November 18, 2007 - November 24, 2007
A new Reuters/Zogby telephone survey of likely primary voters nationwide (conducted 11/14 through 11/17) finds:
- Among 503 Republicans and those who lean Republican, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani leads former Sen. Fred Thompson (29% to 15%) in a national primary; former Gov. Mike Huckabee trails at 11%, Sen. John McCain and former Gov. Mitt Romney at 9%, Rep. Ron Paul at 5%.
- Among 545 Democrats and those who lean Democratic, Sen. Hillary Clinton leads Sen. Barack Obama (38% to 27%) in a national primary; former Sen. John Edwards trails at 13%.
- All other candidates receive less than five percent each.
Republican Pollster Neil Newhouse
sends Politico a "brief pollster's guide to what constitutes a push poll and
Frankovic reviews the Romney "push poll" story and the confusion between
"push" polls and real polls, reminding us that real candidate polls sometimes
include negative information.
Jennifer Agiesta reports the highest level of economic
pessimism in 17 years, as measured by the Washington Post/ABC Consumer Comfort Index, and
recaps data on "personal
contact" with the candidates by likely Iowa Caucus goers. .
Frank Newport notices that George Bush is poised to break
Richard Nixon's record of 14 straight months of a job approval rating below
40% and sees parallels between now and 1992 in terms of Americans' "perceived
Cost checks the internals on the recent Post/ABC
Iowa poll and concludes that Hillary Clinton is relying on first time caucus
goers as much as Barack Obama.
Bevan does some apples-to-apples comparisons of the trends in Fred
Thompson's support (via Martin)
Lux reports seeing a "clear trendline" in "both public and private" polling
in Iowa that shows Barack Obama "has picked up several points, and is now at
least tied with Clinton, and maybe even up a little" (via Smith).
Dante Scala has new ad buy numbers for Giuliani,
on New Hampshire's
DailyKos diarist DHinMI is not happy with John Zogby for conducting a survey commissioned by a Ron Paul supporter.
I was going to try to finish up my Disclosure Project post again today, but alas, there are more timely reports on the mysterious anti-Romney poll worth commenting on, a controversy some are now dubbing "Mormongate."
First, a summary of developments since I wrote about this story last week. A handful of conservative bloggers -- particularly Soren Dayton and Liz Mair -- have been theorizing that Romney supporters or the Romney campaign itself might be responsible for the calls. That speculation culminated in a widely cited article by the National Review's Mark Hemmingway, which argued that "evidence points" in the "general direction" of the Romney campaign as the culprit. Hemmingway's article drew a forceful response from both the Romney campaign and their pollster, Alex Gage of TargetPoint Consulting:
To set the record straight: TargetPoint Consulting has absolutely nothing to do with the calls in question. To be even clearer: TargetPoint Consulting has NEVER and will NEVER conduct a push-poll. TargetPoint is in the business of promoting Governor Romney, not manufacturing fantasy plots that involve smearing him.
Gage's denial is clear and unequivocal. However it is worth noting that nearly everyone involved, including Western Wats (the survey call center that allegedly made the calls in question) is eager to deny they conducted a "push poll." As I wrote last week, based on the reports of respondents, these calls sound more like a "message testing" poll than the classic "push poll" dirty trick (which is not a poll at all but calls that impersonate a real survey in an effort to spread a nasty message -- see my prior post). The questions worth asking, at this point, are who sponsored the calls and what did they say, exactly, about Romney's Mormonism?
Today, Dayton and Mair are asking why so many of the respondents that have come forward to report receiving the calls are either Romney supporters or paid Romney staff. The obvious explanation is that the Romney campaign directed supporters that were called to reporters. And in the latest development, TPM's Greg Sargent now reports that the Romney campaign confirms it did just that -- "referred reporters to two recipients of the calls without disclosing that the two were also on the Romney campaign payroll."
The two conservative bloggers are alleging that these ties to the Romney campaign imply something more sinister: Either a poll specifically targeted at Romney supporters in order to create a story, or perhaps an effort to get Romney staffers and supporters to lie to reporters about a non-existent survey.
For what it's worth, both allegations seem like a quite a stretch, but I want to answer one specific question raised by Liz Mair from my own perspective as a campaign pollster.
She wonders whether "including people on Romney's payroll or those publicly affiliated with the campaign in a call sample would be bad, and non-standard, practice." Not really. I cannot remember conducting any poll that attempted to exclude campaign staffers or those "publicly affiliated" with any campaign from the sample itself, as the registered voter lists typically lack any such information. Sometimes, when sampling from a list maintained by a political party, sample vendors offer the option of excluding those identified on the list as party activists or precinct captains, but that practice is far from standard.
Mair also goes on to cite a "top Republican pollster" who answers her question:
[N]ormally, people working for or associated with campaigns, and members of the media, are excluded from calling lists in the first place-- presumably because of bias that might be evident, which could raise questions about the accuracy of the result.
There may be some confusion here about what this particular pollster meant by "list." Some pollsters -- but by no means all -- begin their interview with what some describe as a "security screen." It asks if the respondent works for a political party, a campaign, a news organization, etc., with the aim of screening out such respondents from the final sample. I have always been skeptical that such screens accomplish what they aim to. My old firm typically used such screens only when a client specifically requested it. Pollsters may disagree about the merits of this procedure, but describing it as a universal or standard practice among campaign pollsters is just not accurate.
So should we be suspicious that most if not all of the respondents that have come forward are Romney supporters? I'm not sure we should. First, Romney supporters have the strongest motivation to come forward. They are likely more angry and upset and are more likely to want to report the calls to reporters or the Romney campaign. Second, as argued by Dayton and Mair, the Romney campaign has incentive to try to direct angry supporters to reporters in hope of generating a sympathetic story.
Third, we ought to think about the implications of the size of the sampled universe and the cooperation rate that pollsters are currently receiving from Iowa voters. Consider that the all time high Republican caucus turnout was little over one hundred thousand. Past caucus goers on the lists are the most active and committed Republicans in Iowa. Consider also that nearly every campaign and many different pollsters have been calling into Iowa in recent weeks, and that is on top of automated recorded calls placed by each campaign. Given that the best of surveys conducted under the best of conditions get response rates in the 20 to 30 percent range, and assuming that native campaign staffers and activists are probably the most likely to cooperate, the odds of getting a disproportionate number in the sample seems likely. The point here is simply that the odds of including a half dozen or so active Romney supporters (and even a paid staffer or two) in a sample of 600 or so Iowa Republicans do not seem terribly long to me.
So bloggers will speculate and dig further, as we always do, but I am not convinced from the facts before us allow the conclusion that pollster behind this survey intended to contact only Romney supporters.
Update: I had not seen it, but NRO's Mark Hemingway responded to criticism of his initial article today. His post includes a series of questions that TargetPoint refuses to answer beyond their blanket denial: "we had nothing to do with these calls." (via Sullivan).
Additional results from the recent ABC News/Washington Post statewide survey (ABC story, results; Post story, results) of 400 likely Republican caucus goers in Iowa (conducted 11/14 through 11/18) finds:
- Former Gov. Mitt Romney narrowly leads former Gov. Mike Huckabee (28% to 24%) in a statewide caucus; former Sen. Fred Thompson trails at 15%, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani at 13%, Sen. John McCain and Rep. Ron Paul both at 6%.
- 91% are enthusiastic about supporting their candidate, 8% are not enthusiastic.
Additional results from the recent CNN/WMUR/UNH statewide survey (CNN story, WMUR story, results, UNH results) of 793 likely primary voters in New Hampshire (conducted (11/14 through 11/18) finds:
- Among 389 Democrats and those who lean Democratic, Sen. Hillary Clinton leads Sen. Barack Obama (36% to 22%) in a statewide primary; former Sen. John Edwards trails at 13%, Gov. Bill Richardson at 12%. All other candidates receive less than five percent each.
- 24% have "definitely decided" who they will vote for, 29% are "leaning toward someone" and 47% are "still trying to decide."
More on yesterday's new Iowa poll from ABC News and the Washington Post. Stu Rothenberg has a scathing review of the coverage on Political Wire:
For years, Independent political analysts have been warning about reporters' tendencies to compare polls conducted by different polling firms, to over-interpret small changes in poll results and to treat the results of the most recent survey as if they are etched into stone. And yet that's what the two networks seemed to do.
It's worth noting, though nobody did, that the July ABC News/Washington Post survey was dramatically different than other surveys taken at the time. This does not mean that the July ABC News survey was wrong or that the current one is incorrect. It is a reminder, however, that it's better to be cautious about reading too much into this, or any, poll -- even if you are paying for the survey.
The last Post/ABC poll did show Obama with a greater percentage of the vote than other surveys done at the same time. However, and I certainly agree with Rothenberg's general caution about comparing polls from different organizations too closely against each other. I'll have more on this when I finish (finally) the review of reports from the disclosure project (before Thanksgiving--I promise!). But the bottom line is that we have in Iowa almost as many different methodologies and conceptions of the potential electorate as we do polls. Those differences in method make for considerable variation in the results. In a sense, they're all outliers.
The best way to consider what "the polls" say about the Democratic contest is to look at our Iowa chart, though I would recommend focusing as much on the points (representing results from individual surveys) as the trend lines. Consider this screen grab from the 2007-only chart, which shows the Iowa results since late August for Clinton (purple), Obama (yellow) and Edwards (red). The trend lines draw on earlier data not seen in the snippet, but if you focus on the last month it is hard to see much of a trend from all the seemingly random noise.
By and large, the Clinton results have been slightly (but not consistently) better than the Obama results with Edwards generally trailing the two. Some of the differences stem from random noise, some from systematic differences in method. Which poll has been most "right" in recent weeks? We may never know. The best characterization, given the overlap in the ranges for each candidate, is the one that The Washington Post put on their own results: "The top three Democratic presidential contenders remain locked in a close battle in Iowa."
And speaking of methodology, ABC News polling director Gary Langer blogs again this week about the procedures they used to conduct this poll on his . His comments are worth reading along with Rothenberg's:
I blogged in August, at the time of our last Iowa poll, about our methodology there, and we followed the same random digit-dialing procedures this time. Again there's a lot of winnowing involved in getting down to likely voters: to get 500 likely Democratic caucus-goers we had to interview more than 4,800 adults in Iowa. That's a lot of calls.
Sampling methodology is a critical point of differentiation among surveys. Another difference is in the number of undecideds -- just 3 percent in our survey, vs. anywhere from 10 to 16 percent in other recently released Iowa polls.
Marc Ambinder is posting an advance look at the latest New Hampshire Democratic primary numbers from the most recent CNN/WMUR/UNH survey.
Clinton: 36% (was 43)
Obama: 22% (was 20)
Edwards 13% (was 12)
Richardson 12% (was 6)
We will provide the the links once they are available.
Ben Smith, who was all over the story of those ugly calls into Iowa last week (calls that included a nasty negative involving Elizabeth Edwards' battle with cancer), has posted some new details that get us much closer to the real story:
I spoke this morning to a source closely familiar with the details of that Iowa poll that raised eyebrows last week, though he was unable to definitively say who sponsored the poll, and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The poll drew public attention after bloggers reported receiving a call asking about John Edwards' decision not to stay home with his ailing wife.
My source says the poll actually took two tracks, and included questions about all three leading Democrats.
The first question asked for the voter's preference, and then asked "what concerns you most" about two candidates.
If the voter favored Obama, the poll tested two negatives: that he "lacks the experience necessary to be president" or that he "would be a weak general election candidate"? The poll then moved on to ask about Edwards.
If the voter favored any other candidate, the pollster asked questions about Clinton, and then about Edwards.
The Clinton negatives were whether she's "insincere and changes her mind too often;" whether she "would be a weak general election candidate;" and whether she wouldn't "bring real change to Washington," the source said.
The pollster actually changed the Edwards question after complaints became public, a few days into the survey. It began by testing the message about Elizabeth Edwards' health. But after that stirred controversy, the question was changed to focus on his past as a trial lawyer.
Smith also adds that another source says "the calls originated with the Ohio-based firm Influent, which runs call centers."
Those new details are consistent with several comments left on my post last week. A commenter named Mike reported:
My wife (not a blogger) received a call like this last night. They'd been trying to reach us since Monday. Caller ID listed all zeros. When asked, She listed her first choice as Obama, and was subsequently asked the negative questions about Obama and Edwards.
Another reader that went by the name "canary" reported:
The call that I received was a bit different: after asking for whom I would caucus and then my second choice, I was asked: Of these alternatives, which is most important to you: a) that the nominee have sufficient experience to run the country, or b) that they be electable in the general election.
The next question was:
In terms of electability, which of these factors would cause your concern about the nominee: a) that they are regarded as too liberal, or b) that the candidate is a trial lawyer.
I followed up via email with the last commenter, who says she received the call on Saturday night and confirms that the questions she heard did not attach specific names to the candidates: "it was left to me to draw a conclusion as to whom the caller was referring."
One more bit of information worth promoting from the comments. As suggested by reader Willie, anyone calling from a list of registered voters available from the Iowa Secretary of State would have had the basic demographics (age, gender and geographic location) as well as enough non-caucus voting history to do basic "likely voter" selection. Some legitimate micro-targeters do just that in order to create a very short interview (devoid of demographic questions) that allows for thousands of calls in as little time as possible.
Smith's reporting and the comments above help provide a much clearer picture of the motives behind these calls. Influent is a firm that does telemarketing, not survey research calls. The survey involved just five or six questions, but included questions about strength of support and second choice -- two important measures if your aim is to identify very small target subgroups ("micro targets") from a sample of thousands of potential Iowa Caucus-goers. Moreover, the fact that the sponsors switched the wording more than once, first to a less offensive "negative" about Edwards and then to a version that did not attach specific candidate names to the negatives, all suggests this was some sort of micro-targeting or "data harvesting" project.
I remain convinced that the odd structure and language of the questions is not the work of an experienced campaign pollster. However, I am now doubtful that the sole motive was to spread a nasty negative about John Edwards. The initial questions asked, the call center used and the fact that that the sponsors apparently changed the "negatives" more than once in reaction to the public backlash, all suggest that the main purpose of the project was some sort of micro-targeting. However, the pattern also suggests the sponsors were indifferent, at best, to including an explosive personal attack on John and Elizabeth Edwards, a fact they will have to answer to if their identity is revealed.
Ben Smith reminds us that their identify "remains a mystery," and urges readers to contact him with any relevant details.
Update: Ben Smith's latest update quotes Ted Bernard, senior vice president at Influent, Inc, who, saying he can "neither confirm or deny" that the calls originated at his facility.
This morning, the Huffington Post has announced it's OffTheBus Polling Project that aims to scrutinize pollsters -- "an industry devoted to scrutinizing us" -- by created a forum for survey respondents to report and share their experiences. Here is how Arianna Huffington describes it:
Our aim is simple: to get a better understanding of how polling is being used across the country. We want to get to the bottom of how pollsters conduct their surveys, how they gather and build their stats, how they target who they contact, and, ultimately, how they reach their conclusions -- conclusions that often fuel the very races they are supposed to be analyzing.
We are launching this non-partisan effort to examine the polling industry with a wide variety of co-sponsors reaching across the political spectrum, including: Talking Points Memo, Instapundit, Politico, The Center for Independent Media, The Nation, Pajamas Media, Mother Jones, WNYC Radio, My Silver State, and Personal Democracy Forum.
Our methods are simple and direct, and stress transparency - the key ingredient missing from a lot of polling data. With the help of our co-sponsors we are looking to ask as many people as we can reach to share their polling experiences via this form, telling us exactly how they have been polled. Who called them? At what time? Did they agree to participate in the poll or refuse to (one of the least transparent aspects of polling continues to be the refusal of most polling companies to release response rates, which have plummeted in recent years to around 30 percent)? What questions were they asked? Did the questions seem fair or were they worded in a way that seemed loaded? Did they feel like they were being targeted because of their age, gender, or ethnicity? Did the pollster seem to be guiding them toward a predetermined answer?
At Pollster.com, we share the goals of greater transparency and helping survey data consumers gain a better understanding of how polls are conducted and what the data mean. Greater transparency has great potential to improve surveys, and to help reduce the abuses of the sort we have seen in recent days. Those values are also at the core of our own Disclosure Project. As such, we have signed on as formal sponsors of the HuffPost's Polling Project, and encourage our readers to participate with their own experiences.
As someone who earned his living for more than 20 years as a survey researcher, I believe the respondent is often forgotten by too many in our industry. After all, virtually every number on this site depended on respondents who donated their time to answer the pollsters questions. So having a forum for respondents to report their experiences, both good and bad, should provide a way for pollsters themselves to get a sense for what they are doing well and what not so well. I am convinced that the Huffington Post is committed to creating a resource that is both non-partisan and itself transparent.
Those in the survey industry will remember the "Partnership for a Poll Free America" that Arianna Huffington led a few years ago, and may wonder why we are sponsoring a project led by the person who said she wanted to convince "all 270 million of us collectively decided to hang up the next time some stranger from a polling company interrupted our dinner." The controversy led the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR ) to speak at its 2003 conference,** because as the conference chair put it,
I believe it is our responsibility to formulate answers [to Huffington's criticisms of polls] and to educate the public about the value and validity of our work, rather than essentially asking the public to give us the benefit of the doubt.
Moreover, as I heard it, Huffington's criticism pertained mostly to how polls are interpreted and used. She argued that pollsters need to be more transparent about their methods, that poll consumers too often fail to understand the limitations of surveys, and that politicians are too often "slaves to polls." I never agreed with her bottom-line prescription ("hang up on all polls"), as it threatened to disrupt a lot of vital non-political research, to say nothing of failing to distinguish the good from the bad of political polling. Still, I see much in her basic critique that I can agree with, and regardless, this latest Polling Project is a very positive step.
So we at Pollster.com enthusiatically support it and encourage our readers to check it out.
**Interests disclosed: I currently serve on AAPOR's Executive Council and attended Huffington's speech to the 2003 Conference.
A new SurveyUSA automated survey of 523 registered voters in oregon (conducted 11/9 through 11/11) finds:
General Election Match-ups:
McCain 48%, Clinton 45%
Clinton 46%, Giuliani 45%
Clinton 48%, Romney 44%
Clinton 50%, Huckabee 40%
Obama 45%, McCain 45%
Obama 51%, Giuliani 40%
Obama 52%, Romney 37%
Obama 54%, Huckabee 33%
A new American Research Group national survey of 1,100 adults (conducted 11/16 through 11/19) find:
- 31% approve of the way George W. Bush is handling his job as president; 64% disapprove.
- 32% approve of the way Bush is handling the economy; 62% disapprove.
Additional results from the recent USA Today/Gallup national survey of 1,014 adults (conducted 11/11 through 11/14) finds:
- 32% say they approve of the job George W. Bush is doing as president; 61% disapprove.
- 20% approve of the job Congress is doing; 69% disapprove.
A new SurveyUSA automated survey of 1,737 registered voters in New Mexico (conducted 11/16 through 11/18) finds:
- Among 503 likely Republican primary voters, Rep. Heather Wilson leads Rep. Steve Pearce (56% to 37%) in a statewide primary.
- Among 587 likely Democratic primary voters, Re. Tom Udall leads Mayor Martin Chavez (62% to 32%) in a statewide primary.
- General Election Match-ups for U.S. Senate:
Udall 56%, Wilson 41%
Udall 54%, Pearce 40%
Wilson 47%, Chavez 46%
Pearce 52%, Chavez 42%
A new ABC News/Washington Post statewide survey (ABC News story, results; Washington Post story, results) of 500 likely Democratic caucues goers in Iowa (conducted 11/14 through 11/18) finds Sen. Barack Obama narrowly leading Sen. Hillary Clinton (30% to 26%) in a statewide primary; former Sen. John Edwards trails at 22%, Gov. Bill Richardson at 11%. All other candidates receive less than five percent each.
A new CNN/WMUR/UNH statewide survey (story, results) of 793 likely primary voters in New Hampshire (conducted 11/14 through 11/18) finds:
- Among 404 Republicans and those who lean Republican, former Gov. Mitt Romeny leads Sen. John McCain (33% to 18%) in a statewide primary; former Mayor Rudy Giuliani trails at 16%, Rep. Ron Paul at 8%, former Gov. Mike Huckabee at 5%. All other candidates receive less than five percent each.
- 14% have "definitely decided" who they will vote for in the primary; 29% are "leaning toward someone," and 56% "are still trying to decide."
A new St Louis Post-Dispatch/KMOV-TV statewide survey of 800 likely voters in Missouri (conducted 11/12 through 11/15 by Research 2000) finds Atty Gen. Jay Nixon leading Gov. Matt Blunt (51% to 42%) in a statewide match-up for Governor.
A new Behavior Research Center/Rocky Mountain statewide survey of 800 adults in Arizona (conducted 11/12 through 11/15) finds:
- Among Republicans, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani edges out Sen. John McCain (20% to 18%) in a statewide primary; former Gov. Mitt Romney trails at 11%, former Sen. Fred Thompson at 10%.
- Among Democrats, Sen. Hillary Clinton leads Sen. Barack Obama (44% to 14%) in a statewide primary; former Sen. John Edwards trails at 11%.
- All other candidates receive less than five percent each.
A new SurveyUSA automated survey of 542 registered voters in Virginia conducted (11/9 through 11/11) finds:
General Election Match-ups:
McCain 51%, Clinton 42%
Clinton 45%, Giuliani 45%
Clinton 48%, Romney 41%
Clinton 50%, Huckabee 40%
McCain 51%, Obama 41%
Giuliani 47%, Obama 43%
Obama 48%, Romney 41%
Obama 50%, Huckabee 38%
A new SurveyUSA automated survey of 528 registered voters in Wisconsin conducted (11/9 through 11/11) finds:
General Election Match-ups:
Clinton 47%, McCain 45%
Clinton 49%, Giuliani 42%
Clinton 53%, Romney 37%
Clinton 53%, Huckabee 36%
McCain 47%, Obama 43%
Obama 47%, Giuliani 42%
Obama 50%, Romney 38%
Obama 52%, Huckabee 35%
[On November 6th, Charles Franklin posted an analysis of recent trends in public opinion on the Iraq War. In response we've recieved a Guest Pollster's contribution from political scientist Alan Abramowitz, the Alben W. Barkley Professor of Political Science at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.]
The claim that there has been a significant shift in public opinion toward the war is simply not supported by recent polling data. For example, a new CNN/Opinion Research Poll finds opposition to the war at an all-time high of 68 percent. The latest NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll finds that 27 percent of Americans approve of the president's handling of the war, down 3 points from September and almost identical to the levels of support from the first half of the year. This same poll finds that the war remains easily the most important issue in the minds of Americans--26 percent named the war as the most important problem for the federal government to address with health care a distant second at 16 percent. 46 percent of the respondents chose Iraq as the first or second most important problem compared with 34 percent who chose health care as the first or second most important problem. Other issues including terrorism, illegal immigration, and global warming finished far behind.
The war remains enormously unpopular and major political liability for the Republican Party. The new ABC-Washington Post Poll finds Democrats favored over Republicans on the war by a 16 point margin, slightly higher than the Democratic margin earlier this year and last year.
The claim that public opinion has shifted on the war appears to be based almost entirely on a small uptick on one measure--opinion about how the war is going. There has been a small improvement on this question, presumably in response to reports of decreasing violence and, most importantly, decreasing U.S. casualties. But this shift is not indicative of any broader shift in public opinion toward the war. Opposition to the war remains as high as ever as does support for a withdrawal timetable. And Iraq clearly remains the most salient issue in the 2008 election.
Reported by TNR's Michael Crowley last night: "WMUR is hyping a new state primary poll due out at 5 p.m. tomorrow. Stay tuned."