Jay Cost charts Barack Obama's primary vote coalition.
Poblano shares his wish list for state presidential polling.
Tom Jensen sees differences in the racial composition of the North Carolina electorate using exit polls and voter files, also passes along the story of an RDD poll that sampled a talk radio call-in line.
Mark Memmott thought Tuesday was a "pretty good day for pollsters."
Los Angeles Times/KTLA Survey of 834 adults and 705 registered voters in California, interviews conducted May 20-21, 2008 (Same-sex marriage article, results; presidential campaign article, results)
Among Registered Voters:
Obama 47, McCain 40
Clinton 43, McCain 40
Among All Adults: As you may know, last week the California Supreme Court ruled that the California Constitution requires that same-sex couples be given the same right to marry that opposite-sex couples have. Based on what you know, do you approve or disapprove of the California Supreme Court's decision last week to allow same-sex marriage in California?
Among Registered Voters: As you may also know, A proposed amendment to the state's Constitution that may appear on the November ballot would reverse the court's decision and reinstate a ban on same-sex marriage. The amendment would state that marriage is only between a man and a woman. If the election were held today, would you vote for or against the amendment?
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Today's Guest Pollster contribution comes from Robert M. Eisinger, a political science professor at Lewis & Clark College and the author of The Evolution of Presidential Polling (Cambridge University Press).
There are few things more dangerous to sensationalized journalism than when anyone over-analyzes poll data. A recent Quinnipiac Poll shows Senator Clinton defeating Senator McCain in Ohio and Florida, but Senator Obama losing such head-to-head match-ups against Senator McCain. A SurveyUSA poll shows similar results in Missouri and North Carolina. Clinton defeats McCain, but Obama does not. These polls, it is argued, are worrisome for the Obama campaign, and serve as evidence among some Clinton supporters that she is a stronger candidate in swing states.
Beware. Poll answers, regardless of the question, must be placed in some context. The absence of at least one follow-up question may have yielded an interesting context from which to interpret the head-to-head answers provided. Imagine, for example, that the pollsters asked the following question:
"Imagine that Senator Obama eventually becomes the Democratic presidential nominee, and Senator Clinton enthusiastically campaigns for him. If the 2008 election for President were being held today, and the candidates were Barack Obama the Democrat and John McCain the Republican, for whom would you vote?"
One could even imagine tweaking the question by revising "Senator Clinton," "the Clinton campaign," "Senator Obama," and "the Obama campaign." Such questions are reasonable one to ask, especially when one is reminded that both Senators Obama and Clinton have stated that they would endorse the Democratic nominee. There is good reason to believe that Senator Clinton would be magnanimous and enthusiastically support the Democratic ticket. Similarly, there is no reason to conclude that the inclusion of this question would necessarily result in poll numbers that would greatly assist Senator Obama; it is quite conceivable that some of Senator Clinton's supporters do not want to a President Obama under any circumstance, and that Independent voters may be turned off by Senator Clinton's endorsement of anyone.
No doubt the Obama campaign is not rejoicing after reading the poll data. They would prefer numbers that show Senator Obama defeating Senator McCain in all states at all times. Senator Obama wants to win the swing states, and right now, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Missouri are not securely in the Democratic camp.
But there is something noticeably absent about asking about a viable scenario in which the Democratic presidential candidates, especially Senator Clinton, unite behind the winner, even if the nominee is Senator Obama.
Marriage for gay and lesbian couples has been a hot button issue, most especially so in the 2004 election cycle when 11 states considered and passed referendums banning (in various ways) same-sex marriages. In 2006 an additional 8 states voted on marriage ballot measures, with only Arizona defeating the proposal. In all, 41 states have statutes defining marriage as "between one man and one woman", and 27 states have put that definition into their constitutions. Only five states currently have no law banning same-sex unions (MA, NJ, NM, NY, RI). In 2008, Florida will have a "defense of marriage" amendment (DOMA) on the ballot, while California is awaiting certification of a ballot proposal and Arizona may reconsider its 2006 initiative (currently awaiting state Senate approval). (An excellent summary of the status of same-sex marriage in the states is available here.)
Despite this overwhelming majority among other states, the California Supreme Court last week ruled that the state cannot constitutionally withhold the right to marriage from same-sex couples. (Text of the ruling is here. The LA Times initial report on the decision is here.) Supporters of gay marriage hailed the decision as a breakthrough for fundamental rights, in line with the same California Court's decision in 1948 striking down laws banning inter-racial marriage. Opponents of gay marriage argued the ruling puts the issue squarely back on the table for 2008 and confirmed the opponents argument that only constitutional amendments can prevent courts from overturning popular opinion on this issue. In 2000 California passed, by a 61%-39% majority, Proposition 22 affirming that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid and recognized in California."
California has one of the strongest domestic partnership laws in the nation, so the Court's decision has the effect of ruling that by withholding the designation "marriage", such domestic partnership laws still fall short of the equal treatment required by the state constitution.
The California decision follows the Massachusetts Supreme Court's ruling of November 18, 2003 which ultimately made Massachusetts the first, and so far only, state to legalize same-sex marriage. (Rhode Island law recognizes same-sex marriages from other states.) Subsequently, the state Supreme Courts of New York, New Jersey and Washington have each declined to find a constitutional right to same sex marriage. Four states have civil union laws providing full state-level spousal rights (CT, NJ, NH and VT) while six have domestic partnership laws that provide varying degrees of spousal rights (DC, HI, ME, OR, WA plus the California law at issue in this decision).
In light of the California decision, let's take a look at public opinion on same-sex marriage and how opinion has responded to past events.
A typical question asks "Do you strongly favor, favor, oppose, or strongly oppose allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally?" (This is the form used by the Pew Research Center polls. There is considerable variation in question wording, but most polling has used a similar dichotomy between favoring gay marriage or opposing it. I've collapsed "degrees" of support or opposition into a dichotomous measure for all polls.) The earliest use of such a question I could find dates back to September 1985, but it was not until 1992 that the question began to be asked regularly. There was a flurry of interest in the question following the Massachusetts ruling and during the 2004 election campaign.
If we rely on that first poll alone, in 1985 82% of the public opposed same sex marriage, while only 11% supported it. By the early 1990s, when the data become richer, opposition was at about 65% while support stood at about 28%. Congress passed, and President Clinton signed, the federal "Defense of Marriage Act" in September 1996, but public opinion trends seem not to have noticed at all, neither rising nor falling around that time. By the week of the California ruling, May 15, 2008, opposition had declined to about 55% while support had grown to 40%. The net effect of some 16 years of public debate was a 10 point decline in opposition and a 12 point rise in support.
But that trend was not uniform. The Massachusetts ruling, and the 2004 election campaign, coincided with a sharp, if relatively short term, disruption of the previous slow but steady decade long shift of opinion. The Massachusetts Court decision placed the issue squarely on the public radar, and the 11 state ballot proposals in the 2004 election created the setting for public debate and political exploitation of the issue.
During the year from November 2003 to November 2004, opposition to same-sex marriage rose by five points, from 55% to just over 60%. Meanwhile support fell by about eight points, from 38% to 30%, then rebounded by a point or so by election day. (These shifts slightly predate the Massachusetts decision, probably reflecting the increased visibility of the issue prior to the Court's ruling.) The impact of these shifts and of the 11 referendums that were passed on the presidential election remains debatable. Initial punditry credited the referenda with helping defeat John Kerry, especially in Ohio. More careful subsequent analysis doubts much of an effect, however.
These sharp shifts in trend reversed direction immediately following the 2004 election, but took more than two years to return to pre-2004 levels. Support returned to 2003 levels in mid-2007 while opposition has only now, in May 2008, declined back to where it stood in mid-2003. Despite this slow recovery from the 2004 "shock", the 2005-08 trend lines make it clear that public opinion returned to its previous trajectory of slowly rising support and declining opposition in the aftermath of 2004. It is also interesting that the 2006 elections, with 8 states voting on referenda, made no discernible difference to the post-2004 trend. In part this may reflect the more limited number of states, but it also reflects some decline in the saliency of the marriage issue.
The California ruling, and the likely campaign over a proposition there to modify the state constitution this fall, will test whether increasing the salience of the issue will result in a replay of the 2003-04 dynamics, with opponents stimulated and supporters in retreat, or if the 2006 experience means that the issue is no longer the motivator it was in 2004. The 2003-04 data clearly show the potential for sharp changes when the marriage issue becomes extremely salient. That the fight will take place in the most populous state in the Union also guarantees national exposure. However, the fact that most states have already settled this issue through law or amendment, and that only three states (so far) are on track to have proposals on the ballot, means that the issue is more localized than it was in 2004.
Opinion now is not much different from where it was in mid-2003, so a similar reaction is possible but there may be an element of "been there, done that" as well. The novelty of the issue is surely much reduced now than it was five years ago, though the record of referenda passing in 7 of 8 states in 2006 certainly demonstrates that opposition to same-sex marriage remained strong even in a very pro-Democratic election year. (Wisconsin, for example, reelected a Democratic governor and flipped a House seat to the Democrats but also modified its constitution to ban same sex marriage or anything substantially equivalent to marriage.)
The big question is whether the marriage issue has any carry over to the presidential vote in 2008. Democratic politicians, including Senators Clinton and Obama, have tried to insulate themselves by opposing gay marriage. Instead, they support civil union or domestic partner legislation. Senator McCain opposes same sex marriage and opposes legal recognition of same sex partnerships, but also opposes a federal constitutional amendment. This line of debate, with both parties opposing marriage, but with Democrats willing to support some legal recognition short of marriage, reflects another way to framing the question, one that is significantly more favorable for limited rights for gays and lesbians.
(Note: This chart is scaled the same as the previous chart so the dynamics and time frame are directly comparable. The large white space prior to 2000 reflects the politically relevant point that in that time period the "civil union" option was not prominent enough to be included in polling questions.)
Beginning in 2004 (with one early exception in 2000), polling organizations began asking a question with three alternatives. The CBS News question wording is representative:
Which comes closest to your view? Gay couples should be allowed to legally marry, or gay couples should be allowed to form civil unions but not legally marry, or there should be no legal recognition of a gay couple's relationship?
When the "civil unions" option is added, opposition to gay rights drops significantly from about 55% to 40%. Likewise, support for gay marriage drops from 40% to 29%. The "comfortable" middle ground is then some 26% who are willing to support civil unions so long as they fall short of "marriage".
This "half a loaf" approach is acceptable to only some in the gay rights community, but it is precisely the politically acceptable position that Democratic politicians think can move them from the losing side of public opinion to the winning side. If we add supporters of marriage to supporters of civil unions, we get the chart below.
This is now a near mirror image of the balance of opinion in the first chart. Now about 53% support either civil unions or marriage, and a minority of 40% oppose any legal rights for gay and lesbian couples. By assuming supporters of marriage will not punish them for the expedient support of only civil unions, Clinton and Obama (and many other Democrats) have tried to turn a losing position into a winning one.
The remaining uncertainty is whether opponents of any legal recognition are more intense than the supporters of civil unions. If so, then opposition groups may still win the battle between intense minority and lukewarm majority. On ballot propositions, the record is strongly in favor of the opponents of marriage and in some cases of civil unions as well.
The Clinton-Obama position will certainly not win over opponents of any form of legal recognition for gays, but then they probably wouldn't win many such voters in any case (an exception is African-Americans, many of whom are quite opposed to marriage or civil unions.) Whether their position provides them popular support in response to attack ads on this issue remains to be seen.
I have a late appointment that will keep me off the grid until just before the polls close in Kentucky at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time. Even then, I've got sole responsibility for the MysteryChildren (ages 3 and 5) as the MysterySpouse is out of town at a conference this evening. So "live blogging" is likely going to be pretty sparse tonight.
However, consider this an open-thread for all comments about what the exit polls will have to tell us about the results in Kentucky and Oregon. Here are the links where exit poll tabulations will appear shortly after the polls close in each state
All other comments will be in reverse chronological order. All times Eastern.
11:12 - For anyone not watching one of the cable networks, NBC, CNN and Fox have all projected Barack Obama the winner in Oregon. I'm headed to sleep
10:58 - The Fox News web site appears to have put up the Oregon poll up a few minutes early. They show a roughly 13 point Obama lead: 56% to 42%. Keep in mind, as per the original update below, this is a telephone poll of early voters conducted over the last few days.
7:05 - Mark Lindeman has done his usual extrapolation from the exit poll cross-tabulations currently being displayed the network web sites, and they currently reflect a 65% Clinton, 29% Obama margin.
The usual caveats: These initial tabulations are weighted to an estimate of the result that is usually a mashup of pre-election polls and the interviews exit polls conducted at polling places and over the phone (with early voters) by the networks. These estimates improve, becoming more accurate over the course of the night. Click here for more detail on how these numbers are derived and how they improve over the course of the evening.
7:00 - The networks call Kentucky for Clinton.
4:26 Incidentally, in Oregon, where all votes are cast by mail,** the survey conducted by the networks is not technically an "exit" poll. They conduct supplemental surveys by telephone in the days leading up to the election in many states with significant early voting (such as North Carolina, Texas and California). They ask the same questions by telephone that voters get on "exit" poll questionnaires administered at polling places. In Oregon, however, all interviews have been done by telephone.
**Not quite says Mark Lindeman (in the comments) with a "metaphysical clarification . . . although Oregon has a Vote By Mail system, voters can deliver their ballots by hand until the polls close tonight."
Kathy Frankovic reviews new research on the impact of respondent age on question order effects and question response effects in surveys. Incidentally, Frankovic won the honor of the lifetime achievement award from the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR).
Poblano predicts a 19-point Clinton win in Kentucky and a 13-point Obama victory in Oregon (with a revised turnout estimate).
"Numbers Guy" Carl Bialik has a nice round-up of the latest developments in the "steady displacement of landline usage by cellphones" that is pushing some pollsters to "try to reach Americans on their cell phones."
Carl noticed something I had overlooked, namely that the most recent CBS/New York Times poll included a supplemental sample of cell phone numbers. Unlike Gallup, they do not yet see an impact on the results from the greater sample coverage:
Kathy Frankovic, director of surveys for CBS News, told me that “I haven’t seen any great difference in results, but it is still early.”
Frankovic confirms that all future national CBS polls will include a supplemental cell phone sample. In an email, she notes that they "have been working on incorporating a cell phone sample into our polls since late last year" and reminds us they incorporated a cell phone sample into their Iowa poll last year.
For those keeping track, that means that three national survey organizations -- Gallup, The Pew Research Center and CBS/New York Times -- now routinely include supplemental samples of cell phone numbers as part of their national political surveys. More will presumably follow.
The trend toward cell phone sampling raises a special challenge for the pollsters using the automated Interactive Voice Response (IVR) method in statewide surveys, because of the one regulatory barrier that affects cell phone interviewing. The federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) bans any sort of unsolicited call to a cell phone using "automated dialing devices." As Bialik points out, some pollsters are pushing for a change in that regulation:
The Council for Marketing and Opinion Research, a lobbying group for the survey industry based in Washington, D.C., is pushing Congress to exempt pollsters from the auto-dialer ban. LaToya Lang, the state legislative director for the group, calls this issue a “high priority.”
Bialik also highlights another bit of cell phone survey news I neglected to pass along from the AAPOR conference:
Recognizing that cellphone surveying is on the rise, last month the American Association for Public Opinion Research, a professional group, released a report offering guidelines for the practice. The report doesn’t call these “standards,” because more research is needed to determine how to conduct surveys via cellphone and how to blend the results with landline interviews.
After last year's AAPOR conference, I wrote a two-part series summarizing both the challenge to political surveys from the growth of cell-phone-only households and the experimental approaches pollsters are using to conduct interviews on cell phones. My interviews at this year's conference include a update from Steven Blumberg on the most recent data from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) and a report from Gallup's Jeff Jones comparing results on the presidential race with and without the supplemental cell phone interviews.
For those intrigued by McCabe's summary, I strongly recommend the full paper, a "terrific read," as conference discussant Murray Edelman noted after Heerwig and McCabe presented their results on Saturday. The Heerwig-McCabe paper is easily the most intriguing and currently relevant I saw presented at the AAPOR conference, and worth reading alongside the cover story ("The Big Race: Obama and the psychology of the color barrier") by John Judis in the current issue of The New Republic.
Having said that, I want to pass along two cautions. First, keep in mind that the data were collected in June 2007, when Hillary Clinton, not Barack Obama was the clear front-runner for the Democratic nomination.
Second, consider the caution that Edelman voiced on Saturday (a point that may not be clear until you read the full paper): A "mode effect" may confound the estimates of social desirability bias that Heerwig and McCabe calculate by asking the same question in different ways (explained on pp. 9-12 of their paper and shown in the comparisons of "true" to "overt" support in Table 3). Edelman cited a 2006 article in Public Opinion Quarterly by Smyth, et. al. that found that respondents tend to answer more questions more completely when asked one at a time rather than when presented in a "check all that apply" list format.
Continuing with our series of brief interviews conducted at this week's AAPOR Conference, this one with Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire (UNH) Survey Center. He discusses his AAPOR presentation on undecided voters in the New Hampshire, which drew on a question I wroteabout often:
For more on the pollster debate over RDD vs RBS sampling see our posts here and here and the AAPOR conference interview with Patrick Murray.
Continuing with our series of brief interviews conducted at this week's AAPOR Conference, this one with Mark DiCamillo, director of The Field Poll in California. A year ago, we reported on Field's use of RBS sampling. Here, DiCamillo discusses details of Field's ability to interview voters over their cell phones in California using Registration Based Sampling (RBS):