February 8, 2009 - February 14, 2009


Yet More Twitter Themed "Outliers"

Topics: Outliers Feature

The Pew Internet & American Life Project says 11% of online Americans say they use "a service like Twitter."

Nancy Scola has a quibble.

The Johns Hopkins News-Letter covers the AAPOR/Burnham sanction.

Gary Langer anticipates what Richard Holbrooke will hear in Afghanistan.

Matt Gottlieb summarizes the Quinnipiac polling on the economic stimulus package.

Jay Cost considers the merits of presidential campaigning.

Jennifer Agiesta crunches the numbers on Collins, Snowe and Specter.

Mark Mellman ponders "bipartisanship" and the stimulus package.

Karl Rove posts his latest "Polling News & Notes."

Joe Scarborough lets Gallup challenge his assumptions.

Democracy Corps polls on Obama's "Political Project."

PPP wants your input, once again, on where to poll next.

John Sides reviews a Caltech/MIT survey on confidence in the voting process.

AAPOR's 2009 Conference will open registration this weekend.

James Mann unearths a bit of Richard Nixon's poll analysis for Ronald Reagan (via Chotiner)

Michael Scherer gives those who teach questionnaire and online survey design something to chew over.

Rachel Sklar bootstraps (non-scientific) survey invites via Twitter, gets results.

Hill on Pollster Ethics

Topics: AAPOR , David Hill , Ethics , Pollsters

In his The Hill column this week, Republican pollster David Hill ponders the changes to the polling profession that have resulted from the lower barriers to entry wrought by technology and the growing number of pollsters with little academic training in the profession or "immersion in the history and ethics of polling." He commends the recent censure of a Johns Hopkins researcher by the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) and calls for others to step up and play the role of "poll police." It's worth a read.

This point from Hill's column is worth highlighting. His definition of "pollster," in this instance, extends to firms like his that conduct "internal" surveys on behalf of political campaigns:

New pollsters nowadays are most often plucked from the ranks of young swashbuckling operatives. The polling firm hires them for their aggressive promise and runs them through an in-house apprenticeship. I once made a hire like this. As an alternative to on-the-job training, I sent him to the University of Michigan for a program designed to instruct journalists in the art and science of polling. It was probably better than nothing when it came to inculcating proper values about polling.

There is no inherent justification for pollsters with an operative background to have coarser principles than researchers with academic training. Yet I have observed that it happens that way most of the time. In particular, outbreaks of over-the-top, push-polling-variety questions most always emanate from pollsters with little formal training, except in the school of hard knocks. But, to be fair, it must be acknowledged that one of the few pollsters ever formally censured by a professional organization was an Oxford-trained Ph.D.

I can certainly see both sides of this issue. My own entry into the polling profession fell somewhere in between the two paths Hill describes. I was no Ph.D., but rather a recent college graduate with an "operative" background, having been a field organizer on a recent presidential campaign. On the other hand, my undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan provided an exposure to the "history and ethics" of polling, if not an immersion, and I had the good fortune to apprentice with a firm where the partners and senior staff had just such a background.

And Hill has a point here: I learned politics from campaigns but polling from academics and professionals with academic training. Had it been the other way around, my professional judgement would be very different.

Hill's timing on this question is good, if only because of the week-long dialogue we have planned starting next Tuesday around the new book, Dispatches from the War Room , by Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg. I will have more detail next week, but Greenberg will be joining us for a blogging conversation about the new book and, in particular, his own thoughts about the polling profession and its future. Stay tuned.

PA: Specter Stimulus (Rasmussen-2/11)

Rasmussen Reports
2/11/09; 500 likely voters, 4.5% margin of error
Mode: IVR


Arlen Specter was one of only 3 Republicans to vote for the economic stimulus package. Does this vote make you more or less likely to vote for Specter, or does it have no impact?

    31% More likely
    40% Less likely
    28% No impact

    Among Reps
    16% More likely
    58% Less likely
    25% No impact

    Among Dems
    46% More likely
    21% Less likely
    32% No impact


US: Stimulus (Rasmussen-2/10-11)

2/10-11/09; 1,000 likely voters, 3% margin of error
Mode: IVR


Do you favor or oppose the economic recovery package proposed by Barack Obama and the Congressional Democrats? (2/3 results)

44% Favor (37%)
40% Oppose (43%)

Suppose the economic recovery plan changed so that it included tax cuts only and there was no new government spending. Would you favor or oppose an economic recovery plan that included tax cuts only? (2/3 results)

41% Favor (45%)
41% Oppose (34%)

Okay... Suppose the economic recovery plan changed so that it included only new government spending and there were no tax cuts? Would you favor or oppose an economic recovery plan that included only new government spending? (2/3 results)

14% Favor (15%)
72% Oppose (72%)


Re: Lessons

Topics: Approval Ratings , Bipartisanship , Nate Silver , Stimulus

I'm a day late on this, but I want to post a few more thoughts following up on Nate Silver's response to my critique of his post from earlier this week.

First, Nate's probably right that we agree on more than we disagree here. My disagreement involves his argument that Obama's "bipartisan" outreach coupled with Republican attacks on the stimulus plan led to a "significant," 6-point decline in his job rating. What I tried to argue in my first post was that most of the apparent drop results from an apples-to-oranges comparison. Roughly half the interviews in the three surveys Nate included in his"post-inauguration day" average were conducted before or during the inauguration. I'll certainly cut him some slack on this issue, since our own job approval chart also connects pre-inauguration "transition" approval ratings with post inauguration "job as president" ratings. But if we cut out the pre or mid-inauguration results and we see very little decline.

The chart below, courtesy of Charles Franklin, includes only polls conducted from January 21 forward that ask about the job Obama is doing "as president" (the x-axis labels show the middle date of each survey's field period and, unlike our standard chart, includes all daily tracking releases, not just non-overlapping samples). Rasmussen shows little or no trend over the last 19 days. Gallup shows a small decline that occurs mostly in the three to four days immediately after the inauguration, well before Republicans ramped up their criticism of the stimulus plan. A linear (straight) regression line that excludes the two outlier results shows a very slight overall decline -- 1.3 percentage points (from 64.3% to 63.0%). Our standard loess regression "local trend" line based on all of the data shows a slightly bigger drop of 2.3 percentage points (from 64.2% to 61.9%).


Nate responds by arguing that "the inauguration bounce typically tends to be somewhat long-lasting," citing a recent Gallup report showing that "new presidents' approval ratings typically increase in the first few months of their presidencies." So maybe the stimulus debate made Obama's ratings fall faster than normal or kept them flat when they should have been rising.

The problem is, the historic Gallup data is not much help here, since it looks at polling snapshots taken during the first three weeks of the last eight presidencies and compares those to snapshots taken at about week fourteen. For five of eight presidents, Gallup fielded their first poll in February. They started interviewing on the other three at least three days after the inauguration. So we have no past data from Gallup to tell us whether to expect a brief a brief, 2-3 "bump" in approval ratings like what we typically see for political conventions.

The big challenge with much of the discussion of "bipartisanship" over the last few weeks is that everyone defines that term differently. To some, it means significant compromise on all sides, something akin to a parliamentary, coalition government (see Mark Halperin) To others, it means the bipartisan "brand," a promise of civility and cooperation but only as much compromise as necessary to get the votes needed to pass legislation (see Ben Smith). So your views on the virtues Obama's "bipartisanship" may depend on how you define it.

From the perspective of the polling data, the bottom line is that Obama is on the verge of winning approval for, as Joe Klein put it yesterday, "the most expensive bill in the history of anything" while maintaining a job rating greater than sixty percent. Moreover, Gallup found that as of a week ago, 67% approved of Obama's handling of "the government's efforts to pass an economic stimulus bill" compared to just 31% of the Republicans in Congress. It seems obvious to me that the legislative victory and Obama's "upper hand" in public approval owe to both his recent salesmanship of the stimulus bill and his pursuit of the "bipartisan brand."

Update: Noam Scheiber makes a similar point about Obama's bipartisan outreach (h/t: commenter Mark).

US: Stimulus (Gallup-2/10/09)

USA Today / Gallup
2/10/09; 1,021 adults, 3% margin of error
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews


As you may know, Congress is considering a new economic stimulus package of at least $800 billion. Do you favor or oppose Congress passing this legislation?

    59% Favor
    33% Oppose

"Most of the newfound support comes from rank-and-file Democrats, suggesting President Barack Obama's efforts to sell the plan over the past week -- including in his first televised news conference on Monday -- have shored up support within his own party. Last week, Gallup found 70% of Democrats in favor of Congress passing the economic stimulus package, but today that figure is 82%."

"Although the stimulus plan is purportedly being passed to address the nation's economic problems, Americans' perceptions of the economy -- and of their own personal financial situations -- have little bearing on their support for it. Political orientation is the overriding factor."


NH: 2010 Senate (PPP-2/6-8)

Public Policy Polling (D)
2/6-8/09; 1,362 registered voters, 2.7% margin of error
Mode: IVR

New Hampshire

Favorable / Unfavorable
Paul Hodes (D): 42 / 34
Carol Shea-Porter (D): 43 / 40
Charlie Bass (R): 33 / 37
John Sununu (R): 46 / 43

'10 Senate General Election
Hodes 40, Bass 37
Hodes 46, Sununu 44
Bass 43, Shea-Porter 42
Sununu 46, Shea-Porter 45


PA: Ratings, Sen (Quinnipiac-2/4-9)

Quinnipiac University
2/4-9/09; 1,490 registered voters, 2.5%
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews


Gov. Ed Rendell Job Approval
47% Approve, 38% Disapprove

Sen. Arlen Specter Job Approval
56% Approve, 30% Disapprove

Sen. Bob Casey Job Approval
54% Approve, 23% Disapprove

Looking ahead to the 2010 election for United States Senator, do you feel that Arlen Specter deserves to be reelected, or do you feel that he does not deserve to be reelected?

    40% Yes/Deserves
    43% No/Does not


NH: Obama, Newman (PPP-2/6-8)

Public Policy Polling (D)
2/6-8/09; 1,326 registered voters, 2.7%
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews

New Hampshire

Do you support or oppose President Obama's proposed stimulus package?

    50% Support
    40% Oppose

Do you approve or disapprove of how Governor John Lynch handled the appointment of Judd Gregg's replacement in the US Senate?

    66% Approve
    18% Disapprove

Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Senator designate Bonnie Newman?

    32% Favorable
    12% Unfavorable

Do you approve or disapprove of Senator Judd Gregg becoming Secretary of Commerce?

    67% Approve
    21% Disapprove


CT: 2010 Sen, Gov (Quinnipiac-2/4-8)

Quinnipiac University
2/4-8/09; 1,603 registered voters, 2.5% margin of error
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews


Job Approval / Disapproval
Gov. Jodi Rell (R): 75 / 19
Sen. Chris Dodd (D): 41 / 48
Sen. Joe Leiberman (i): 45 / 48

How likely are you to vote to re-elect Chris Dodd for United States Senator in 2010 - Do you think you will definitely vote for him, probably vote for him, probably not vote for him, or definitely not vote for him?

    42% Definitely/Probably
    51% Definitely not/Probably not

'10 Gubernatorial Democratic Primary
Susan Bysiewicz 44, Dan Malloy 12, Jim Amann 4

'10 Gubernatorial General Election
Gov. Rell 58, Malloy 26
Gov. Rell 53, Bysiewicz 32
Gov. Rell 71, Amann 12


US: National Survey (Pew-2/4-8)

Pew Research Center
2/4-8/09; 1,303 adults, 3% margin of error
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews


Obama Job Approval
64% Approve, 17% Disapprove

Obama Job Approve - Economy
56% Approve, 24% Disapprove

How much, if anything, have you heard about the economic stimulus plan being proposed by President Obama that may cost about $800 billion?

    46% A lot
    45% A little
    7% Nothing at all

[If 'A lot' or 'A little'] From what you've read and heard, do you think this plan is a good idea or a bad idea?

    51% Good idea
    34% Bad idea

What do you think will do more right now to stimulate the economy and create jobs

    48% Tax cuts to individual businesses
    39% Spending on programs and infrastructure projects
    4% Both equally


Lessons in Declining Approval?

Topics: Approval Ratings , Barack Obama , Economic stimulus , Nate Silver

From the left side of the commentariat, we have a new conventional wisdom: Bipartisanship is a bust. As Andrew Sullivan summarizes this morning:

Paul Krugman, who wants a partisan war on the GOP, and Matt Yglesias, who thinks that bipartisanship's impossible in the modern era, and Tina Brown, who thinks there's no longterm downside to Democratic ownership of hefty social spending, have now come out swinging.

Nate Silver brings job approval data to bear on the issue. Observing a 6-point drop in Obama's "approval rating" as measured by three pollsters, he concludes:

The benefits of "bipartisanship" are dubious. The public says they want bipartisanship, and a large majority of the public believes that Obama acted in a bipartisan fashion during the stimulus debate. And yet, his approval ratings fell significantly during this period.

Really? Let's take a closer look. Silver produced the following table to compare the Obama's "approval ratings" between "the immediate aftermath of his inauguration" and late last week:


First, let's be clear about the timing. The "before" snapshot covers both the "immediate aftermath" and several days during the inaugural festivities. Only Gallup's numbers come from interviews conducted entirely after the swearing-in (1/21-23). The Rasmussen result above derives from interviews conducted for two days prior and the night of the inauguration (1/18-20). The DailyKos/Research 2000 rating (which measures favorability, not job approval) comes from interviews conducted over the course of the week, Monday through Thursday (1/19-22).

But whether just before or immediately after the inauguration, the key point is the same: The period is one in which news coverage is as positive as a president gets -- ever.   Virtually all news sources, from network anchors to conservative talking heads, reported on the inauguration in glowing terms. The focus was on the history, the massive crowds, the celebration, not the usual back-and-forth on policy.

The drop that followed is what we should expect as the bon mots of the inauguration give way to the normal back-and-forth of governing. Republican and conservative leaders begin to criticize Obama. Their followers -- Republicans, Republican-leaning independents and even some conservative Democrats -- start to feel less positive about Obama. That's politics 101. LIterally.

Look at the these results by party and you see exactly that pattern. Obama's ratings dropped by an average 3.3 percentage points among Democrats, by 5.7 points among independents and by 10.0 points among Republicans. As Scott Rasmussen put it, this change amounts to "a natural reaction as the unifying nature of the inauguration gives way to the challenging realities of governing in times of a challenging economy."


But evidence of the limits of bipartisanship? Let's remember that Obama holds an overall approval rating that most polls now peg in the mid-sixty percent range, after winning with roughly 52.9% of the votes cast. Doesn't the aggregate approval rating, including approval from roughly a third of Republicans, say something about the benefits of the "bipartisan" messaging? And how will those Republican and Republican leaning independents respond to harsher partisan rhetoric from the President?

Moreover, to the extent that Obama's ratings declined, both Gallup and Rasmussen -- the only two measuring his job approval on a daily basis -- show that decline occurring by the end of inauguration week, well before Republicans ramped up their criticism of the stimulus bill. So as evidence of a reaction to the stimulus debate, these data fall short.

If there is a lesson in this particular decline in approval ratings, it has little to do with the stimulus plan. I'm not sure I see a lesson here, unless Obama can find a way to hold an inauguration every week.

As for the strategy of how to turn Obama's apparent "upper hand" on the stimulus debate into the 60 Senate votes necessary to get the package passed in the Senate, we need to remember two important but conflicting strains of public opinion: On the one hand, most Americans want the government to do something to stimulate the economy. As today's new numbers from Gallup show, more than half (51%) say the think passing "an economic stimulus plan" is "critically important," another 29% rate it "important but not critical." They tend to respond well to any proposal that promises to create new jobs.

On the other, a majority of Americans are wary new of government spending. As last week's CBS News poll showed, the number that think "reducing taxes" will "do more to get the U.S. out of the current recession" (62%) is nearly four times the number who prefer "increasing government spending" (22%). And the recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found twice as many Americans worried that the government would "spend too much money" (60%) rather than "too little" (33%) in an effort to boost the economy.

Any strategy to get a stimulus package passed has to consider both strains. Like it or not, you can be sure that "moderate" Senators in competitive states looking ahead to their next reelection campaign are doing just that.

PS: Thanks to Scott Rasmussen and Gallup's Jeff Jones for the cross-tab data cited above. DailyKos posts cross-tabs for their surveys here.

Update (2/10): Nate Silver responds here. I am traveling today to a lecture that I am giving tonight. I'm hoping to add a few thoughts when time allows.

US: National Survey (CNN-2/7-8)

2/7-8/09; 806 adults, 3.5% margin of error
Mode: Live Telephone Interivews


Presidential Job Approval
76% Approve, 23% Disapprove

Congressional Job Approval
29% Approve, 71% Disapprove

As you may know, the U.S. Senate is expected to vote on a bill that would attempt to stimulate the economy by increasing federal government spending and cutting taxes at a total cost to the government of about eight hundred billion dollars. Based on what you have read or heard about this, do you favor or oppose the bill that the Senate is expected to vote on?

    54% Favor
    45% Oppose

Thinking about both the tax cuts and new government programs in the Senate bill, do you think that bill will result in the government spending too much money, not enough money, or about the right amount of money?

    55% Too much money
    13% Not enough money
    30% About the right money


US: Obama Stimulus (Rasmussen-2/6-7)

Rasmussen Reports
2/6-7/09; 1,000 likely voters, 3% margin of error
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews


Generally speaking, do increases in government spending help the economy, hurt the economy, or have no impact on the economy?

    35% Help
    48% Hurt
    7% No impact

Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: "If we do not move swiftly to pass the stimulus package in Congress, an economy that is already in crisis will be faced with catastrophe"?

    44% Agree
    41% Disagree

President Obama recently said that stimulus means government spending. In his words, "It's spending--that's the whole point." Do you agree or disagree with President Obama's statement that increased government spending is the whole point of the stimulus plan?

    43% Agree
    43% Disagree

(part 1, part 2)

Afghanistan: National Survey (ABC/BBC/ARD-12/13-1/12-09)

12/30-1/12/09; 1,535 adults in Afghanistan, 2.5% margin of error
Mode: Live In-person Telephone Interviews




In your view, what is the biggest problem facing Afghanistan as a whole?

    38% Security
    34% Economy
    9% Weak government/Corruption
    7% Reconstruction problems
    4% Education/Schools/Literacy
    2% Foreign influence
    2% Drug trade/Cultivation of poppy
    1% Discord/Lack of unity

Do you think your children will have a better life than you, worse, or about the same?

    47% Better
    14% Worse
    21% Same

(story, results)