December 31, 2006 - January 6, 2007


Bush Approval: CBS at 30%, Trend at 33.5%

Topics: George Bush


The first poll of the new year, by CBS News, taken 1/1-3/07 finds approval of President Bush at 30%, with 63% disapproval. This is the lowest approval reading in any CBS News poll for this administration. The result also pulls the trend estimate down to 33.5, also a low for the administration. However, it is important to discount the trend estimate until more data are available. This is the first new poll in over two weeks and the very low CBS result standing by itself at the end of the time series is exerting an unusually strong influence on the trend estimate. Until more data for 2007 come in the trend estimate should be viewed with some skepticism. Prior to the addition of the CBS result, the trend estimate stood at 34.4%, an estimate supported by a substantial number of polls taken through 12/21/06. A reasonable guess is that the current standing is between 33.5 and 34.4, which is still near the low point for the administration, but not necessarily the very lowest well supported estimate.

The CBS News poll is also one that has recently been tracking well below the trend estimate. The figure below (also found on our Presidential approval page) shows how the CBS News/New York Times poll has compared to the trend estimate in the second term.


At about 4 points below trend, the CBS News poll is short of being a statistical outlier, especially once the typical CBS "house effect" of -2.06 is considered. This means that CBS/NYT polls are on average about 2 points lower in approval than the mean across all polls. Thus there is not clear evidence that the CBS poll should be discounted entirely, but the best bet would still be that approval is closer to 34% than it is to 30%.

Cross-posted at Political Arithmetik.

Daily Roundup 1.05.06

  • A new CBS News poll reveals 68% of Americans have optimistic feelings about the new Congress (story, results). Other topics include Bush approval ratings, priorities for congress, and Saddam Hussein's execution.

  • The latest Gallup Poll survey (analysis, video) reports that 55% of Americans watch their local television news programs every day, making it "the No. 1 source of news in recent years." The same survey also says 61% of Americans believe "big government will pose the biggest threat in the future," more than big business (25%) and big labor (9%)

  • A new SurveyUSA automated survey says 60% of Utah adults have a favorable opinion of Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, while 51% believe his "Mormon religious affiliation" will hurt his chances of being elected president.

Daily Roundup 1.04.06

  • A new Gallup Poll national survey shows 34% of Americans believe their biggest concern about Iraq is the safety of the troops. The same survey also shows 56% of Americans believe the news media's coverage of the Iraq War to be "generally inaccurate."

  • The latest Harris Interactive online survey shows 88% of Americans saying they would support "Social Security reform to ensure the Social Security fund has enough money to provide benefits for all Americans for the next 50 years."

Rep, Dem Candidates in Early Primary States

Topics: 2008 , The 2008 Race


American Research Group (ARG) has reported polls of Republican and Democratic support in four early primary/caucus states. The polls are of 600 respondents for each party (with partisans plus independents who say they will participate in the party primary or caucus.) The field periods were IA 12/19-23, NH 12/26-27, NV 12/19-23 and SC 12/21-23.

First, the Republicans.

The strikingly obvious result is that none of the candidates outside the top four have any traction at this point. While there is time yet to "emerge", Brownback, Gilmore, Hagel, Huckabee, Hunter, Pataki and Thompson have a long way to go.

So meanwhile attention remains focused on two "front runners" and two "maybes". Giuliani and McCain each lead in two states. Giuliani leads in Iowa (28-26) and Nevada (31-25) while McCain leads in New Hampshire (29-25) and South Carolina (35-28). And let's not forget the margin of error, which allows all of these to be essentially "even".

The "maybes" are Gingrich and Romney, in that order. While Gingrich trails the top two by a substantial margin, he has significant support (14%-22%) in all four states. While the former Speaker has considerable baggage, he would be a more mainstream Republican nominee than either McCain or Giuliani-- a fact often overlooked in the enthusiasm for McCain at least. Romney is far back, above the "zeros" but well short of even Gingrich's status. But Romney has the advantage of being a new face who may yet mobilize support among those Republicans who distrust McCain and may come to weigh Giuliani's more liberal social issue positions. Still, Romney has to improve considerably in at least two of these early states to become seriously competitive.

On the Democratic side.

Here too are a number of hopefuls who are currently at or very near zero support. Biden, Clark, Dodd, Gravel and Richardson are all under 5% everywhere. Kucinich is slightly stronger, hitting 5% in Iowa, but below that in the other states.


Vilsack does pretty well in his home state of Iowa, but has yet to gain any support elsewhere. And Kerry does poorly for a past winner in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Clinton continues to lead the field in each state, so the question remains who will become her primary challenger. In these data, John Edwards and Barack Obama each finish second in two states. Edwards leads Obama in Iowa (20-10) and South Carolina (31-10). Obama leads in New Hampshire (21-18) and Nevada (12-8).

In presidential primaries with a clear front runner, the key dynamic is driven by the emergence of a clear alternative to the front runner. On the Democratic side that battle for emergence as an alternative to Clinton is clearly underway. On the Republican side, we have a legitimate battle for the front spot, but with two candidates who both have substantial vulnerabilities within the party. There we may have a more interesting contest.

Cross-posted at Political Arithmetik.

Daily Roundup 1.03.06

  • The latest Gallup Poll national survey says 72% of Americans think the Iraq War should be the top priority for the president and Congress.

  • A new AP-AOL News poll shows 80% of Americans favor an increase in the minimum wage (story, results).

  • A new CNN Poll says 49% of Americans think Democrats will not bring real reform to the way Congress operates, while 46% think Democrats will (story, results).

  • A new Military Times Poll (via Political Wire) reveals "only 35% of the military members polled this year said they approve of the way President Bush is handling the war." (story, results - see also Mystery Pollster commentary on the 2005 Military Times Poll.)

  • A new WSJ-Harris Poll interactive survey (via Kausfiles) says 18% of Americans think Democrats in Congress and the President will compromise to pass legislation.

'08 Presidential Candidate Support and Opposition

Topics: 2008 , The 2008 Race


Polls are looking at support for and opposition to potential 2008 presidential candidates with a pair of interesting questions. Gallup uses "Now, I am going to read a list of people who may run for president in 2008. For each, please say whether you, personally, would or would not like to see this person run for president in the next election." Marist College uses "Do you want to see (candidate) run for president in 2008 or not." These questions are asked of ALL adults, not just partisans of either party. This makes the results a bit unclear-- if a Democrat says she would like to see "x" run, when "x" is a Republican, does that mean she would consider voting for "x" or that she thinks "x" would be easy for a Democrat to beat? Thus these questions are not measures of support in party primaries, and may not be good indicators of general election strength. On the other hand, perhaps most voters are not as strategic as political professionals, and so may just be indicating how much they "like" potential candidates of either party. In any case, let's take a look at recent results.

The figure above shows possible candidates of either party, red for Republicans and Blue for Democrats, in the Gallup poll taken in late November. The plot is the percent saying they would like to see run on the horizontal axis and the percent saying they would NOT like to see the candidate run on the vertical axis. This kind of plot allows us to see immediately the balance of support and opposition to each candidate, and the extent to which voters have formed opinions about each candidate. That is a lot of information in a single plot.

The plot is also unusual because the sum of the two percentages cannot be over 100%, so the downward sloping diagonal line marks the limit of possible responses. No candidate can be in the upper right (empty) triangle of the plot. The closer to the diagonal line from (0,100) to (100,0) a candidate gets, the fewer voters are undecided about them. Conversely, the more voters who lack an opinion about the candidate, the further from the diagonal, regardless of the balance of support and opposition among those with an opinion. Finally, there is a line from (0,0) to (50,50). Candidates above this line and to the upper left corner have more opposition than support. Candidates below this line and to the lower right corner have more support than opposition.

The first and most impressive result is that no Democrat is in the advantaged lower right part of the figure, while Republicans McCain and Giuliani both are. Of the Democrats, John Edwards comes closest, with Clinton and Obama a bit behind. (This poll was taken over a month before Edwards' announcement of candidacy in New Orleans last week, so this is not a reflection of his recent actions.) While Clinton is very close to the limiting diagonal, showing few people lack opinions about her, Edwards is a bit further away and Obama a bit more, neither of which is surprising. But given the publicity Clinton and Obama in particular have recently enjoyed, it is surprising that neither has more support for a run than opposition. Given Edwards' relatively low profile in the fall, it is more surprising that he has the most support for a run of the three.

McCain and Giuliani lead the Republican field by a wide margin, with both more support than opposition and relatively few voters lacking opinions about them. While Giuliani has lead McCain in most polls of Republican primary voters (30 of 39 polls as of late December) among the adult population McCain has a slight advantage on this question.

While trial heats are another measure of advantage, with potentially different results, this plot shows that Democrats have yet to field a candidate with the balance of support of either of the two Republican poll leaders.

Among Democrats, the "rest of the field" trails the top three by considerable margins. Gallup only asked about Gore and Kerry, neglecting several other common names. Neither fared well, with Gore and especially Kerry finding much more opposition than support. (We'll see other candidates from the Marist Poll below.)

Among Republicans, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came in third, though her repeated statements of non-candidacy make this a highly speculative rating in any case. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich trails the entire field of candidates in either party. Defeated Virginia Senator George Allen not surprisingly shows both little support and considerable lack of recognition. But Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is in nearly the same position. While no one expects Allen to make a run at this point, Romney clearly has considerable ground to make up. To his advantage, he can possibly convert lack of recognition into support, something better known candidates cannot do.

The Marist Poll data closely resembles the Gallup results. The figure below shows Marist results from 12/3/06, and adds data for Biden and Sharpton for the Dems and for Pataki and Bloomberg for the Reps.


Marist has asked its question a number of times, so we can trace the dynamics of support for some candidates using their data collected at various times since December of 2004. Since Marist and Gallup closely agree in their latest polls, I assume these paths are not unique to the Marist poll. In these plots the arrows point from earlier to later polls, though the polls are not necessarily all equally separated in time.

First the Democrats. The clear story here is the stability of Clinton's support, some variability in Edwards, though ending rather strongly, and the steady collapse of support for Kerry. In addition, Al Gore has remained well back and rather stable.


On the Republican side McCain follows the Clinton pattern of quite stable support. Giuliani on the other hand shows considerable growth in support over the last two years, from well back to parity with McCain. Rice is interesting simply because of the growth of support despite the decline in approval of President Bush and of many administration policies with with Rice might be identified. Gingrich has only been measured twice, and shows little movement.


The dynamics may be quite different within party constituencies, so these results may not reflect changes in the nomination battles within the parties. But they do show that the Democratic candidates have some ground to make up, and that there is room for some dynamic change in both parties, as exemplified by Kerry'[s collapse and Giuliani's surge.

Cross-posted at Political Arithmetik.

Iowa Caucus Polling: Only the Beginning

Topics: 2008 , The 2008 Race

It's probably the blogger variant of Murphy's Law, but the most interesting topics often bubble up whenever I take time off. The last few weeks were no exception as several new polls were released on the 2008 primary contests, particularly in Iowa and New Hampshire. As often happens this early in the process, some produced contradictory results, especially in Iowa.

The most puzzling - as noted by our friend Mickey Kaus - involves the performance of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in two polls of likely Democratic caucus goers conducted in Iowa in late December by Research2000 and the American Research Group (ARG). Both showed John Edwards with roughly the same support (20-22%). ARG Research 2000 showed Clinton leading with 31% and Obama running distant forth (at 10%) behind outgoing Iowa governor Tom Vilsack (17%). Research 2000 ARG showed Obama and Edwards tied for first (22%), with Clinton running forth (10%) behind Vilsack (17%).

So...Hillary Clinton is either their clear front runner in Iowa (with 31%) or running a distant fourth (with 10%).

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the pollster's nightmare: The Iowa Caucuses.

I have written before about the challenge of polling the caucuses before and will certainly do so again, but the numbers behind the challenge remain the same. Here is the way I put it, when the Des Moines Register released its first 2008 caucus poll last June:

The big challenge for polling this contest, of course, is that turnout for the Democratic caucuses is typically a small percentage of eligible voters. Iowa had roughly 2.2 million voting eligible adults in 2004, of whom (as of last month) approximately 1.9 million are considered "active" registered voters by the Iowa Secretary of State. But only 124,331 participated in the 2004 Democratic Caucuses for President (according to the subscription only Hotline). That number amounts to roughly 6% of all registered voters, so selecting "likely caucus goers" is no easy task.

When I first saw the conflicting results, I assumed something obvious about the survey design or field dates might explain the difference. For example, some pollsters sample likely caucus-goers by calling a random digit dial (RDD) sample of all telephone households and will then screen for likely voters. Some will sample from the lists of registered voters (with many unlisted numbers missing) and select using a combination of screening and various "vote history" criteria, including participation in past caucuses. In past elections, Iowa caucus surveys drawn exclusively from lists of past caucus-goers have differed from those based on RDD methods.

I spoke earlier today to both Dick Bennett of ARG and Del Ali of Research 2000, and in this case the sample procedures and field dates were more similar than different:

  • Research 2000 conducted a survey among 400 Democratic "caucus goers" December 18 through December 20. They started with a random digit dial (RDD) sample of Iowa households and screened for those who (a) say they frequently vote in statewide general election[s] and (b) report having participated in the 2004 Democratic caucuses.
  • The American Research Group conducted a survey among 600 "likely Democratic caucus goers" between December 19 and December 23. They too started with a random digit dial (RDD) sample of Iowa households and screened for those who were (a) registered vote as either Democrats or with no party affiliation who also said they (b) "definitely plan to participate in the 2008 Democratic presidential caucus" (those screened out those who said they "might" participate or who "probably will not").

The field dates overlap, so timing seems unlikely to explain much of the difference, particularly if the theory is that Obama's support has been rising of late. Keep in mind that the ARG poll, which finished later, showed Obama doing worse.

The biggest difference that we are aware of is that the Research2000 screens were based on self-reported past participation, while ARG screens rely on a question of prospective intent to participate. We can debate the relative merits of each approach (and no doubt will in the coming months), but it seems unlikely that this particular difference produced a 21-point shift in support for Hillary Clinton.**

Of course, it may be that one approach was significantly "tighter" than the other. That is, did one capture a much narrower slice of Iowa voters than the other? Unfortunately, neither pollster has released data on how many otherwise qualified respondents they screened out in order to select their final sample (as the Des Moines Register did last June).

It is also important to focus on the questions asked. Both pollsters asked respondents to choose from a list of eleven potential candidates, both "rotated" (or randomized) the order of names as read by interviewers and both reported relatively few in the completely undecided category (11% for Research 2000 and 8% for ARG). But the candidate listings were not identical. ARG included the names of two potential candidates -- Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd and former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel - that Research 2000 omitted. Likewise, Research 2000 included Al Gore and Evan Bayh, while ARG did not. Of these, Gore had the most support (7%), Dodd had 2% and the rest just 1%. Given the numbers involved, it is hard to see how these minor differences contributed much to the Clinton-Obama discrepancy.

All of which leaves me scratching my head, except to say this: Whenever very small differences in methodology make for huge differences in results, it suggests that voters are not yet engaged in the race enough to have strong allegiances. Put another way, while each poll may have a candidate running in front, in Iowa at least, there is not yet a true "front runner."

**UPDATE: Ok, make that coming hours. Mickey Kaus considers the prospective / retrospective difference in the survey screens a more likely explanation than I did:

There's a big difference between 1) asking voters if they "definitely plan" to go to the caucuses, and 2) asking voters if they actually participated in the 2004 caucuses. Lots of people say they "plan" to attend. That's normal! But those who have attended are the sort of pathetically unrepresentative hard core activists ...sorry, committed citizens who make up the tiny sliver (6%) of Iowa voters who actually show up and choose the winner: ... In this case, the merely aspirational caucusgoers pick Clinton, while the hard core goes for Obama--a result consistent with the idea that Obama is capturing those who think a lot about politics, while those who don't think as much about politics haven't yet been hit by the wave.

That's a plausible theory, particularly if the retrospective caucus participation question successfully identified actual past caucus goers. Retrospective vote questions typically over-report past voting behavior, but in this case the Research 2000 question may have produced an appropriately tighter screen. Of course, without the ability to compare the relative incidence of each survey, we are just speculating.

In 1988, I worked for Paul Maslin, the pollster for Democratic Senator Paul Simon. Simon always did better on the samples we drew from lists of actual past caucus-goers, while Congressman Dick Gephardt did consistently better when when we included registered voters that had not participated in the previous caucuses in 1984. Gephardt also did consistently better on the RDD surveys in the public domain. As I recall, those differences persisted through the final round of polling, though they probably narrowed a bit toward the end. Of course, the challenge is that every election year, the caucuses attract large numbers of voters who did not participate in the prior election cycle. And true junkies will remember that Gephardt ultimately won the Caucuses, although as I recall, the actual result fell somewhere between the two methodologies.