July 27, 2008 - August 2, 2008


POLL: SurveyUSA Missouri (7/29-31)

7/29-31/08; 1,459 LV, 2.6%
Mode: IVR

McCain 49, Obama 44 (June: McCain 50, Obama 43)

Nixon (D) 48, Hulshof (R) 42
Nixon 50, Steelman (R) 41

Is Everyone on Vacation This Week (?) "Outliers"

Andrew Gellman solves the "nonpuzzle" of close election polls.

Chris Cillizza notes an "attacking unfairly" gap in this week's CNN poll (Pollster reader Gary Kilbride caught it too).

Mark Mellman sees significant changes in Barack Obama's base of support, as compared to Kerry in 2004 and Gore in 2000.

Nate Silver sees similar patterns in the Gallup data.

Jennifer Agiesta delves deeper into how increased black turnout might have affected the 2004 outcome.

Allan and Sheri Rivlin think John McCain needs to articulate a credible economic plan.

Tom Jensen points out the online recording of an automated PPP interview call.

SurveyUSA rounds up their recent polling on the economy.

The Associated Press has questions and answers for polling skeptics.

Late update:
Kathy Frankovic says the economic issues remain dominant, as they were in 1992

The Marriage & Gender Gaps

Some of the press interest in targeting women voters appears to have died down some in the weeks since Hillary Clinton's exit from the race.  It's worth checking in to see how the overall gender patterns in Obama's vote compare to previous Democratic nominees. 


The Marriage Gap


Last week Women's Voices Women Vote Action Fund came out with a survey of unmarried women in battleground states (WVWV is a non-partisan organization; their surveys are typically conducted by Democratic polling firms).  As we've noted before, "unmarried" people can be in many varied stages of life--the single and college-aged, co-habitating couples in their late 20s, single parents, gay couples in a committed relationship, divorced baby boomers, older widows and widowers.  Such diversity makes me wonder about studying "unmarried" voters as a group.  Is the implication that non-marriage is somehow unifying?  Or does non-marriage frequently (but not always) co-vary with more dominant characteristics when it comes to predicting voting behavior, such as being younger, downscale, or more transient?  If it's the latter, then maybe we should be studying those other demographic variables instead.


I've written before here and here about the "marriage gap in turnout" that, despite the lopsided press coverage, is actually larger among men than among women.  I continue to worry about singling out a "marriage gap" in Democratic performance among women, leading some to think it a uniquely female phenomenon.  For one, it sends a message that women form their political views based on their relationships to others.  The "Soccer Moms" of yesteryear have given way to the "Carrie" voters of today; we are led to believe the presence or absence of husbands and/or children changes the way women (rather than men) view their worlds.  One blogger immediately seized on the recent poll results with: "why is it that women change their party registration with their marriage license?"


Second, and most importantly, the marriage gap is actually not uniquely female.  Recent Gallup research on the presidential race shows a marriage gap across gender, in the chart below.  For both men and women, unmarried voters are more Democratic than are their married counterparts.  In fact, as the chart below shows, the marriage gap in Democratic performance has frequently been larger for men than for women.  (We used a definition of the marriage gap that is consistent with the definition of the gender gap.  Here, it is the difference between unmarried and married voters' support for Obama.)



  post bo marriage gap.jpg 


Further, Obama's marriage gap, even across gender, is consistent with past elections.  WVWV's own materials show a similar pattern in the 2004 presidential race and 2006 midterm elections.  The table below averages the marriage gap from the Gallup poll and compares it to past exit polls. 


marriage gap/men

marriage gap/wmn

2004 exit polls



2006 exit polls



2008 gallup (average)




So the marriage gap is not a female-specific phenomenon.  Further, Obama's marriage gap is consistent with what we've seen in the past.


The Gender Gap


Gallup's weekly tracking also allows us to monitor the overall gender gap.  Since June, Obama's gender gap has widened slightly. 



post bo gender gap.jpg 


But either at its low end or high end, Obama's gender gap falls in the range established in recent elections.  The chart below shows the gender gap from every presidential race since 1980, plus the 2006 midterm elections (using national exit polls). 


  post gender gap old.jpg 


 We obviously still have a ways to go until November.  But what strikes me about Obama's marriage gap, the gender gap, and this post on Obama's performance with white women, is how similar they all are to previous elections.  Despite this election being historic, a pure open seat, and during both wartime and economic crisis, Obama's performance in many ways resembles the typical, contested elections of recent years.


POLL: Daily Tracking (7/29-31)

Rasmussen Reports
7/29-31/08; 3,000 LV, 2%
Mode: IVR

Obama 47, McCain 46

Gallup Poll
7/29-31/08; 2,680 RV, 2%
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews

McCain 44, Obama 44

POLL: Research 2000 North Carolina (7/28-30)

Research 2000/
DailyKos.com (D)
7/28-30/08; 600 LV, 4%
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews

North Carolina
McCain 47, Obama 43
Sen: Dole (R-i) 50, Hagan (D) 42

Bialik on IVR Polling

"Numbers Guy" Carl Bialik devotes his Wall Street Journal column and a companion blog post today to the subject of the automated "interactive voice response" polling that has become such a staple of the current campaign. Both are well worth reading in full.

Bialik managed to interview most of the major players in the political IVR field, and had a reaction from our partner Charles Franklin, summing up our own philosophy regarding the automated polls (that use a recorded voice rather than a live interviewer, and ask respondents to answer questions by pressing keys on their touch-tone phones):

The automated-polling method, says Charles Franklin, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin and co-developer of the poll-tracking site Pollster.com, "can prove itself through performance or it can fail through poor performance, but we shouldn't rule it out a priori."

The column notes that IVR pollster SurveyUSA ranks second most accurate among all pollsters during the 2008 primaries in the ratings compiled by Nate Silver and that IVR polling was indistinguishable during the primaries in terms of how the final poll compared to the election result:

Their accuracy record in the primaries -- such as it was -- was roughly equivalent to the live-interviewer surveys. Each missed the final margin by an average of about seven points in these races, according to Nate Silver, the Obama supporter who runs the election-math site fivethirtyeight.com.

Franklin did our own compilation of polls conducted during the final week of the 2006 (for a paper presented at the AAPOR conference last year) and reached essentially the same conclusion.

The article also indicates some cracks may be forming in the intense skepticism that the survey research establishment has long held for IVR surveys. Bialik notes that a polling textbook (The Voters Guide to Election Polls ) authored by Paul J. Lavrakas and Michael Traugott, "refers to these surveys as Computerized Response Automated Polls -- insulting acronym intended." But at the end of the column, Lavarakas indicates a willingness to consider the methodology:

Accepting responses by touch tones may have a particular advantage this election, says Mr. Lavrakas, former chief methodologist at Nielsen Media Research, because it may extract more-honest responses from white respondents about their intent to vote for Sen. Obama. "Ultimately the proof is in the pudding, and those firms that use IVR for pre-election polling and do so with an accurate track record should not be dismissed," he says.

Again, this is good stuff. Word reading in full.

POLL: Research 2000 Kentucky (7/28-30)

Research 2000/
DailyKos.com (D)
7/28-30/08; 600 LV, 4%
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews

McCain 56, Obama 35
Sen: McConnell (R-i) 49, Lunsford (D) 38

POLL: Pew National (7/23-27)

Pew Research Center
7/23-27/08; 1,241 RV
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews

Obama 47, McCain 42 (June: Obama 48, McCain 40)

POLL: Rasmussen Texas (7/30)

Rasmussen Reports
7/30/08; 500 LV, 4.5%
Mode: IVR

McCain 50, Obama 41 (June: McCain 48, Obama 39)
Sen: Cornyn (R-i) 50, Noriega (D) 39 (June: Cornyn 48, Noriega 35)

POLL: Rasmussen Kentucky (7/29)

Rasmussen Reports
7/29/08; 500 LV, 4.5%
Mode: IVR

McCain 52, Obama 43
(June: McCain 51, Obama 35)

McConnell (R-i) 52, Lunsford (D) 42
(June: McConnell 48, Lunsford 41)

POLL: Rasmussen Montana (7/29)

Rasmussen Reports
7/29/08; 500 LV, 4.5%
Mode: IVR

McCain 47, Obama 47
(7/1: Obama 48, McCain 43)

Schweitzer (D-i) 56, Brown (R) 32, Jones (L) 3
(7/1: Schweitzer 61, Brown 32, Jones 3)

POLL: Research 2000 Idaho (7/28-30)

Research 2000/
DailyKos.com (D)
7/28-30/08; 500 LV, 4.5%
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews

McCain 53, Obama 37
Sen: Risch (R) 42, LaRocco (D) 32, Rammell (i) 5

POLL: PPIC California (7/8-22)

Public Policy Institute of California
7/8-22/08; 1,401 LV, 2.6%
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews

Obama 50, McCain 35 (May: Obama 54, McCain 37)

POLL: Daily Tracking (7/28-30)

Rasmussen Reports
7/28-30/08; 3,000 LV, 2%
Mode: IVR

Obama 48, McCain 46

Gallup Poll
7/28-30/08; 2,679 LV, 2%
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews

Obama 45, McCain 44

The Election Is Not Held Today

My NationalJournal.com column for the week is now online. This week, I delve a bit deeper into the ongoing debate about what outcome we can expect in November based on the polls of July.

POLL: Rasmussen Alaska (7/30)

Rasmussen Reports
7/30/08; 500 LV, 4.5%
Mode: IVR

McCain 48, Obama 42 (7/17: McCain 49, Obama 44)
Begich (D) 50, Stevens (R-i) 37 (7/17: Begich 52, Stevens 44)
Begich 50, Cuddy (R) 35
Begich 55, Vickers (R) 22

POLL: Strategic Vision Washington, Pennsylvania (7/25-27)

Strategic Vision (R)
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews

Washington (800 LV, 3%)
Obama 48, McCain 37
Gov: Gregoire (D-i) 47, Rossi (R) 45 (Oct: Gregoire 47, Rossi 45)

Pennsylvania (1,200 LV, 3%)
Obama 49, McCain 40 (April: McCain 48, Obama 40)

Gallup's Crosstab Trove

Topics: Gallup

Not sure how we missed this, but Gallup has put up detailed demographic cross-tabulations based on the Gallup Daily tracking (that's the survey showing a four point lead for Barack Obama as of yesterday, not the USA Today Gallup poll that applied the "likely voter" screen and has been a source of controversy this week).

Here are descriptions and links just received via email from Gallup:

Gallup now has available online extensive data breaking out support for the presidential candidates within demographic, partisan, ideological, and regional subgroups.

The data are updated each Wednesday -- based on more than 6000 Gallup Poll Daily interviews conducted each week – and available here: http://www.gallup.com/poll/election2008.aspx. Importantly, the analyses can now be trended back through the week of June 9-15, showing the pattern of support within subgroup across time.

Candidate Support by Gender

Candidate Support by Gender Among Whites

Candidate Support by Age

Candidate Support by Region

Candidate Support by Race

Candidate Support by Education

Candidate Support by Education Among Whites

Candidate Support by Political Party

Candidate Support by Political Party Among Whites

Candidate Support by Political Party and Ideology

Candidate Support by Political Party and Ideology Among Whites

Candidate Support by Church Attendance Among Whites

Candidate Support by Marital Status

Candidate Support by Marital Status and Gender

Candidate Support by "Red," "Purple," and "Blue" States

POLL: Quinnipiac Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania (7/23-29)

Quinnipiac University
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews

Florida: (1,248 LV, 2.8%)
Obama 46, McCain 44 (June: Obama 47, McCain 43)

Ohio: (1,229 LV, 2.8%)
Obama 46, McCain 44 (June: Obama 48, McCain 42)

Pennsylvania: (1,317 LV, 2.7%)
Obama 49, McCain 42 (June: Obama 52, McCain 40

Panagakis: Reponse to Moore

Topics: Barack Obama , Chicago Tribune , Clinton , CNN , LA Times

Nick Panagakis is president of Market Shares Corporation, a marketing and public opinion research firm headquartered in Mt. Prospect, Ill.

This is in response to David Moore's July 25th column about use of a broader measure of voter indecision. For the first time, I also asked a similar question before the February 5th Illinois primary but am now having doubts about it's usefulness.

In the final CNN/University of New Hampshire primary poll, over 90% of voters stated their preference for a candidate in the commonly used "if the election were held today" forced choice question. That poll had Obama up by 9%. But Clinton won by 2.6 points. The candidate estimate error was 5.8 points, that means 5.8% high on Obama and 5.8% low on Clinton, near the average of all NH polls. When voters in that poll were asked if they were definite, leaning, or "still trying to decide", some 21% said still trying to decide which was the subject of Moore's blog.

Among the 21% who were "still trying to decide", that could mean 6% of all voters switched from Obama to Clinton or, a net 6% more voters switched from Obama to Clinton than from Clinton to Obama. The 21% more than covers such movement.

Other New Hampshire polls showed comparable numbers: Gallup's "could change mind" and in late December the LA Times' "might end up voting for someone else" both yielded 27%. I checked polls in other states that asked similar questions of decided voters and show comparable high percentages with no evidence that such mind-changing ever took palace.

My first issue is that the forced choice "if the election were held today" question historically comes close to the actual outcome, even though some voters may not have reached final closure when asked. I wouldn't call this "indecision" after so many could decide in response to the standard question. I believe it means some voters who are wiling to decide on a candidate in a poll won't rule out the possibility that some incident or disclosure, between now and election day, could lead them to vote otherwise. Isn't that what campaigns including negative elements are all about? This response is more conditional, perhaps remote, depending on unknown future events, not indecision. If it were indecision, a lot more polls than New Hampshire would have been be off the mark this Spring. In the post New Hampshire period, I cringed when I saw such numbers being reported. I think they de-values polls. There must be some better way of reporting these findings rather than "candidate A is up by 9 points - but 30% could change their minds".

During the week preceding the February 5th Illinois primary, our Chicago Tribune poll showed Obama ahead by 31 points in that primary, very close to the actual outcome. Our poll also got a similar number just days before election day - 24% of decided and leaners said they could "still change their minds". Could it be that a few days before any election, somewhere around 20%-25% of voters in all polls always say they could still change but most never do? Based on the Illinois outcome, not many minds were changed as is the case in most polls. To me, it seems that how voters would decide today has served us pretty well with some exceptions such as New Hampshire. (The question read: "Between now and next Tuesday, is there some chance that you could still change your mind about voting for this candidate...or have you definitely made up your mind?")

Re-calculating our Illinois Democratic poll numbers to combine possible mind-changers with undecideds as Moore did with the New Hampshire poll resulted in: Obama 44%, Clinton 16%, Others 1%, and 39% undecided. (The apparent reason for 39% here was an increase in conventional undecideds due to Edwards dropping out the day before interviewing began. Edwards did have 15% support in Illinois in a poll conducted a few days earlier by St. Louis Post-Dispatch,/KMOV-TV poll.) According to MSNBC, the NEP Illinois exit poll found 19% of voters who said they decided in the last 3 days, the period after we completed interviewing, close to our conventional undecideds. But the recalculated 39% undecided above that included voters who could "still change their mind" is twice as high as the 19% of voters NEP found deciding on a candidate during the 3 days before that election.

In the Illinois Republican primary, 36% of voters and leaners said they could change their minds. McCain was ahead in the poll by 23 points and went on to win by 19 points, a 2-point error on candidate estimates. Moore did not include a comparable number for the New Hampshire Republican primary but all polls matched the outcome.

In conclusion, perhaps in the New Hampshire Democratic primary this year such mind-changing took place. The state has always been a minefield for pollsters. The challenge for pollsters was mostly situational. This was a fluid situation, akin to trying to catch a falling knife. The campaign period was compressed, shortest-ever in New Hampshire, only 5 days after Obama's Iowa upset. Obama was described as over-confidant. Clinton perceived as a victim by some.

There were methodological challenges. Turnout that this year turned out to be historically high (a forewarning for us pollsters in later states). Only 52% of voters in the New Hampshire Democratic primary were registered Democrats according to the exit poll and 19% were first-time primary voters, a challenge for likely voter screening. According to one pollster, their best estimate of the New Hampshire outcome was based on all registered voters; i.e., no sample reduction at all for likely voters. The final chapter on this election has not yet been written. Neither has the value of routinely reporting that 25% or more of voters are undecided.

POLL: CNN National (7/27-29)

CNN/Opinion Research Corp.
7/27-29/08; 914 RV, 3%
Mode: Live Telephone Interviewer

Obama 51, McCain 44 (June: Obama 50, McCain 45)
Obama 46, McCain 42, Nader (i) 6, Barr (L) 3, McKinney (G) 1

POLL: Rasmussen Nebraska, Mississippi (7/28)

Rasmussen Reports
Mode: IVR

Nebraska (7/28/08; 500 LV, 4.5%):
McCain 55, Obama 36
(McCain 52, Obama 36)

Sen: Johanns (R) 60, Kleeb (D) 34
(June: Johanns 60, Kleeb 33)

Mississippi (7/28/08; 500 LV, 4.5%):
McCain 54, Obama 42

Sen-B: Wicker (R-i) 52, Musgrove (D) 43
(June: Wicker 48, Musgrove 47)

POLL: Daily Tracking (7/27-29)

Rasmussen Reports
7/27-29/08; 3,000 LV, 2%
Mode: IVR

Obama 48, McCain 46

Gallup Poll
7/27-29/08; 2,682 RV, 2%
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews

Obama 46, McCain 42

Today's Most Important Data

Topics: 2008 , ABC/Washington Post , Frank Newport , Gallup , Mike McDonald , Pew Research Center , RNC , USA Today , USAToday Gallup

The most important and useful campaign related data you will read today was released this morning by the Wisconsin Advertising Project. It tells us precisely what the two presidential candidates and political party organizations have been spending on television advertising in each state from June 3 to July 26. Here are the two key (forgive me) "money" paragraphs:

The McCain ad effort is more narrowly focused with intense attention being paid to four states -- Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. McCain is out-advertising the Democratic nominee in these four states where the RNC has also entered the fray. That said, in seven other battleground states where both campaigns are up (Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Nevada, and West Virginia) the McCain campaign is also out-advertising the Obama campaign.

Despite being out-advertised in nearly all states where both candidates are airing ads, Obama continues to advertise in states that have recently been unfavorable to Democratic presidential candidates. To date, Senator Obama is airing ads in 37 markets where McCain has not aired a single ad, while McCain is advertising in only two markets where Obama is not. Although Florida was the pivotal state in the 2000 presidential election, John McCain has not aired a single ad there since June 3rd. Senator Obama has aired over 7,000 ads in Florida since becoming the presumptive Democratic nominee and has spent more money in Florida than in any other state. Other states where only Obama’s paid advertising message is being heard are Alaska, Georgia, Indiana, Montana, and North Carolina.

The full pdf report has tables with specific data on each state and much more. Simply put, you ought to read recent poll data in the context of what candidates (and party committees) have been spending in each state. The numbers provided by the Wisconsin project are an absolutely invaluable tool.

The data were collected by TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG. I wrote more about CMAG and how it collects advertising data last October.

Update: More in today's New York Times and some observations from Nate Silver.

(H/T Ben Smith).

POLL: PPP Michigan (7/23-27)

Public Policy Polling (D)
7/23-27/08; 883 LV, 3.3%
Mode: IVR

Obama 46, McCain 43 (June: Obama 48, McCain 39)
Sen: Levin (D-i) 54, Hoogendyk (R) 35 (June: Levin 54, Hoogendyk 32)

Likely Voters 2008: The Sequel

Topics: Likely Voters

Ever had a day where everything seemed to fall on your desk at once? Today, for me, has been one of those days, although just one is obvious, and that involves those seemingly contradictory numbers on the presidential race from the Gallup organization. As blogged yesterday, the most important differences are the result of Gallup's well known (and often controversial) "likely voter" model.

If you are a long time reader and remember my old blog, Mystery Pollster, you will remember that over the final weeks of the 2004 campaign, I did a seven-part review of how pollsters select likely voters, including an explanation of the Gallup model and a review of criticism of it. Most of the issues reviewed then are relevant now, but in the context of this latest controversy, let's consider (a) why pollsters try to identify "likely voters," (b) the approach Gallup and USA Today took this week and (c) some thoughts about what it all means about the state of the race.

Why Screen for Likely Voters?

Four years ago, according the website maintained by Professor (and frequent Pollster commenter) Michael McDonald, 122 million Americans cast a ballot for president, which amounts to a turnout of 60% of the eligible adults in the United States (a significant increase from 54% in 2000).

A pre-election survey of all adults that made no effort to identify likely voters would have included the 40% who did not vote, and -- as should be obvious -- those extra interviews create the potential for a error the results since non-voters might have different preferences than actual voters. So all pollsters care about trying to identify the likely electorate.

But there is a big problem: Simply asking respondents whether they plan to vote does not work. Many more Americans will report they are likely to vote, or will claim they have voted in the past, than actually do. Consider the following results from the final national survey conducted by the Pew Research Center

However, when the Pew Research Center conducted their final survey before Election Day 2004 (interviewing 2,804 adults, October 27-30), they found the following:

  • 83% of adults said they were registered to vote (excluding the tiny percentage who live in North Dakota, the one state without party voter registration)
  • 71% of adults said they had already voted (5%) or rated their likelihood of voting as 10 -- "definitely will vote" -- on a 1-10 scale (66%).
  • 68% of adults said they vote "always" (51%) or "nearly always" (17%)

So screening for just self-identified registered voters is a good idea, but would still include roughly 20% non-voters. And simple questions about past voting or vote intent would largely overstate the size of the electorate. As such, the Pew Center and most other media pollsters used various indirect techniques (with some success) to screen for or otherwise "model" the likely electorate.

How Does Gallup Do it Now?

As explained in an article posted yesterday by Gallup's Frank Newport, the USA Today/Gallup has been using a three question scale to likely voters on the nine surveys they have conducted so far this year that asked a presidential vote question. Actually, that should be four questions, as they first ask adults if they are registered to vote, than ask:

1. How much thought have you given to the upcoming election for president -- quite a lot, or only a little? (quite a lot or volunteer "some" = 1 point)

2. How often would you say you vote -- always, nearly always, part of the time, or seldom? (always or nearly always = 1 point)

3. Do you, yourself, plan to vote in the presidential election this November, or not? ("yes" = 1 point)

They award points as noted above to those who give responses that have shown to correlate strongly, in past elections, with actual turnout. How do they know? They have conducted studies in past elections where they checked the voter registration rolls to see which respondents actually voted and which did not (how long ago? - I'm not sure if Gallup has disclosed that).

When they scored the three questions, they found that 56% of adults scored a perfect 3 on the 1-3 scale, answering all three questions as a highly likely voter would. The next category -- those scoring at least 2 out of 3 -- amounted to another 17% of adults, which would add up to 73%. But Gallup wanted their likely voter tabulations to "model" a turnout of 60% of adults, so they weighted down the "2s" to (those getting 2 out of 3 points) to a little less than one third of their original value.

I am leaving out a few details (involving Gallup's standard demographic weighting) but that is the gist of it: Likely voters are the 3s on their likely voter scale plus the 2s weighted down to roughly a third of their original value.

Gallup will use more or less the same procedure in the surveys they conduct in September and October, except that they will add four more questions to the scale (involving past voting behavior, knowledge of their polling place and a ten point scale to rate vote intent.

What are the problems here? First, as should be obvious, this is not the most precise method of identifying a true likely voter. If you are not yet registered, you are not included. If you registered this year for the first time and respond honestly that you have never voted before, your preferences are weighted down by a factor of 2 as compared to other voters or thrown out altogether if you say you are not paying much attention to the campaign.

Second, as Robert Erikson and his colleagues reviewed in the pages of Public Opinion Quarterly four years ago, the classic 7-question Gallup model "exaggerates" reported volatility in ways that are "not due to actual voter shifts in preference but rather to changes in the composition of Gallup's likely voter pool" (also summarized here).

Third, as Mike McDonald points out in a comment earlier today, a higher than ever turnout will challenge these models and their assumptions. Other surveys continue to show a huge Democratic advantage on measures of supporter "enthusiasm" for the two candidates. Those measures have not previously been included in the Gallup-style model, but they may be important this year.

Fourth, and this is the really important one, no one knows how accurate this technique is in terms of predicting turnout in November based on an application to survey data gathered in July. We have a lot of evidence that the Gallup-style "cutoff model," clunky as it may seem, does make surveys more accurate when applied to data collected the week before the election. But I have yet to see any comparable evidence regarding data collected in July.

So I tend to agree with Gallup's Frank Newport when he told Jill Lawrence yesterday that "'registered voters are much more important at the moment,' because Election Day is still 100 days away." For now, the poll of self-identified registered may be too broad a representation of the likely electorate, but at least they allow for a consistent measurement. Looking at vote preference among typically higher turnout subgroups is useful, analytically, but may or may not improve our conception of where the race stands.

So What Do These Results Say About Where the Race Stands?

First, to put the question as several readers did in emails over the last 24 hours? So which poll or approach is the most accurate right now? Listen closely now: We. Don't. Know.

If the election were being held today, past evidence would argue for placing more trust in the Gallup "likely voter" model than in the preferences of registered voters. But the election is not today, and I am not convinced that any pollster has a monopoly on wisdom when it comes to predicting turnout 100 days out.

As Brian Schaffner (our new contributor) reminds us, if we look at all the recent polls, and not just one, we can stills say with considerable confidence that Barack Obama is ahead. The precise margin probably depends on what assumptions one makes about turnout, which is more art than science at this point. However, as progressive blogger Chris Bowers has been pointing out lately, it is far better to be ahead than behind.

Having said that, we should not discount that two recent polls -- USAToday Gallup and ABC/Washington Post -- show McCain doing better when the classic Gallup "likely voter" model is applied. What is truly interesting about that finding is that the opposite was true on six of seven surveys that Gallup conducted from January to May: Obama did better slightly better among "likely voters" (defined as they were above) than among registered voters.

I have a theory (that someone at Gallup can probably test empirically): What changed is that the Democratic primaries ended. From February to June, Republicans who usually vote had a perfectly good reason to say they were paying "only a little attention" to the presidential campaign. All of the news what about the Obama Clinton race. Now that the media has started to focus on the McCain-Obama contest, Republicans have greater reason to be engaged. At least, that is something worth checking.

Also, finally, consider something from the perspective of a no-longer-practicing campaign pollster: Campaigns matter. So I am less concerned at this stage about "projections" that predict the outcome than in understanding what each campaign needs to accomplish to win. If the "likely voter" pattern evident in the recent USA Today/Gallup and Washington Post/ABC polls is accurate, it tells what the Obama campaign needs to do to win this election: They need to mobilize Americans that are ready to support Obama but that do not typically vote. That comes through loud and clear.

**PS - My conclusions above raise an obvious question: If registered voters are a better subgroup to watch, why does Pollster.com use the likely voter numbers on our tables and charts? I will blog on that highly pertinent question next, I promise.

[Typo corrected.  I know it's "likely voter" season because I'm misspelling Erikson again].

POLL: Daily Tracking (7/26-28)

Rasmussen Reports
7/26-28/08; 3,000 LV, 2%
Mode: IVR

Obama 47, McCain 46

Gallup Poll
7/26-28/08; 2,668 RV, 2%
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews

Obama 47, McCain 41

"Statistical Dead Heat?" Depends on Which Statistics You Use

Topics: Barack Obama , Fox News , John McCain

"We have a race that by every measure of every poll is a statistical dead heat. McCain's not supposed to be in this thing, and Obama's supposed to be blowing everybody away and it just isn't happening, at least to this point."

Lou Dobbs (July 17th, Lou Dobbs Tonight)

If you have paid any attention to the news in the past month, you have had a hard time avoiding some journalist or pundit noting that the presidential race is currently a "statistical dead heat" or "essentially tied." The news media, of course, love to cover the horserace aspects of the campaign, particularly in a way that emphasizes how close the election is. But when you step back and gain a little perspective on the big picture, you realize that this race isn't quite the dead heat that it is made to be.

The news media are often a bit myopic in their view of the contest, extrapolating too much from the most recent poll (or even the most recent "surprising" poll). Last week, Fox News released a national survey that showed Obama holding a 41-40% lead, well within the margin of error for the survey. Commentators were quick to emphasize this result and note that the candidates were essentially running neck-and-neck or that the race may even be tied. No doubt there will be a lot of commotion over the latest Gallup/USA Today survey showing McCain ahead (though also within the margin of error) among likely voters. Nevertheless, we gain much better perspective on the state of the race when we look at all available data.

Alan Abramowitz notes that Obama has consistently led in national polls over the past two months. In fact, according to national poll results listed on Pollster.com, Obama had been tied or ahead in 50 consecutive national polls through Sunday. Sure, many polls may show Obama holding a lead within the statistical margin of error, but if Obama and McCain were actually tied, we'd expect as many polls showing McCain ahead as show Obama ahead. Based on some basic calculations, the probability that 50 consecutive national surveys would show Obama tied or ahead if the candidates were actually tied is .0000000000000009. In short, this race is not a "statistical tie," despite what a few scattered surveys (drawing disproportionate attention from the pundits) indicate.

POLL: TargetPoint Indiana (7/13-22)

TargetPoint Consulting (R)/
Gov. Mitch Daniels (R)
7/13-22/08; 3,000 RV, 1.8%
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews

Gov: Daniels (R-i) 53, Long Thompson (D) 35

The "No-Bounce" Win and a Bit of History

Topics: 2004 , 2008 , Barack Obama , Bush , John McCain

Over a month ago we said that the 2008 presidential race was becoming a referendum on Barack Obama. Now the polling data has confirmed our hypothesis, and national pundits have said much the same thing. Pause for a moment and consider how truly incredible and unlikely this is. We are six years into an unpopular war and smack in the middle of a modest recession. Every environmental voting factor suggests that this election should be about George Bush and his policies, NOT the Democrat. But to this point, this race is almost totally about Obama. The upside is that he is the talk of the nation and McCain is virtually invisible. The downside, though, is that the Democrats appear to have lost--or at least temporarily ceded--their most important weapon: anti-Bush sentiment. If this election is about Bush/McCain, Obama should win; if it's about Obama, McCain has a chance.

From a strategy perspective it is pretty simple. A large segment of the electorate is not comfortable with Obama yet. There are two things team Obama can do: 1) ease those concerns by demonstrating that Obama is a "safe" choice and 2) link McCain to Bush and make that choice unacceptable irrespective of the Democratic candidate. In my mind, they have chosen to focus almost entirely on the first option, and that may be a fatal strategic error. Perhaps they have decided to do both (they are, of course, not mutually exclusive) but the time horizon for blatant political attacks on McCain may fade the closer we get to Labor Day.

Last Week's News Cycle or, the "No-Bounce" Win for Obama

Is it possible for Obama to get little or no "bounce" out of last week yet still have the week be considered a "win" for his campaign? The answer is "yes." Well, it's a "yes" given his weaknesses, at any rate.

Obama has a problem with many likely voters, some of whom are worried that he is not up to the job. So last week needed to tell swing voters that he is a fundamentally sound candidate.

It was a predictable (and scripted) photo opportunity for candidate Obama. But from a campaign perspective, that's not a bad thing at all; in fact, it's exactly what the campaign needed. Pictures of Obama talking to troops (and thereby appearing supportive of said troops)? Check. Images of Obama talking to military commanders (thus appearing "tough" and "knowledgeable" on foreign policy)? Check. Pictures of Obama meeting with foreign leaders (showing that he's "presidential" and can appear confident on the world stage)? Check. This was a trip designed to reassure voters who questioned all of the above, and to make voters more "comfortable" with the idea of Obama as president.

In and of itself the trip should not be expected to give Obama a bounce. Instead, the trip was meant to solidify core support and begin the process of attracting swing voters. It probably started that process, but people should stop looking for the bounce. At this stage--given how little people know about Obama--there will be volatility in the polls.

100 Days Out - What Does History Tell Us?

With little in the way of new polling data--and the milestone of 100 days until Election Day passing--we decided to take a look at where the race stood at this time over the past five election cycles. While this was an unscientific review, we did try and choose the most representative polls (from reputable pollsters) that we could find. The trend from 1988 - 2004 shows that the GOP candidate tends to under-poll in the summer--with the exception, as you can see below, of the 2000 campaign. In each of the other four years, the Republican candidate had been polling significantly behind the Democrat at this point in the race. Each of those times, however, the Republican improved his position, gaining an average of 15 points relative to the Democrat.

That is a staggering number: equivalent to over 18 million votes based on 2004 turnout numbers. So Republicans have come back before--and McCain's campaign narrative does fit with the "comeback kid" storyline--but what this means for 2008 is difficult to say. It could tell us that Republican candidates tend to do better once the electorate is more focused on the issues and the candidates (similar to what we see in registered voter/likely voter screens, where likely voters--those paying more attention--tend to be slightly more inclined to vote for the Republican candidate), or it could simply be a coincidence based on a variety of external factors related to those particular races and polls. Either way, it's interesting to look at:


What is fascinating in the last few cycles is that--with the exception of Clinton in 1996--the Democratic candidate's vote moves very little from July to Election Day. In fact, if history is some guide here (and we know every election is different), Obama's current vote might be about where it will end up...plus or minus two points.

POLL: PPP North Carolina (7/23-27)

Public Policy Polling (D)
7/23-27/08; 823 LV, 3.4%
Mode: IVR

North Carolina
McCain 47, Obama 44, Barr 3
(June: McCain 45, Obama 41, Barr 5)

Sen: Dole (R-i) 49, Hagan (D) 40, Cole (L) 4
(June: Dole 51, Hagan 37)

Gov: Perdue (D) 46, McCrory (R) 37, Munger (L) 6
(June: Perdue 42, McCrory 41, Munger 5)

POLL: USAToday/Gallup National (7/25-27)

USA Today/Gallup
7/25-27/08; 791 LV, 4%; 900 RV, 4%
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews
(blog entry, story, results,
"Assessing the Impact of Obama's Trip",
"Who Are Likely Voters and When Do They Matter?")

LV - McCain 49, Obama 45 (June: Obama 50, McCain 44)
RV - Obama 47, McCain 44 (June: Obama 48, McCain 42)

Berlin Bounce?

Topics: 2008 , ABC/Washington Post , Barack Obama , Frank Newport , Gallup , John McCain , Rasmussen , Sampling Error , USAToday Gallup , Washington Post

The polling question of the morning seems to be whether Barack Obama has experienced a "Berlin bump" in his poll numbers in the wake of the weeklong trip to Europe and the Middle East. Yesterday's Washington Post featured Barack Obama himself downplaying the possibility: "I don't think that we'll see a bump in the polls. I think we might even lose some points. People back home are worried about gas prices; they're worried about jobs."

But by mid-afternoon, however, the latest release of the Gallup Daily survey, conducted Thursday through Saturday, showed Obama's margin increasing to 9 percentage points (49% to 40%), "the largest," wrote Gallup's Frank Newport, "since Gallup began tracking the general election horserace in March." That news was enough to merit the full Drudge treatment yesterday and a screaming headline on the front page of the New York Daily News.

07-28 Daily News front page.png

The Rasmussen Daily tracking also showed Obama expanding his lead slightly, from dead even (46% to 46%) early in the week to an advantage that was five points on Saturday (49% to 43%) and three points today (48% to 45%).

But is this apparent "bump" real? Will it last? And is the vote preference question really the best place to look for the bump?

Put me down as in general agreement with our friends at First Read about the danger of over-analyzing one particular poll. Here are a few reasons for skepticism:

First, even Gallup's Newport hedged: "A key question remains as to whether this "bounce" is short-term (as happens to bounces in some instances following intense publicity surrounding a convention) or if his lead will persist."

It is true that some events produce a temporary "bounce" that rarely persists, especially if the coverage is uniformly good for one candidate and not so good for another (as seems to have been the case for the last few days). One possibility to consider is that surveys with short field periods might have some bias toward those who happened to be at home viewing that positive coverage.

Second, while Obama's lead on the Gallup Daily was bigger than they have shown previously, it is only slightly bigger. Since Hillary Clinton endorsed him in early June, but before last week, Obama had led on the Gallup Daily by 7 points (once) and 6 percent (five times). And Gallup's data continues to show Obama doing very slightly better on weekends (but perhaps not significantly -- more on this issue later this week).

Third, and most important, if the volatility is about voter preferences and not poll methodology, it reflects the fact that (as David Moore has been reminding us) as many as a third of registered voters are willing to say they are less than certain about their choice. This hesitance is not unusual. Contrary to what Robert Novak implies in his column today, candidates rarely "close the deal" with uncertain voters in July, especially when they are non-incumbents and relative newcomers.

First Read recommends that we "wait a bit until the next few national polls are released before declaring whether Obama got a bounce from his overseas trip." That's good advice.

And while we are at it, we might want to focus more closely on the sorts of internal measures that might have seen some improvement. Has Obama improved at all on probes of his readiness for the job, particularly on questions that ask for evaluations of Obama alone, rather than posing a choice between Obama and McCain? That is the best test of what sort of "bounce" Obama gets out of last week's trip.

Update: Today's Gallup Daily, released just minutes before I clicked "publish," shows Obama leading by eight points (48% to 40%).

Update 2: "And then," as Michael McDonald puts it below, "there's this." The latest USA Today/Gallup poll -- an entirely separate survey from the Gallup Daily -- puts Obama ahead by just three points (47% to 44%) among 900 registered voters, but behind McCain by four points (45% to 49%) among the 791 considered most likely to vote.

All of this should make us more cautious about reading too much into the fluctuations between these surveys and about assuming too much about the precision of these sorts of measurements when take over a July weekend.

There are really two stories here: The first is about why the Gallup Daily survey of registered voters conducted Friday through Sunday shows Obama leading McCain 48% to 40%, while the USA TodayGallup poll of registered voters conducted over the same three days shows Obama leading 47% to 43%. It could have something to do with the order of questions, with the special difficulty of interviewing over a weekend or, perhaps as Frank Newport suggests, random sampling error. The surveys are a point apart on Obama's vote and the three point difference in McCain's support is not quite large enough to be statistically significant, even with 2,674 respondents on the Gallup Daily (though it comes close).

The more difficult story, and one I will post on either later tonight or tomorrow, is about why McCain does so much better with "likely voters" than registered voters. Keep in mind that the ABC News/Washington Post survey conducted earlier this month showed a very similar effect. The editors at both organizations, who emphasized the registered voter numbers appear to agree with what Gallup's Frank Newport told Jill Lawrence of USA Today: "'[R]egistered voters are much more important at the moment,' because Election Day is still 100 days away."

POLL: Research 2000 National (7/25-27)

Research 2000/
Concord Monitor, KCCI, KCRG, WSBT *
7/25-27/08; 1,100 LV, 3%
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews

Obama 51, McCain 39, Barr 3, Nader 2

* DailyKos.com reports the survey was sponsored by "a consortium of television stations and newspapers."

POLL: Democracy Corps National (7/21-24)

Democracy Corps (D)/
Greenberg Quinlan Rosner (D)
7/21-24/08; 735 LV, 3.5%
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews

Obama 50, McCain 45
Obama 49, McCain 43, Barr 3, Nader 1
Generic: Dem 50, Rep 43