

That cash advantage is playing out in campaigns right now, with exchanges of negative advertisements flooding the airwaves in the most competitive districts. Will it help endangered Republicans incumbents hold off the wave of anti-Republican attitudes evident in the national surveys?

The campaign handicappers are uncertain, pointing out Democrats are still positioned to hold their own despite the Republican advantage. Charlie Cook points out in his most recent column that the Republican financial advantage at the national level is "the narrowest it's been in 20 years... The GOP spending advantage is there, but it's nothing like the 50- to 125-percent advantages that we have seen in previous elections." And that Washington Post piece included this observation from, Anthony J. Corrado, a campaign finance expert at Colby College:

What is notable this year, Corrado said, is that Democratic challengers have enough money to stage full-fledged efforts, and that is one reason the election appears to be so close. "Although they haven't matched the incumbents," he said, "challengers are raising the amounts of money that they need to be competitive."

Corrado makes an important point. Consider the Pennsylvania Senate race and the FEC reports on campaign spending as compiled by the National Journal. In the third quarter of this year, Republican Rick Santorum outspent Democratic challenger Bob Casey by nearly two-to-one ($9.6 million to $5.5 million), with most of that cash devoted to television advertising that flooded the states airwaves. Then consider the trend line plotted our Pollster.com Pennsylvania chart. If all that cash had an impact, it is awfully hard to see.

Which brings us back to Mark Mellman's riddle: Which will be more important, the size of the anti-Republican wave or the stability of the structure? The wave is certainly looks as formidable as the one in 1994, and Democrats seem to be holding their own despite the GOP cash advantage. While Democrats may not have as many openings in the House in terms of open and typically competitive seats as Republicans did in 1994, but they do not need as many to recapture the House. Our House scorecard shows Democrats now leading in just enough states to recapture a majority, but also shows 23 seats now held by Republicans still looking like toss-ups. But Mellman riddle remains.  We may not know which way those toss-up seats go until late in the evening on November 7.


New: U.S. House Scorecard & Summary!

Topics: 2006 , Slate Scorecard , The 2006 Race

After a long wait and a lot of hard work by the entire Pollster team, we are proud to unveil our new scorecard for races for the U.S. House of Representatives. We introduce the scorecard showing 219 seats in the Democratic column and 193 in the Republican column, with 23 seats showing neither candidate with a statistically meaningful lead. These numbers and how we got them deserve a bit more explanation, so here goes.

10-26%20small%20map.jpg

There are many different House scorecards available online that use a variety of different methods to try to estimate the outcome of control of the House. Some rely on subjective handicapping of individual races along with polling data, and some projective models use aggregate national data to forecast House seat counts. Our aim here is to simply summarize and aggregate the available District level survey data and let you reach your own conclusions.

Creating some sort of scorecard for the House is a lot more challenging than for races for the Senate and Governor because so few polls are available for House contests. As of today, we have collected public polls for 74 House seats, but that means that we have not been able to locate any public poll data for the remaining 361 contests (if you are aware of any public poll missing from our database, please do not hesitate to email us).

We like to average recent results here on Pollster, and House scorecard is no exception. On Senate and Governor scorecards (as well as the Election Scorecard we help produce for Slate) average the five most recent polls, and most of the closely watched Senate contests now have 5 or more new polls in the last 2 weeks. It is a very different story on the House side. Scroll through the House summary table and you will notice that roughly half of the districts three or fewer polls available for the entire campaign.

So we start by taking all of the available polling data and averaging across the most recent polls. We average the most recent polls available, but never more than the five. The "# in Avg" column in the summary table indicates the number of polls used to calculate the average.

To try to get an overall estimate of who leads in the race to control the House, we started by dividing the 435 seats into three categories.

  • 85 seats considered competitive by the Cook Political Report as of October 20, 2006
  • 184 non-competitive seats held by Democrats
  • 166 non-competitive seats held by Republicans

For the purposes of the overall scoreboard, we have classified the non-competitive seats as "strong" Democrat or Republican based on the party of the incumbent. As of today, we have polls available for just seven of the non-competitive seats, and the results all show the incumbents with large leads. If we locate polling data indicating a real contest shaping up in any of the non-competitive districts, we will code it accordingly for the scoreboard.

We then focus more closely on the 85 competitive seats. Our classification system works the same as for our Senate and Governor scorecards. We rate races as "leaning" to a candidate if their lead is statistically meaningful (at least one standard error). If that lead is strongly significant (at least two standard errors), we rate the race as "strongly" Democrat or Republican.

For the U.S. House, we added a category named "no poll" for the competitive races for which we can find no available public polling data. Because most of these "no-poll" districts are among those considered only marginally competitive, we have classified them by the party of the incumbent member for purposes of the top-line scoreboard.

The color of the district labels on the map update automatically to reflect any changes in status. Dark blue and dark red represent races that we rate "strongly" Democratic or Republican respectively. Lighter shades indicate a lean status. States colored yellow are those we classify as "tossups"- races in which neither candidate shows a significant lead over the last five polls. No-poll competitive races are grey.

We are still at work preparing charts for all of the 74 House races. For now, links on the map or in the summary table will take you to a table in the page below with individual poll data and links to source pages.

Finally, note that you can sort the summary table by any of its data, by clicking on the column heading of the category of interest.

I'll have more posts in the next day or so explaining, as best I can, some of the limitations of this data and what it all means.  Stay tuned. 


On Scorecards and the Series

Topics: 2006 , Slate Scorecard , The 2006 Race

Last night's update of our Slate Election Scorecard feature notes a big change (also reflected on our new Pollster map and scorecard): Republican George Allen's margin over Democratic challenger Jim Webb has narrowed to the point that we now rate Virginia as a toss-up. Thus, for the first time in the campaign, Democrats have an overall lead: 49 seats are currently held by Democrats or at least lean that way, 48 lean or are held by Republicans. To win control of the Senate, Democrats will need to win two of the three toss-up states: Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia.

A few additional notes about the new surveys in Virginia and Missouri:

Virginia shifted to toss-up as a result of a new LA Times-Bloomberg poll that had Webb leading by a statistically insignificant three points (47% to 44%). Since Slate posted our update, SurveyUSA released another poll showing Allen leading by three (49% to 46%). Even though the new poll has Allen slightly ahead, it replaces an outlier Zogby poll from early October that had Allen ahead by 11 (48% to 37%) and will serve to narrow Allen's lead even further on our last-five-poll average. Tomorrow's update will show Allen's margin on our summary table shrinking to only 1.8% (47.6% to 45.8%).

The Slate update also discusses two new polls in Missouri from LA Times/Bloomberg and SurveyUSA that suggest new momentum for Republican Senator Jim Talent in Missouri. Both surveys show Talent ahead by a statistically insignificant three points, but previous surveys had shown Democrat Claire McCaskill ahead by similar margins. The net result on our last-five poll average remains very close race that still easily qualifies as a toss-up.

While the small shift to Talent may well be real, poll consumers ought to keep in mind two words when it comes to surveys conducted in Missouri the week: World Series.

The World Series gives pollsters fits, especially when we have to poll states with a hometown team -- like the St. Louis Cardinals -- playing for all the marbles. The games draw huge audiences in the home markets of the contenders, and no one wants to stop watching the game to complete a telephone survey. As a result, pollsters typically experience lower response rates, particularly among younger men. Complicating all of this even further in Missouri is the high-profile exchange of television advertisements on stem cell research that aired during the World Series gaemes (an ad on behalf of Claire McCaskill featuring Michael J. Fox and a response by the Cardinals' Jeff Suppan and actors Patricia Heaton and Jim Caviezel).

What effect any of this might be having on the Missouri results (or whether it has had any effect at all) is a matter of pure speculation. However, I can tell you that some of the screwiest internal polls I have seen in my career were fielded during past World Series. So perhaps a few more grains of salt than usual are in order this week.


Momentum in the Slate 13

Topics: 2006 , Slate Scorecard , The 2006 Race

Last night's Slate Scorecard update reviewed the relatively recent polls showing new momentum for Iowa gubernatorial candidate Democrat Chet Culver, but I want to take a moment and review two things readers should know about the averages in the Slate Senate Scorecard.

First, readers should know that the averages in our new Pollster.com scorecards and summary tables (Senate and Governor) replicate the averages that we have been providing to Slate but extend them to every race for Senate and Governor. They use the last five polls in a race, but -- unlike the averages that currently appear on our chart pages -- they exclude surveys based on internet panels.

Second, regular readers of the Slate feature should be familiar with the big blue "momentum shift" meter that sits atop the Senate scorecard. It has pointed in the Democratic direction since September 15, meaning that recent trends across all 13 of the competitive Senate have been shifting in a Democratic direction. These averages summarize the results of over 190 polls conducted in those states since the summer. Some readers have wondered about why the meter has been seemingly frozen in place for over a month. Can a momentum "shift" really continue for a full month?

The numbers say it can. As the table below shows, the average Democratic lead across the 13 states we track for Slate has nearly doubled, rising from 1.9% to 3.7% since early September. The net gain is greater if we remove the Connecticut (for which we calculate the average deficit of Democrat Ned Lamont to Sen. Joe Lieberman).

10-24%20slate%2013.jpg

And those gains have been spread out over a large number of races, with net gains in 10 of 13 races. The largest increases on the margin have been in New Jersey (+7.8), Ohio (+5.4) and Tennessee (+5.4).

10-24%20slate%2013%20trend.jpg

The current scoreboard indicates a 49 to 49 tie in the Senate if all trends continue (assuming that Joe Lieberman caucuses with the Democrats), with Missouri and Tennessee still classified as "toss-up" races. When we started tracking for Slate on September 1, Republicans held a 50 to 46 lead. These numbers tell the story of what happened since.


Bush Approval: Four polls, Trend at 36.2%

Topics: George Bush

BushApproval20050620061022small.png

Four more polls in today revise the trend estimate of approval of President Bush to 36.2%. CNN/ORC taken 10/20-22/06 has approval at 39%, disapproval at 58%. ABC/Washington Post, taken 10/19-22/06 has approval at 37%, disapproval at 60%. Newsweek, 10/19-20/06 found approval at 35%, disapproval at 57%. The new Cook/RT Strategies poll, taken 10/19-22/06, got approval at 37%, disapproval at 53%.

The trend estimate is revised up from 35.8% as of polling through 10/15. The trend line (the blue line) remains down because the new data revises the rate of decline, rather than demonstrating (so far) a reversal of the decline. It typically takes 6-12 polls for a change of direction to be clearly revealed by the trend estimate. So far, the data do not hint that a reversal of direction has occurred. For example, the "sensitive" estimator shows a hint of flattening, but no upturn. Since the sensitive estimator is easily fooled, it is too soon to say approval has stabilized. More data this week should help clarify this, however.

The figure below shows the four new polls. All results are reasonably close to the trend estimate. In response to a comment on the earlier item, I reran the analysis of Newsweek's previous poll, which I showed was an outlier, beyond the 90% confidence interval. Repeating that analysis with the new polls included does not change that result. For the time it was conducted, the previous Newsweek poll is still unusually low. Their new poll, in contrast, is well within the 90% CI, as are the vast majority of their polls.

FourPanelApproval20061022small.png

Note: This entry is cross-posted at Political Arithmetik.


Andrew Kohut Interview

Topics: 2006 , Internet Polls , IVR , IVR Polls , Pollsters , Sampling , The 2006 Race

Andrew Kohut is the President of the Pew Research Center and arguably the dean of the survey research profession. President of the Gallup Organization from 1979 to 1989, Kohut recently received the highest honor of the American Association of Public Opinion Research's highest honor, their 2005 Award for Exceptionally Distinguished Achievement. He spoke with Pollster.com's Mark Blumenthal last week about how the Pew Research Centerwill measure voting intentions for the upcoming elections and about the future of survey research.


Topic A - for just about everybody right now - is handicapping the races for control of the House and Senate. I'm sure our readers would be interested in your take. But I think perhaps of even greater interest would be what kinds of surveys and measures you are looking at and will be looking at over the coming weeks?

Well, we're going to do what we traditionally do in off-years and that is measure voting intentions for the House. Generally in off-years the pre-election polls do a pretty good job of estimating the popular vote for the House and we know that has a correspondence to the number of seats that each party has. In 1994 we were very fortunate that The Times Mirror Center, the center that preceded Pew, was among the first to say, "We've got a Republican plurality in the popular vote." We didn't have quite enough of a margin in the poll, even though the poll provided a very accurate estimate of the popular vote to flatly predict that Republicans would take over, but we described it as a high likelihood. We could have the same thing happen in this election. What I'm struggling with is that safe-seat redistricting has made the relationship between the popular vote and seats won by each party less than what it once was. And so we're going to have to try to make our estimates, taking into account the traditional relationship between seats and votes and how that relationship may have changed since the '90s Census was used to redistrict.

Will you be looking at any of the statewide surveys or congressional level surveys that are out in the public?

Well, I look at them just for the sake of trying to understand what else is going on out there, but what I learned from Paul Perry at the Gallup Organization was to not use ad-hoc judgments, but to focus on the survey measures that we use to estimate the size of the vote of the party or a candidate. So in the meantime we're concentrating on whether our turnout scale is working well, how the undecideds are likely to break, what the last minute trends are if any, and how stable are people's choices. Those are the things that are really most important to me. I'm not a handicapper, I'm a measurer. There's a difference.

Actually that's a perfect segue to another question I wanted to ask. Just before the 2004 election, as you well know, your final survey gave George Bush a three-point lead in the popular vote. And you did a projection in which you allocated the remaining six percent that were undecided about evenly and predicted a 51 to 48 Bush win, which turned out to be right on the nose exactly the way the popular vote broke. You wrote in that final report, "Pew's final survey suggests the remaining undecided vote may break only slightly in Kerry's favor." And I think you did a three-to-three allocation or something close to that. And I just wondered what you can tell us about the process you used to reach that conclusion then and what does it say about what you will do in the coming weeks?

Well, we do a couple of things. First, we throw out half of the undecideds because validation surveys show that they vote at very low rates. Then, we look at a regression equation that predicts choices based upon all of the other questions we have in the survey among the decideds and apply that model to the undecideds. We also then look at the way the leaners - that is the people who don't give us a choice initially - are breaking and make the assumption that the leaners are closer to the undecideds than to the people who give us an answer right off the top of their heads when we ask them it first.

I want your readers to know that we ask several questions, the first one is the flat out question where we ask where you lean, and we look at how the leaners break. We take those two estimates in mind and divide the undecideds. They are based upon measures. They're not based upon "you know I think," "I got this feeling," "history tells us," or any of this other stuff where you can let judgments get in your way.

What I learned from Paul Perry - and I keep going back to him because he taught me everything I know about this - is that what you should be prepared to do is to have a way of measuring all of the things that you're interested in covering and be able to look at those measurements in the current election relative to your experience in previous elections. And we try to do that. The one time I didn't do that was in 2002, because I was pre-occupied with other things. On an ad hoc basis, I kicked out one of my traditional questions out of the turn-out scale and it really hurt our projection. It made it too Democratic. I won't do that again. I chalk that mistake up to being pre-occupied with the first Global Survey that we were doing at the same time. In any event having said that, that's my philosophy and that's the way we will pursue it here at the Pew Research Center.

I'd like to take a more forward look at what trends you've seen developing in survey research. If you could try to imagine a world in ten or twenty years, how differently do you think the very best political surveys will be conducted?

I really don't know the answer to that. Hopefully somehow we're going to solve the problem of a sampling frame for online surveys, because I'm a firm believer that unless you have a sampling frame in which you can draw samples of people online, it's hard to do these post-facto weightings of people who opt-in to samples and make that work. I haven't seen it yet to my satisfaction. Obviously means of communication are so much more sophisticated and varied - the old land-line telephone will probably be a relic - so I don't have a good answer for you. I'm confident this is a practice that is pretty nimble and full of people who are survivors and will figure a way to cope with it. What that way is, I'm not sure.

I guess that takes me to one last topic. We've logged in over 1000 statewide polls in our database at Pollster.com, and more than half of the statewide surveys have been either automated recorded voice telephone (IVR) or Internet panel. And of the 200 or so polls that have been released on the House, about half of those have been automated. You spoke about the Internet panel problem and I wonder what sort of reaction you have to the explosion of automated recorded IVR surveys.

Well, I know they did reasonably well in one election. I would have to see them perform over a longer period of time. I'd like to see where they succeed and where they don't succeed. They always remind me a little bit of a New Yorker cartoon of two hounds sitting in front of a computer screen and one turns to the other and says, "On the internet they don't know we're dogs." One of the things that really bothers me about this is that we just don't know who we're talking to. And that goes to the very premise of the practice of sampling: you should know who you're talking to. In any event I will take a wait-and-see - I want to see more evidence before I come to some conclusion about it, other than my true discomfort with completion rates that low and not knowing firmly or clearly who you're dealing with.


On Waves and Stability - Part II

Topics: 2006 , The 2006 Race

My last post looked at evidence of an "anti-Republican wave" in the form of consistent Democratic advantages on the so-called generic House vote. Today I want to consider another indicator of that potential wave, the various measures of an "enthusiasm gap" between Democrats and Republicans. The generic ballot provides a blunt measure of the vote preferences of registered or likely voters, but it tells us about another decision many will make, whether they will vote at all.

Predicting the likely turnout would be helpful, because the last two off-year "wave" elections had higher than average voter turnout. As the table below shows, voter turnout as a percentage of the eligible population was 39.8% in 1982 (when Democrats gained 27 seats) and 38.6% in 1994 (when the Democrats lost 54).

10-23%20turnout.jpg

Most of the analysis I have seen of the 1994 election reached the same conclusion as this report by Curtis Gans of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate:

[In 1994] Republican turnout was up in every region of the country, while Democratic turnout was down in every region of the country except the Middle Atlantic States and the Far West, where the party recorded exceedingly modest gains.

Will turnout work in favor of the Democrats as it did in 1994 and (presumably) in 1982 as well?** The widely reported "enthusiasm gap" detected on many recent national surveys suggests that may be a possibility. As the table below shows, Democrats have been more likely than Republicans to report feeling "more enthusiastic than usual about voting this year." While Republicans had expressed more enthusiasm earlier in the year, the gap has widened significantly (14 to 18 percentage points) in recent weeks.

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An analysis (subscription only) by Gallup's Jeff Jones in April indicated that this pattern is a "departure from recent history" in two ways:

This is the first time in a midterm election year since Gallup began asking the question in 1994 that a significantly higher percentage of Democrats than Republicans claimed to be more enthusiastic about voting.

Additionally, this is only the second time that Gallup has found a higher percentage of Democrats in the "more enthusiastic" than in the "less enthusiastic" column. The other time was at the beginning of this year.

The following table shows the results on these questions among registered voters for Gallup's final pre-election survey in 1994, 1998 and 2002:

10-23%20enthusiasm%2094-02.jpg

Jones questioned the relationship between enthusiasm and turnout with a rather complicated point in his analysis. While demonstrating that the party that gains seats on an off-year election typically has "a better net enthusiasm score than the losing party," Jones argues that an enthusiasm gap "expands the party's strength at the more basic level of party identification, rather than increasing turnout rates among that base." His evidence is that party identification among likely voters in Gallup's final pre-election surveys has been "fairly stable" from 1994 to 2002, "regardless of the party's enthusiasm about the election."

The analysts at the Pew Research Center were less hesitant about the connection between enthusiasm and turnout in reporting on their most recent survey results. Looking at their historical data (in a report well worth reading in full), they suggested the possibility of a "higher than normal" turnout in 2006 given the "record-high levels of Democratic enthusiasm:"

Turnout in the 2006 midterm election may well be higher than normal, given the level of interest expressed by voters. Today, 51% of voters say they have given a lot of thought to this November's election, up from 45% at this point in 2002 and 42% in early October of 1998. Even in 1994 a recent high in midterm election turnout just 44% of voters had thought a lot about the election in early October.

Pew_%20voters%20engaged.gif


So regardless of the underlying mechanism, we have more evidence of the "anti-Republican wave" that Mark Mellman talked about. I have expressed skepticism in the past about the ability of opinion surveys to precisely predict levels of voter turnout, but the data above certainly argue that some sort of Democratic turnout advantage is likely this year. And as with the generic vote, these measures are worth watching closely on the final round of national surveys for signs of any last minute shifts.


Of course, the size of the wave -- as measured by the the generic vote and "enthusiasm gap" -- is just half of the puzzle. As Mellman said, the real question is what happens when this apparent anti-Republican wave crashes against "a very stable political structure." I'll take that up in the next post.

[Continues with Part III]

**I assume that similar analysis exists somewhere in the political science literature for the 1982 elections showing Democratic regions turning out at a higher rate than Republican regions, but I have been unable to locate anything in the public domain online. I did find a 1982 New York Times interview (via Times Select) with Ann Lewis, then political director of the Democratic National Committee, in which she claimed that "voter turnout among Democratic constituencies was high" in that election.  But she did not offer any data at the time to back up the assertion. 


 

MAP - US, AL, AK, AZ, AR, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, HI, ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, LA, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, MS, MO, MT, NE, NV, NH, NJ, NM, NY, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VT, VA, WA, WV, WI, WY, PR