July 13, 2008 - July 19, 2008
Kathy Frankovic, the director of surveys for CBS News, devotes her column this week to a subject you have been reading a lot about lately, the "enthusiasm gap" between supporters of Barack Obama and John McCain. What's different about Frankovic's treatment -- and what makes it well worth the click -- is her comparison to a similar gap in enthusiasm that the CBS surveys revealed in 2004 and in the New Hampshire primary earlier this year.
She starts with the basic finding we have seen on most of the other national surveys, the greater enthusiasm expressed by Obama supporters:
Asked how they feel about the fact that their choice is the party’s nominee, 50 percent of Obama’s current voters say they are “enthusiastic.” Just 16 percent of McCain’s supporters say that about his candidacy. And while more than half of McCain voters are “satisfied” with McCain, 15 percent say they are “dissatisfied” or even “angry” that he is the nominee!
She then points to these critical findings from 2004:
In late July, 2004, even AFTER that year’s Democratic Convention and before the Republicans met, John Kerry’s supporters were a lot less committed to their candidate than supporters of George W. Bush were committed to theirs. Sixty percent of Bush voters said they “strongly” favored their candidate; just 47 percent of Kerry’s supporters said that. There was another motivation for many Kerry voters - 28 percent said they were voting for Kerry mostly because they disliked Bush. Strength-of-support numbers pretty much stayed the same for the rest of the campaign. Even in polls taken just before the 2004 election there wasn’t much difference: 67 percent of Bush voters said they supported him strongly, compared with just 49 percent of Kerry voters. And while 37 percent of likely Republican voters said they would be “excited” by a Bush win, just 24 percent of likely Democratic voters said they would be “excited” by a Kerry victory.
So does an enthusiasm gap matter to turnout? Pointing to similar results from this year's New Hampshire primary, Frankovic says yes. See her full column for details.
Frank Newport tries to make sense of the summer "campaign doldrums."
Rhodes Cook sees a new electorate in the making.
Jennifer Agiesta examines what increases in African American turnout might mean for Barack Obama in the South.
Patrick Murray responds to David Moore on swing voters.
PPP says the exit polls were wrong about black turnout in South Carolina (and North Carolina too).
Jay Cost reviews past vote returns from Ohio.
Mark Mellman says media accounts are too quick to minimize Barack Obama's lead.
David Hill, risking wrath from the "The Pollsters Protection Union," says we could do with fewer summer polls.
Gary Andres argues that independent-leaners behave like "base" partisans.
Alan Abramowitz argues that Obama's problem with white voters is no worse than previous Democratic candidates.Marc Ambinder
interprets the national polls.
Chris Cillizza sees evidence of the Obama Clinton scars healing among Democrats.
Dante Scalia examines the McCain New Hampshire "Mystique" in a three part series.
Steven Medvic finds evidence of racial stereotyping in American National Election Study data from 2004 (via Monkey Cage).
7/17/08; 500 LV, 4.5
Obama 49, McCain 41
Sen: Collins (R-i) 53, Allen (D) 43
J Street/ Gerstein|Agne Strategic Communications
6/29/08 - 7/3/08; 800 self-identified adult American Jews, 3.5%
(release, memo, data)
President Bush's Job...:
as President: Approve 16, Disapprove 83
handling the Arab-Israeli conflict: Approve 29, Disapprove 71
Obama 62, McCain 32
Generic Dem 69, Generic Rep 27
Favorable / Unfavorable
Bush: 22 / 74
Obama: 60 / 34
McCain: 34 / 57
Leiberman: 37 / 48
Tarrance Group (R-Dole)
7/7-9/08; 550 LV, 4.3%
Sen: Dole (R-i) 51, Hagan (D) 36, Cole (L) 6
7/16/08; 500 LV, 4.5
McCain 48, Obama 47
Sen: Warner (D) 59, Gilmore (R) 36
The Pew Research Center, which has been at the forefront of efforts to measure the impact of "cell phone only" households on political surveys, has a new report out on subject today. Like Gallup they have found evidence that including interviews of cell-only Americans as a "modest affect" on results in the presidential race:
Pollsters are continuing to monitor changes in telephone use by the U.S. public, since most surveys are still conducted using only landline telephones. Growing numbers of Americans are reachable only by cell phone, and an even larger number who have both a landline and a cell phone may be "functionally cell-only" because of their phone use habits. The latest Pew Research Center national survey, conducted June 18-29 with a sample of 2,004 adults including 503 on a cell phone, finds that the overall estimate of voter presidential preference is modestly affected by whether or not the cell phone respondents are included. Obama holds a 48% to 40% lead in the sample that includes cell phones, and a 46% to 41% advantage in the landline sample. Estimates of congressional vote are the same in the landline and combined samples. [Emphasis added].
The numbers noted above are based on interviews with registered voters. When they narrow the universe to more likely voters, however, the difference [mostly] disappears:
Narrowing the analysis to voters who are certain about their vote choice, there is almost no difference between the landline and combined samples: Obama has a 38%-28% advantage in the combined sample, while the margin is 38%-30% in the landline sample.
For more detail on the challenge of cell-phone only households to political polling, see my two-part series last year, as well as any of our more recent posts on the subject.
[I added the word "mostly" to my second paragraph based on comments below. The report does not speak to the statistical significance of either set of numbers].
Civitas Institute (R)/
Tel Opinion Research
7/14-16/08; 600 LV, 4
McCain 43, Obama 40, Barr 2
Gov: Perdue (D) 43, McCrory (R) 40, Munger (L) 2
North Carolina (7/15/08; 500 LV, 4.5)
McCain 48, Obama 45
Sen: Dole (R-i) 54, Hagan (D) 43
Arkansas (7/15/08; 500 LV, 4.5)
McCain 47, Obama 37
Nevada (7/16/08; 500 LV, 4.5)
Obama 47, McCain 45
My NationalJournal.com column, on perceptions of Barack Obama's experience and readiness to be president and their importance to the outcome of the race, is now posted online.
One additional thought on this subject is that, as with favorable ratings, the wording of questions and answer categories can be affect the results. So consider two very similar "commander in chief" questions asked about Obama and McCain this week:
Washington Post/ABC News (n=1,119 adults) - Q20a. Please tell me whether the following statement applies to (Obama/McCain), or not?: He would be a good commander-in-chief of the military.
Obama: 48% yes, 48% no, 4% no opinion
McCain: 72% yes, 25% no, 4% no opinion
New York Times/CBS News (n=1,796 adults) - Q27/Q36. Regardless of how you intend to vote for president in 2008, how likely do you think it is that (Barack Obama/John McCain) would be an effective commander-in-chief of the nation's military — would you say it is very likely, somewhat likely, not very likely, or not likely at all?
Obama: 24% very likely, 47% somewhat likely, 7% not too likely, 6% not at all, 6% don't know
McCain: 46% very likely, 36% somewhat likely, 9% not too likely, 7% not at all, 3% don't know
The column makes the point that these numbers make more sense in context with past results. The Post/ABC poll release included comparable results on the same questions asked about George Bush and Al Gore eight years ago, and I discuss those in the column.
7/13-15/08; 666 LV, 3.9
Obama 55, McCain 39
Gov: Gregoire (D-i) 49, Rossi (R) 46
Today's Guest Pollster article comes from David W. Moore, a senior fellow with the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire. He is a former vice president and senior editor with the Gallup Poll, where he worked for 13 years, and is the founder and former director of the UNH Survey Center. He manages the blogsite, Skeptical Pollster.com.
In a post last week, I suggested the size of the group that Gallup calls "swing voters" was probably a significant under-estimate of the actual proportion of the electorate that is up for grabs. A new CBS/New York Times poll seems to confirm my suspicions, reporting the equivalent swing voter group at one and a half times greater than what Gallup reported - 36 percent vs. 23 percent respectively.
The Gallup report defined "swing voters" as those who were "undecided" (6 percent), plus those who initially supported one of the two major candidates but then admitted they could change their minds before election day (17 percent). The same criteria, applied to the CBS/NYT poll, suggest a larger swing voter group because this poll has a larger undecided group than the Gallup poll (12 percent), and a larger number of voters who initially chose a candidate but said it was too early to say their minds were made up (24 percent).*
There is almost a month between the two polls, Gallup's conducted June 15-19 and the CBS/NYT poll conducted July 7-14. So, the difference in the size estimates of the swing voter group could be a function of time. If so, that leads to the somewhat counterintuitive conclusion that this past month's campaigning has led to an increase in voter uncertainty, rather than the reverse, as more conventional frameworks might predict. I'm not a fan of this unconventional theory, though CBS reports that according to their poll, the undecided vote increased from 6 percent to 12 percent in the past month. Still, I suspect the differences between the two polls are mostly caused by house effects, but it would be hard to prove one way or the other.
In my post last week, I suggested the actual proportion of the electorate up for grabs is probably greater than the 40 percent figure, found by Gallup in September 1996 in the Robert Dole - Bill Clinton contest. The CBS/NYT poll lends credence to my suspicions, even though it also used the forced-choice format ("who would you vote for if the election were held today?") that Gallup used last month. In September 1996, Gallup first asked if voters had made up their minds, and then asked voters who they preferred. If the CBS/NYT poll had used that format this time, it almost certainly would have found a larger group of swing voters than the 36 percent they just reported.
In any case, CBS has rightfully emphasized in its headline the most important conclusion from these data: "Obama Leads But Race Looks Fluid." Too few pollsters, and too few news organizations, are looking at the fluidity of the electorate. Instead, like the New York Times article, they let stand the forced-choice horserace numbers as though such figures are solid estimates of voter intentions.
While I applaud CBS and Gallup for pointing to the fluidity of the race, I think it's worthwhile saying again that the uncertainty in the race is not because many voters may change their minds before election day, but rather because many voters have not yet made up their minds. The notion that 90 percent or more of voters have already come to a conclusion as to whom they will support (even a conclusion they can change) is highly misleading - an artifact of poor question wording that pollsters should have long since modified.
* The CBS/NYT poll shows that 28 percent of those who initially made a choice then admitted their minds were not made up. The table shows that 86 percent made a choice (45 percent for Obama, 39 percent for McCain, 2 percent for other). The two percentages multiplied by each other give 24 percent. The latter figure added to the 12 percent who originally said they were undecided produces a 36 percent total for "swing voters."
While I was busy column-writing this morning, the blogosphere was busy discussing today's New York Times story on the just released CBS/New York Times poll. The story, by Adam Nagourney and Megan Thee, had two central themes. First, it confirms the results of decades of prior surveys showing that "Americans are sharply divided by race," and the second theme comes from the story's headline: "Poll Finds Obama Isn't Closing Divide on Race:"
The survey suggests that even as the nation crosses a racial threshold when it comes to politics — Mr. Obama, a Democrat, is the son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas — many of the racial patterns in society remain unchanged in recent years.
Indeed, the poll showed markedly little change in the racial components of people's daily lives since 2000, when The Times examined race relations in an extensive series of articles called "How Race Is Lived in America."
My first reaction was similar to that of Ben Smith, who wrote this morning:
Whether or not it's notable in a broader social context, it doesn't really seem like big news on the campaign front, though I guess you could argue that it means Obama has not personally transformed American race relations, at least not so far. I'm not sure I'd seen anyone claim he had.
Over at Swampland, Karen Tumulty passed along an email from Jackson Dykman (Tumulty describes as Time's "datameister") who put it more strongly:
[T]he premise of the story is, well, utter nonsense.
Are we really supposed to think that because a black man has become the Democratic nominee in recent weeks that he somehow should have cured (or markedly improved) race relations in this country? This is just a silly premise, yet the story thrust of the story seems to be shock and surprise that the mere fact of Obama's candidacy hasn't reversed—or obliterated—the slight increase in racial tensions in this country over the past 8 years.
Dykman's critique is worth reading in full.
Later, my colleague Marc Ambinder received a response from Nagourney to the criticism (which also included push-back from the Obama campaign) including this partial concession:
One last point: I do think there is room for discussion about the headline – "Poll Finds Obama Candidacy Isn't Closing Divide on Race". The point of the story is that black respondents apparently do not see the fact of Mr. Obama's candidacy as evidence of significant improvement in race relations. The story does not suggest that there is some onus on Mr. Obama himself to be closing this divide. I also, on a smaller matter – and the one matter the Obama campaign did raise with me – should have included, in saying that 20 percent of white voters had a favorable view of Michelle Obama, the fact that 72 percent either have no opinion about Mrs. Obama or hadn't heard enough about her, to avoid any suggestion that 80 percent had an unfavorable view of her.
Which brings me to the poll question lesson for the day. The standard CBS/NYT favorable rating question differs from other pollsters by offering respondents an explicit option to say they are unfamiliar with the person in question, e.g. "is your opinion of Michelle Obama favorable, not favorable, undecided, or haven't you heard enough about Michelle Obama yet to have an opinion? (emphasis added)."
As a result the "favorable" percentage produced by the CBS/NYT poll typically lower than that yielded by other surveys, but my sense has always been that their wording provides a more accurate read on the real perceptions held by voters. Force respondents to choose between "favorable" and "unfavorable," and those just vaguely familiar with the name of a public figure (but little else about them) will typically say they are "favorable."
According the the CBS/NYT survey, 20% of white voters have a favorable opinion of Michelle Obama, while 19% are unfavorable, but 17% are "undecided" and 38% have not heard enough to say. In other words, most do not know her yet.
The Field Poll
7/8-14/08; 672 LV, 3.9%
Obama 54, McCain 30
CBS News (story, 2008, Iraq/Economy, Race, Hispanics)/
New York Times (story, results)
7/7-14/08; 1,462 RV
Obama 45, McCain 39
ABC News (story, results)/
washington Post (story, results)
7/10-13/08; 1,119 Adults, 3%
Obama 49, McCain 46
Obama 50, McCain 42
Obama 49, McCain 39, Barr 2, Nader 5
Obama 51, McCain 39
Obama 49, McCain 36, Barr 2, Nader 5
Public Policy Polling (D)
7/9-11/08; 542 LV, 4.2%
McCain 45, Obama 39, Barr 5
Sen: Graham (R-i) 54, Conley (D) 32
7/11-13/08; 641 RV, 3.9%
Coleman (R-i) 52, Franken (D) 39
ABC News (Iraq/Afghanistan story, charts and results; economic security story, charts and results;
Washington Post (story, results, graphic)
Conducted July 10-13, 2008, n=1,119 adults, margin of sampling error +/-3%
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds the country split down the middle between those backing Sen. Barack Obama's 16-month timeline for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and those agreeing with Sen. John McCain's position that events, not timetables, should dictate when forces come home.
There's a stress gap in America, and financial insecurity's fueling it.
A news ABC News/Washington Post poll finds two-thirds of Americans report at least some kind of stress because of their financial situation. Women -- especially single women -- are significantly less likely than men to describe themselves as financially secure. So are Democrats compared with Republicans, and in an especially big gap, less-educated vs. better-educated Americans.
n=1,725 likely voters, interviewed July 8-13, margin of sampling error +/- 2.4%
Obama 50%, McCain 41%
Public Policy Polling (D)
7/9-10/08; 1,050 LV, 3%
Obama 47, McCain 43
Sen: Udall 47, Schaffer 38
Louisiana (7/9/08; 500 LV, 4.5%)
McCain 54, Obama 34
Sen: Landrieu (D-i) 49, Kennedy (R) 44
Michigan (7/10/08; 500 LV, 4.5%)
Obama 47, McCain 39
Sen: Levin (D-i) 59, Hoogendyk (R) 36
South Dakota (7/9/08; 500 LV, 4.5%)
McCain 44, Obama 40
Sen: Johnson (D-i) 60, Dykstra (R) 35
Iowa (7/10/08; 500 LV, 4.5%)
Obama 48, McCain 38
Sen: Harkin (D-i) 55, Reed (R) 37
Minnesota (7/10/08; 500 LV, 4.5%)
Obama 52, McCain 34
Sen: Franken (D) 44, Coleman (R-i) 42