June 7, 2009 - June 13, 2009


A Sunny Day in DC(!) "Outliers"

Topics: Outliers Feature

Joshua Tucker suggests things to keep an eye on -- and points to pre-election polls -- in Iran.

Gallup finds women more likely to be Democrats, regardless of age.

Hotline On Call has some cautions on the Rasmussen Virginia poll.

Chris Cillizza asks whether the GOP faces better odds in NJ or VA.

Ed Kilgore calculates the regional distribution of the VA vote.

Nate Silver offers messaging advice to gay marriage advocates.

Andrew Gelman assesses state level estimates in support for gay marriage.

Ruy Teixeira breaks down the latest Gallup poll for TNRtv.

Alex Bratty explains a Rasmussen survey showing GOP gains on issues.

Gary Andres predicts government spending will be Obama's downfall.

Jay Cost looks at the politics of health care (more in Part II)

Jeff Merkley calls out Frank Luntz on health care from the Senate floor.

National Journal's Democratic insiders rate bipartisanship on health care less important than Republican insiders do.

Mark Mellman urges Middle East peacemakers to focus on moving and melding public opinion.

David Hill bemoans the decline of early benchmark polling by campaigns.

Steve Benen rounds up the questions "only Fox News would ask."

Brenden Nyhan shares research on correcting misperceptions that Obama is a Muslim.

Gordon Brown passes on Penn, hires Benenson.

Swing State Project teams with OpenCongress.org to create a 2010 Race Tracker wiki.

The Pew Internet Project reports on the social life of health information.

Kristen Soltis chats with political tech experts about social media and new technology.

Joel Rubinson reviews the ARF Online Research Council's findings on online data quality (via Korostoff).

Sysomos Inc. crunches Twitter data, finds 5% of users account for 75% of activity (via Rainie).

Zogby polls attitudes about the internet using an internet panel survey without a trace of irony (nor a disclaimer on potential response bias).

Rothenberg: On Truth and Poll Spin

Topics: Stu Rothenberg , Virginia

Stuart Rothenberg's take on the lessons from the Virginia primary includes a slap at that odd last minute poll spin from the McAuliffe campaign (via Smith, link added):

[T]oo many press spokesmen caught up in their own spinning and campaigns often get too cute by half in trying to use poll numbers - that they often know are misleading - to energize supporters.

Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post quoted McAuliffe senior adviser Mo Elleithee on Election Day as saying, "In the last 48 hours, the lead that Senator Deeds had taken in the last week started to collapse," and an Elleithee Election Day get-out-the-vote e-mail cited the last night of a three-day tracking survey that showed Deeds and McAuliffe tied at 33 percent.

The e-mail was filled with disclaimers that the one-night results are "not definitive" and that the campaign never makes decisions "on one night's worth of interviews because the sample is too small." Nevertheless, the campaign released those numbers and constructed an argument based on them. The full three-night poll was never released, nor did Elleithee note that internal campaign polling over the previous week showed Deeds was pulling away and would win handily.

One McAuliffe campaign insider I spoke with after the results were in acknowledged that in the campaign's final days "we knew things looked really bad, but things looked volatile." That explanation is not convincing. In fact, those running the McAuliffe campaign knew very well what was happening.

The only conclusion possible is that the campaign was not telling the truth and that it was selectively using numbers that it knew should never be used to make a point that it knew was very dubious, at best.

A suggestion for journalists about this sort of last minute  spin: Know the code. When a campaign trots out internal polling numbers that show a totally different trend from the public surveys, ask yourself, where is the pollster? If the people that produced the numbers are willing to bet their company's reputation on a counter-intuitive finding, take it seriously. On the other hand, if the pollster does not participate in the conference call or if their name appears nowhere on the memo, take it with a gigantic grain of salt.  Better yet, take a walk.

To be clear: I have no knowledge, firsthand or otherwise, about what McAuliffe pollsters Pete Burnitz and Joel Benenson had to say about these numbers. For all I know they were in London on Tuesday pitching their newest client. Still, the absence of their names from that McAuliffe release is hard to ignore.

Omero: Fitting the narrative

Topics: Bloomberg , Cheney , New York Times , Rush Limbaugh , USAToday Gallup

Two polls made news this week with their somewhat overzealous reactions.  Even if you believe the narrative into which they fit, a slightly more thorough polling analysis is still required.  Not only that, in these two cases, additional news angles might be uncovered.

First, the New York Times this week released a poll showing Mayor Michael Bloomberg vulnerable, and attitudes toward the city worsening.  According to the story, "the majority of New Yorkers say important aspects of city life, including affordable housing and crime, have either deteriorated or stayed the same since Mr. Bloomberg took office."  But in fact the chart in the print edition, and the toplines released here show that more feel crime has decreased.  A decrease in crime is certainly different from a deterioration in crime.  A good reminder that it's worth being thorough in polling analysis.  While the story stands on its own even with that change, that more New Yorkers feel crime has decreased than increased could've been a story in itself.

The second example dominated the news yesterday.  A USA-Today/Gallup poll showed a majority of Republicans can't name "the main person" who speaks for Republicans, in an open-ended question.  But as noticed by the Politico and the Fix, a 2001 poll showed very similar results--among Democrats.  It's not surprising that the party out of power lacks an obvious "main person."  And, to my mind, an open-ended question about political spokespeople seems quite likely to evoke a high "don't know," no matter what the circumstances.  What is the real story here, which holds up when you compare the two polls, is that the leading Republican spokespeople (Limbaugh and Cheney) are decidedly unpopular nationally.  The same can't be said about, for example, one common response in the 2001 survey, former Senator Tom Daschle.  Further, among Republicans, the 2008 Presidential nominee, John McCain, came in only 4th.  And you know who had zero percent?  George W. Bush.  So I agree that Republicans have a spokesperson problem.  But that high don't know is not the only evidence.

US: National Survey (Ipsos-6/4-8)

Ipsos / McClatchy
6/4-8/09; 1,023 adults, 3.1% margin of error
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews


State of the Country
52% Right Direction, 42% Wrong Track (chart)

Obama Job Approval
64% Approve, 32% Disapprove (chart)

Congressional job Approval
40% Approve, 51% Disapprove (chart)

Party ID
37% Democrat, 21% Republican (chart)


US: National Survey (FOX-6/9-10)

FOX News / Opinion Dynamics
6/9-10/09; 900 registered voters, 3% margin of error
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews


Obama Job Approval
62% Approve, 31% Disapprove (chart)
Dems: 88 / 8 (chart)
inds: 66 / 26 (chart)
Reps: 28 / 62 (chart)

Favorable / Unfavorable
Obama: 64 / 30 (chart)
Cheney: 34 / 57
Pelosi: 29 / 47

State of the Country
Economy: 40% Getting Better, 42% Worse (chart)

Party ID
40% Democrat, 33% Republican, 23% independent (chart)

(story, results)

The "Hold" on the Groves Nomination Continues

Topics: Census , Robert Groves

At least one unnamed Republican Senator continues to place a "hold" on the nomination of Robert Groves, and no one seems to know why. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, earlier this week:

Dr. Groves, President Barack Obama's pick to lead the bureau, was approved easily by the Senate homeland-security committee in May, but Republicans blocked a confirmation vote last week. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Republicans weren't yet in agreement on the nominee.

It is unclear why Republicans are blocking the vote. A McConnell spokeswoman, Jennifer Morris, said she had no information on the delay.

Yesterday, the New York Times editorial board took up the argument:

It is hard to imagine the public interest that is being served by the hold. It is easy, unfortunately, to imagine the political interest. A leaderless Census Bureau is unlikely to pull off an accurate count. Inaccurate tallies tend to favor Republicans, because a bad census misses hard-to-count groups that tilt Democratic, like minorities and immigrants, thus over-representing easy-to-count suburbanites who tilt Republican.

Kristen Soltis has written on our own site about the demographic challenge facing the Republican party in appealing to younger voters. Last year, she tells us, only 62% of voters under 30 were white. "Expanding the Republican Party's appeal to younger voters," she writes, "is inextricably linked with the issue of expanding the party's appeal to minority communities."

Separately, the recent Political Values study by the Pew Research Center American demonstrates continuing confidence in science, especially among the young. Only a third of Americans (34%), they report, agree "that science is going too far and is hurting society rather than helping it" (61% disagree). Not surprisingly, the report finds that younger Americans are the least likely to express discomfort with science. [Correction: I misread the report. Younger Americans are less likely to say that technology "s making life too complicated for me"].

I understand that the Groves nomination is about as obscure an issue as exists on the Congressional agenda and that partisanship trumps all else when legislators take up anything affecting reapportionment and redistricting. Still, someone needs to explain to me how the Republican Party is helping itself with this Luddite stand against a nominee with "bulletproof scientific credentials," especially when that stand projects hostility to the interests of minorities.

VA-Gov: Deeds 47, McDonnell 41 (Rasmussen-6/10)

Rasmussen Reports
6/10/09; 500 likely voters, 4.5% margin of error
Mode: IVR


Approval / Disapproval
Obama: 52 / 46 (chart)
Gov. Kaine (D): 62 / 45 (chart)

Favorable / Unfavorable
McDonnell (R): 52 / 28
Deeds (D): 59 / 27

2009 Governor
Deeds 47, McDonnell 41 (chart)

Which gubernatorial candidate do you trust more on taxes....Robert McDonnell or Creigh Deeds?

    44% McDonnell
    36% Deeds

Which candidate is more likely to confront Virginia's transportation problems?

    43% Deeds
    29% McDonnell


This is Personal

Regular readers will probably remember my that my father-in-law Frank Burstin, who passed away about a week before last fall's elections, was a survivor of the Auschwitz death camp. For that reason, as you may imagine, the news this afternoon about a shooting at Washington's Holocaust Museum hits pretty close to home for me and for my family.

But you don't know the half of it.

I have a special memory of Pop (as we knew him) from last summer. It was a few weeks before he received his cancer diagnosis, during what turned out to be his last visit to the Holocaust Museum. Because he lost his parents and all of his siblings to the Nazis, and because no grave site exists for any of his family, Pop made it a habit to visit the Museum at least once a year. It fulfilled for him the custom that many Jews practice of visiting the cemetery of loved ones once a year. I only got to accompany him on one of these visits, that one last year, along with my wife's nephew Jake.

I described him last year as "kind and optimistic soul," and he certainly was. But when he entered that museum, something changed. He was not unkind, but in that place, as I soon learned, he suffered no fools (nor anyone else).

We wandered into the museum, through the same doors and into the same foyer where shots rang out this afternoon. My wife had given us visitor passes that she receives as a member of the Museum. The lines were long, and it was not obvious which line we needed to stand in.

Pop was having none of it. He walked away from me and wandered up to the museum staffer standing at the head of the long line leading to the elevators that takes all visitors to the museum exhibits. I thought for a moment that Pop was going to ask directions. I was wrong.

He thrust out his arm in the direction of the staffer, displaying the number the Nazis tattooed on his arm at Auschwitz just a few inches from her face. Without making eye-contact and barely breaking stride, Pop kept walking. Understandably, the staffer barely blinked. She didn't make a move to stop him.

Pop kept walking right into the elevator that had just filled with the visitors that had been waiting in that long line. And even though the elevator was already quite crowded, he walked right in. Jake and I had to run past the guard to catch up. "Pop, Pop," I said, feeling a little embarrassed, hoping to talk him into at least waiting for the next elevator.

The staffer inside the elevator must have heard me, because he smiled, held the door and said with smile, "We have room for Pop. You guys too. C'mon in."

And up we went. I have been to the Holocaust Museum many times, but none as memorable as that visit.

About a month ago, in a conscious effort to carry on her father's tradition and to commemorate his birthday, my wife Helen paid her own solo visit to the Museum. She arrived at the end of a busy work day, in a rush, just a few minutes before closing time. Unfortunately, given the late hour, they had run out of the candles usually provided in the Hall of Remembrance for visitors to light and leave in the niches of the outer walls.

Already feeling emotional -- her dad had passed away just six months before -- she broke down sobbing.

A staffer nearby immediately came to her assistance, asking if she needed help. She explained, and the gentleman asked her to wait. He soon returned with a candle, explaining with a conspiratorial wink that he kept his own special supply for such emergencies.

The guards and staff at the Holocaust Museum have a special duty. The do more than just protect and operate one of Washington's many heavily trafficked museums. On a daily basis, they help open the doors to the elderly survivors of the atrocities of World War II. As my stories attest, they do it with a remarkable degree of kindness and professionalism.

As far as I know, the Holocaust Museum personnel that we encountered were not armed guards, though it is possible they were. But when I heard about the shooting this afternoon, and more specifically that at least one of the victims is a security guard now apparently in critical condition, it struck very close to home.

This is personal.

As far as I am concerned, the staff members of the Holocaust Museum are part of our family and the Museum itself is hallowed ground. We pray for the recovery of the wounded guard. "Never take your guard force and security people for granted," William Parsons, the museum's chief of staff said on television a few minutes ago. Our family never will.

A very sad update: MSNBC just reported that the guard, Officer Steven Tyrone Johns, has passed away. We are all mourners tonight.

Update 2 - Spurred on by the commentary of my colleagues Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jeffrey Goldberg, I want to add one piece of relevant information. Officer Johns and all of the staff I described above were African-American or (in one case) African.

FL: 2010 Sen, Gov (Quinnipiac-6/2-7)

Quinnipiac University
6/2-7/09; 1,245 registered voters, 2.8% margin of error
486 registered Republicans (4.5%), 477 registered Democrats (4.5%)
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews


2009 Senate
Democrats: Meek 18, Brown 12, Klein 8 (chart)
Republicans: Crist 54, Rubio 23 (chart)

2009 Governor
Sink (D) 38, McCollum (R) 34 (chart)

(Gov source, Sen source)

NJ: 2009 Gov (Quinnipiac-6/3-8)

Quinnipiac University
6/3-8/09; 1,338 registered voters, 2.7% margin of error
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews

New Jersey

Approval / Disapproval
Pres. Obama (D): 68 / 25 (chart)
Gov. Corzine (D): 36 / 56 (chart)
Sen. Lautenberg (D): 44 / 36 (chart)
Sen. Menendez (D): 40 / 31 (chart)

Favorable / Unfavorable
Gov. Jon Corzine (D): 35 / 53 (chart)
Chris Christie (R): 36 / 16

2009 Governor
Christie 46, Gov. Corzine 37
Likely VOters: Christie 50, Gov. Corzine 40 (chart)

Looking ahead to the 2009 election for Governor, do you feel that Jon Corzine deserves to be reelected, or do you feel that he does not deserve to be reelected?

    37% Yes/Deserves
    55% No/Does not


Virginia: Primaries and "Polling Errors"

Topics: Polling Errors , Registration Based Sampling , Virginia

What a difference perception makes. Last year, the New Hampshire Democratic primary produced an unprecedented polling "fiasco," also described as "one of the most significant miscues in modern polling history" (to quote two of the most respected voices in political polling). This morning, I see no such angst, and for good reason. Creigh Deeds won Virginia's Democratic primary for governor by a crushing margin after the final polls had shown him leading by a double digits and trending sharply upward.

But look closer. If we simply compare the final polls to the actual results, the "polling errors" were actually bigger in Virginia last night than in New Hampshire. In New Hampshire, as the table below shows, the final polls as summarized by our trend estimates of the vote for Barack Obama and John Edwards came remarkably close to their actual percentages but understated Hillary Clinton's support by nearly 9 percentage points. Last night, our trend estimates came within tenths of a percentage point from the actual votes won by second place finishers Terry McAuliffe and Brian Moran, but they understated Deeds' final tally by a whopping 13 percentage points.


The crucial difference, of course, is that the Virginia polls gave us clear direction of both the winner and the final trend, while the New Hampshire polls pointed us in the wrong direction on both. So while we may have been a bit surprised by the margin last night, we had ample warning that uncertain voters were "breaking" to Deeds over the final days of the campaign.

Still, it is worth noting that simply extending our trend lines on either Deeds' support or his margin over McAuliffe from Sunday through Tuesday does not explain or predict the ultimate margin. Here, courtesy of Charles Franklin, is a chart that extends our trend estimate for Deeds' support using either our standard estimate (the solid blue line), the more sensitive estimate (the dashed blue line), or a straight line ("linear fit") based only on the polls conducted since completed after May 15. As Charles writes via email, "All three are essentially the same as of election day, at 39% or so."

2009-06-10_VA  Deeds trend.png

You see the same pattern if we plot Deeds' margin over McAuliffe (the Deeds percentage on the poll minus the McAuliffe percentage). It shows the same sharp upward trend with Deeds clearly ahead but, again, not by as much as his actual 23 point margin.

2009-06-10_VA margin trend.png

My point here is not to bash the polls in Virginia. To the contrary, the much derided automated surveys conducted by Public Policy Polling (PPP) and SurveyUSA, as well as the live interviewer polls from Research 2000 and Suffolk University, provided a consistent, clear and apparently accurate picture of the trend in voter preferences (though they were more divergent about the level of candidate support seen earlier on). As with Clinton in New Hampshire last year, we can probably never know for certain whether their final estimates understated Deeds support or whether he benefited from a virtually monolithic "break" of undecideds in his direction in the closing hours.

The point, which I tried to make over the weekend, is that late shifts and polling errors are a lot more common in primary elections because turnouts are smaller and likely voters are harder to select, because partisans are not locked into choices based on party affiliation (as they are in general elections) and because the dynamics of contests featuring three or more viable candidates produce more volatility on voter preferences.

On a slightly different topic: I wrote earlier this week about the potential benefits of sampling low turnout primaries with lists of registered voters, a subject of sometimes fierce debate among pollsters. I am not sure we can draw firm conclusions on that subject from the final wave of polls in Virginia, since polls using both list samples (PPP and Suffolk University) and those using random-digit-dial samples (SurveyUSA and Research 2000) obtained generally similar results and tracked similar trends over the last week. Earlier on, however, the list sample polls tended to show lower support for McAuliffe, although again we are limited by our small "sample size" of pollsters and inability to control for other issues (such as question format and degree of screening).

That said, the survey world needs to take more seriously the argument that PPP's Tom Jensen made last night. This Virginia primary, he wrote, "was the perfect race to be polling using the voter list and automated calls." In particular, I wish someone in would devise a a randomized controlled experiment (and place the results into the public domain) to test Jensen's implicit assertion about non-response bias and automated surveys:

When you're dealing with an automated poll folks who don't intend to vote don't feel the sort of social pressure they might feel from a live interviewer to participate. So folks who didn't plan to vote didn't bother to answer the poll. No harm done. You don't want a high response rate from people who aren't going to vote.

In other words, if we hold all other factors constant -- something never possible with after-the-fact comparisons of results from different pollsters -- does calling with an automated method do a better job selecting truly likely voters than calling with live interviewers? That could be done with an experiment that samples with a registered voter list and updating after the election to validate turnout.

Let's give Jensen some due credit. Using his survey measurements he predicted a turnout "somewhere in the range of 300,000 voters," while others were less certain or predicted lower numbers (though apparently not the McAuliffe campaign). With 99.8% of precincts counted, over 320,369 votes were cast last night. Even Nate Silver has trouble predicting turnout.

Virginia: Not-So-Live Blog

Topics: Virginia

10:20 p.m. - A nearly complete count with all but five precincts included: Deeds 49.7%, McAuliffe 26.4%, Moran 23.8% with ver 319,000 votes cast.

9:23 p.m. I am going to leave the deeper "lessons" until tomorrow, but with 97.3% of the precincts counted, Deeds leads McAuliffe by a massive 22-point margin -- Deeds 49%, McAuliffe 27%, Moran 24% and 305,866 votes counted so far. PPP's Tom Jensen was right when he guessed the turnout would be "around 300,000." Even the final polls understated Deeds ultimate margin, although they clearly had the trend moving in the right direction. More tomorrow.

8:47 p.m. - Here are the first four heavily (presumed) African-American precincts to report in Richmond City (Obama '08 GE percentage in parentheses):

  • Pct. 301 (96%): 45% McAuliffe, 30% Deeds, 25% Moran
  • Pct. 303 (98%): 45% McAuliffe, 28% Deeds, 27% Moran
  • Pct. 304 (96%): 49% McAuliffe, 28% Deeds, 23% Moran
  • Pct. 305 (96%): 40% McAuliffe, 31% Deeds, 29% Moran

8:20 p.m.  Meant to include this from 538's Ed Kilgore, based on this CD map:

With the votes now pouring in, Creigh Deeds is winning in nine of Virginia's eleven congressional districts (Moran narrowly leads in the 8th on the strength of his Alexandria performance, but the lead probably won't hold, and McAuliffe leads narrowly in the 3d, with Richmond still out)

8:17 p.m. I'm guessing this comes as no surprise to anyone reading this, but Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight is also live blogging tonight. 

8:12 p.m. Here are are few more presumed-to-be heavily African American precincts in Newport News:

  • Pct. 404 (98% Obama): 52% McAuliffe, 26% Deeds, 22% Moran
  • Pct. 414 (99% Obama): 46% McAuliffe, 32% Deeds, 23% Moran

So far, none of the many heavily African American precincts in Richmond City have reported, which probably means that Deeds statewide margin will narrow a bit from where it is now.

8:07 p.m.  - So did the African American vote break decisively to Terry McAuliffe (discussed in more detail here)? Not nearly enough to offset Deeds margins elsewhere apparently.

I'm going to assume that any precinct that Barack Obama carried with more than 90% of the vote in 2008 is virtually all African American.  Here are a handful of precincts reporting in Newport News that are 90%+ black:

  • Pct. 303 (98% Obama): 47% McAuliffe, 34% Deeds, 19% Moran
  • Pct. 402 (99% Obama): 52% McAuliffe, 25% Deeds, 24% Moran
  • Pct. 405 (98% Obama): 40% McAuliffe, 37% Deeds, 23% Moran

8:00 p.m. Sounds like AP just projected Deeds the winner - local radio station WTOP just called it for Deeds.

7:50 p.m. A quick check shows Deeds winning nearly 50% in precincts counted so far in Arlington City and Fairfax County and roughly a third of the vote in Moran's true home base in Alexandria City.  If that holds up, this will not be close.

7:45 p.m. This post is likely to be more of an occasional election night update than a live-blog.  I was battling another torrential rain-storm here in DC and just got home.  The polls closed in VA 45 minutes ago and results are starting to come in.  It doesn't sound like the Associated Press has declared a winner in the Governor's yet, although they just declared a winner (Jody Wagner) in the Lt. Governor's race.

Virginia (and Other) "Outliers"

Topics: Outliers Feature

Tom Jensen takes a stab at predicting the Virginia outcome at specific turnout levels.

McAuliffe's campaign says their Monday night calling shows a close race.

Tom Schaller sees Virginia as test case for the "Martin Effect."

The Post finds support for Deeds among a dozen voters exiting a Northern Virginia polling place.

Steve Singiser considers the case for the three candidates in a low turnout (and shares anecdotal reports on this morning's voting).

Josh Putnam examines historical patterns in New Jersey governor's race polling.

Ken Strasma talks to FiveThirtyEight about his microtargeting work for the Obama campaign.

Glen Bolger urges Republicans to be patient about perceptions of Obama.

The Pew Internet Project interviews local elected officials about their Internet usage.

Bill McInturff and Al Quinlan share results from their survey on health care provention (sponsored by the health advocacy group, Trust for America's Health).

Bernard Avishai reports details of more Israeli polling (via Marshall)

Anthony Wells assesses UK pollster performance and accuracy in the recent Euro elections.

And the placement of this display ad indicates quite a Google-Bomb (yes, seen only from browsers in the U.S, but still...).

PA: 2010 Sen (GQR-5/14-18)

Citizens for Strength and Security /
Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research (D)
5/14-18/09; 608 likely Democratic primary voters, 4% margin of error
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews


2010 Senate - Democratic Primary
Sen. Specter 55, Sestak 34 (chart)
Sen. Specter 50, Generic Dem 37


NY: 2010 Senate (B) (Schoen-5/27-31)

Douglas E. Schoen (D) /
Carolyn Maloney (D)
5/27-31/09; 600 likely voters, 4% margin of error
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews

New York State

Favorable / Unfavorable
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand: 42 / 24
Carolyn Maloney: 39 / 11

2010 Senate (B) - Democratic Primary
Gillibrand 27, Maloney 21, McCarthy 17
Maloney 34, Sen. Gillibrand 32

2010 Governor - Democratic Primary
Cuomo 71, Gov. Paterson 16

(results">, memo)

Virginia: "Polls" We Shall Not Name

Topics: IVR Polls , New York Times , Virginia , Washington Post

One of our alert readers noted two paragraphs in yesterday's New York Times report on today's Democratic primary for Governor in Virginia. First this:

A close ally of Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton, Mr. McAuliffe, 52, is a multimillionaire businessman with an outsize personality who held an early lead in statewide polls based largely on his ability to out-talk and outspend his opponents.

Then later in the story, this:

After most polls had the three candidates in a statistical dead heat for most of the race, Mr. Deeds opened up a slight lead over the weekend, but many voters were still undecided and turnout was expected to be low.

Never mind that the characterization of McAuliffe's lead in "statewide polls" in the first paragraph clashes with the supposed "statistical dead heat" shown by "most polls . . . for most of the race" (the first paragraph had it right). Which polls is the Times talking about? After all the Times' official Polling Standards forbid the publication of of "interactive voice response polls," surveys "conducted by Democratic or Republican pollsters or privately-sponsored organizations or interest groups," and labels as "questionable" those surveys based on registered voter lists.

Our compilation includes seventeen publicly released, statewide surveys in Virginia that reported a vote preference question on the Democratic primary race. Of the seventeen, eleven were automated (IVR) polls (from PPP and SurveyUSA), two were conducted by Moran's Democratic pollster (Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner Research) and one more (from Suffolk University) was conducted using live interviewers but drew a sample from the list of registered voters. That leaves three polls conducted using live interviewers and a random digit dial sample by Research 2000 on behalf of the DailyKos website. You can decide whether DailyKos counts as a "privately-sponsored organization or interest group."

More to the point, the only surveys that showed Deeds opening up a lead "over the weekend" were the automated/IVR polls done by PPP and SurveyUSA.

Similarly, the Washington Post tells us this morning "surveys" have been showing "remarkable volatility in the race's final days," but since those surveys do not meet the Posts standards for publication, they will not report on them.

So apparently the recent findings from these automated polls are newsworthy, but who did them, what they show (specifically) and why are not. Got it?

VA: Final Polls and a Canvass with a "Push"

Topics: Message Testing , Push Polls , Virginia

Some notes about the two final surveys out in Virginia over the last 24 hours from automated pollsters PPP and SurveyUSA. Both show Creigh Deeds surging ahead 40% and 42% of the vote, respectively. PPP shows a big move from a previously big undecided to Deeds; SurveyUSA shows a fall-off in support for Terry McAuliffe. And if you want indirect evidence that the live-interviewer, internal campaign polls are showing the same thing, just watch the what the McAuliffe and Moran campaigns were doing over the weekend: Attacking Deeds.

Deeds appears to be on track for a victory, as he is doing well on two of the three keys to the outcome I reviewed on Saturday:

First, his paid media gamble in Northern Virginia appears to be paying off. SurveyUSA shows him surging ahead to a 12-point lead over Moran in their "Northeast" Virginia region (42% to 30%), PPP also shows Deeds ahead of Moran in the 703 area code but by a not-quite statistically significant three points (38% to 35%).

Second, on these two snapshots at least, McAuliffe's support from African-Americans continues to fall short of the decisive that might tip the balance in a closer race: Both PPP and SurveyUSA show McAuliffe a few points head of Deeds (McAulliffe up 32% to 31% on the PPP poll, 38% to 32% according to SurveyUSA).

Nonetheless, I stand by my warning over the weekend about the uncertainty of these estimates: All evidence points to a continuing Deeds surge, but I would not wager much on the precise margin.   

One more thing: Yesterday, the Moran campaign posted "results" from their voter ID phone-banking showing a "surge" in support for their candidate (emphasis added):

Yesterday, the Moran campaign received some of the best results of the campaign and saw a notable uptick in support while phone banking likely primary voters. The campaign made 36,478 calls to highly likely primary voters in Northern Virginia and saw Moran's consistent lead there surge after information about the records of his two opponents was made clear. In Hampton Roads, Moran's canvass calls reached 23,454 likely primary voters and found that Moran's support has increased significantly, moving the race into a virtual three-way tie.

In Richmond, Moran's canvass reached 22,399 likely voters and found that Moran is now within the margin of one of his opponents, while leading the other by several percentage points. And in Roanoke, where Moran just last week began his advertising campaign, his support has risen 150 percent among likely voters.

Let's start with the phrase in boldface, which makes clear that the measurements cited came after the callers presented negative information about Deeds and McAuliffe. At a campaign's 11th hour, a vote question following negative "message testing" (and that's charitable) is not exactly a fair way to measure the current standings. Most casual readers will probably want to stop there, but I'm getting ahead of the story.

It is tempting to write this release off as a bit of last minute spin by a campaign desperate to deliver some good news to it supporters. But in case some are confused, let's be clear: A telephone canvass used to identify supporters is not a poll. It does not involve a random sample of voters and depends on volunteer callers.

Campaigns generally take two approaches to voter ID calls: Either they make "blind" calls that impersonate a poll (the callers say they are taking a "survey" and do not identify the sponsor) or they identify themselves honestly (which means, in this case, saying they are calling on behalf of the Moran campaign).

If the callers in this case identified themselves as Moran supporters -- and if they had not been reading negative information aloud about Deeds and McAuliffe -- the results of a canvass might be useful for identifying Moran's supporters (the ostensible purpose of such a canvass) but not as useful for identifying supporters of other candidates. These voters are more likely to hang up or feign indecision to avoid the "social discomfort" that comes with telling the volunteer caller they are going to vote for someone else (oh, if only I had a hundred dollars for every time a client's voter ID calling looked better than my tracking poll. And even then, the useful "data" would come from a vote preference question asked before trashing Deeds and McAuliffe.

If on the other hand the callers failed to identify themselves as calling on behalf of the Moran campaign, then this release amounts to bragging about "results" from a straight-up push poll: calls made under the guise of a survey that intend to communicate a message to as many voters as possible, in this case a negative message. That is my definition of true push polling and the definition of the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR).

So, Moran campaign, which is it?

The Moran campaign did not immediately respond to a voice mail asking for comment.   

P.S.: In a related item, Jerome Armstrong links to both the PPP survey and the Moran canvas numbers and argues that the PPP numbers are off because they expect a 300K turnout, a "radically different model" that relies on "a lot of independents and Republicans voting in the Democratic primary." He cites the Moran canvass numbers as evidence that a smaller turnout bodes better for Moran, then concludes:

A 14-16% [Deeds] lead seems unbeatable, but remember that PPP is predicting a huge turnout too. I know both McAuliffe and Moran have much better field organizations than Deeds, by far-- its not even close. Deeds has gotten all the breaks in the polls; now, does he have the votes? The turnout will tell.

The problem is, as Tom Jensen notes in a blog post this morning, PPP's survey includes a cross-tabulation that essentially models a much lower turnout scenario showing Deeds leading by an even larger margin:

Among voters who turned out for one of the low intensity contests between 2005 and 2007 Deeds is at 46% with Moran at 26% and McAuliffe at just 19%. Among frequent primary voters 48% have an unfavorable opinion of McAuliffe with just 33% viewing him positively.

Among what we would describe as more casual primary voters- those who only turned out for Clinton/Obama- Deeds has a much narrower lead with 36% to 30% for McAuliffe and 22% for Moran.

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

US: National Survey (Marist-6/1-3)

Marist Poll
6/1-3/09; 1,028 registered voters, 3% margin of error
Mode: Live Telephone Interviews


Obama Job Approval
56% Approve, 32% Disapprove (chart)
Dems: 89 / 6 (chart)
inds: 51 / 32 (chart)
Reps: 23 / 61 (chart)
Economy: 53% Approve, 41% Disapprove (chart)

State of the Country
50% Right Direction, 40% Wrong Track (chart)

Do you approve or disapprove of President Barack Obamas nomination of Appeals Judge Sonia Sotomayor for United States Supreme Court Justice?

    54% Approve
    23% Disapprove


Polling Low Turnout Primaries

Topics: National Journal

My NationalJournal.com column for this week is now posted. It picks up where last weeks' left off, with more thoughts on what media pollsters can do to get better readings early on low turnout, off-year primaries.

VA: 2009 Gov (SurveyUSA-6/5-7)

6/5-7/09; 1,685 registered voters, 2.4% margin of error
535 likely Democratic primary voters, 4.3% margin of error
Mode: IVR


2009 Governor - Democratic Primary
Deeds 42, McAuliffe 30, Moran 21 (chart)

2009 Governor - General Election
McDonnell 47, Deeds 43 (chart)
McDonnell 48, McAuliffe 41 (chart)
McDonnell 49, Moran 38 (chart)

VA: 2009 Gov (PPP-6/6-7)

Public Policy Polling (D)
6/6-7/09; 1,082 likely Democratic primary voters, 3% margin of error
Mode: IVR


2009 Governor - Democratic Primary
Deeds 40, McAuliffe 26, Moran 24 (chart)

(PPP analysis, results)

Pollsters Are Geeks Too "Outliers"

Topics: Outliers Feature

PPP teases partial results from their VA poll again.

The Washington Post publishes the Suffolk University and Kos/Research 2000 polls.

Nate Silver sees parallels between Virginia 2009 and Iowa 2004.

Gary Langer evaluates how words affect poll questions on affirmative action.

Kos discovers that only 8% believe Sotomajor is a racist.

Chris Bowers assesses how unemployment could affect Obama's approval rating.

Jo-Ann Mort shares results of a poll of Israeli's showing support for settlement evacuation (Marshall comments, Mort responds)

Andrew Martin and Kevin Quinn defend their Supreme Court justice ideology estimates.

Drew Conway asks some questions about that new statistical research on Twitter.

Flowing Data reviews the rise of the data scientist.

Dana Stanley posts interviews from the CASRO conference.

Chris Anderson will live blog Apple's WWDC Keynote.

Pew Research Center finds 97% of teens play video games.