Pollster.com

November 4, 2007 - November 10, 2007

 

A Hits B, B Hits A, C Wins?

Topics: 2008 , The 2008 Race

Read between the lines of some recent reports and it sure sounds as if negative attack ads will be airing soon. "By December," The Washington Post's Dan Balz writes this week, "it's likely that television ads in Iowa will be airing that directly attack her [Hillary Clinton]." Ken Wheaton of Advertising Age agrees that "chatter from inside the parties" means "the negative campaigning would start just around Christmas." Meanwhile, a clever attack ad by the Edwards campaign posted to YouTube wins plaudits as "a mini-Internet sensation." Edwards consultant Joe Trippi mocks the Obama campaign for failing to "take the gloves off" and says that "asking questions about a candidate's position on the issues is not attack politics, it's responsible politics."

So with speculation building about a coming negative ad war, here are some words of advice: In a multi-candidate primary, an attack ad strategy presents huge risks for the attacker, and not just in Iowa.

Consider the names and races on the following list. What do they have in common?

All eight emerged as "surprise" winners in competitive multi-candidate races. All eight surged to victory in the final days of their respective races as the more heavily favored candidates hammered each other with negative attack ads. In all but one of these races the pattern was the same: The two front-running candidate - let's call them Candidate A and Candidate B - ran attack ads against each other. In each case, the ads "worked," but in an unexpected way. They moved support away from both A and B to the benefit of a third Candidate C (the names listed above) that was able to communicate a mostly positive message that reached voters in the final weeks of the campaign. When this phenomenon occurred in the Iowa Caucus campaign four years ago -- a negative exchange between Dick Gephardt and Howard Dean that worked to the advantage of John Kerry and John Edwards -- the pundits dubbed it "murder suicide."

The one semi-exception to the typical pattern was the 1984 New Hampshire primary in which John Glenn ran television ads attacking Walter Mondale in the final weeks of the campaign. As far as I can tell from the historical record (and my own memory), Mondale never responded with counterpunch ads of his own. According to Jack Germond and Jules Witcover's Wake Us When It's Over, Glenn's attack ads raised Mondale's negatives and initially helped Glenn narrow Mondale's lead in New Hampshire. However, after Gary Hart's surprise second place finish in Iowa made him a viable challenger to Mondale, internal campaign polls in New Hampshire showed Glenn "fading rapidly" with all the benefit going to Hart.

Yes, as First Read reminded us recently, voters in focus groups "don't like negative ads" but "that doesn't mean negative ads don't work." True on both counts. Voters do not like negative ads, but they work best in general election contests when voters typically have only two viable choices. Two-way contests are essentially a "zero sum game." If A moves support away from B, it goes to A, and vice versa. However, when voters believe they have a real third choice, the negative ads sometimes work to the benefit of that third candidate.

Of course, as a wise Republican pollster put it to me recently, the "necessary corollary" of this pattern is that Candidate C needs to be more than a passive bystander. That candidate needs "to be enough of a force field to have some gravity of their own" to pick up the voters that become disillusioned with the candidates at the top of the ticket. The various Candidate C's above had achieved critical mass through a combination of many of the following: Enough paid advertising toward the end of the campaign to establish solid name recognition, a coherent and differentiating message, perceived success in campaign debates, late newspaper endorsements and last minute evidence of growing viability (usually in the form of last minute public polls showing the candidate gaining and "doing better").

What is clear about the presidential nominating races in both parties is that several candidates on each side are or may soon be positioned to play the Candidate C role.

Now for some cautions: First, keep in mind that the "negative attacks" that typically trigger this phenomenon are paid advertisements that reach a mass audience on broadcast or cable television, not criticism in debates or speeches. Most if not all of the C candidates listed above criticized their opponents in debates or public appearances. Negative broadcast ads are more likely to boomerang than other attacks (including those that appear only on the Internet) for two reasons: They reach politically inattentive voters that pay less attention to politics and are typically harsher in tone than the statements made in speeches or debates. As such, the gentle chiding in Chris Dodd's recent ads do not fit the bill.

Second, the list above amounts to a pretty small sample size, and most of the examples come from Democratic primaries (perhaps reflecting my own skewed experience as a Democratic pollster). Readers may know of exceptions to this pattern, and if so, I certainly urge them to leave comments below.

Third, it is worth noting that John Edwards, should he begin airing broadcast attack ads, is running behind both Hillary Clinton and a potential "candidate C" Barack Obama. My own sense is that only increases the risk for Edwards, but it certainly makes his situation a bit of a break from the typical pattern.

For all of these reasons, I hesitate to describe the "A hits B, B hits A, C Wins" pattern as an inviolable "rule." Sometimes, campaigns find a way to defy the conventional wisdom. My point, again, is that in a competitive multi-candidate primary, a candidate takes an enormous risk in embarking on a broadcast attack ad strategy.

Partly for that reason, I am guessing that the Edwards campaign has not yet committed to "going negative" with its Iowa television buy. I have no inside information, but Clinton's position in Iowa is weaker than elsewhere, most polls show Edwards within single digits of Clinton and Obama and the Edwards campaign has just started airing its positive ads. For all the bravado, his consultants know the history as well as anyone. Edwards pollster Harrison Hickman (my one-time employer) worked on the Glenn campaign in 1984. So I am guessing that the Edwards campaign is holding fire to see if the combination of positive television and attacks limited to speeches, debates, Internet ads puts them in position to win.

We will soon see.


Two New NH Polls on Sunday

Topics: 2008 , The 2008 Race

In addition to a new University of New Hampshire poll due over the weekend (as reported yesterday by John DiStaso), we also received results from another polling organization that are embargoed for release until Sunday.

As we are honoring the embargo we can neither confirm nor deny these details reported by Marc Ambinder earlier today:

One of the polls shows that the gap between Clinton and Barack Obama narrowed by more than 10 points. Her biggest decline was seen among older voters. The other shows Clinton's lead over Obama reduced by approximately 9 points. John Edwards remains at about 15 percent in both.

Check in for all the links and details on Sunday.


POLL: Rasmussen Huckabee vs Obama, Clinton


A new Rasmussen Reports automated survey of 1,200 likely voters nationwide (conducted 11/2 through 11/4) finds former Gov. Mike Huckabee trailing Sen. Barack Obama by 11 points (49% to 38%) and running three points behind Sen. Hillary Clinton (46% to 43%) in general election match-ups.


A Swampland "Virtual Chat"

Topics: 2008 , The 2008 Race

I have been on a train for most of the afternoon, and did not have time to post earlier, so two quick notes.

First, you can catch me on a new "Swampcast" with Ana Marie Cox at Time's Swampland blog discussing what polls can tell us about the strength of Hillary Clinton's support in the Democratic primaries. "Virtual chat" Video this time!

Second, an "outlier" of note (via The Page): The Union Leader's John DiStaso reported this morning that a new survey from the University of New Hampshire is "expected this weekend."


POLL: Rasmussen GOP New Hampshire Primary


Additional results from the recent Rasmussen Reports automated survey of 628 likely Republican primary voters in New Hampshire (conducted 11/5) finds former Gov. Mitt Romney (at 32%) leading former Mayor Rudy Giuliani (17%) and Sen. John McCain (16%) in a statewide primary; former Gov. Mike Huckabee trails at 10%, former Sen. Fred Thompson at 7%. All other candidates receive less than five percent each.


POLL: Zogby GOP Iowa Caucus


Additional results from the recent Zogby telephone survey of 410 likely Republican caucus goers in Iowa (conducted 11/6) finds former Gov. Mitt Romney leading former Gov. Mike Huckabee (31% to 15%) in a statewide primary; former Mayor Rudy Giuliani trails at 11%, former Sen. Fred Thompson at 10%, Sen. John McCain at 8%. All other candidates receive less than five percent each.


POLL: AP-Ipsos 08 Primary


A new AP-Ipsos national survey (story, results) of 1,001 adults (conducted 11/5 through 11/7) finds:

  • Among 474 Democrats and those who lean Democratic, Sen. Hillary Clinton leads Sen. Barack Obama (45% to 22%) in a national primary; former Sen. John Edwards trails at 12%. All other candidates receive less than five percent each.
  • Among 361 Republicans and those who lean Republican, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani leads former Sen. Fred Thompson (29% to 19%) in a national primary; Sen. John McCain trails at 13%, former Gov. Mitt Romney at 12%, and former Gov. Mike Huckabee at 10%.


POLL: ABC/Post Civil Unions, Abortion, Immigration


Additional results from the recent ABC News/Washington Post national survey (story, results) of 1,131 adults (conducted 10/29 through 11/1) finds:

  • 55% of Americans think homosexual couples should "be allowed to form legally recognized civil union, giving them the legal rights of married couples in areas such as health insurance, inheritence and pension coverage;" 42% think they should not.
  • 55% think abortion should be legal in all or most cases; 43% say it should be illegal in all or most cases.
  • 51% would support "a program giving ILLEGAL immigrants now living in the United States the right to live here LEGALLY if they pay a fine and meet other requirements;" 44% oppose.


POLL: NBC/WSJ National Survey


A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal national survey (NBC story, results; Journal story, results) of 1,509 adults (conducted 11/1 through 11/5) finds:

  • 31% approve of the job that George W. Bush is doing as president; 63% disapprove.
  • Among Democrats and those who lean Democratic; Sen. Hillary Clinton leads Sen. Barack Obama (47% to 25%) in a national primary; former Sen. John Edwards trails at 11%. All other candidates trail at less than five percent each.
  • Among Republicans and those who lean Republican; former Mayor Rudy Giuliani (at 33%) leads Sen. John McCain (16%) and former Sen. Fred Thompson (15%) in a national primary; former Gov. Mitt Romney trails at 11%, former Gov. Mike Huckabee at 8%. All other candidates trail at less than five percent each.
  • Clinton edges out Giuliani (46% to 45%) in a general election match-up.


Wednesday's "Outliers"**

Topics: 2008 , The 2008 Race

Frank Newport compares Hillary Clinton's performance on the recent Gallup survey to the recent Marist survey and warns of small sample sizes but also sees good news for her challengers in the type of candidate Democrats are looking for.

Kathy Frankovic ponders why the last CBS News poll shows no gender gap in support for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic nomination contest.

Dan Balz notices that support for Clinton has been rising among self-described liberals.

Gary Langer reviews Rudy Giuliani's support for evangelical Christians and asks if Pat Robertson's endorsement will matter.

Patrick Ruffini considers the implications of Clinton getting less than 50% of the vote against Ron Paul, and also links to an impressive compilation of live charts tracking Ron Paul's fundraising efforts.

Jon Cohen tracks the growth in Americans who want to decrease the number of troops in Iraq.

David Hill considers the ideas tested by Newt Gingrich in a "flood of polling data collected this summer by six respected Republican polling firms," and comes away unimpressed.

Mark Mellman sees "no consistent relationship between the level of congressional approval and the electoral fate of the majority party."

**Another entrant into our ongoing efforts to name this occasional feature. "Remainders" was taken. "Leftovers" seems a bit, um, stale. "Outliers" seems more appropriate. Thoughts?


POLL: Zogby Iowa Democratic Caucus


A new Zogby telephone survey of 502 likely caucus goers in Iowa (conducted 11/6) finds:

  • Sen. Hillary Clinton narrowly leads Sen. Barack Obama (28% to 25%) in a statewide caucus; former Sen. John Edwards trails at 21%, Gov. Bill Richardson at 9%. All other candidates trail at less than five percent each.
  • When votes for candidates with less than 15% are reallocated*, Clinton receives 30%, Obama 29%, and Edwards 27%.
  • *Note: "In the [Democratic] caucuses, a first round of "balloting" is conducted, and those candidates who do not win at least 15% support are ruled "unviable" and supporters are directed to a second choice among those who remained "viable" before a second round of "balloting" is conducted."


POLL: USA Today/Gallup '08


A new USAToday/Gallup national survey (USAT story, results; Gallup Dem analysis) of 1,024 adults (conducted 11/2 through 11/4) finds:

  • Among 430 Republicans and those who lean Republican, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani leads Sen. John McCain (34% to 18%) in a national primary; former Sen. Fred Thompson trails at 17%, former Gov. Mitt Romney at 14%, former Gov. Mike Huckabee at 6%. All other candidates receive less than five percent each.
  • Among 508 Democrats and those who lean Democratic, Sen. Hillary Clinton leads Sen. Barack Obama (50% to 22%) in a national primary; former Sen. John Edwards trails at 15%. When former V.P. Al Gore is included, Clinton runs at 43%, Obama at 18%, and both Gore and Edwards at 14%. All other candidates receive less than five percent each.
  • Clinton leads Giuliani (51% to 45%) in a general election match-up.


POLL: SurveyUSA Minnesota, North Carolina, Florida Presidential Primaries


Three new SurveyUSA automated surveys of likely voters in North Carolina, Florida, and Minnesota (conducted 11/2 through 11/5) find:

North Carolina

  • Among 453 likely Republican primary voters asked to choose from five candidates, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani leads former Sen. Fred Thompson (32% to 21%) in a statewide primary; Sen. John McCain trails at 13%, former Gov. Mike Huckabee at 12%, former Gov. Mitt Romney at 10%.
  • Among 580 likely Democratic primary voters asked to choose from three candidates, Sen. Hillary Clinton leads former Sen. John Edwards (43% to 25%) in a statewide primary; Sen. Barack Obama trails at 19%.

Florida

  • Among 435 likely Republican primary voters asked to choose from five candidates, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani leads former Sen. Fred Thompson (34% to 22%) in a statewide primary; former Gov. Mitt Romney trails at 17%, Sen. John McCain at 10%, former Gov. Mike Huckabee at 8%.
  • Among 451 likely Democratic primary voters asked to choose from three candidates, Sen. Hillary Clinton (at 56%) leads Sen. Barack Obama (19%) and former Sen. John Edwards (14%) in a statewide primary.

Minnesota

  • Among 616 registered voters, Sen. Norm Coleman narrowly leads Al Franken (48% to 44%) and Mike Ciresi (49% to 43%) in statewide general election match-ups for U.S. Senate.


POLL: WNBC/Marist National Primary


A new WNBC/Marist national survey of 811 registered voters (conducted 10/29 through 11/1) finds:

  • Among 385 Democrats and those who lean Democratic, Sen. Hillary Clinton leads Sen. Barack Obama (48% to 17%) in a national primary; former Sen. John Edwards trails at 10%. All other candidates receive less than five percent each.
  • "A comparison of interviews completed before and after last week's Democratic debate reveals Hillary Clinton's support among Democratic primary voters was 52% [n=224] before the debate and 43% [n=161] after the debate."
  • Among 306 Republicans and those who lean Republican, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani leads Sen. John McCain (30% to 17%) in a national primary; former Gov. Mitt Romney trails at 13%, former Sen. Fred Thompson at 12%, former Gov. Mike Huckabee at 5%. All other candidates receive less than five percent each.
  • 34% approve of the job George W. Bush is doing as president; 58% disapprove.
  • Clinton leads Giuliani (50% to 40%) in a general election match-up.


POLL: SurveyUSA California Primary


A new SurveyUSA automated survey of likely voters in California (conducted 11/2 through 11/4) finds:

  • Among 513 Republicans asked to choose between five candidates, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani (at 34%) leads Sen. John McCain (16%), former Gov. Mitt Romney (15%), and former Sen Fred Thompson (13%) in a statewide primary; former Gov. Mike Huckabee trails at 8%.
  • Among 722 Democrats asked to choose between three candidates, Sen. Hillary Clinton leads Sen. Barack Obama (53% to 25%) in a statewide primary; former Sen. John Edwards trails at 13%.


NH Poll: Horserace or Betting Line?

Topics: 2008 , The 2008 Race

Yesterday, I wrote about an aspect of the way the media has been covering the campaign that "makes me want to scream." Today, we have a story about a new poll in New Hampshire that may turn me into Howard Beale.

Via The Page we learn of a new telephone survey of just 401 "likely primary voters" conducted November 1-4 by Boston/New Hampshire television station WBZ and Franklin Pierce University (story, results, tables). Given the small sample size (which includes likely voters for each primary), the initial intent may have been to focus on issues of interest to all primary voters rather than the usual trial-heat results. Issues were the focus of the poll story that WBZ broadcast last night. But that is not the way it worked out in their online article.

The headline on the wbstv.com article proclaims:

11-06%20wbz%20headline.png

The lead:

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and New York Senator Hillary Clinton continue to hold on to their lead in the latest WBZ/Franklin Pierce University New Hampshire Primary Poll.

The story also characterizes Hillary Clinton's "lead" as "very strong."

The problem? The WBZ/Franklin Pierce poll did not ask a question about vote preference (at least not that was referenced in the story or any of the materials posted online, and our calls to the number provided in the PDF were not answered). Here are the two questions they asked that were referenced in the story:

Q07: Of all of the Republican candidates running for President, which one do you think is most likely to win the New Hampshire Presidential primary?

Q08: Of all of the Democratic candidates running for President, which one do you think is most likely to win the New Hampshire Presidential primary?

Memo to WBZ: The New Hampshire primary works differently than the Power of 10. When voters go the polls on primary day, the ballot will ask for their vote preference, not the candidate they expect to win.

The difference between the candidate that voters support and the candidate they believe will win can also be huge. For example, on the CNN survey conducted earlier this month, 51% of Democrats preferred Hillary Clinton (in a race without Al Gore), but 64% believed she was the candidate "most likely to win the Democratic nomination. Among Republicans, 27% said they would be most likely to support Rudy Giuliani, but 50% believed he was most likely to win (numbers from CNN release).

So if you are going to cover the horse race, please, cover the horse race. Not the betting lines.


POLL: Rasmussen Minnesota Senate, President


A new Rasmussen Reports automated survey of 500 likely voters in Minnesota (conducted 10/31) finds:

  • Sen. Norm Coleman leads Al Franken (49% to 42%) and edges out Mike Ciresi (46% to 43%) in a statewide general election match-up for U.S. Senate.


Ten Months of Opinion Change on War and More

Topics: Iraq

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While I've been doing back room work the last two months, some interesting changes have taken place in opinion about the war, the president, congress and the country. It is too early, and the changes too modest, to declare this a "turning point" in opinion, but the changes are consistent enough to take a hard look and ponder if there is still potential for significant shifts over the next 52 weeks until Election Day 2008.

The single most striking shift is the change in opinion about how the war in Iraq is going. After four and a half years of steady downward trends, there has been a reversal of direction since July.

CBS, CNN and Pew have asked "How well is the military effort in Iraq going?" since the war started (with some minor variation in wording. See the details here.) The virtue of this question is its consistent use over time and its summary evaluation of the war.

President Bush's change of policy in Iraq in January, coupling a change of command with a surge of troop levels did not produce immediately positive responses from the public. Likewise the rise in U.S. casualties in the spring following the change in deployment strategy certainly might have been expected to further erode support for the war and for Bush.

But in retrospect the actions have been accompanied by two phases of changing opinion on "how the war is going". From January through June, the long running collapse in positive evaluation of the war (especially in the second half of 2006) halted. The flattening now appears to have clearly coincided with the change in command and troop levels.

This flattening didn't signal rising opinion on the war-- but after dropping over 13 percentage points in six months, simply arresting the collapse was a major plus for the administration. And this is a particularly striking thing given that the spring of 2007 was a focal point for critiques of the war in Congress, with Democratic leadership repeatedly pushing votes that would have required changes in Iraq policy of various kinds. And this flattening came at the same time that casualties rose.

The second phase of opinion change started in early July, when positive evaluations of the war took their first upturn since late 2003 (around the time of the capture of Saddam Husein). The trend estimate has turned up some 8 percentage points since July 1, still not back to early 2006 levels, but remarkable this late in an unpopular war and with a weak leader and determined opposition.

It is also worth noting that this is not just a shift due to "undecided" citizens shifting. The percentage saying the war is going badly also stabilized through the spring and has turned down to about 58%, from a high of 69% at the end of 2006.

Through the spring, conservatives and Republican supporters of President Bush argued for "giving the surge a chance". This rhetoric shifted in the summer to claims that "the surge has worked". Meanwhile Democrats and liberals pushed for a timetable for withdrawal through the spring and early summer. Very few citizens have a clear idea of any quantitative measures of how the war is "actually" going. Even trends in American deaths are rarely comprehensively presented in news reports (though sometimes mentioned in passing as "factoids".) And even among supporters of the war claims of "success of the surge" were rarely supported by direct evidence. (An exception to the lack of evidence was a widely debated op-ed piece in the New York Times by Kenneth Pollack and Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution on July 30. O'Hanlon has produced the comprehensive "Iraq Index" at Brookings, an invaluable compilation of measurable trends in the war. Ironically, the op-ed piece was based on "anecdotes" from a visit to Iraq rather than quantitative measures.)

But citizens don't shift their opinion based on quantified measures of progress, nor even New York Times or Weekly Standard articles. For most citizens, opinions are driven more by the messages they hear from partisan leaders, with some sifting for credibility of the claims and filtering by predispositions. And, it must be added, by some effects of "reality", whatever that is.

The current upturn in positive views of the war then reflect perhaps some bits of success on the ground. US deaths are down. Iraqi civilian deaths are down. But if it were casualties alone that drove opinion, positive views should have fallen sharply in the spring as the death tolls of both US troops and Iraqis increased. Instead opinion became flat. So it would be too simple minded to imagine a direct causal effect of casualties on views of the war.

So what to make of the upturn in positive views of how the war is going? Republicans (including the president) have made real progress in swaying opinion to their side, while 10 months of Democratic efforts have failed to persuade citizens that the war continues to be a disaster. The war of partisan persuasion has tilted towards the Republicans and away from the Democrats, at least in this particular aspect.

Let's be clear: the trend estimate is that only 38% think the war is going well, while 58% say it is not going well. The balance remains on the pessimistic side and by a 20 point margin. What I am talking about is the change in trend and the shift of marginal opinion. But that is a telling indicator. On election day 2 years ago today, the partisan war for public opinion seemed to have decisively shifted to the Democratic view. The notion that there was nothing the White House could do to reverse their public losses of support was widespread. But the last 10 months show that indeed there was something that could change and this change is important.

Much could still change before election day 2008, twelve months from today. Either positively or negatively for the war, and even more so for the candidates currently seeking to inherit the war from President Bush. But the past 10 months of opinion on how the war is going should serve as a reminder that the politics of war, like politics in general, is always open to change.

Postscript: Opinion on the war, and on politics and politicians is, of course, complex. I'm confident many will object to what I've left out above (as well as what I've included!). But take a look at the trends presented below. Across other measures of war opinion, a stabilization (not necessarily much of a rise) has taken place. Even evaluation of Bush's handling of the war rose for a while (though is currently headed back down.)

Overall evaluation of Bush has turned up since July.

Right track or wrong direction has flattened recently.

Even opinion of Congress has stabilized (though see the links to party performance from the thumbnails in the column to the right.)

There are some changes taking place in trends that have been taken for granted. It is time to reexamine our easy and comfortable assumptions.

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3BushApproval2ndTerm20071101071106.png

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5CongApproval20071101.png

Cross-posted at Political Arithmetik.


POLL: NY1 New York Primary


A new NY1 statewide survey of registered voters in New York State (conducted 10/26 through 11/3 by Blum & Weprin Associates) finds:

  • Among 328 Republicans, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani (at 42%) leads Sen. John McCain (11%), former Sen. Fred Thompson (9%), former Gov. Mitt Romney (8%), and former Gov. Mike Huckabee (6%) in a statewide primary. All other candidates receive less than five percent each.
  • Among 670 Democrats, Sen. Hillary Clinton leads Sen. Barack Obama (45% to 19%) in a statewide primary; former Sen. John Edwards trails at 7%. All other candidates receive less than five percent each.
  • General Election Match-ups:

    Clinton 49%, Giuliani 34%
    Obama 41%, Giuliani 36%


POLL: CNN 2008 Primary/GE


A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation national survey of 929 registered voters (conducted 11/2 through 11/4) finds:

  • Among 467 registered Democrats and those who lean Democratic, Sen. Hillary Clinton leads Sen. Barack Obama (44% to 25%) in a national primary; former Sen. John Edwards trails at 15%. All other candidates receive less than five percent each.
  • Among 397 registered Republicans and those who lean Republican, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani leads former Sen. Fred Thompson (28% to 19%) in a national primary; Sen. John McCain trails at 16%, former Gov. Mitt ROmney at 11%, former Gov. Mike Huckabee at 10%, and Rep. Ron Paul at 5%. All other candidates receive less than five percent each.
  • Clinton leads Giuliani (51% to 45%) in a general election match-up.


Three Campaigns

Topics: 2008 , The 2008 Race

As someone who has spent much of his career as a paid political professional, there are moments in most campaigns when the horserace coverage of the campaign makes me want to scream. Not that I dislike horserace coverage -- I enjoy it as much as any political junkie. No, the problem is that it so often misses one fundamental aspect of the way American politics works. All too often, news and commentary about public opinion makes the implicit assumption that most Americans are attentive to politics. If all Americans followed every campaign story closely, it would make sense to watch national polls for evidence of a immediate reactions. But it just isn't so.

The reality is that politically attentive, well-informed Americans constitute what U.C.L.A political scientist John Zaller, in his highly respected text The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion, calls a "small but important minority:"

Members of this minority can recognize important senators on sight, accurately recount each day's leading news stories and keep track of the major events in Washington and other world capitals. They are, thus, heavily exposed to elite discourse about politics.

Any attempt to gauge the absolute size of this highly informed minority is essentially arbitrary, though see Bennett, 1989; Smith 1989, Delli-Carpini and Keeter, [1997]). Nonetheless, one indication of size is when respondents to a National Election Study were asked to name as many members of the U.S. Supreme Court as they could remember, about 1.9 percent of the public could mention as many as half the members [p. 16, links added].

Or consider another measure. According to the Nielsen ratings published by TVNewser, last week's MSNBC debate garnered just 2.4 million viewers, ranking it sixth among the sixteen debates this year. The biggest debate audience so far was 3.1 million for the September 5 Fox News Republican debate. As Jay Cost points out, that audience amounts to "about 4% of the first Bush-Kerry debate in 2004."

So at one extreme are those of us who closely follow politics. At the other are the roughly 25% that have been telling the Pew Research Center they follow campaign news "not closely at all." Of course, many of these totally inattentive Americans do not bother to vote.

So the vast majority of Americans fall into a critical middle group that pays sporadic attention to politics, mostly through television. Again, quoting Zaller:

Probably from some combination of civic obligation and the entertainment value of politics, a majority pays enough attention to public affairs to learn something about it. But even so, it is easy to underestimate just how little typical Americans know about even the most prominent political events - and also how quickly they forget what for a time they do understand [p. 16].

Consider some recent findings from the political knowledge study fielded by the Pew Research Center last February. At that time, only 15% of adults could identify Harry Reid as the Majority Leader of the Senate. Only 21% knew that Robert Gates is the Secretary of Defense (without prompting, though 37% could identify his title when offered four possible choices). Only 24% knew that that both houses of Congress had recently passed legislation to raise the minimum wage.

And yet time and again, some event - like last week's debate and the coverage that followed - captures the attention of political junkies. Inevitably, journalists turn to national public opinion polls of all adults anticipating major shifts in opinion and surprised to see little or no change.

We should note that the current upward trend in support for Hillary Clinton kicked off just after the July 23 CNN/YouTube debate during which Clinton and Obama sparred over whether to meet with the leaders of Syria, Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea. Clinton's support now is 5 to 6 points higher on our trend estimates than in early July. Both a Pew Research Center survey in late July and other analysis based on more recent Gallup surveys shows Clinton's gains coming mostly from college educated, who tend to pay more attention to political news to those without college degrees.

Keep in mind, however, that the statistically meaningful six-point gain did not occur in a week's time. It has been spread out over nearly four months, amounting to a percentage point or two a month since late July. At that rate, the odds are that any significant shift since last week will be lost in the usual random variation (i.e. "margin of error") inherent in opinion surveys, especially if we focus on only one or two polls.

Going forward, it may help to thing about three different campaigns that are now underway nationally. The first is among the tiny but influential group that follows politics obsessively (and includes virtually everyone that reads this site). These voters know all about last week's debate and the coverage that followed, and could respond accordingly.

The second campaign includes most of the other voters in the United States. Most did not follow last week's debate or the ensuing story, and most remain unengaged in the campaign. Those that watched the morning news shows last week or glanced at the front page of a newspaper may have seen a story or two about Senator Clinton having a tough time in the debate, but little more. For months the main story of the Democratic race has been about Clinton's success and dominance. If that narrative changes in a way that persists beyond a week, we may see a small shift in national trial-heat polls, but expect any such change to be slow and gradual at best between now and the end of the year.

The third and most important campaign, however, is occurring right now among voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. The same division exists there between well informed voters and everyone else, with one critical difference: In those two states, the candidates are spending millions of dollars to push their messages at less attentive voters through television advertising, direct mail and other forms of voter contact. And since candidates are constantly campaigning in person in those states, the local news in Iowa and New Hampshire is also covering the race much more heavily than elsewhere.

The third campaign is the most important. It is worth watching trends there more closely, both because voters there are now tuning into politics, and because voters nationally typically start to pay more attention to politics as those two states render their decisions. For that reason, large and dramatic shifts in the national polls are far more likely in January than they are now.


POLL: SurveyUSA Kentucky Gubernatorial GE


A new SurveyUSA automated survey of 522 likely voters in Kentucky (conducted 11/2 through 11/4) finds Democratic Challenger Steve Beshear leading Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher (59% to 39%) in a general election match-up for Governor.


POLL: Roll Call/SurveyUSA 08 Senate Races


Seven new Roll Call/SurveyUSA automated surveys (Roll Call article; SurveyUSA results below) of registered voters in Oregon, Minnesota, New Mexico, Virginia, Colorado, Maine, and New Hampshire (conducted 10/26 through 10/29) test general election match-ups for U.S. Senate and find:

Oregon (n=641)

  • Sen. Gordon Smith leads State Speaker Jeff Merkley (48% to 39%) and Steve Novick (45% to 39%).
  • 26% have a favorable opinion of Smith, 30% have an unfavorable opinion, and 31% are neutral.

Minnesota (n=692)

  • Sen. Norm Coleman edges out Al Franken (46% to 45%) and runs even with Mike Ciresi (44% to 44%).
  • 36% have a favorable opinion of Coleman, 37% have an unfavorable opinion, 20% are neutral.

New Mexico (n=625)

  • Rep. Steve Pearce leads Democrat Don Wiviott (49% to 32%) but runs narrowly behind Lt. Gov. Diane Denish (47% to 43%) and Mayor Martin Chavez (48% to 43%); Gov. Bill Richardson leads Pearce (58% to 37%).
  • Rep. Heather Wilson leads Wiviott (47% to 38%) and runs narrowly behind Chavez (48% to 44%) and Denish (49% to 43%) while Richardson leads her (59% to 37%).

Virginia (n=644)

  • Former Gov. Mark Warner leads former Gov. Jim Gilmore (57% to 35%) and former Sen. George Allen (52% to 42%).

Colorado (n=662)

  • Rep. Mark Udall leads former Rep. Bob Schaffer (48% to 41).

Maine (n=679)

  • Sen. Susan Collins leads Rep. Tom Allen (55% to 38%).
  • 48% have a favorable opinion of Collins, 25% have an unfavorable opinion, and 25% are neutral.

New Hampshire (n=642)

  • Sen. John Sununu leads Jay Buckey (49% to 36%); former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen leads Sununu (53% to 42%).
  • 31% have a favorable opinion of Sununu, 38% have an unfavorable opinion, and 22% are neutral.


POLL: Rasmussen Edwards vs McCain, Romney


A new Rasmussen Reports automated survey of 800 likely voters nationwide (conducted 10/31 through 11/1) finds former Sen. John Edwards leading Sen. John McCain (47% to 38%) and leading former Gov. Mitt Romney (50% to 34%) in nationwide general election match-ups.


POLL: Rasmussen Kentucky Governor, Senator, and President


A new Rasmussen Reports automated survey of 500 likely voters in Kentucky (conducted 11/1) finds:

  • Democratic challenger Steve Beshear leads Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher (54% to 39%) in a statewide general election match-up for Governor.
  • Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell leads Democratic challengers Greg Stumbo (48% to 41%) and Crit Luallen (49% to 39%) in general election match-ups for U.S. Senate.
  • Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani leads Sen. Hillary Clinton (47% to 41%) while former Sen. Fred Thompson narrowly leads Clinton (44% to 43%) in statewide general election match-ups for President.


POLL: ABC/Post National Survey


A new ABC News/Washington Post national survey (ABC story, results; Post story, results) of 1,131 adults nationwide (conducted 10/29 through 11/1) finds:

  • 33% approve of the way George W. Bush is handling his job as president; 64% disapprove.
  • Among 598 Democrats and those who lean Democratic, Sen. Hillary Clinton leads Sen. Barack Obama (49% to 26%) in a national primary; former Sen. John Edwards trails at 12%. All other candidates receive less than five percent each.
  • Among 436 Republicans and those who lean Republican, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani leads Sen. John McCain (33% to 19%) in a national primary; former Sen. Fred Thompson trails at 16%, former Gov. Mitt Romney at 11%, former Gov. Mike Huckabee at 9%. All other candidates receive less than five percent each.
  • General Election Match-ups:

    Clinton 50%, Giuliani 46%
    Clinton 52%, McCain 43%
    Clinton 56%, Thompson 40%
    Clinton 57%, Romney 39%


POLL: Newsweek National Survey


A new Newsweek national survey (story, results) of 1,002 registered voters nationwide (conducted 10/31 through 11/1 by Princeton Survey Research Associates International) finds:

  • Among 433 Democrats and those who lean Democratic, Sen. Hillary Clinton leads Sen. Barack Obama (43% to 24%) in a national primary; former Sen. John Edwards trails at 12%. All other candidates receive less than five percent each.
  • Among 430 Republicans and those who lean Republican, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani leads former Sen. Fred Thompson (30% to 15%) in a national primary; Sen. John McCain trails at 14%, former Gov. Mitt Romney at 12%, former Gov. Mike Huckabee at 7%. All other candidates receive less than five percent each.
  • Clinton leads Giuliani 49% to 45% in a nationwide general election match-up.


 

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