December 3, 2006 - December 9, 2006
Yes, it has been a full month since Election Day, so this news is probably a bit overdue, but your Pollster.com team is now fully rested and recovered and beginning the process of updating the site for 2007 and beyond. Our first step is to add a set of regularly updating charts of the job approval rating of President George W. Bush that now reside in our Polls area.
The main chart plots the Bush approval percentage for every national poll conducted since 2005 (the gray dots), and includes a blue "local regression" trend line that provides the estimated overall approval rating for the President at each point in time. The title will always include the most recent estimate of Bush's approval rating. On the current chart (based on polls released through 11/21/2006 -- we should have an update later today based on three new surveys released this week).
Our new presidential job approval page also includes a chart for each of 19 pollsters that regularly release national surveys that include the Bush rating. The pollster specific charts also include a red trend line that connects the dots for the individual pollster. Keep in mind that the size of the don't know category is a big source of "house effect" variation among pollsters. Those that typically report a higher don't know percentage will also typically report a slightly lower approval rating.
Obvious omissions, for the moment, are the two national surveys conducted using the automated "interactive voice response" (IVR) methodology by Rasmussen Reports and SurveyUSA. Look for charts featuring those surveys, as well as more data on the "house effects" issue, in subsequent posts and updates.
We will be working in the New Year to introduce pages that track a wide variety of different poll results, so stay tuned...
- In an AP/Ipsos telephone survey released this morning, 71% of Americans disapprove of President Bush's handling of Iraq. 71% also support a two-year timetable for troop withdrawal.
- Sen. Hillary Clinton "soundly outperforms" Barack Obama in the Democratic primary, according to a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics telephone survey released yesterday evening (story, results). Though when tested against potential Republican nominees John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, Clinton trails by eight and
ten points respectively.
I wrote earlier this week about an open-ended presidential preference question from Gallup. In another free-for-today-only analysis, Gallup's Lydia Saad provides results from a different set of open-ends -- questions that provide no answer categories and allow respondents to answer in their own words -- on the four best known Democrats mentioned as potential candidates. The results show that a majority of Democrats have good things to say about Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama, fewer are positive about Al Gore and nearly half of Democrats react negatively to John Kerry.
Gallup used their national panel survey to ask a simple question about each of the four: "What comes to your mind when you think about [name]?" The Gallup interviewers wrote down the verbatim responses, and then the Gallup analysts "coded" those responses, assigning each to a category (such as "experienced," "strong," "like him/her," etc.). They then classified each of the categories as positive, negative or other. The report provides results to those classifications, both among the 1,003 adults and among an unspecified subgroup of those who think of themselves as Democrats (presumably about 350 interviews). The results among Democrats are as follows:
This quick post does no justice to the level of detail available in the full analysis, but some of the most obvious findings:
- Comments about Hilary Clinton are net negative among all adults (37% to 50%) but nearly two-to-one positive among Democrats (56% to 31%).
- The positive comments about Clinton among Democrats are mostly about her leadership credentials (qualified, experienced), strength and intelligence.
- The independents and Republicans that dislike Clinton are apt to say they dislike her personally, Democrats are more likely to worry that she is not electable (5%) or that she is "riding Bill's coattails" (10%).
- When asked about Barack Obama, more than a third of Americans (38%) and more than a quarter of Democrats (28%) are unable to offer anything specific that comes to mind.
- Comments about John Kerry are overwhelmingly negative. Even among Democrats, 49% offer negative comments compared to only 28% that have something positive to say.
Of course, the sample of Democrats is relatively small and represents, at best, all Democratic identifiers nationally -- not likely Democratic primary voters and certainly not likely voters or caucus participants in early states like Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada or South Carolina.
It is also worth noting that these results are from a Gallup "panel" survey. The methodology blurb at the end of the analysis tells us that "respondents were randomly drawn from Gallup's nationally representative household panel, which was originally recruited through random selection methods." Generally speaking, a panel is a pool of respondents who agree to regularly participate in opinion surveys. When Gallup says their panel is "nationally representative," it presumably means that panel members were recruited using a conventional telephone survey and a random-digit-dial (RDD) sample.
What we do not know (unless Gallup has posted a more detailed description of their methodology elsewhere that I have overlooked) is the size of the panel, the typical response rate, how Gallup weights or statistically adjusts the results and how often panel members agree to be interviewed. The two key issues with any panel survey -- even in we assume that the pool of potential respondents is a representative random sample -- are (1) whether a willingness to be interviewed more than once allows an additional bias to creep into the sample and (2) whether the experience of being interviewed changes the respondent. On the last point, assume that respondents complete a Gallup survey on issues in the news. Do those individuals subsequently pay more attention to issues in the news and become better informed?
I raise all of this, in part, because National Journal's Hotline yesterday reported that party identification for this Gallup panel survey is 35% Democratic, 36% Republican and 29% independent or other. The Republican percentage (36%) is considerably higher than on recent national Gallup surveys. Party identification among all adults has averaged 35% Democrat, 28% Republican on Gallup's last five national surveys conducted in October and November, and 35% Democrat, 30% Republican on all surveys conducted since July.
Of course, as discussed often both here and on Mystery Pollster, Gallup does not weight by party, so random variation in the results for party ID is to be expected. Still with a panel based sample, it is a good idea to keep an eye on this sort of variation.
- According to a recent ABC News/BBC News face-to-face survey (ABC story, BBC story, full results), five years after the fall of the Taliban, "public optimism has declined sharply across Afghanistan." 57% (41% in 2005) call Taliban the "single greatest danger to their country," and 55% (65% in 2005) say U.S. forces should remain until security has been achieved.
- The latest batch of Rasmussen Reports automated surveys reveal: 64% of Americans favor removing "almost all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by early 2008," 68% believe securing American borders is more important than legalizing undocumented workers, John Kerry trails either John McCain or Rudy Giuliani by more than 10 points in two hypothetical Presidential contests, 38% of Americans say America's Best Days are in the still ahead, and 42% have an unfavorable opinion of Michael Richards (Seinfeld's Kramer).
- In the TX-23 runoff election (12/12/06), a recent SurveyUSA automated survey shows Rep. Henry Bonilla (R) leading challenger Ciro Rodriguez (D) by seven points. SurveyUSA notes: "If Hispanics, who are 55% of the population in TX 23, make up more than 36% of those who vote in the Runoff, the contest will be closer than SurveyUSA's numbers here show."
- A new Rasmussem Reports automated survey testing hypothetical 2008 Presidential contests shows Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R-NY) leading Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) by four and five points respectively.
- Harris tells us their latest online survey on the situation in Iraq "makes for depressing reading." Nearly two thirds (63%) are not confident U.S. policy in Iraq will be successful, while only nine percent of adults think the situation for U.S. Troops in Iraq is getting better, a drop from 17 percent since September.
- In the latest Gallup Poll based on face-to-face interviews, 40% of all Lebanese hold Israel primarily responsible for its conflict with Hezbollah last summer. 24% hold the United States responsible, 18% hold Hezbollah responsible.
- The post election issue of the Democratic Strategist is now online. It includes contributions from Democratic pollsters Stan Greenberg, Andrew Claster, Celinda Lake, Daniel Gotoff, Jeremy Rosner and Thomas Riehle.
And speaking of why it may be premature to make much of 2008 general election match-up questions, the Gallup Poll has results out from a new survey that provides yet another way to ask about presidential preference: an open-ended question. The result? For now, at least, "many Americans cannot spontaneously think of the name of a person they would like to see elected president in 2008."
Let's let Gallup's Frank Newport explain:
The traditional way of measuring a candidate's standing a year or more before an election is to read a list of names and ask Americans which person they would support if they had to vote for one. Another measurement technique involves asking Americans to react to each of a list of names, indicating if they have ever heard of the person, and if so, whether their opinion of that person is favorable or unfavorable.
The Nov. 27-29, 2006 Gallup Poll Panel study approached the issue of the 2008 presidential race in a somewhat different way. The poll asked the representative sample of Americans to respond to this question: "Thinking ahead to the election for president in 2008, who would you most like to see elected president?"
More than a third (38%) could not name a candidate. Another 5% could only narrow it down to "a Republican" or "a Democrat."
Newport is right to conclude that while not surprising, this result "underscores the certainty of change as various politicians announce their candidacies and jockey for position in the months ahead."
His analysis --free to non-subscribers for today only -- also includes results from a different set of questions that presented a list of potential candidates and asked whether each should or should not run for president. Read it all, while you can.
Pollster.com reader SH wrote to ask what I think about the "SurveyUSA match ups on the front page of their website?" SH points out that,
McCain and Giuliani are both unbeatable in the Electoral College. They show Giuliani beating Clinton by 170 electoral votes, for example. I'm just curious if you could speak to the veracity of their numbers and methodology.
For those who haven't clicked the advertisement that has appeared occasionally at the top of the Pollster.com page (and thank you, if you have), the automated pollster SurveyUSA has recently replaced their front page with a promotion for subscription-only access to a series of head-to-head general election presidential match-ups. Their site claims to offer tests of 60 different match-ups, each with results in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia.
The list of match-ups includes the obvious potential candidates, the long-shots and some that range from fanciful to purely hypothetical (including Oprah Winfrey, Bill O'Reilly, Ronald Reagan and Franklin D. Roosevelt). Non-subscribers can pick one match-up and see the map color to show the Electoral College winner (presumably the nominal leader is the presumed "winner" regardless of sampling error). Access to actual data and cross-tabs requires a paid subscription.
Dig a little deeper on the SurveyUSA site and you will find their rationale for this ongoing 50-state project:
For the past 70 years, public opinion researchers in America, trying to figure out who will be the next president, have conducted polls of "Americans," and asked them if they would vote for Candidate A or Candidate B. The pollsters then report the results of these nationwide polls and tell America what America thinks.
But ... there's a problem with this.
America does not have national elections. Presidential elections are won state-by-state. And the only votes that matter, in a presidential election, are Electoral Votes.
True enough, but with the election still nearly two years away, do all those match-ups really allow us to "handicap the 2008 field with breathtaking, and sometimes unexpected, clarity," at "a level of precision never before contemplated," as the SurveyUSA site claims? Put me down as skeptical.
Now don't get me wrong. The simultaneous 50-state surveys that SurveyUSA has conducted since May 2005 have made a unique and valuable contribution to our ability to follow the job-approval ratings of President Bush and the governors and Senators of all 50 states. Those surveys deserve many of the adjectives used in the prior paragraph. And as the presidential nomination process gets underway in earnest and the public begins to learn more about the likely nominees, a small subset of these 50-state presidential pairings will get progressively more useful.
But right now? Most of the real potential candidates currently register somewhere between vaguely familiar and totally unknown to most Americans. When asked to choose between a candidate they know and a candidate they have never heard of, a plurality will usually choose the name they know. The hardest of hard core partisans will choose on the basis of party affiliation, while those who want to know more will opt -- appropriately -- for the "undecided" response. So at the moment, most of the head-to-head match-ups reflect the state's partisanship combined with each candidate's current the level of recognition.
A favorable rating (or something comparable) provides a more useful measure, for the moment, in probing more directly about the level of awareness and popularity of each potential candidate. And even then we need to be aware that those ratings are virtually certain to change for the likely nominee, as well as for those that become active candidates.
Consider, for example, the ratings of John Kerry as measured by the Gallup Organization on adult samples prior to the 2004 campaign. At this time in 2002, Kerry received a rating of 31% favorable, 13% unfavorable, while more than half (57%) had either never heard of Kerry or could offer no opinion. A little over a year later, just before the Iowa Caucuses in January 2003, Kerry's national favorable rating remained the same (31%) but his unfavorable rating had grown to 32%. Even then, more than a third of Americans (37%) could not rate him. After the New Hampshire primary, his favorable rating shot up to its peak of 60%, and while most Americans could rate him, roughly one in ten (12%) could not.
By the time the party conventions were complete, all but roughly 4% of Americans could rate Kerry. His favorable and unfavorable ratings varied only slightly (from 50% to 52% favorable, 43% to 44% unfavorable) on Gallup's surveys of adults conducted in September and October 2004.
The point is that two years out, most Americans had little awareness of John Kerry, while virtually all knew him by the fall of 2004. So theoretical match-ups between Kerry and George Bush tested at this time in 2002 would have been of little value in handicapping the race to come.
What about the potential candidates that are already better known, such as Hillary Clinton, John McCain or Rudy Giuliani? As recent surveys by Gallup and CNN show (via The Polling Report), only Clinton currently has the sort of recognition that Kerry achieved prior to the 2004 elections. Roughly a quarter of the American public cannot rate even well known candidates like McCain and Giuliani.
So match-up tests between the better known candidates are more valuable, but still potentially misleading. Two things are certain with regard to the 2008 presidential election. Each party will choose a nominee, and by Labor Day 2008 those individuals will be far better known, with public profiles that add up to something very different from the way Americans perceive them today.
A currently lesser known candidate, if nominated, will go from unknown to familiar. Should a better known name like McCain or Giuliani win the Republican nomination, more voters will know them and all voters will know more about them. Much the same can be said for Hillary Clinton. If she wins the Democratic nomination, do we really think voters will perceive her the same way in the fall of 2008 as they do now?
- According to a recent Gallup Poll, Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi's favorable ratings have increased ten points to 38 percent since October. Sen. Harry Reid's approval ratings have increased to 27 percent.
- A late November telephone survey from Gallup Poll reveals that 69% of Americans feel Iraq should be the top priority for the President and Congress.