Pollster.com

May 31, 2009 - June 6, 2009

 

Virginia: Three Keys to the Outcome

Topics: Turnout , Virginia

Politico's Andy Barr and Josh Kraushaar penned a nice summary yesterday on the widespread skepticism about the pre-election polls in Virginia. It quotes yours truly as saying it is "virtually impossible" (my words) to "accurately poll" (their words) this race. That may sound a bit strong. It is certainly possible to conduct a survey on the race, and some or all of the polls may ultimately provide an accurate result. But they may also miss by a mile, both because of the challenge of identifying likely voters and because of the chance of last minute shifts. What is "virtually impossible" right now is high confidence that the current polling results will predict who will win or their margin of victory on Tuesday.

Remember the New Hampshire primary last year? Remember how well the polls did there? Virginia shows similar signs of volatility. The Virginia polls show a consistent late trend favoring one candidate with another dropping (ditto in NH in 2008). The four pollsters that have tracked the race show Creigh Deeds gaining and Terry McAuliffe dropping. One poll shows these shifts occurring despite all three candidates maintaining relatively high favorable ratings (ditto in NH). And all of the surveys indicate considerable uncertainty. Our chart shows a multi-poll trend estimate of roughly 18% that are still completely undecided (as of this writing). Three pollsters also asked voters this week if they might still change their minds and found anywhere from 52% to 60% still either totally undecided or uncertain about their current preference (uncertainy on a similar question on the UNH survey was 23% just before the NH primary).

Late shifts and polling errors are a lot more common in primaries than in general elections, partly because it is harder to define the likely electorate and partly because fewer voters are locked into a choice based on party affiliation. In this race, I see at least three factors -- call them keys to the election -- that could well produce a different result (in the leader or in the margin of victory) than what polls currently suggest.

1) Turnout -- I wrote about the turnout puzzle previously, and my post on Wednesday noted that surveys are consistent in showing that a bigger turnout tends to work in Terry McAuliffe's favor (although that pattern could change over the final week).

The really critical question, however, is not so much the level of turnout but (as one helpful reader put it via email) "the dispersion of the turnout based on region." How much of the vote will come from Northern Virginia (where Brian Moran is strong), how much from the rural counties (Deed's base) and how much from the other urban centers in Virginia? Put another way, whose supporters are most energized and ready to vote?

The dispersion question may be most relevant for Northern Virginia, Brian Moran's base. Analysts define the Northern Virginia region differently, but by one definition it surged from about a third of voters in the 2005 Democratic primary to nearly 45% in 2006. Most expect rural interest in Creigh Deeds to boost turnout downstate, but we really won't know the answer until the votes are counted.

2) African-Americans -- If you believe the composition reported by the various public pollsters, African Americans will constitute roughly 30% of the vote on Tuesday. Their preferences remain a wild card.

Although none of the candidates began with a pre-existing base of support among African Americans, Terry McAuliffe is counting on a big vote there because of his long time association with President Bill Clinton. This week's Suffolk University poll gave Clinton a 79% favorable rating among African-American primary voters. McAuliffe has campaigned with Clinton, has run radio ads featuring the former president and just this week sent out direct mail to black voters this week touting support from Virginia Congressman Bobby Scott and the endorsement of the Richmond Free Press, an African American newspaper.

Polls have shown inconsistent results among African-Americans. SurveyUSA has consistently shown McAuliffe running well ahead (38% on their most recent survey) with a relatively small undecided (11%). The most recent surveys by PPP, Research2000 and Suffolk University have shown a close, three-way race with undecideds over 20%. PPP has shown an erosion of support for McAuliffe among African Americans (from 37% in early May to 24% last week), but a consistently huge undecided number (38% in early May, 36% last week). In their most recent poll, PPP found that 60% of African Americans were either completely undecided or could still change their minds (see our chart for links to all polls).

Some speculate that African American turnout will be relatively low, and the greater uncertainty does suggest a lack of enthusiasm. Yet the most extreme speculation of a low black turnout still puts the American-American composition at at least 20%, probably closer to 25%. And the results above suggest that when pushed, African Americans voters tend to break to McAuliffe. A big break in that direction -- especially if he can run his Black support up to 60% or more -- could give McAuliffe with the margin he needs to win.

3) Northern Virginia - Voter preference in the areas of Northern Virginia that fall in the Washington DC media market are probably the biggest unknown in this final weekend, both in terms of turnout and voter preferences. Given the cost of broadcast television and Brian Moran's base of support in the region, all three campaigns have directed their paid communication elsewhere until last week. As such, Northern Virginia voters are engaging in the race later with a a greater potential for last minute shifts.

Brian Moran represents a Northern Virginia district in the legislature, and his better known brother represents the area in the U.S. Congress. So he has consistently led in the region with support in the high 30s or low 40s, depending on the poll, with undecideds typically lower in Northern Virginia than other regions. Although Moran has run television advertising in other markets, he is gambling that a combination of an extensive field campaign and direct mail can motivate a large turnout from his base.

Deeds has typically polled a distant third in Northern Virginia. He was still running third -- with 16% to 23% support-- on the polls released this past week. However, he received a huge potential boost in a surprise endorsement by the Washington Post in late May, an endorsement that has often proved decisive in Democratic primaries in DC and suburban Maryland. Believing they have an especially potent message, the Deeds campaign dug deep to fund a television ad touting the endorsement. It started airing Wednesday night on both broadcast and cable television, and I am told the broadcast component is in the neighborhood of a light 500 gross ratings points.

McAuliffe is doing in Northern Virginia what he has been doing throughout the state: Use his big fundraising advantage to try to overwhelm the other candidates with all forms of paid communication. He has been running television advertising in the DC market since last weekend and, from my own viewing of local stations, appears to be airing more ads than Deeds.

So in Northern Virginia you have a variety of wild-cards: One candidate with a base wagering on direct mail and field organizing, two others with less support dominating television and the still uncertain impact of the Washington Post endorsement, all of it in a region where a lot of voters just started paying attention.

***

We believe our Virginia chart provides as good an indicator as any of recent trends. It shows that Deeds has been gaining and McAuliffe falling. I would not bet much, however, on the accuracy of the levels of support for each candidate as reported by these surveys. Variations in the dispersion of turnout could produce a significantly different result, and dramatic late shifts -- especially among African Americans or in Northern Virginia -- are still a distinct possibility.


Mystery Hold on Groves Nomination

Topics: Census , Pollster , Robert Groves

ABC's Gary Langer reports that a mystery senator has put a "hold" on the nomination of Robert Groves:

Three weeks after Robert M. Groves sailed through his confirmation hearing to lead the U.S. Census Bureau, a Republican U.S. senator has placed the nomination on hold.

As for who and why, it's Mystery Hour at the U.S. Senate.

A Democratic staffer this afternoon suggested to our senior congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl that signs seemed to point to Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah. Nope: "It's not us," says Bennett's spokesman, Tara Hendershott. "We don't have a hold."

Someone clearly does. The majority leader, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., asked this evening for unanimous consent to move the Groves nomination to a vote - and the minority leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., objected.

For those who have not been following the story, Groves is a hugely respected figure within the survey research community (I interviewed him at the 2008 AAPOR conference).

If any of Pollster's very well informed readers has any tips as to which senator is behind the hold, please drop me a line.

Update - Congress Daily's Carrie Dann has more, including this:

One Democratic aide said the apparent hold on Groves' nomination is not cause for concern, considering how quickly the confirmation vote was brought to the Senate floor.

"Sudden movements make people nervous," said the aide. "Next week we'll know if there's a real problem or not."


VA: 2009 Gov (DailyKos-6/1-3)


DailyKos.com (D) / Research 2000
6/1-3/09; 600 likley voters, 4% margin of error
400 likely Democratic primary voters, 5% margin of error
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews

Virginia

Favorable / Unfavorable
Moran (D): 37 / 38
McAuliffe (D): 37 / 43
Deeds (D): 41 / 39
McDonnell (R): 56 / 34
Obama: 55 / 42 (chart)

2009 Governor - Democratic Primary
Deeds 30, Moran 27, McAuliffe 26 (chart)
Northern Virginia: Moran 42, McAuliffe 28, Deeds 22

2009 Governor - General Election
McDonnell 43, Moran 35 (chart)
McDonnell 46, McAuliffe 33 (chart)
McDonnell 46, Deeds 34 (chart)

(source)


US: Sotomayor Coverage (Pew-5/29-6/1)


Pew News Interest Index
5/29 - 6/1/09; 1,001 adults, 3.5% margin of error
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews

National

Did you follow the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the
Supreme Court very closely, fairly closely, not too closely or not at all closely?

    58% Closely
    42% Not closely

From what you've read and heard so far, what, if anything, would you say you LIKE about Sonia Sotomayor?

    45% Yes, Named something
    29% Nothing/Don't know/Refused

From what you've read and heard so far, what, if anything, would you say you DISLIKE about
Sonia Sotomayor?

    26% Yes, Named something
    48% Nothing/Don't know/Refused

(source)


Murray: Estimating Turnout in Primary Polling


Patrick Murray is the founding director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute and maintains a blog known as Real Numbers and Other Musings.

There are a couple of pieces of accepted wisdom when it comes to contested primary elections versus general elections: 1) turnout has a bigger impact on the ultimate margin of victory in primaries and 2) primaries are more difficult to poll (see point #1).

The voters who show up for primaries come disproportionately from either end of the ideological spectrum. Even in states with closed primaries (i.e. one has to pre-register with a party to vote in its primary), there is still a particular art for determining which groups of voters should be included in the likely voter sample.

Voters' likelihood to turnout generally correlates with their ideological inclination. Last year's Democratic presidential nomination provides a good illustration of this. Lower turnout caucus states saw a bigger proportion of higher educated liberal activists participate in the process. These same voters also showed up in the primary states, but they were joined by a good number of less educated, blue-collar Democrats. Result: Obama basically swept the caucus states, while Hillary Clinton held her own in the primaries. Texas, which held both a primary and a caucus that were won by different candidates, is a stark illustration of this turnout effect.

The same is true for Republican primaries. Lower turnout means a larger proportion of the electorate will be staunchly conservative in their views. As turnout increases, it's moderates who are joining the fray, thus diminishing the conservative voting bloc's overall power. And with the GOP being in its present ideologically-splintered state, small changes in turnout can have a real impact in primaries cast as battles between the party's ideological factions.

To some extent, we saw this play out in New Jersey's recent gubernatorial primary where the two leading candidates were seen as representing different wings of the Republican party. Former mayor Steve Lonegan cast himself as the keeper of the conservative flame, while former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie claimed to adhere to core conservative principles (e.g. anti-abortion), but presented himself as a more centrist option. New Jersey's Republican voters agreed - a plurality of 47% described Christie as politically moderate while a majority of 56% tagged Lonegan as a conservative.

The Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll released a poll nearly two weeks before the June 2 primary showing Christie with an 18 point lead over Lonegan - 50% to 32%. New Jersey has a semi-open primary - meaning both Republicans and "unaffiliated" voters are permitted to vote (although unaffiliateds have their registration changed to Republican if they do vote). So, technically about 3.5 million out of New Jersey's more than 5 million registered voters were eligible to vote in the recent GOP primary. But in the last two contested gubernatorial primaries only between 300,000 and 350,000 voters were actually cast.

So, how do you design a sampling frame for that? First, it's worth noting that state voter statistics show that extremely few unaffiliated voters ever show up for a primary - certainly not enough to impact a poll's estimates. So we are left with about one million registered Republicans, of whom still only one-third will vote. That is, of course, IF turnout is typical (more on that below).

Our poll for this primary used a listed sample of registered Republican voters who were known to have voted in recent primaries. It was further screened and weighted to determine the propensity of voting in this particular election (based on a combination of known past voting frequency and self-professed likelihood to vote this year). In the end, our model assumed a turnout of about 300,000 GOP voters, based on turnout in the past two gubernatorial primaries.

However, turnout in other recent GOP gubernatorial primaries in New Jersey have gone as low as 200,000 - that was in 1997 when incumbent Christie Whitman went unchallenged. Turnout in contested U.S. Senate primaries is also generally around the 200,000 level. On the other hand, turnout has been much higher than 300,000 as well. It even surpassed 400,000 as recently as 1981.

The GOP primary saw higher than average turnout in 1993 - another year when a trio of Republicans were vying to take on an unpopular Democratic incumbent. So, it was fair to speculate that Governor Jon Corzine's weak position in the polls would give GOP voters extra incentive to turn out in the expectation of scoring a rare general election win. On the other hand, perhaps the state's Republicans have become so demoralized by their poor standing nationally and 12-year statewide electoral drought that turnout could be lower than the 300,000 used for our poll estimate.

Because we had information on actual primary voting history for each voter in our sample - i.e. rather than needing to rely on notoriously unreliable self-reports - it was possible to re-model the data from two weeks ago with alternative turnout estimates. If the GOP primary turnout model was set well above 430,000 - a 40-year record turnout for a non-presidential race - the Christie margin in our poll grew to 23 points. Alternatively, if the turnout model was pushed down to about 200,000 - a typical U.S. Senate race level - the gap shrank to 13 points. In other words, adjusting the primary poll's turnout estimate from 5% to 12% of eligible voters could swing the results by 10 points!

Why? The analysis showed that "strong" conservatives comprise about half of New Jersey's 200,000 "core" GOP turnout - and this group was largely for Lonegan. But when we widened the turnout estimate, more and more moderates entered the mix. As a result, Chris Christie gained one point on the margin for approximately every 25,000 extra voters who "turned out."

On primary day, Christie ended up beating Lonegan by a respectable 13 point margin - 55% to 42% - on a 330,000 voter turnout. Based on the model above, if Republicans had been a lot less enthusiastic, Lonegan may have been able to narrow this gap to 8 points. On the other hand, record level turnout would have given Christie a 16 or 17 point win.


US: National Survey (DemCorps-5/28-6/1)


Democracy Corps (D)
5/28 - 6/1/09; 1,013 likely voters, 3% margin of error
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews

National

Obama Job Approval
58% Approve, 33% Disapprove (chart)
Dems: 90 / 5 (chart)
inds: 50 / 39 (chart)
Reps: 23 / 67 (chart)

State of the Country
41% Right Direction, 50% Wrong Track (chart)

Favorable / Unfavorable
Obama: 58 / 29 (chart)
Cheney: 30 / 50
Republican Party: 30 / 46
Democratic Party: 47 / 37
Gay Marriage: 31 / 53

National House Ballot
52% Democrat, 39% Republican (chart)

Party ID
41% Democrat, 31% Republican, 26% independent (chart)

And, as you may have heard, President Obama has nominated Sonia Sotomayor to be a Justice on the Supreme Court. Do you approve or disapprove of Obama's nomination of Sotomayor?

    56% Approve
    27% Disapprove

(source)


NJ: Christie 51, Corzine 38 (Rasmussen-6/3)


Rasmussen Reports
6/3/09; 500 likely voters, 4.5% margin of error
Mode: IVR

New Jersey

Favorable / Unfavorable
Gov. Corzine (D): 41 / 58 (chart)
Christie (D): 54 / 35

Job Approval
Gov. Corzine (D): 42 / 58 (chart)

2009 Governor
Christie 51, Gov. Corzine 38 (chart)

(source)


VA: 2009 Gov (Suffolk-6/1-3)


Suffolk University
6/1-3/09; 500 likely Democratic primary voters, 4.4% margin of error
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews

Virginia

2009 Governor - Democratic Primary
Deeds 29, McAuliffe 26, Moran 23 (chart)

(source)


US: National Survey (Quinnipiac-5/26-6/1)


Quinnipiac University
5/26 - 6/1/09; 3,097 registered voters, 1.8%
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews

National

Obama Job Approval
59% Approve, 31% Disapprove (chart)

National House Ballot
42% Democrat, 32% Republican (chart)

Do you approve or disapprove of President Obama's nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court?

    55% Approve
    25% Disapprove

As you may know, Sonia Sotomayor would be the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice. Do you think this was a very important factor in President Obama's choice of her, somewhat important, not too important, or not important at all?

    69% Important
    27% Not important

(source)


Turnout: From NJ to VA

Topics: Likely Voters , New Jersey , Primary elections , Registration Based Sampling , Virginia

Apologies for missing this, but on Monday Patrick Murray, founding director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, posted a terrific primer on this Tuesday's New Jersey primary. His post includes an intriguing description of their methodology and how they "modeled" turnout that may have lessons for the polls out now on next week's Virginia primary:

The Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll released two weeks ago showed Christie with an 18 point lead - 50% to 32% for Lonegan. For the record, that poll was conducted using a listed sample of registered Republican voters in the state who were known to have voted in recent primaries. It was further screened to determine the propensity of voting in this particular election (based on a combination of known past voting frequency and self-professed likelihood to vote this year). In the end, our model assumed a turnout of about 300,000 GOP voters on June 2 (give or take 10,000).

[...]

Variations in turnout tend to have more impact on primary results than they do on general elections. In general elections, the preferences of non-voters tend to line up fairly well with those who actually go out to the polls on election day. However, for primary elections, particularly with an ideologically-fractured GOP electorate, a factor of just a few thousand voters simply deciding whether or not to show up can swing a close race.

It doesn't look like we have a particularly tight race in this case, although that 18 point poll gap may have narrowed since our last sounding on May 20. I did re-examine our data using alternative turnout estimates. If the GOP primary turnout model is set to well above 430,000 - i.e. a 40-year record turnout for a non-presidential race - the Christie margin in our poll grows to 23 points. Alternatively, if the turnout model is pushed down to about 200,000 - i.e. a typical U.S. Senate race - the gap shrinks to 13 points. That's a swing of 10 points based on turnout alone!

I asked Murray if he would provide us with some post-primary thoughts via a "guest pollster" post, and if all goes well, we should have that posted for you tomorrow. But consider his observations about turnout in New Jersey in the context of the polls released in the last week or two in Virginia:

  • The two pollsters that have shown Terry McAulliffe doing best -- SurveyUSA and Research2000 -- have used random digit dial (RDD) samples that cannot use the sort of actual vote history information available for individual respondents on list samples.
  • The two pollsters that have sampled using registered voters lists -- Public Policy Polling (PPP) and Moran's pollster, Greenberg-Quinlan-Rosner (GQR) -- have consistently shown McAuliffe running 7 to 10 percentage points lower than the polls using RDD samples. I reported details of the PPP sampling method here. I assume that GQR uses lists in this race because their first release says they identified likely voters using both "vote history in Virginia and self-reported likelihood to vote in the upcoming gubernatorial primary" (emphasis added). Again, vote history is only available with a voter list.

[Note: If you click on any data point in our Virginia chart, embedded below, you can connect-the-dots for surveys from individual pollsters and see how each compares to the overall trend]

  • On their last two polls, PPP provides crosstabulations that compares two groups: (1) households with vote history in either of the very low turnout primaries in 2005 or 2006 with (2) households where voters participated in only the much higher turnout 2008 presidential primary. Both polls show Deeds doing better (by 8-10 points) in the lower turnout households. McAulliffe scored 9 points lower in the low turnout households two weeks ago, but just two points lower earlier this week.
  • SurveyUSA's summary of their latest survey out today includes these findings that suggest a similar correlation: McAuliffe does best among the subgroups with the historically lowest levels of turnout:

McAuliffe's constituents are Independent and young. In SurveyUSA's turnout model, 20% of likely Primary voters are Independent. If this group votes in smaller numbers, McAuliffe's support is overstated here. In SurveyUSA's turnout model, 19% of likely voters are age 18 to 34. If this group votes in smaller numbers, McAuliffe's support is overstated here.

Combine these findings with the considerable self-reported uncertainty -- half (52%) of SurveyUSA's respondents and 44% of the voters on the last PPP survey say could still change their minds -- and we get a race where the final result may look very different from whatever the final round of polls "predict." Hang on to your hats.

PS: Several big unknowns remain in this race, but one big one is now a bit clearer. Creigh Deed's campaign just sent out a release announcing that they will begin airing a television advertisement touting his recent Washington Post endorsement "on broadcast and cable stations in Northern Virginia." Note, however, that the release provides no details about how much time Deeds is buying on the very expensive DC broadcast stations (that also reach into Virginia, Maryland and DC). If they are committing to a decent sized broadcast buy in the DC market, it's a major gamble. If any of our readers catches this new ad on Washington DC broadcast television, please email me or leave a comment below (or email me).

[Prior association disclosed: David Petts, currently the pollster for the Deeds campaign, was my business partner though 2006].


Abramowitz: Has there been a Shift in Abortion Attitudes?


Alan I. Abramowitz is the Alben W. Barkley Professor of Political Science at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. He is also a frequent contributer to Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball.

On May 15th, the Gallup Poll reported what they described as a significant shift in Americans' attitudes on the issue of abortion. For the first time since Gallup began asking the question in 1995, more respondents described themselves as "pro-life" than "pro-choice" on the issue of abortion. The proportion of Americans describing themselves as "pro-choice" fell from 50% in May of 2008 to 42% in May of 2009 while the proportion describing themselves as "pro-life" increased from 44% to 51%. To back up this conclusion, Gallup cited a recent Pew Poll that showed a decline from 54% to 46% in the proportion of Americans who wanted abortion legal in all or most cases and an increase from 41% to 44% in the proportion who wanted abortion legal in only a few or no cases.

While the results of these two polls appear to show a shift in public opinion on abortion, Gallup neglected to report an important fact about the Pew results that might have undercut this claim. Pew has asked the same question on at least seven occasions since early 2007 with results ranging from a 45-50 split in February/March of 2007 to a 57-37 split in June of 2008. Taken together, these results show no clear trend. The 2009 results could reflect a real change, or they could just be random noise.

Gallup also made no mention of a CNN poll in late April of this year that showed a 49-44 advantage for the "pro-choice" label over the "pro-life" label. CNN has asked the "pro-life" vs. "pro-choice" question three times since 2007 with results ranging from a 45-50 split in June of 2007 to a 53-44 split in August of 2008 to the recent 49-44 split. Again, no clear trend is evident in these results.

And now a new AP poll appears to show continued stability in public attitudes on the issue of abortion. This poll, conducted between May 28 and June 1, found that 51% of Americans want abortion legal in all or most cases vs. 45% who want abortion illegal in all or most cases. These results can be compared with two polls conducted last year. An NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll in early September found 49% of Americans wanted abortion legal always or most of the time while 49% wanted it illegal with no exceptions or only a few exceptions. And a Washington Post/ABC Poll in August found that 54% of Americans wanted abortion legal in all or most cases while 44% wanted it illegal in all or most cases.

The Washington Post/ABC Poll has actually asked this question 23 times between June of 1996 and August of 2008. In these 23 polls, support for keeping abortion legal in all or most cases has ranged from 49% to 59%. Interestingly, the highest and lowest levels of support for legal abortion were found in two polls conducted only a few months apart in 2001.

The safest conclusion one can draw from these results is that at this point the evidence for a significant shift in public attitudes toward abortion is far from conclusive.


Yet Another Rainy Day in DC "Outliers"

Topics: Outliers Feature

Gallup reports results on how Arab Countries view the U.S. and how Americans view Muslim nations (plus video).

Gary Langer examines the Gallup data, sees views of the U.S. among muslims as better but far from good.

Mark Lynch ponders the meaning and limits of surveys of the Arab world (via Sullivan).

Liz Sidoti summarizes the AP-GfK poll results on torture and closing the Guantanamo Bay prison.

Chris Cillizza walks back a reference to a PPP poll; PPP's Tom Jensen notes no such walk-back on a reference to the Moran campaign's internal poll.

The Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism finds the Sotomayor nomination topping the news agenda.

Chris Bowers and Andrew Gelman go back and forth on whether Mike Dukakis would have won if turnout in 1988 had been like 2008 -- more from Bowers here.

Gary Jacobson reviews (pdf) the 2008 elections; Chris Good summarizes.

David Hill believes Michiganders are "resolute, selectively optimistic" and "willing to wait for a genuine long-term solution."

Mark Mellman reviews psychological research on the role of personal background in decisionmaking in the context of the Sotomayor nomination.

Alex Lundry posts a data visualization of numeric ideological estimates for Supreme Court Justices; Andrew Gelman has doubts about the numbers.   

Bluegrass Politics reports on two Kentucky campaigns sparring over released internal polling; Tom Jensen weighs in.

Nate Silver finds lower abortion rates in states with more self-identified "pro-life" adults.

Chris Bowers says the culture wars will always be with us.

Chris Weigant charts Obama's approval in comparison to previous presidents.

Jim Snyder reports on the use of microtargeting by lobbyists and issue advocacy groups.

Andrew Gelman agrees with Simon Jackman on Internet polls.

DCAAPOR will host a discussion of the "current state of telephony in the US" on June 15.

Carl Bialik reports on the creation of a new, experimental government agency in the U.K. with authority to oversee, monitor and audit all government produced statistics (more on his blog).

NDN sponsors new polls conducted by Pete Brodnitz and Celinda Lake.

Joab Jackson considers the challenges facing data.gov (via Lundry).

Bill Heil and Mikolaj Piskorski research Twitter usage; Drew Conway asks some critical questions.


VA: 2009 Gov (SurveyUSA-5/31-6/2)


SurveyUSA
5/31 - 6/2/09; 1,701 registered voters, 2.4% margin of error
517 likely Democratic primary voters, 4.4% margin of error
Mode: IVR

Virginia

2009 Governor - Democratic Primary
McAuliffe 35, Deeds 29, Moran 26 (chart)

2009 Governor - General Election
McDonnell 44, Deeds 43 (chart)
McDonnell 47, McAuliffe 40 (chart)
McDonnell 48, Moran 37 (chart)

(source)


Re: Incumbent Vulnerability and Primaries

Topics: Likely Voters , National Journal , Quinnipiac

One reader emailed to take strong exception to my use of the word "misleading" in the following sentence from my column posted yesterday on NationalJournal.com:

One reason for the misleading early numbers in 2006 may have been that Quinnipiac sampled all self-identified registered Democrats rather than a narrower subset of likely primary voters. Their May 2006 sample of 528 Democrats, for example, amounted to 34 percent of the full sample of 1,536 registered voters they interviewed. Yet the actual Democratic primary turnout amounted to just 15 percent of Connecticut's active registered voters.

I will grant that I could have chosen a less loaded word than "misleading," as some will hear it as an insinuation about the pollster's motives or the accuracy of data. For the record, I do not believe that anyone involved in producing the Quinninpiac Poll meant to mislead anyone, and did not mean to imply that the data they reported were inaccurate. The record should show that once they shifted to reporting vote preferences among a narrower group of "likely voters," they showed Lamont running much closer to Lieberman in June, "inching ahead" in July and ultimately leading by a wide margin in early August. Their final poll showed Lamont leading by six percentage points. He won by four -- that's as close as any poll should expect to get.

The larger point I was trying to make with the column is that we mislead ourselves -- and by we I mean all of us, pollsters, journalists, campaigns, political junkies -- whenever we treat samples of a third to half of adults in a state as a meaningful measure of the preferences of "likely primary voters" when the actual turnout is typically a much smaller fraction of adults.

My use of the Quinnipiac Poll was also largely a coincidence. They happened to produce two polls last week with primary head-to-head questions, one in Connecticut, and a similarly designed poll in Connecticut three years ago. However, their practices in terms of sampling primary voters are very similar to those used by most other media pollsters.


US: Sotomayor (Rasmussen-6/1-2)


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

National

Do you have a very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable or very unfavorable impression of Sonia Sotomayor? (5/27 results)

    48% Favorable (49)
    44% Unfavorable (36)

The United States Senate has the constitutional authority to confirm all Supreme Court nominees. Based upon what you know at this time, should the United States confirm Sonia Sotomayor as a Supreme Court Justice? (5/27 results)

    41% Yes (45)
    36% No (29)

(source)


Soltis on the GOP and Young Voters

Topics: Republicans , Young Voters

Kristen Soltis, a regular contributor here at Pollster.com, summarized her views on how the Republican Party can win back younger voters for the Huffington Post. Her bottom line:

In order to begin that effort, the GOP needs to have a positive message and vision that focuses on outcomes that matter to young voters. Right now, a lot of what Republicans are talking about is "less taxes" and "smaller government." But young voters are less convinced than older generations that the government tends to be inefficient and wasteful.

Among other issues, she also confronts the lack of diversity that was the subject of a widely read summary from Gallup this week that showing that 89% of Republican identifiers are white (or more specitically, non-Hispanic white) and 63% are white conservatives. Soltis:

Longer term, the Republican Party has to confront the issue of diversity. If the Republican Party retains a brand as the party tailor-made for conservative older white males, it will not survive for long. Consider the fact that younger voters represent a more ethnically diverse cohort than other generations. The issue of winning the youth vote is more and more inextricably linked to winning support among Hispanics and African-Americans.

There's much more, and it's worth clicking through for a full read.


Rep. McHugh to Army Secretary, Another NY Special Election


NYHsebyCD.png
President Obama's selection of Rep. John McHugh (R-NY23) to be Secretary of the Army creates another special election for New York and another threat to Republicans' tenuous hold on just 3 House seats out of 29 from the state. In the March 31 special election for NY 20 (replacing Kirsten Gillibrand) Democrat Scott Murphy barely held the seat with 50.12% of the vote. The 23rd congressional district is similar in party registration to the 20th and past results suggest this should be a winnable seat for both sides.

The chart above shows that the 23rd and 20th are quite similar in registration- Republicans hold a 13 point edge over Democrats in the 23rd and a 15 point advantage in the 20th. On this basis, these are the two strongest Republican Congressional districts in the state.

Rep. McHugh has prospered in the district since his election in 1992, consistently winning well over 60% of the vote. But that margin reflects the advantages of incumbency a well as the partisan leanings of the district. Given the experience in the 20th, this could easily produce a close vote in the special election.

Gillibrand won the 20th in 2006, defeating incumbent Republican John Sweeney 53% to 47%. In 2008 Gillibrand cruised to reelection with 62%. And that in a district slightly more Republican by registration than is the 23rd. Gillibrand's success, however, didn't transfer easily to the special election in the 20th. Murphy prevailed after an extended recount with a 726 vote margin.

The chart shows that registration advantage alone has not  made for safe Republican seats in New York. While all three current Republican representatives come from districts with a Republican advantage, there are six seats held by Democrats despite a Republican registration advantage.

Based on recent results, incumbency and registration, a Democrat should win 48.4% of the vote in the 23rd to 51.6% for the Republican. By comparison, the same model predicts 47.5% for the Democrat in the 20th, a mark Murphy bettered by 2.6 points in the special election.  By this standard, the 23rd is just slightly more favorable for a Democrat than was the 20th. However, both districts would have been predicted to go Republican in a dead-even campaign for an open seat. The campaign, quality of the candidates and randomness in the model means the 23rd should be considered very winnable for both parties, despite McHugh's long running success in the district.

To change the focus, consider the 2008 Presidential results in the 23rd and elsewhere. The chart below shows the Democratic presidential vote by district party registration.
NYPresbyCD.png
Obama performed slightly better in the 23rd than he did in the 20th, winning the 23rd with 52% to 47% and the 20th with 51%-48%. Obama fared less well in 8 NY congressional districts, suggesting that the 23rd is willing to deviate from it's partisan Republican leanings. Obama over-performed in the 23rd, a district predicted to go only 47% Dem for president.

Taken together the recent congressional and presidential results say the 23rd should favor a Republican for the House seat, but by a small margin of 52 or 53 percent Republican. The experience in the similar 20th district shows that a Democrat can improve on that but the razor-close margin in March (and the April recount)  indicates the need for a strong candidate and a favorable campaign. Both parties look capable of nominating high quality candidates in the 23rd so much will hang on who decides to enter and how well they play the game.

Before leaving the 23rd, let's put Rep. McHugh in perspective ideologically. Using National Journal's 2008 ratings based on a wide range of roll call votes on economic, social and foreign policy issues, McHugh is more moderate than most in his party, but noticeably more conservative than any Democratic member of the House in 2008. First, let's compare foreign policy with economic ratings. Higher scores mean more conservative.

NY23NJRatingsEconFor.png
McHugh is more moderate than most in his party on economic issues though relatively less so on foreign policy. A couple of Democrats have similar economic voting records but none come close to him on foreign policy.

On social issues McHugh is a tad further to the right though still easily in the left half of Republicans.
NY23NJRatingsSocFor.png
While moderate for a Republican, McHugh's social issue voting record is clearly to the right of the most conservative Democrats in 2008.

The Democrats McHugh most closely resembles are Jim Marshall (GA-8), Nick Lampson (TX-22), Dan Boren (OK-2) and Travis Childers (MS-1), though none of these are as conservative as McHugh across all three dimensions of economic, social and foreign policy.

By picking McHugh for Secretary of the Army, Pres. Obama has reached beyond the ideological range of Democratic House members, a hard to deny display of bipartisanship, while staying to the moderate wing of the Republican party. Despite his voting record on social issues, McHugh is said to favor a review of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy in the military, a subject that came up at Press Secretary Gibb's briefing. Exactly what McHugh's view is on the subject is not yet clear, other than calling for a review. With many on the left doubting Obama's commitment to gay rights this could become an important issue. By the same token, a Republican Army Secretary interested in reversing DADT would be well positioned to respond to conservative critics of such a change.

With this selection Obama has further advanced his claim of bipartisanship. In the process he has also transformed a safe Republican seat into a tossup or lean-Rep special election.


VA: 2009 Gov (GQR/Moran-5/26-27)


Greenberg Quinlan Rosner (D) / Brian Moran (D)
5/26-27/09; 400 likely voters, 4.9% margin of error
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews

Virginia

2009 Governor - Democratic Primary
Moran 29, Deeds 27, McAuliffe 26 (chart

(release)


Sometimes the Magic Works...

Topics: Charts , House Effects , Loess regression , Pollster.com , Rasmussen , Research2000 , Trend lines

"Sometimes the magic works," said Chief Daniel George in the 1970 classic flim Little Big Man, "and sometimes it doesn't."   The same can be said about the loess regression trend lines we plot in our charts.

When we plot pre-election poll results from various pollsters on the same charts, the trend lines usually have the helpful characteristic of minimizing the impact of outlier results and pollsters with consistent "house effects" on the overall estimate. In other words, if one of five or ten pollsters produces a consistently different result, their results do not typically skew the overall average significantly so long as the timing of the various polls is more or less random.

But for some of the national measures we have been plotting recently -- especially Obama's job and favorable ratings and the question about whether Americans perceive things to be "headed in the right direction" or "off on the wrong track" -- a few pollsters that do daily or weekly tracking are producing results with large house effects. Unfortunately that combination, along with the more sporadic timing of other national surveys, is producing the appearance of trends on some charts that are not really trends.

Last night, for example, Andrew Sullivan linked to two charts that appear to show trends in recent weeks: An uptick in the unfavorable rating for Obama and an increase in the percentage saying that things are off on the wrong track. In both cases, unfortunately, the apparent trends are an artifact of timing and house effects.

Let me explain, starting with the right direction/wrong track chart, that follows. (I am using screen shots rather than our live-embedded version here to preserve the look of the chart at the time of this writing -- follow the link to the live chart to use the filter tools yourself):

2009-06-02-rightdir_all.png

What Sullivan noticed was the recent uptick in the red line (wrong track) and downturn in the black line (right direction) at the far right (or "nose") of the trend. Now look what happens when we use our filter tool to remove from the trend the two pollsters -- Rasmussen Reports and DailyKos/Research2000 -- whose weekly tracking results provide nearly half (41 of 96) polls plotted in this chart so far during 2009. The recent trend disappears producing an essentially flat line since mid-April:

2009-06-02-RghtDir-NoRasR2000

So removing just two pollsters -- and particularly the two that contributed all four of the poll released in the last two weeks -- eliminates the apparent trend. One problem we have is that these two pollsters release weekly tracks, while the others poll more sporadically. Worse, virtually all of the national pollsters released surveys just before the Obama administration reached its 100th day in office, and we have experienced something of a poll drought since.

But wait. Perhaps those two weekly tracks are catching a more recent trend that we might miss if we rely (for the moment) on the other national tracking surveys that have not produced more surveys in the last few weeks.

To check, let's use the filter tool to select only the surveys from Rasmussen and DailyKos/Research 2000. And just to be safe, I will also turn up the smoothing setting to be especially sensitive to any recent trend:

2009-06-02_RghtDir-ONLY-RasR2000

The trend is almost exactly the same as the version with these pollsters removed, but you can also see that the gap between wrong track and right direction is larger on the second chart of just Rasmussen and Research 2000 (11 points) than on the previous chart excluding those two (4 points), with virtually all of the "house effect" coming from the Rasmussen survey.

So when we look at only the weekly trackers or only the other polls separately, we see flat lines over the last few weeks. When we put them together, we see a recent upward movement on "wrong track." Why? Because when combined the weekly trackers are driving the "nose" of the trend line and the trackers -- especially the Rasmussen track -- is producing consistently different results. So as the Rasmussen results have more influence in the trend line, they tend to drive the red line up and the black line down.

Now let's repeat the exercise with the Obama favorable rating. First, the standard chart showing all surveys. The recent apparent trend is the sharp upward movement on the red "unfavorable" line:

2009-06-02-ObamaFav-All

In this case, the Rasmussen and Daily Kos/Research2000 results are six of the seven surveys conducted in the month of May (the new Gallup result was added this morning, after Sullivan's initial post). If we use our filter tool to remove the weekly trackers, the apparent recent change smooths out, reflecting the more gradual increase in Obama's unfavorable rating since the inauguration:

2009-06-02-ObamaFav-NORasR2000

Again, are the trackers picking up a more recent trend that the other national surveys are missing? Here is what the chart looks like if we include only the Rasmussen and DailyKos/Research2000 polls. Here, we see virtually no trend since late March:

2009-06-02-ObamaFav-onlyRasR2000

The last chart above also clearly shows the enormous house effect separating (in this case) Rasmussen and DailyKos/Research 2000 surveys, with Rasmussen producing consistently lower favorable and higher unfavorable ratings for Obama.

We have discussed the "why" of house effects, especially the consistent differences in the Rasmussen tracking, in previous posts. This case involves something a little more troubling for us: The way house effects and timing have combined to produce misleading "trends" that are more artifact than real. That is something we need to address in a systematic way.

Update: At the suggestion of a reader, Andrew Sullivan removed

only the Rasmussen surveys with similar results to what I obtained above.   


VA: 2009 Gov (PPP-5/28-31)


Public Policy Polling (D)
5/28-31/09; 559 likely Democratic primary voters, 4.1% margin of error
Mode: IVR

Virginia

2009 Governor - Democratic Primary
Deeds 27, McAuliffe 24, Moran 22 (chart)

(source)


"Challenged" Might Have Been A Better Word

Topics: Fairleigh Dickinson , Steve Lonegan

Too funny to be buried in the "outliers" feature and just in time for New Jersey's Primary Election Day, PolitickerNJ reports (via Hotline Wake-up Call):

In a radio interview tonight, gubernatorial candidate Steve Lonegan called a Fairleigh Dickinson Poll that showed him trailing rival Chris Christie by 24 points in the Republican primary "retarded."

The poll was brought up by NJ 101.5 "Jersey Guys" host Casey Bartholomew, who used it to argue his point that Lonegan was unelectable. When he heard Lonegan use the term "retarded", he checked to make sure he heard correctly.

"I said just that: retarded Fairleigh Dickinson poll," said Lonegan.

See the full article for a gracious response from Fairleigh Dickinson pollster Peter Woolley and the earlier quote from a Lonegan supporter who called characterized the word "retard" as "hate speech."

Our compilation of all public polls on the New Jersey Republican Primary can be found here.

Update: Via @lozzola, a public service link to the "r" word campaign.


US: National Survey (USAToday-5/29-31)


USA Today / Gallup
5/29-31/09; 1,015 adults, 3% margin of error
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews

National

Obama Job Approval
61% Approve, 34% Disapprove
Economy: 55% Approve, 42% Disapprove
North Korea: 47% Approve, 33% Disapprove

Favorable / Unfavorable
Obama: 67 / 32
Pelosi: 34 / 50
Cheney: 37 / 54

As you may know, Sonia Sotomayor is the federal judge nominated to serve on the Supreme Court. Would you like to see the Senate vote in favor of Sotomayor serving on the Supreme Court, or not?

    54% yes, vote in favor
    28% No, not

As you may know, since 2001, the United States has held people from other countries who are suspected of being terrorists in a prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Do you think the United States should - or should not - close this prison and move some of the prisoners to U.S. prisons?

    32% Yes, should
    65% No, should not

(source)


Incumbent Vulnerability and Primaries

Topics: Arlen Specter , Christopher Dodd , Incumbent , Incumbent Rule

How do pollsters determine when an incumbent is vulnerable, especially in a primary? My NationalJournal.com column this week takes up the subject in the context of two recent tests of potential primary contests facing incumbent Senators Arlen Specter and Christopher Dodd.

Two additional thoughts that did not make it into the column:

First, it is not entirely clear (to me) that a classic likely voter screen based on self-reported intent to vote would have produced different results for Joe Lieberman in early 2006 on the initial Democratic primary head-to-head versus Ned Lamont in May of 2006 (I reference both in the column). It may have taken the actual campaign and the awareness it created of Lamont's challenge, to trigger real enthusiasm and intent to vote among the anti-war Democrats that gave Lamont his margin of victory. What might have been useful in early 2006, however, would have been a look the intensity of attitudes about both Lieberman and the Iraq War among Democrats with a true history of primary voting in Connecticut (and not just all registered Democrats). Were hard core primary voters different than other registered Democrats?

Second, it should go without saying, but "vulnerability" is just the first necessary step in defeating an incumbent office-holder. The second and more critical step is a challenger that voters perceive as viable and able that makes a convincing case for why the incumbent should be turned out of office. Many a vulnerable incumbent never faces a truly viable challenger, and many of those that do are able to raise enough doubts about the challenger to win reelection. My guess is that in any given election cycle, there are far more incumbents that we could theoretically describe as "vulnerable" than that ultimately lose. 

Update (6/3) - I posted these comment separately, but they bear repeating here:

One reader emailed to take strong exception to my use of the word "misleading" in the following sentence from the column:

One reason for the misleading early numbers in 2006 may have been that Quinnipiac sampled all self-identified registered Democrats rather than a narrower subset of likely primary voters. Their May 2006 sample of 528 Democrats, for example, amounted to 34 percent of the full sample of 1,536 registered voters they interviewed. Yet the actual Democratic primary turnout amounted to just 15 percent of Connecticut's active registered voters.

I will grant that I could have chosen a less loaded word than "misleading," as some will hear it as an insinuation about the pollster's motives or the accuracy of data. For the record, I do not believe that anyone involved in producing the Quinninpiac Poll meant to mislead anyone, and did not mean to imply that the data they reported were inaccurate. The record should show that once they shifted to reporting vote preferences among a narrower group of "likely voters," they showed Lamont running much closer to Lieberman in June, "inching ahead" in July and ultimately leading by a wide margin in early August. Their final poll showed Lamont leading by six percentage points. He won by four -- that's as close as any poll should expect to get.

The larger point I was trying to make with the column is that we mislead ourselves -- and by we I mean all of us, pollsters, journalists, campaigns, political junkies -- whenever we treat samples of a third to half of adults in a state as a meaningful measure of the preferences of "likely primary voters" when the actual turnout is typically a much smaller fraction of adults.

My use of the Quinnipiac Poll was also largely a coincidence. They happened to produce two polls last week with primary head-to-head questions, one in Connecticut, and a similarly designed poll in Connecticut three years ago. However, their practices in terms of sampling primary voters are very similar to those used by most other media pollsters.


Northern VA: 2009 Gov (SurveyUSA-5/29-31)


SurveyUSA
5/29-31/09; 1,743 registered voters, 2.4% margin of error
570 likely Democratic primary voters, 4.2% margin of error
Mode: IVR

Northern Virginia
(Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William Counties)

2009 Governor - Democratic Primary
Moran 43%, McAuliffe 27%, Deeds 20%

2009 Governor - General Election
Deeds 43, McDonnell 43
McAuliffe 44, McDonnell 44
Moran 47, McDonnell 42

(source)


NJ: 2009 Gov (FDickinson-5/26-30)


Fairleigh Dickinson University
5/26-30/09; 561 likely Republican primary voters, 4% margin of error
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews

New Jersey

2009 Governor - Republican Primary
Christie 54%, Lonegan 30%, Merkt 1% (chart)

(source)


 

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