November 26, 2006 - December 2, 2006


Daily Roundup 12.01.06

  • A new Gallup World Poll Worldwide Corruption Index surveyed 1,000 adults in 101 nations to rate the perceived amount of widespread corruption in their governments and local businesses.

    UPDATE: Frank Newport discusses the Gallup corruption index at his USAToday Gallup Guru blog.

  • Also from Gallup, Wasmin Vossoughian of Gallup World Poll and Gallup Poll Editor-in-Chief Frank Newport discuss recent public opinion regarding the situation in Iraq. (video)

Mystery Pollster at Harvard

If anyone in the Boston area has some free time this afternoon, I hope you'll drop by a talk I am giving today from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. hosted by the Harvard Program on Survey Research. I've copied the address below, and the Social Science Statistics Blog has more details.

Unfortunately, the travel leaves me with little blog time today (though look for a round-up from Eric and -- possibly -- a Guest Pollster Corner item later in the day). See you Monday!

Harvard University
CGIS N-354
1737 Cambridge St.
Cambridge, MA 02138

Why Polling for the 2008 Presidential Race is Premature

Topics: 2008 , The 2008 Race

(Today's Guest Pollster's Corner contribrution comes from Greg Smith, president of Greg Smith & Associates, which conducted public polls in Idaho in the 2006 races for governor and congress.)

But, what the heck, it's still fun to talk about it! For pollsters, an objective look at a future scenario such as the 2008 U.S. Presidential race is always appealing. Further, the thought of having insight and uncovering variables contributing to the outcome of just such a scenario is downright enthralling! As pollsters, we need to not be overanxious and in too much of a hurry to examine the 2008 election, despite our zeal. For example, the majority of polling at this point seems to be of the "head-to-head" variety" (e.g., "if the election were held today, ....."). Further, and at this point in time, findings are so much a function of such interrelated factors as current levels of name awareness, exposure by the media, etc. We all can cite recent examples tending to say that Republicans favor Senator John McCain of Arizona, whereas Democrats would choose Senator Hillary Clinton of New York.

I'm not saying these polling efforts are a waste of time. Instead, one should take them simply for what they are -- largely reflective of name awareness. Remember, (1) the election itself won't be for 23 more months. Now is the time for campaigns to build effective organizations, raise money, etc. There will be plenty of time to do more meaningful polling. And, (2) we determine our nominees on a state-by-state basis, not in one national vote. So, even in later polling (i.e., mid- to late 2007), we would generally want to talk to voters in Iowa, then New Hampshire, etc.

However, given our overall interest in the subject, we political pollsters enjoy discussing the 2008 Presidential election, the developing attitudes and perceptions of the electorate, and certainly a brief look at potential campaign scenarios:

One scenario suggests that neither McCain nor Clinton will ever again be as popular as they are now. In McCain's case, he talks a good conservative game, but his actions and votes suggest that he is not conservative enough to win the GOP nomination -- certainly a requirement in recent years (or, at least to campaign as if he is a conservative). And, there is nothing to suggest that likely Republican primary voters in 2008 will be any less conservative in 2008. Clinton will be the target of every conceivable Democratic opponent as the front-runner. Her stances on Iraq are not of help: She has certainly flip-flopped on the Iraqi conflict, which will ultimately bring into questions of credibility on other viewpoints and issues, not to mention the fact that those who comprise the Democratic party at the national level are increasingly liberal.

In my opinion, Al Gore is the most likely 2008 Democratic Presidential nominee. He has "been to the mount", has and will have tremendous financial backing, and can make the argument that he won the 2000 Presidential election and we wouldn't be in the national and international messes we are in today had he "been rightfully installed" in 2000. There are no Democratic governors currently on the horizon (with the exception of Tom Vilsack of Iowa, who has virtually no base of support outside of Iowa), although you never know. Witness Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, who both went from single digits early on to become President. And, John Edwards has yet to demonstrate a support base of sufficient magnitude, although this could change quickly, since he represents a fresh face. Barack Obama, the junior senator from Illinois, certainly deserves a mention, although in all likelihood needs a few "gray hairs" (read, more experience and "seasoning") before he deserves serious consideration. Should he decide to run, he will likely not significantly impact the eventual outcome. John Kerry ran a poor 2004 campaign, and continues to commit fax paus after fax paus.

Regarding the 2008 Republican ticket, both McCain and former New York mayor Rudy Guiliani are admirable, although neither sufficiently possess "the right (conservative) stuff" to win the nomination. Then, whom? I personally feel that, at this point, it will be one of three people: Condoleeza Rice, Newt Gingrich, and (most likely) Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. Ms. Rice brings a high level of credibility and intelligence to the race, but we pollsters will both quantitatively and qualitatively detect some degree of anti-black sentiment (unfortunately). Further, her positions on issues are largely still unknown. We pollsters will reveal a perception of Newt Gingrich relating to a high degree of intellect, but his messy marital breakup, assertive personality, and "being yesterday's news" will create some angst among certain elements of the electorate. Gov. Romney is very well positioned as a strong conservative with specific accomplishments, certainly in the area of health care. Further, his background is squeaky clean. Public perception, however, will ultimately reflect hesitation toward (1) his religion, the LDS faith ("What is a Mormon?"), and (2) his relatively late transformation into a "pro-life" advocate. At this point in time, his Mormonism is not yet akin to JFK's Catholicism in 1960.

We pollsters can and will play an important role in revealing voter attitudes and preferences as they arise. We simply need to exercise good judgment, however, so that our work later in the election cycle is not adversely affected.

Greg Smith & Associates is a marketing/public opinion research and consulting firm headquartered in Eagle (Boise), Idaho, with a variety of clients in both the private and public sectors within Idaho, regionally, and nationally. Greg Smith, the president of the firm, is well known within and outside of Idaho for his political survey research, analysis and commentary. Smith received his M.B.A. from Northwestern University.

Daily Roundup 11.30.06

  • According to a recent Harris Interactive online poll, 68% of adults now believe there is a civil war in Iraq while 14% believe the opposite. However, the public remains almost evenly divided between whether it was "a mistake to take military action against Iraq in the first place" (42%) and whether it was "the right thing to do, but things have gotten off course there" (40%).

  • In a recent telephone survey conducted by the Survey Research Center at the University of New Orleans, nearly one-third of those currently residing in the Orleans and Jefferson Parishes are likely to leave within the next two years (via Facing South) . Note: Limitations to this survey include sampling only those with working land-based telephones as well as estimating the actual current population racial distribution.

House Districts vs. Poll Results: Part II

Topics: 2006 , The 2006 Race

On Monday, I looked at how well our averages of polls in U.S. House Districts did in comparison to the unofficial vote counts, and when we averaged the averages, they compared quite well. A related and important question is how well those averages did within individual districts. How often did our House poll averages - sometimes conducted over a span of more than a month - provide a misleading impression of the eventual result on Election Day? In most cases the pre-election averages in House races coincided with the eventual results, but there were a handful of districts where those averages gave a misleading impression of the outcome of the race. The tougher question is whether that misimpression was the fault of the polls or of the combination of their timing and subsequent "campaign dynamics" that changed voter preferences.

That last point is important. Pre-elections polls attempt to be snapshots of voter preferences "if the election were held today." No one should expect a head-to-head vote preference question asked in the first week of October to forecast the outcome of an election held a month later. And as noted here previously, our final averages often included polls stretching back a month or more before Election Day. So consider today's discussion as much about the merits of averaging polls in House races as about the merits of the polls themselves.

Let's start with the averages that we posted on our House map and summary tables. We averaged of the last five polls in each district (including those conducted by partisans and sponsored by the campaigns or political parties). We then classified each race as either a "toss-up" or "lean" or "strong" for a particular candidate based on our assessment of the statistical strength of that candidate's lead.

We were able to find at least one poll in 87 districts, but only 34 with five or more polls. As such, the House race averages often spaned far more time than our statewide poll averages. The final averages were based on just over 304 polls, but 58 of those polls (in 38 districts) were conducted before October. More than a third of the polls used in the averages (124) were conducted before October 15. So it would not be surprising to see averages of these results produce misleading results in any district with a late trend.

In comparing the averages to the results, I see ten districts with "reversals" - districts that we had designated as "leaning" or better to one candidate while a different candidate prevailed. Specifically:

It is worth noting that all but two of these "reversals" were seats we classified as either "lean" Democrat or Republican (a lead beyond one standard error, but not two). That is to say, the lead of the ultimately unsuccessful candidate was relatively small, though obviously not small enough to rate "toss-up" status. The exceptions were New Hampshire-1 and Florida-13, which we had classified as strong Republican and strong Democrat respectively (based on average margins of 11.8% and 7.2% respectively).

Some of these reversals are explicable. For example, all of the public polls released in Ohio-15 and Kansas-2 were conducted prior to October 11, so it is entirely possible that those early surveys were right and that late trends moved the ultimate winner ahead by Election Day. Also, the results for Pennsylvania-4, Arizona-5, New Hampshire-1 all showed trends toward the ultimate winner. The polls in Florida-13 also showed a late trend to the current nominal leader, Republican Buchanan. In Nebraska-3 and Kansas-2, partisan polls with results highly favorable to their sponsors also helped skew the averages in what may have been a misleading direction.

Finally, as many readers know, the results from Florida-13 remain in dispute due to an unusually high rate of "under-votes" in one county that appear to result from a poorly designed layout of the touch-screen electronic voting equipment in that county. A compelling draft analysis by four political scientists (Frisina, Herron, Honaker and Lewis) argues that Democrat Christine Jennings would have prevailed but for the roughly 15,000 votes lost because of the touch-screen equipment.

I had anticipated some of these issues and, in a post just before the election, presented a variety of different "scorecards" based on applying various filters (only late polls, only independent polls, etc). At the time, the various alternative averages made very little bottom-line difference in terms of the number of seats we classified as leaning Democrat or Republican. For the sake of brevity, I will not go through every permutation, but the following table summarizes the number of reversals that would have resulted given various screens we could apply to the averages (that I described in my post on Monday).


Not surprisingly, applying the various filters does reduce the number of "reversal" districts, those where one candidate led in the poll averages but another won. As we throw out early polls or those conducted by partisans, however, a different kind of "miss" increases, those where we miss a switch in party because no polls are available. Our rule on Pollster.com was to assume no change in party for districts with no polls available. However, had we included only independent polls conducted after October 15, we would have made the wrong assumption about four districts previously held by Republicans were Democrats prevailed: Florida-16, Kansas-2, New York-24 and Pennsylvania-7. So remarkably, the rate of "missed" outcomes is roughly the same regardless of the filter applied.

Of course, there are a few districts mentioned above where the reasons for a late "reversal" are not immediately apparent. I'll try to take up some of these, as well as the question of how some of the more prolific pollsters fared in a subsequent post.

Daily Roundup 11.29.06

  • The latest ABC News/Washington Post Consumer Comfort Index continues to rise from -19 in late August to this week's +1, its highest since April 2002. Please note: The ABC/Post Consumer Comfort Index is derived from three questions and a rolling average based on telephone interviews with 1,000 randomly selected adults over the previous four-week period. New results appear each Tuesday evening on both WashingtonPost.com and the ABC News Poll Vault.

  • In international polling news, Likud party leader and former Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu is under investigation for allegedly using Education Ministry funds to pay for public opinion polls conducted on his behalf.

Daily Roundup 11.28.06

  • A new Gallup poll shows that Americans with an opinion hold a two-to-one negative view of Bush political advisor Karl Rove, although more than a third (39%) have no opinion. Frank Newport's analysis notes these measures have shown essentially no change since July.

  • A Rasmussen Reports automated survey tests a nationwide Presidential contest between former Governor Tom Vilsack (D) and Sen. John McCain (R) and Gov. Mitt Romney (R) respectively. With more than 60% of Americans not knowing enough about Vilsack to form an opinion, he trails McCain by more than fifteen points and leads Romney by four.

  • A new telephone poll from Harris Interactive reveals Pres. Bush's approval rating has fallen slightly from 34% to 31% since October. Approval of Democrats in Congress is slightly better at 36% (up from 29% in September) while approval of Republicans in Congress remains at 24%.

House District Polls vs. Results - Part I

Topics: 2006 , The 2006 Race

Continuing with our post-election review of how the polls performed, I want to turn to the polls conducted in individual House races. As I discussed last week, the final results among likely voters for the national generic vote varied with each other beyond sampling error, and the overall average of those results overestimated the support for Democrats. When we look at the polls we tracked on Pollster.com in individual districts, the story is much different. As we should expect, the overall average of polls in individual districts compares remarkably well to the overall average of the actual results.**

To review: On Pollster.com we tried to track and report every poll we could find within individual districts. In the end, we logged over 400 polls in 87 districts. I have obtained unofficial, but mostly complete results in all 87 districts. As should be obvious, these more competitive districts do not have the problem on unreported results in uncontested districts. And while final certified results may change the district level results by a percentage point here or there, any such changes are unlikely to make much difference in the average results across many districts.

The table below compares the overall average poll result to the overall actual result when averaged across all districts for which polls were available. The first line of the table (a) shows the average of the last-five (or fewer) polls still posted on our House summary page in the 87 districts in which at least one poll was available. The next three lines show comparisons for three more averages, (b) only polls released after October 1, (c) only polls released after October 15 and (d) only the final poll for each pollster released after October 15. The next four rows (e through f) show each of these averages but include only independent, non-partisan polls.


Of course, as we start putting restrictions on the types of poll used to calculate averages, the number of districts with available polls declines (something I discussed in reviewing the poll data in October). As such, it was necessary to calculate a different vote count average for each method of averaging. Not surprisingly, the Democratic margin tended to increase (in both the polls and the results) as the number of districts declines. Democrats did better in the most competitive districts. The less competitive districts were more likely to be held by relatively safer Republican incumbents.

Of course, comparing the raw poll results to the actual vote count presents the perennial problem of what to do about undecided voters. So I created the following table, which shows the Democratic percentage of the two-party vote assuming an equal split of the undecided/other vote. A proportional division (D/D+R) increased the error very slightly across all categories but the differences were so slight that I omitted them from the table. .


Contrary to my own expectation, all of the poll averages of the Democratic share of the two-party vote come remarkably close to the overall average result regardless of the averaging method used. The differences between the methods are negligible, although somewhat surprisingly, the most predictive average was based on the last five (or fewer) polls regardless of date, including many polls conducted in September or earlier.

Although the differences are small, throwing out the partisan polls made the overall averages slightly more accurate in terms of predicting the result, although it also meant losing available data for a handful of districts in each case.

Why did the district level polls perform, on average, so much better than the "generic" vote on the national surveys? It is all about what pollsters call "measurement error," something that occurs when the question does not measure the thing we hope to measure.  Polls conducted at the district level ask respondents to choose between the names of the actual candidates. The "generic" national vote asks about generic party labels and assumes the respondents know the names of candidates.  Present the choice as it appears on the ballot, and the poll gets more accurate.   

Of course, the tables above just show how well the House race poll data worked on average. How well did these polls perform in individual districts? And how did some of the more prolific House race pollsters compare to each other in terms of poll accuracy? I will take those questions up in subsequent posts.

**PS: And I have to note that Pollster reader Mark Lindeman beat me to this observation in a comment over the weekend.

Daily Roundup 11.27.06

  • Quinnipiac is out with a new national survey (via Political Wire) that includes "thermometer" ratings of 20 different national figures and potential presidential candidates.  Since September, Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi has improved her ranking while Sen. Harry Reid remains at the colder end of the scale just above Sen. John Kerry's dead last ranking. Former NYC Mayor Rudoph Guiliani remains at the top of the list with a 5.4 degree lead over Sen. Barack Obama.

  • A recent Rasmussen Reports automated national survey asks Americans which party they trust more on five top domestic issues. Democrats hold commanding leads in health care, Social Security, and education. Republicans trail within the margin of error on taxes and abortion.