January 7, 2007 - January 13, 2007


Daily Roundup 1.12.07

  • A new CNN/Opinion Research survey says 27% of those who watched Bush's speech were more likely to support his plan "to send about 20,000 more U.S. troops to Iraq," while 27% were less likely to support it, and 45% say it "didn't make any difference." Among all adults, 32% favor Bush's plan and 66% oppose it.

  • More analysis from last week's Gallup Poll shows 68% of Americans say it is "not too" or "not at all" likely that violence in Iraq will be significantly reduced in 2007.

  • The same Gallup survey also finds Donald Trump to have higher favorable ratings (41%) than his celebrity-in-feud Rosie O'Donnell (28%), yet both have higher unfavorable than favorable ratings.

Who Paid for the Poll?

Democratic pollster Douglas Schoen has a column today on RealClearPolitics that presents data collected by his firm, along with the Republican firm the Tarrance Group, about the proposal to have the government negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. The Democratic bill to require such negotiation comes to a vote today. Schoen argues that the idea "appears to enjoy a great deal of public support," but once he presents negative information about the plan on his survey, "voters become very skeptical of the idea and the implications for public health."

Before getting to the substance, skeptical readers might ask, who paid for this survey? As of this writing, the RealClearPolitics column provided no information about the sponsor of the survey. Neither did the memo and presentation linked to by Schoen's column. Those omissions are significant, since the first principle of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls (NCPP) is "sponsorship of the survey."

Of course, given the timing and the players, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that pharmaceutical interests probably picked up the tab. As the front-page story in today's Washington Post points out, the pharmaceutical interests have been "hiring top Democratic lobbyists...bolstering Democratic political donations and spending millions on public relations campaigns." It adds:

This month alone, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America spent more than $1 million on full-page newspaper ads touting the success of the existing Medicare drug system.

More to the point:

  • The web site of Schoen's firm, Penn, Schoen & Berland lists five pharmaceutical companies - Bristol Myers Squibb, Glaxo, Eli Lilly, Smithkline Beecham, Novartis - as clients.
  • Schoen's column cites earlier data from a previous survey conducted on November 7, 2006. Some of the same data also appears in a PRNewsire release that supports the pharmaceutical side of the argument over Medicare Part D. That press release provides contact information for a spokesman at the public relations firm Qorvis Communications. Qorvis also sponsored a conference call briefing on November 8 by both Schoen and Ed Goeas of Tarrance (I received an email invitation but did not participate).
  • Last September, according to the Holmes Report, the The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) selected Qorvis "to assist with its nationwide strategic public relations efforts."

I emailed John McIntyre at RealClearPolitics earlier today for comment. "If the survey was paid for by Pharma," he replied, "I do agree that is something that should be disclosed." He promised to contact Doug Schoen to ask about sponsorship.

I also contacted Qorvis Communications and as of yet have not received a reply. [UPDATE - 1:17 p.m.: Qorvis replies and confirms that PhRMA paid for the survey].

Back to the substance. The sort of survey that Schoen conducted is not unusual. You can be sure that partisans on the other side of the argument are also conducting similar "message testing" polls, although I assume that both sides have conducted research they are not releasing that tests the way Americans react to both sides of the argument.

In this case, Schoen's poll appears to present only one side of the argument about having the government negotiate prescription drug prices. While Schoen did not release the exact text of the "potential negative implications" tested, he presents results of "additional" data from questions arguing that the proposal "could limit access" to pharmaceutical drugs and "restrict choice," as well as the claim that the plan "will not save enough money to fill gaps in coverage." Nowhere did they present the case for the Democratic bill.

Of course, neither Doug Schoen nor his clients are under any obligation to conduct or release message testing polls that are even handed. But the news media should press for full disclosure of the sponsorship of such surveys before publishing or airing them.

Interests disclosed: As long as we are on the subject, while I recently severed ties with my old firm to devote full time to Pollster.com, I have polled for the last 20 years for Democratic candidates. My former clients include Marion Berry of Arkansas, a primary sponsor of the Democratic bill discussed above.

Instant Reaction to the "Surge" Speech

Topics: Instant Reaction Polls , Iraq

Two survey organizations - CBS News and ABC/Washington Post - went into the field immediately after the Presidential address last night to gauge reactions among those at home. Both polls appear to show the same polarization in reaction: Republicans are supportive of the President's "troop surge" plan, most independents and virtually all Democrats are opposed. As always, we need to be cautious about instant reaction polls. Opinions may change in response to the news coverage over the next few days, but despite some differences that may seem divergent when taken at face value, both surveys paint roughly the same general picture.

The two polls differed in terms of their methodology. CBS News conducted a "panel-back" survey. They attempted to interview respondents from a larger survey conducted last week for a second time. They were able to contact and interview 458 adults and (I assume) weighted the results as they usually do to match national US Census estimates for demographic characteristics like gender, age and race. The ABC/Post survey involved a fresh new random sample of 502 adults, all contacted for the first time immediately after the speech.

The biggest challenge of fielding this sort of "instant reaction" poll following a presidential address is that the president's fans are more likely to tune in than other Americans. Did that happen in this case? The evidence is mixed. The two polls produced estimates of the audience size that differed, but not by much (31% on the CBS poll and 42% on the ABC/Post poll).** However, the Post's summary notes that "the President's supporters were disproportionately represented among the audience," while CBS found few differences between speech-watchers and other Americans. According to the CBS release, "Democrats, Republicans and Independents were about equally likely to have watched."

That difference probably explains the divergent results among speech watchers. According to the Post, "47 percent [of speech watchers] support sending more troops, while 51 percent oppose." On the CBS poll, 33% of speech watchers favor more troops and 59% oppose."

When you look at all adults, however, the polls show more similar results. Both polls show similarly strong polarization, with most Republicans favoring a troop surge, and most independents and Democrats in opposition (thanks to Jon Cohen at the Washington Post for providing full cross-tab results from their survey in the table below).


I am reading between the lines a bit, but the data above suggest that general assessments of President Bush- both among speech watchers and other Americans - are driving judgments about the troop surge. Since the majority of Americans are skeptical of Bush, they are also skeptical of this new proposal. I would guess that if we tabulated these results by the Bush job rating, we would see an even greater polarization: Those who approve of Bush's job performance overwhelmingly in favor, while those who disapprove are overwhelmingly opposed.

**My calculation suggests that the difference in the estimate of the audience size is statistically significant, but keep in mind that the other differences in methodology (a "panel back" survey vs. a fresh random sample) may well explain that difference.

Also keep in mind that on a one-night survey of this sort, the pollsters must abandon the usual "call back" procedures designed to interview those who are harder to contact. In this case, the challenge is especially acute in the Eastern time zones, where the pollsters did all of their dialing between 9:30 and 10:00 p.m. So it is likely that both samples - even after demographic weighting - are skewed a bit toward those more likely to stay at home. Does this methodological compromise skew the substantive results? Pollsters will debate that point, but one reassuring bit of evidence is that the CBS post-speech sample of adults had roughly the same party identification result (35% Democrat, 29% Republican) as the larger pre-speech debate sample (35% Democrat, 27% Republican).

Daily Roundup 1.11.07

  • CBS news re-interviewed 458 adults -- who were first interviewed last week -- immediately after President Bush's speech last night. Of these, about a third (n=179) watched the speech, and according to the CBS News release, "even they were not swayed very much by what he had to say." Thirty-seven percent (37%) of speech watchers approve of "the plans the President announced in his speech tonight concerning the war in Iraq" (story, results).

  • (New, 1:11 pm) A new ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted last night (a new national random sample of 502 adults) finds 36% of Americans support "Bush's proposal to send approximately 22,000 addition U.S. military forces into Iraq" while 61% oppose (ABC story, ABC results, Post story, Post results).

  • A new AP-Ipsos poll (conducted Monday through Wednesday) finds 70% of Americans oppose sending more troops to Iraq, while just 35% think it was right for the U.S. to go to war, "a new low in AP polling" (story, results).

  • Additional analysis from the recent Gallup Poll reveals 62% of Americans find the situation in Iraq to be "extremely important for the President and Congress to deal with this year." (analysis, video)

  • The latest Rasmussen Reports automated survey tests hypothetical Presidential contests between Sen. Joe Biden (D) and both Sen. John McCain (R) and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R). Biden trails both by double-digits.

Iraq Opinion Review

Topics: Iraq


With President Bush set to speak to the nation tonight on a new Iraq strategy I thought is was a good time to review the recent opinion trends related to Iraq.

The graph above compares approval of Bush's overall job with approval of his handling of Iraq. The two have generally trended together and mostly "bounced" together. What is interesting is the change over the fall of 2006 when the Iraq job approval declined sharply while the overall job decline was less and has recently been relatively flat. The sharp decline is based on a decent number of polls, so is not likely to be an artifact of a small number of polls.

I suspect this decline is a combination of the impact of increased sectarian fighting in Iraq along with the fall campaign's critique of Republicans generally and of the President's handling of the war specifically. Whatever the cause, the sharp decline raises questions of how much credibility the White House has left to leverage support for the new strategy we will hear about tonight. While the latest CBS News poll found 61% of Republicans still supporting the President on Iraq, only 21% of Independents did and a stunning 3% of Democrats.

If Republicans in Congress give good support for the President's new plan, I expect to see an increase in approval among the Republican public. I'm not nearly so confident that a substantial segment of Independents will be similarly encouraged by the new direction. Certainly there will be a mix of both positive and negative reaction to the speech, and Independents are already predisposed by their low 21% support to accept negative interpretations of the policy rather than positive ones. Unless the speech is particularly persuasive, or the supportive reaction particularly strong, I don't think it likely that Independents will move up in support by very much. With virtually no Democrats supporting the President's position on the war it is hard to see how support among that population can be expected to improve.

Until recently, approval of Bush's handling of Iraq was just a few points below his overall job approval and the two moved together. Now the sharply increased gap between them suggests that the Iraq opinion is no longer strongly tied to overall views of his performance. Tonight's speech may restore that linkage, though not necessarily to the President's benefit. When approval has shrunk as low as it has for Iraq, I'm not sure you can "borrow capital" from overall approval (itself low at 34.9% based on my trend estimate) to shore up support for Iraq. Instead, I suspect that support must be found in external reaction from credible Republicans and news sources. If that happens, support may improve at least temporarily. If reaction among those sources is sharply divided it is hard to see how support for the President can be improved.

The second aspect of support is to shift the argument away from the President's handling of the war and on to other aspects of opinion. Here too opinion is more negative than positive, but it is much less negative than approval of the President is. The plot below illustrates this. While more citizens now think the was was a mistake and not worth the cost than think otherwise, the gaps here are less stark than for Bush Iraq approval.

Americans remain reluctant to say that the US did the "wrong" thing or made a "mistake" in starting the war. While "wrong" or "mistake" has now climbed into the 50s, making it the majority response, those rejecting this view have continued to hang in the 40s, rather than collapse into the 20s as has Bush approval on Iraq. Those thinking the war has been worth it have declined to the high 30s or low 40s. Again, not support for the war on balance, but less negativity than we see for Bush's handling. My point is not that there is strong support for the war. That clearly is false. But there are almost twice as many people who think the war was justified and worthwhile than there are those who think the administration has done a good job handling the war. If these constituencies can be persuaded that the new policies offer a hope of success in a war that was both justified and worth the cost, support might indeed increase at least to the ceiling of 40-45% that these groups represent. That would certainly be an improvement from the White House's perspective.


The Gallup poll taken 1/5-7/07 also suggests the opinion niches which may be persuadable on Iraq policy. Despite all the negativity cited above, a surprising 50% think the U.S. is either "certain" (16%) or "likely" (34%) to win the war in Iraq. Forty-six percent think not: 28% say unlikely and 18% say certain not to win. Given the situation in Iraq, this represents a surprising confidence that the outcome remains "winnable." And it offers the President his best chance of gaining support for his policy by playing to these remaining hopes.

On the specific issue of increasing the number of troops ("surge" or "escalation", as you prefer), 54% are clearly on the other side from the President, with 15% saying withdraw immediately and 39% saying withdraw by a year from now. But that leaves 43% on the President's side: 31% say take as long as is needed and 12% saying send more troops. So again the opportunity continued to exist to convince a substantial number of potential supporters to approve of the new plan.

Asked by Gallup if the U.S. can achieve its goals in Iraq "only with more troops", "without more troops" or "cannot achieve its goals regardless of troops", only 47% say the US cannot achieve its goals. Forty-eight percent think we can achieve our goals (23% with more troops, 25% without more.) Again, about an even split in the view that the US can ultimately succeed in Iraq, and the President's mission to convince the 25% that think troops aren't needed to nevertheless think it is a good idea to add troops.

Finally, the increase troops option on its own has only 36% support and 61% opposition. But that is where the speech tonight bears the burden of convincing some of these (only some, not all!) that the increase will bring improvement in the situation. Put together, if the President can muster support from something on the order of 45% of the public in favor of his plan, he will improve his standing (though not necessarily lead him to majority support.) From the White House's perspective, an improvement of this order of magnitude would be a significant move in the right direction.

I've focused here on the potential for increased support because I've seen little talk of this in most polling analysis. By focusing too exclusively on Bush's Iraq job approval, which is shockingly low, we tend to overlook other areas where the public is not as negative or pessimistic.

Among Democrats, these numbers would be far, far less positive. That provides the party (and especially party leaders and presidential hopefuls) a strong incentive to continue a critique of the war and of Bush policy. But the overall balance of opinion is not so overwhelmingly negative as the one indicator of Bush approval suggests. While the public judges administration performance to be terrible, there remain significant reservoirs of support for the goals and even optimism over probable outcomes. Whether those are justified or not, both parties face an electorate that is not yet solidly against the war nor solidly in favor. There is still persuasion to be done by both sides.

Cross-posted at Political Arithmetik.

Iraq Polls: Surge and Diverge?

Topics: Iraq

Tonight, by all accounts, President will unveil his plan for a "surge" in troop levels in Iraq. Do Americans agree? Recent polls have provided some very conflicting results, with support for sending more troops to Iraq ranging anywhere from 12% to 45%. The underlying reason for all the variation is most likely that Americans have not yet focused on the specifics of the troop surge debate, and so when pressed by pollsters, they tend to form opinions on the spot in reaction to the language and format of the survey question.

Consider the following questions these examples, culled from the Polling Report, which derive from two surveys conducted by Gallup and CBS News plus a new release from a Rasmussen Reports automated survey:

Gallup (1/5-7, n=1,004 adults) - Here are four different plans the U.S. could follow in dealing with the war in Iraq. Which ONE do you prefer? Withdraw all troops from Iraq immediately. Withdraw all troops by January 2008, that is, in 12 months' time. Withdraw troops, but take as many years to do this as are needed to turn control over to the Iraqis. OR, Send more troops to Iraq.

(Options rotated)
15% Withdraw immediately
39% Withdraw by January 2008
31% Take as long as needed
12% Send more troops
2% Unsure

CBS News (1/1-3, n=993 adults) - From what you have seen or heard about the situation in Iraq, what should the United States do now? Should the U.S. increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, keep the same number of U.S. troops in Iraq as there are now, decrease the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, or remove all its troops from Iraq?

18% Increase
17% Keep the same
30% Decrease
29% Remove all
6% Unsure

Rasmussen Reports (1/8-7, n=800 likely voters, IVR survey) - Some people say that we need to send more troops to Iraq, others say we need to begin reducing the number of troops we have in Iraq. Which approach do you prefer?

31% Send More
56% Reduce
13% Not sure

Gallup (1/5-7, n=1,004 adults) - As you may know, the Bush Administration is considering a temporary but significant increase in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq to help stabilize the situation there. Would you favor or oppose this?

36% Favor
61% Oppose
3% Unsure

CBS News (1/1-3, n=993 adults) - Would you favor or oppose a short-term increase in the number of U.S. troops in the Iraqi capital city of Baghdad, to try to gain control of the city?

45% Favor
48% Oppose
7% Unsure

So on just two different recent surveys, we see support for increasing troop levels ranging from 12% to 45% on four different questions. On his USA Today blog, "Gallup Guru" Frank Newport offered two explanations for the divergence in results (also discussed by Newport on his Gallup daily video briefing). One explanation is that questions "which give respondents multiple alternatives to choose" from suppress support for sending more troops:

Giving respondents multiple alternatives helps spread out response patterns to a question. The percentage saying "send in more troops" may be low in part because the question provides other alternatives which may be just as attractive to more hawkish respondents ("Withdraw, but take as many years as needed to turn control over to the Iraqis", for example, would in theory be appealing to those who might otherwise choose the send more troops option). This question construction is not wrong, but just one way of looking at the issue in question.

Newport also offered a second theory:

The question [showing only 12% support for a troop surge] is hypothetical. The surge will be a fait accompli and will have the authority of the White House behind it once Bush announces it. That will most likely produce a rally effect of sorts, with at least some Americans "coming home" to support the president even if they might in the abstract be opposed to the new policy.

Thus, they offered the second question which made explicit that the "Bush Administration is considering a temporary but significant increase in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq." So, as Newport tells it, support is greater (36%) when "when the surge is explained as a Bush administration recommendation and described (as Bush is likely to do) as temporary and needed in order to stabilize the situation in Iraq."

The CBS News result suggests a third theory. When the question does not include a direct reference to support from the Bush administration, but does describe the increase as "short-term" and limited to "the Iraqi capital city of Baghdad, to try to gain control of the city," support is higher still (45%, with 48% opposed).

So we have many good reasons why the results differ. Which is the best read of American public opinion before the President's speech? I am reading between the lines and speculating a bit, but whenever relatively minor wording or format changes produce such different results, the policy proposal involved (in this case, a troop "surge") is likely something about which most Americans are not familiar. A full read on "public opinion" in this case will likely tell us that a much bigger percentage than 2% to 7% are "unsure" about or "unfamiliar" with the ongoing debate over a troop surge.

That may change tonight, as the President addresses the nation and presents a specific plan. By this time next week, when pollsters ask about "President Bush's plan to increase the number of troops in Iraq" (or something close to that) many more Americans will retrieve an existing opinion, rather than forming one on the spot based on the wording of the question. So hopefully, the results measured next week on such questions will be more consistent.

Daily Roundup 1.10.06

  • Additional analysis on the recent Gallup poll shows 72% of Americans think Bush does not have "a clear plan for handling the situation in Iraq." (analysis, more analysis, video)

  • A recent survey from The Pew Research Center (conducted 9/6 - 10/2, released 1/9) profiles the social, cultural and political attitudes of "Generation Next," those born between 1981 and 1988. (summary, complete report)

Bush Approval: Gallup at 37%, Trend at 34.9%

Topics: George Bush


A new Gallup/USA Today poll taken 1/5-7/07 finds approval of President Bush at 37% with disapproval at 59%. With this addition, my trend estimate stands at 34.9%. The only other January poll so far is the CBS News reading of 30% approval.

As I warned in a post on the CBS poll here, the gap in polling since the third week of December means that the current trend estimate is especially sensitive to the first few polls of the new year, so the trend estimate is likely to move around a bit until we have several 2007 readings. This means the current trend is more uncertain than usual.

With the President's Iraq speech expected Wednesday night, we will have a little trouble distinguishing the effects of the speech from other sources of change. It would be nice to have another couple of pre-speech polls to stabilize the estimate before assessing the impact the speech may have.

The Gallup poll also has bad news for the administration on Iraq. Only 26% approve of the President's handling of Iraq while 72% disapprove. And among partisans, Republican support on Iraq is at 61% compared to 79% approval for Bush's overall job performance. Iraq approval among Republicans is also down from 73% in August. Democratic approval is an amazingly low 3%, while it is at 21% among Independents.

That sets an interesting background for Wednesday's speech. How the public responds is likely to be strongly structured by partisanship, with Democratic leaders already signaling skepticism over a "surge" in troops. Since Democratic identifiers can hardly drop lower in support, the key will be whether the speech boosts support among Republicans back to last summer's levels, and especially how independents react. The latter will give us a sense of how well the President's and the Democrats' messages are working.

Cross-posted at Political Arithmetik.

Daily Roundup 1.09.06

  • A new Gallup Poll national survey finds Americans oppose a "Troop Surge" by a 61% to 36% margin. The same survey also finds Bush's overall job approval rating at 37% and his Iraq approval at 26%.

  • Additional analysis (story, results) on last week's CBS News poll shows that "most Americans expect President George Bush to change U.S. strategy in the Iraq war" and "believe the war is going badly for the U.S." However, the poll also indicated divided opinion on "a short term increase in the number of U.S. troops in the Iraqi capital city of Baghdad, to try to gain control of city" -- 45% favor and 48% oppose.

  • A new Harris Interactive online survey says 82% of Americans favor sending an international force to Darfur, while 8% "would like the United States to help create and staff an international force of peacekeepers in the region."

POQ Free Issue on Non-Response Bias

Topics: Response Rates , Robert Groves

First, let me say a quick but huge thank you to Charles Franklin for his frequent posts over the last two weeks as I took much needed holiday break and attended to two days of AAPOR meetings last week. I'm glad he kept things busy here while I lived the slacker life. I should be back to a more regular schedule this week, with much to catch up on.

While we are on the subject of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, I want to say a quick word about the organization's academic journal, Public Opinion Quarterly, which last week released a special edition on "Non-Response Bias in Household Surveys." For the non-pollsters among you, "non-response bias" is the technical term for the error that can result [especially] when response rates are low and those that respond to a survey differ from those who do not [but it can result even when response rates are high; see the comment from Joel Bloom below]. The POQ special edition includes articles and research from the most respected authorities on this subject, and best of all, the editors have made electronic access to this edition completely free.

One of the ideas that we try to stress here on Pollster is that polls are subject to all sorts of potential error not captured by the so-called "margin of error." The study of non-response may be a bit arcane to ordinary political junkies, but if the POQ Special Edition proves anything, it is that academic survey researchers have been studying it for quite a long time. Consider this summary from the introduction by Eleanor Singer, the editor of the special edition:

Concern about survey nonresponse is of course not new. Smith (2002, pp. 27-28) notes that "early research extends back to the emergence of polling in the 1930s and has been a regular feature in statistical and social science journals since the 1940s. An analysis of JSTOR statistical journals dates the first nonresponse article from 1945 and the Public Opinion Quarterly index's earliest reference is from 1948. The index of Public Opinion Quarterly contains 125 articles on this topic; a full-text search of journals covered in JSTOR finds the following number of articles, by subject area, that included the word 'nonresponse': political science-62, economics-87, sociology-146, and statistics-431

Of course, the complexity of some of the concepts presented make this edition of the journal a tough read for those without a survey background. Equations and Greek letters abound. But for the pollsters in the audience - and I know you're out there - this edition is a must read.

For those thinking about hiring a pollster or survey researcher, I'd also suggest reviewing the article abstracts and skimming enough of the articles to form some pertinent questions to the prospective pollster. If nothing else, if you ask, say, what approaches the pollster takes in "assessing non-response bias" as per Bob Groves' recommendations , and the pollster asks, "Bob who?" then you know you have a problem.

Daily Roundup 1.08.06

  • Additional analysis from last week's CBS News poll shows Sen. Hillary Clinton viewed more favorably (43%) than all other possible 2008 Democratic and Republican Presidential contenders (article, results, Charles Franklin's analysis).

  • A new Rasmussen Reports automated survey finds 36% of Americans believe the Terrorists are winning the War on Terror, while 33% believe the U.S./Allies are winning. The same survey also shows former Governor and '08 Presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R) with higher unfavorable than favorable ratings (35% to 29%).

  • The latest Mason-Dixon Polling & Research poll conducted for The Salt Lake Tribune shows "just 41 percent of Utahns say they support Bush on Iraq - marking the first time a Tribune poll has found fewer than half of Utahns in the president's war camp" (via Andrew Sullivan).

Pres08: New CBS Poll on Favorability

Topics: 2008 , The 2008 Race


John McCain and Rudy Giuliani lead the Republican field by a wide margin in terms of the balance of "favorable" and "unfavorable" impressions the public holds of them. On the Democratic side, Hilary Clinton and John Edwards lead the field, while Barack Obama has a net favorable image but with many voters still unable to express a reaction to him. Other candidates either remain near complete unknowns or suffer from net negative evaluations from voters in the cases of Al Gore and John Kerry.

The new CBS News poll taken 1/1-3/07 gives the latest comprehensive look at 2008 presidential contestants. The survey included the standard favorable/unfavorable question, which includes "undecided" and "haven't heard of" options as well. The data here are for all adults, not just partisans of the candidate's party.

The graph above plots favorable impressions on the horizontal and unfavorable views on the vertical axis. The sum of favorable and unfavorable cannot exceed 100%, so the data must fall in the triangle with the grid lines. The darker diagonal line from (0,0) to (50,50) marks the region of more net negative evaluations (above this line and and to the left) versus the region of net positive evaluations (below and to the right.) While some enemies are inevitable, candidates would rather be closer to the bottom right corner of the figure, with high net positive ratings. The closer a candidate is to the lower left corner the more voters failed to give a favorable OR an unfavorable evaluation. For the lesser known candidates, this is dramatic as they all cluster very near the bottom left corner.

A number of people have quite correctly pointed out that current polling on presidential candidates is largely a function of name recognition and national visibility, as the performances of well known candidates Clinton, Giuliani and McCain demonstrate. The polls may also not be very meaningful predictors of future success. A classic example is from April 1991, when Bill Clinton scored 8% favorable, 12% unfavorable and 80% unable to give any impression of him. That places him solidly in the company of Romney, Richardson, Brownback and Hagel. Of course that didn't stop him from gaining the nomination.

So we should certainly not look at these data as predictions of who is "destined" to win or lose. That is not my purpose here. We have a year to watch the evolution of support for these candidates. And to do that, of course, we have to look at how they stand throughout this year. Which front runners will stumble and when? Which unknowns will build a following to emerge from national obscurity to serious contention? These data are crucial for understanding that process, and that is my purpose here, rather than a simple minded (and empirically weak) implication that those currently ahead are "inevitable." It is hard for reporting or analysis to avoid emphasizing the current strengths of candidates, but experience shows that this can change substantially over time. Recall the "inevitable" triumph of Howard Dean as seen in November 2003 when discussion actually surfaced of his vice-presidential choice! We would all, me included, be well advised to treat these data as dynamic and not as fixed for the next 12-15 months. But dynamic data is fun! So let's start watching it.

The cluster of Giuliani, McCain and Edwards represents a group with about a 2-1 favorable-unfavorable ratio, suggesting pretty broad appeal. But even among this group around 40% of voters are unable to express an evaluation.

In contrast, Hilary Clinton holds slightly higher favorable ratings but also nearly twice as high unfavorable ratings, putting her only slightly to the "good" side of the favorable-unfavorable divide. Her higher evaluation rate of 80% is no surprise but with only 20% of voters yet to decide about her there is less room for new support or opposition to develop, while the Giuliani, McCain and Edwards grouping can move rather substantially from voters making up their minds.

Senator Barack Obama trails these four substantially in the number of voters able to evaluate him, though he has the advantage of a 3-1 favorability ratio among those who do rate him. Over 70% of the sample were unable to rate him, which shows how far the Senator has to go in establishing himself with the public, despite the dramatic media coverage of him in the last quarter of 2006.

The two defeated past Democratic nominees fare less well. Al Gore and John Kerry both suffer from more unfavorable than favorable ratings. In Gore's case, this comes despite positive public comment on his movie "An inconvenient truth" which was thought by some to be his route back to elective office.

Among the less well known candidates there is little meaningful variation at this point. Almost all draw slightly more unfavorable than favorable evaluations, but with something on the order of 80% unable to rate these choices there is little to suggest the favorable-unfavorable ratio means much. Also, the CBS poll question does not supply either party or current office, so voters are left with little to base spur of the moment opinions on. A question about "Democrat Tom Vilsack, former Governor of Iowa" or "Republican Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas" might trigger more impressions than the simple "Tom Vilsack" and "Sam Brownback" used in the survey. The question CBS used probably does a better job of avoiding partisan projection and therefore is a better measure of awareness than one that described the candidates. On the other hand, many voters are so peripherally aware of these candidates that a little help remembering who is who can trigger real as well as top of the head opinions.

One seeming peculiarity is the rate of non-response to even the well known candidates. Clinton has been in the national spotlight for 14 years and Kerry and Gore have both been nominees of their party, yet 19% failed to express an opinion of Clinton as did 22% for Gore and 30% for Kerry. Are voters REALLY so removed from politics that more than one in five really don't recognize these candidates? Well, not quite. The survey gave voters an "undecided" option as well as a "haven't heard enough about the candidate to have an opinion" option. Those two are folded together in my figure above and in most analysts review of these sort of survey questions, but it turns out the distinction is pretty interesting.

The figure below compares the rate of "undecided" with the rate of "don't know enough" for all the candidates. A clear and substantial divide separates the candidates. Long time presidential contenders Clinton, Gore, Kerry, Edwards, Giuliani and McCain are not very likely to draw a "don't know enough" response. In fact, less than 20% (and in the cases of Clinton, Gore and Kerry well under 10%) of the public actually says they haven't heard enough to have an opinion. Among this group of candidates, most of the failure to rate a candidate is due to choosing the "undecided" option. While one might think of that as lack of knowledge, this result suggests that genuine ambivalence about candidates is part of the story as well. For these most prominent candidates, ambivalence outweighs lack of knowledge.


For the less well known candidates, the reverse is dramatically clear. The candidates in the lower left corner of the top figure are all much more likely to suffer from voter ignorance than ambivalence. Upwards of 70% say they don't know enough about most of these, with only about 10% expressing ambivalence. Richardson and Biden are a little more likely to be known but also more likely to draw an "undecided" response.

This plot also shows that Barack Obama remains more in the company of these less visible candidates than in the company of the best known six. His "don't know enough" rate remains near 50% with only modest indecision. It will be interesting to see what trajectory each of these candidates take over the next months as they become better known. Obama has enjoyed the first burst of coverage that emergent candidates can ride to national prominence. But he clearly has a long way to go to catch up with the top tier of candidates.

So far I've focused on the perceptions of the national sample of adults as a whole. What about within their party, which is the crucial issue for nomination, of course. The CBS poll provides a very helpful breakdown of reaction by party, allowing us to look at how partisanship affects these favorable or unfavorable impressions of candidates. For nominations questions, we can focus on the candidate's party. But an extra bonus is that the party breakdown also allows us to look at how polarizing each candidate is.

In the figure below a red dot represents Republican respondents, blue for Democrats and purple for independents. The black dot is for the population as a whole. In several of the plots the total and the independent points overlap, showing only the black for the total population. As above, the horizontal axis is favorable and the vertical axis is unfavorable.


The most striking, if not surprising, result is that Hillary Clinton is indeed the most polarizing figure in the field. Her favorable-unfavorable ratio among Democrats is 72-11, while among Republicans it is 9-78. Independents split a bit to the positive side, 41-33. The population split is 43-38. It is a stable of analysis of Clinton that she must win despite the near monolithic opposition among Republicans and win a narrow majority by combining equally monolithic Democratic support with a small margin among independents. So far that story is well supported by the evidence. It is also worth noting that 15% of Democrats they they are undecided about her, as do 23% of independents. That ambivalence seems to remain her vulnerability.

Previous Democratic nominees Gore and Kerry are almost equally disliked among Republicans, but nether enjoys close to the support Clinton has among Democrats.

John Edwards falls short of Clinton's support among Dems, but he also draws less negativity from Republicans and does slightly better among independents.

Barack Obama appeals to independents nearly as well as he does to Democrats, a potential substantial advantage, while Republicans are only a slightly net negative about him. However, the high inability to rate Obama makes this comparison a limited one. As he emerges it will be interesting to see if he can continue to win independents so well and how much Republican's learn to dislike him.

No other Democrat is well known enough to make analysis of these data profitable. All need a substantial gain in visibility before distinctions such as these will be meaningful. This includes 2004 candidate Dennis Kucinich who is rated about the same as Chris Dodd.

On the Republican side, McCain remains the strongest candidate in gaining favorable ratings from outside the Republican camp. But he also fall short of Giuliani in favorable-unfavorable ratio WITHIN the Republican party. McCain gains a 48-10 favorable-unfavorable rating among Republicans, but Giuliani's is 63-9. Both draw about equally among independents and McCain does better among Democrats.

These data illustrate the dilemma many analysts have pointed out: Giuliani is leading most of the polls taken among Republicans. But analysts wonder how many Republicans know about his positions on many social issues that differ from those of the core of Republican partisans. These analysts dismiss the polling, saying that as voters learn more, Republicans will turn away from Giuliani. This leads them to conclude Giuliani is unlikely to be able to win the nomination. At the same time, McCain has not yet become the favorite candidate among Republicans, and especially among the conservative base which has spent years castigating McCain for not being conservative enough. The fragility of both of these candidacies is apparent in these data.

But then who? These data clearly show that none of the other candidates has yet gained enough recognition to be considered a likely challenger for supremacy. Romney remains quite low in favorable ratings among Republicans, despite a significant amount of media coverage. Likewise Brownback. And Hagel and Hunter barely register. (My own former Governor, Tommy Thompson, didn't make CBS's candidate list.)

As I said at the start, the danger of these polls is that they reinforce the status quo without a sense of how things can change. It is entirely likely that some candidate not currently in the top tier will emerge as a substantial challenger before the nomination is won. We just don't know who from these data.

We can get a taste of very early dynamics by looking at change in favorability over time. The CBS poll provided earlier ratings for eight candidates. Most of these are from summer or early fall of 2006, but some are much older. Each panel of the figure below gives the base date from which change is measured. The arrow points from the earlier to the current poll.


On the Democratic side, Clinton gained about 10 points on the favorable side, while adding only a couple of unfavorable points since September. This was enough to push her from a net rating that was slightly negative to one that was net slightly positive.

Edwards was a near-mirror image of this. He gained little favorability, but reduced his unfavorable rating by 10 points, giving him a significantly improved net rating, from slightly net positive to significantly more positive.

Both Kerry and Gore moved the wrong direction, becoming more net negative than they started, though both were already negative on balance. Finally, Biden and Kucinich show small movements but against bases well in the past (20 years in Biden's case!)

Only McCain and Giuliani are available for the Republican trends. McCain gained over 10 points of favorable ratings, at the cost of about 5 more points of negative rating. This improved his position a bit.

The Giuliani comparison is quite negative, but that is surely due to the over two year old base from 2004. His movement in other polls has been substantially positive. See the analysis of Marist Poll trends for Giuliani (and others) here.

As the winter and spring develop, I'll revisit these data, adding dynamics that I hope will tell the story of who emerges, who fades and how the 2008 nomination battle shapes up.