January 3, 2010 - January 9, 2010


Seeing the Light 'Outliers'

Topics: Outliers Feature

Frank Newport responds to questions about health care opposition from the left (video).

Charlie Cook says Democrats are trapped in a vicious cycle.

Bill Schneider thinks hyperpartisanship is making government dysfunctional.

GOP insiders don't like Sarah Palin.

Tom Jensen teases PPP's MA Senate poll.

Patrick Ruffini senses PPP bias; PPP responds (more here).

Nicole McCleskey analyzes party ID in Western states.

Gallup finds most Yemenis want more interaction with the Western world.

Daily Kos plans to "poll the s**t out of these mid-term elections."

Steve Lombardo finally sees the light (if you're a Patriots fan).

KY: 2010 Sen (Rasmussen 1/6)

1/6/10; 500 likely voters, 4.5% margin of error
Mode: Automated phone
(Rasmussen release)


2010 Senate
44% Grayson (R), 37% Mongiardo (D)
49% Paul (R), 35% Mongiardo (D)
45% Grayson (R), 35% Conway (D)
46% Paul (R), 38% Conway (D)

Favorable / Unfavorable
Trey Grayson: 57 / 21
Dan Mongiardo: 44 / 44
Rand Paul: 57 / 25
Jack Conway: 46 / 36

Job Approval / Disapproval
Pres. Obama: 41 / 59
Gov. Beshear: 53 / 44

CT: 2010 Gov (PPP 1/4-5)

Public Policy Polling
1/4-5/09; 522 likely voters, 4.3% margin of error
Mode: Automated phone
(PPP release)


2010 Governor (trends)
50% Bysiewicz (D), 25% Fedele (R)
48% Bysiewicz (D), 26% Foley (R)
40% Lamont (D), 30% Fedele (R)
40% Lamont (D), 29% Foley (R)
37% Malloy (D), 26% Fedele (R)
37% Malloy (D), 27% Foley (R)

Job Approval / Disapproval
Gov. Rell: 49 / 39 (chart)

Favorable / Unfavorable
Susan Bysiewicz: 39 / 16
Michael Fedele: 9 / 12
Tom Foley: 10 / 14
Ned Lamont: 29 / 28
Dan Malloy: 18 / 15

US: National Survey (Economist 1/2-5)

YouGov / Economist
1/2-5/09; 1,000 adults, 3.8% margin of error
Mode: Internet
(Economist release)


Obama Job Approval
45% Favor, 46% Oppose (chart)
Dems: 80 / 13 (chart)
Reps: 14 / 83 (chart)
Inds: 40 / 52 (chart)
Economy: 40 / 55 (chart)
Health Care: 41 / 53 (chart)

Congressional Job Approval
14% Approve, 63% Disapprove (chart)

2010 House: Generic Ballot
38% Republican, 44% Democrat (chart)

State of the Country
35% Right Direction, 51% Wrong Track (chart)

Overall, given what you know about them, do you support or oppose the proposed changes to the health care system being developed by Congress and the Obama Administration?
45% Support, 56% Oppose (chart)

US: National Survey (Kos 1/4-7)

DailyKos.com (D) / Research 2000
1/4-7/10; 2,400 adults, 2% margin of error
Mode: Live telephone interviews
(Kos release)


Favorable / Unfavorable
Barack Obama: 56 / 41 (chart)
Nancy Pelosi: 42 / 48
Harry Reid: 33 / 56
Mitch McConnell: 18 / 63
John Boehner: 19 / 61
Democratic Party: 42 / 53
Republican Party: 30 / 60

State of the Country
41% Right direction, 57% Wrong track (chart)

US: The Uninsured (Gallup 2009)

2009; 350,000 adults, .2% margin of error
Mode: Live telephone interviews
(Gallup release)



While President Obama works with House and Senate leaders to hammer out a final healthcare bill before the State of the Union address, the legislation's goal of expanding coverage to the uninsured will need to cover a larger pool of Americans who are without health insurance. According to the Gallup Healthways Well-Being Index, an average of 16.2% of American adults lacked health insurance coverage in 2009, up from 14.8% in 2008.

The number of uninsured was generally below 15% in 2008 until it began to increase in November of that year, coincident with the worst of the economic crisis. With some month-to-month fluctuations, the number of uninsured Americans has remained elevated since that time. Gallup and Healthways ask at least 1,000 Americans, aged 18 and older, each day if they have health insurance coverage. Each monthly average encompasses approximately 30,000 interviews. The yearly averages from 2008 and 2009 consist of approximately 350,000 interviews each.

Cats and Dogs 'Outliers'

Topics: Outliers Feature

Gallup releases year-end data on party and ideology.

Glen Bolger and Jim Hobart analyze midterm losses and presidential approval.

Tom Jensen says the media has "Black Tuesday" all wrong.

Charles Franklin thinks Democrats shouldn't panic about dropping below 60 in the senate.

Seth Masket finds that Palin's low approval rating among Jews is a reflection of party ID. (via Sides)

John Zogby says Republicans are winning the health care battle by appealing to the heart.

CNN polls college football fans on the BCS.

And dog's win in AP's pet-popularity contest.

Re: Liberal Democrats and Obama - Response to Chris Bowers

Topics: Barack Obama , Chris Bowers , Gallup , Gallup Daily , Liberals , Progressives

My friend Chris Bowers posted a thoughtful response to my column from this week, which argued that only a small fraction of liberal Democrats have grown disillusioned enough with President Obama to express disapproval. Chris is smart and reality-based about poll data, so his arguments are worth considering.   

Chris points out that the liberal Democrat subgroup that I focused on (17% of adults in February 2009 according to Gallup's data, 15% in December) overlooks the small portion of liberals that do not identify or lean Democratic . He estimates that liberal-non-Democrats (or LNDs as he calls them) are now roughly 6% of adults, since Gallup reports that 21% of adults self-identified as liberal during all of 2009. I'll spare the details, but he extrapolates from the available Gallup data to conclude that Obama's approval rating among liberal-non-Democrats is now hovering at just over 50% after falling roughly 15 percentage points since February.

I won't quarrel with Chris' central argument: I have no doubt that a group of liberal-non-Democrats exists that rates Obama less positively than the larger group of liberal Democrats and whose rating of Obama has fallen over the course of the year at a rate similar to independents and moderate Republicans.   

I also have no doubt that some liberals are feeling disillusioned. Again, as I reported in the column, the size of the liberal Democrat subgroup fell from 17% in February to 15% in December (I did not ask Gallup for numbers for other months, but the massive sample sizes involved -- over 11,000 in December and over 14,000 in February -- make even a 2 point drop meaningful). So a small sliver of liberals may shifted their allegiance to independent over the course of the year.

My point was mostly that the number of disillusioned liberal Democrats is small relative to disillusioned conservative Democrats and pure independents. Chris argues that liberal-non-Democrats are a small but nonetheless critical swing constituency. That's an interesting but different argument, and I think we can agree that it's not an argument about an erosion of the Democratic "base."

Chris also compares Obama's current approval ratings by ideology to his vote by ideology as reported on the 2008 exit polls to argue that "the only people who have become disillusioned with President Obama are liberals." I know these sorts of comparisons are popular, but I'm not a fan: They compare apples to oranges. Some Republicans will express approval of a Democratic president they did not vote for (and may never support), while some Democrats will express disapproval of a President of their own party, even if they would never consider voting for a future Republican opponent. I would be more convinced by this sort of comparison if it involved a vote or "reelect" question about 2012, rather than presidential approval.

All of that aside, this is a good conversation to continue.

CT: 2001 Sen (Rasmussen 1/6)

1/6/09; 500 likely voters, 4.5% margin of error
Mode: Automated phone
(Rasmussen release)


2010 Senate (trends)
56% Richard Blumenthal (D), 33% Rob Simmons (R)
58% Richard Blumenthal (D), 34% Linda McMahon (R)
60% Richard Blumenthal (D), 24% Peter Schiff (R)

Job Approval / Disapproval
Pres. Obama: 56 / 43 (chart)

CO: 2010 Gov (Rasmussen 1/6)

1/6/09; 500 likely voters, 4.5% margin of error
Mode: Automated phone
(Rasmussen release)


2010 Governor (trends)
Scott McInnis (R) 47%, Ken Salazar (D) 41%
Scott McInnis (R) 47%, Andrew Romanoff (D) 37%
Scott McInnis (R) 45%, John Hickenlooper (D) 42%

Favorable / Unfavorable
McInnis: 60 / 26
Salazar: 52 / 45
Hickenlooper: 57 / 32
Romanoff: 37 / 43

Job Approval / Disapproval
Pres. Obama: 45 / 54 (chart)
Gov. Ritter: 44 / 52 (chart)

Usher & Omero: Hey Pollsters, Time to Make a Better Chart!

Topics: Charts , data visualization , Pollsters

Doug Usher is Senior Vice President and Research Director at Widmeyer Communications.

Margie Omero is President and founder of Momentum Analysis LLC and a frequent Pollster.com contributor.

Back when the two of us collaborated on polling presentations (in the mid-to-late 1990s), PowerPoint had more competitors and transparencies were as common as LCD projectors. Even today, it can sometimes take more technical savvy than it should to create a slide that's both legible and informative. But presenting data in an understandable visual way is one of the most important things pollsters do for their clients. While pollster.com usually chooses to simply lead by example on this topic, we thought we'd have some back-to-work fun.

Inspired by this comment from a couple of months past, we've selected a few examples of (frankly) awful charts. Certainly we're not perfect. But it's time to take a stand! Clients pay us to help use data to build effective strategies - and part of our job is to present graphics that illuminate, not confuse and distract.To paraphrase a famous political philosopher, pollsters of the world, unite - the only thing you have to lose is your outdated and clunky templates.

To this end, below are a few examples of subpar graphics from mainstream polling firms - to give a sense of just how far we have to go as a profession.To protect the guilty, we've obscured references to the pollsters, but have kept everything else intact.

This is just a start - do you have some better examples of graphic crimes by pollsters?

EXAMPLE A: Getting too much interpretive analysis out of very little data:

Example A.jpg

EXAMPLE B: Color schemes that add no insight.

Example B.jpg

EXAMPLE C: Do big numbers convey your point more effectively?

Example C.jpg

EXAMPLE D: Are two graphics always better than one?

Example D.jpg

EXAMPLE E: Really?

Example E.jpg

Here are a few "action items" for pollsters to think about as they put together charts for presentations.

  1. What is the point of your chart - and what data are critical to making that point? Try to have the exact amount of information to make your point, not too little and not too much.
  2. Is it accessible to a non-pollster? The goal of an effective presentation is for it to be passed along to (and understood by) many.
  3. Are there extraneous slides/data that can be effectively summarized in a few words? Yes, a picture is worth a thousand words, but in too many presentations hundreds of numbers can be replaced by a few summary points about significant subgroups.
  4. Is every additional color, font, chart type and piece of clip-art required to make an additional insight? If not, then refrain. What once was seen as "plain" is now more likely to be viewed as "crisp" and "concise."

Let's make it a New Years' resolution: simpler, clearer data slides!

CT: Lieberman (PPP 1/4-5)

Public Policy Polling
1/4-5/10; 522 likely voters, 4.3% margin of error
Mode: Automated phone
(PPP release)


Job Approval / Disapproval
Pres. Obama: 54 / 38 (chart)
Sen. Lieberman: 25 / 67 (chart)

Do you support or oppose President Obama's health care plan, or do you not have an opinion?
47% Support, 43% Oppose

Do you approve or disapprove of Joe Lieberman's actions in relation to the health care bill?
19% Approve, 68% Disapprove

Mandela and the BCS 'Outliers'

Topics: Outliers Feature

Chris Bowers shows Obama's approval has dropped among liberals who are not Democrats.

Frank Newport responds to the claim the Glenn Beck is more admired than the pope.

Gary Langer wants more transparency from a poll showing Americans unhappy at work.

Obama begins the year with 50% support in the Gallup daily poll.

CBS News finds that most Americans think today's job market requires a new set of job skills.

Chris Weigant updates
his Obama poll watch.

Alex Lundry waxes eloquent on the political power of data visualization

Mark Mellman asks what the health care polls really mean.

Tom Jensen analyzes trends in gubernatorial approval ratings.

A new survey finds Iraqis are optimistic for 2010.

And David Hill says opponents of the BCS could learn a thing or two from Nelson Mandela.

Rasmussen, Massachusetts and Party ID

Topics: Automated polls , Massachusetts , Nate Silver , Party Identification , Party Weighting , Rasmussen , Scott Rasmussen

This certainly seems like a banner week for blogging about pollster Scott Rasmussen, as I count at least three entry-worthy topics on the automated polltaker: (1) the flurry of commentary surrounding the piece by Politico's Alex Isenstadt on attacks from the left on Rasmussen's credibility (2) reporting Monday by the liberal blog Think Progress showing that Rasmussen was paid $140,500 by the 2004 Bush campaign for survey research and the good question that raises about whether sites like ours should label Rasmussen as "[R]" for Republican (3) yesterday's new Rasmussen survey of likely voters in this month's special election in Massachusetts.

As commenting on all three at once exceeds both my time and mental bandwidth, I'm going to start with the third and most timely topic, but I will come back to the other two later this week.

Rasmussen's Massachusetts survey, consisting of 500 automated interviews of Massachusetts likely voters conducted in just one day (Monday), shows Democrat Martha Coakley leading Republican Scott Brown by just nine percentage points (50% to 41%). That's a surprisingly narrow lead in a heavily Democratic state that Barack Obama carried by more than 26 percentage points (61% to 36%). Even in 1994, a banner year for Republicans, Ted Kennedy defeated Mitt Romney in an unusually competitive reelection contest by 17 points (58% to 41%).

Nate Silver looked at the Rasmussen results by party and extrapolated that the survey consisted of 52% Democrats, 21% Republicans and 27% in the independent/other category:

Although there are lots of different ways to ask about party identification, typically that's not what we see in elections in the Bay State, as the number of independents is usually much higher (43 percent of Massachusetts voters were independent/other in 2008, and 51 percent are registered as independents). They're also showing an electorate that is 39 percent liberal, 34 percent conservative, and 27 percent moderate; that compares to 2008 exit poll demographics of 31 percent liberal, 19 percent conservative, and 49 percent moderate.

So Rasmussen's theory on this election, basically, is that the people in the middle won't bother to show up; there are many fewer independents and many fewer moderates in their sample than you usually get in Massachusetts. Instead, it will be a race between the bases.

My first reaction is that while there are indeed different ways to ask about party identification (and even more ways to ask about self-reported ideology), it's a bad idea to compare official party registration statistics (that tally how many voters check the box for Democrat or Republican when they register to vote) with survey questions about party identification (typically: "when it comes to politics, do you think of yourself as a Democrat, a Republican or an independent?"). Depending on the state, the two measures can produce very different sets of numbers.

Back in October, Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray explained why officially "unaffiliated" voters in New Jersey are very different from the "independents" identified by pollsters. I suspected that Massachusetts, with its very high percentage of non-partisan registrants, might produce similar differences, so I emailed Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center who frequently conducts surveys of Massachusetts for the Boston Globe. Here is his take:

[It's] important to point out that a high percentage of the registered Independents in MA (they're actually called unenrolled) are really either Democrats (36%) or Republicans (34%) when you look at PARTY ID. (We use the Univ of Michigan question and I recode leaners into the partisan buckets). Calling them "Independents" makes it look like there is a large pool of free-thinkers out there up for grabs, which is simply not the case ... not in MA, not in NH (a regular media story during the NH Primary is about the large number of Independents up for grabs, a story which sounds good, but has no basis in fact!), not anywhere!

Those who are registered Unenrolled in MA are less interested in elections and less likely to vote than are registered Republicans or Democrats. This phenomenon is consistent across the US (see "The American Voter Revisited" for the most recent in a long line of studies making this point). It's my sense that the 2010 MA special election will have low turnout and the percentage of voters who are registered as either Democrat or Republican will be higher than the percentage registered as such among all MA adults.

Let me explain that a little more slowly. The Boston Globe/UNH poll routinely asks respondents about both their party registration and their party identification. Early in their interview they ask: "Are you registered to vote as a Democrat, Independent, Republican or something else?" On their September survey, according to data Smith provided, 36% of all registrants said they were registered as Democrats, 14% said they were Republicans and the rest (50%) reported they were unenrolled.

Then at the end of their survey they ask: "GENERALLY SPEAKING, do you usually think of yourself as a Republican, a Democrat, an Independent or what?" To those who initially identify as independent, identify with another party or offer no preference they ask a follow-up: "Do you think of yourself as closer to the Republican or to the Democratic party?"

When Smith combined the initial identifiers with leaners in September, he found 50% were Democrats, 32% were Republicans and only 19% remained independent or without a preference. And a cross-tabulation of the UNH party registration and party identification questions shows that more than two thirds of the unenrolled voters identify or lean to either the Democratic (36%) or Republican (34%) parties.

So unaffiliated/independent was 50% on the party registration question, but only 19% on party identification (with leaners allocated). So again, it is a mistake to expect the party identification results produced by a poll to match the party registration statistics produced by the Secretary of State (and an even bigger mistake to weight results of a poll to match those statistics, but that's a topic for another day).

But wait, the party identification results I cited are for adults. Does the Democratic advantage narrow among "likely voters" in Massachusetts?

Yes, although the results that Smith provided from the September Boston Globe/UNH poll did not ask about the special election. They did ask, however, about interest and likelihood to vote in the general election for governor in November 2010, and thanks for Andrew Smith, I can provide those tabulations below:


As the table shows, if you narrow the survey based on interest in the gubernatorial election, the Democratic advantage narrows considerably, from 17 percentage points among all adults (49% to 32%) to just three percentage points among the 35% of adults that say they are extremely interested (45% to 42%). On the other hand, when the UNH pollsters asked voters if they were likely to vote in the November 2010 general election, the Democratic advantage actually grows slightly, to 19 points (51% to 32%). Which of these, or what combination, might provide the best "model" of a true likely voter? There's no obvious answer -- welcome to the highly varied "art" of likely voter modeling.

But wait...the point of all of this is how these numbers compare to extrapolated party numbers produced by Nate Silver for the Rasmussen poll, and at first blush, the Globe/UNH numbers are not that far off. If anything, Rasmussen's party results (52% Democrat to 27% Republican) are more favorable to the Democrats than the Globe/UNH numbers from September.

I had even considered including the Rasmussen numbers in the table above, but decided against because the comparison is a bit misleading. The problem is that Rasmussen asks a very different partisanship question:

If you are a Republican, press 1. If a Democrat, press 2. If you belong to some other political party, press 3. If you are independent, press 4. If you are not sure, press 5.

Does this question ask about party identification or registration? Given the absence of the "do you consider yourself" clause and the use of "belong to, a respondent might interpret it either way. And I'm assuming that since Rasmussen uses an automated method, the respondent can interrupt the question at any time to choose a selection, something I suspect they tend to do more readily toward the end of the interview (especially if they are feeling impatient to get off the phone).

Also, notice that unlike the Globe/UNH question, Rasmussen does not include a follow-up to press independents on how they lean. Yet if you click on a Rasmussen result on our national party ID chart, you will see that when asked of national adult samples, Rasmussen results tend to produce more partisans (about 12 percentage points more, on average) than other pollsters (roughly 9 points higher on Republicans and 3 points higher on Democrats).

Why is it different? Does the combination of a different question and mode effectively push some independents to say how they lean (with a bigger push toward the GOP)? Or do Rasmussen's sampling and calling procedures yield an adult sample that skews more partisan and Republican, even before they apply their likely voter screen and party weighting? You can make a case for either argument, but I don't have conclusive evidence to resolve this puzzle.

Also, Rasmussen typically weights their statewide pre-election samples by party to targets derived in a somewhat fuzzy process. How did they determine their party weighting targets for the Massachusetts survey? How much did the party weighting alter the results (as compared to weighting on demographics alone)? What percentage of Massachusetts adults passed the screen and qualified as likely voters?

And most important, why aren't answers to these questions disclosed on a routine basis on RasmussenReports.com? Keep in mind that Nate Silver had to extrapolate his estimate of Rasmussen's partisan balance, and even that came from crosstabs available to subscribers only.

I'll have more to say later about the questions of bias, intentional and otherwise, that have been swirling around Rasmussen this week. But until pollsters like Rasmussen start disclosing more about the numbers they produce, it is hard to do much more than speculate about whether poll like the one he did in Massachusetts are as representative as they should be. Is this new poll "horribly, terribly wrong?" With so little information to go on, it's hard to say.

Update: Harry Enten (aka "poughies"**), the Dartmouth student who wrote a guest contribution a month ago on modeling gay marriage referenda, takes issue with my conclusion with an intriguing comment below that argues that the Rasmussen poll "has too many Republicans and not enough independents." He reaches this conclusion by comparing the relationship between results for party ID and actual registration in a previous Massachusetts congressional district race polled by SurveyUSA (which asks a more traditional party identification question). It's worth reading.

**And yes, he gave me permission to reveal his identity.

AR: 2010 Sen (Rasmussen 1/5)

1/5/10; 500 likely voters, 4.5% margin of error
Mode: Automated phone
(Rasmussen release)


2010 Senate
Kim Hendren (R) 47%, Blanche Lincoln (D) 39%
Gilbert Baker (R) 51%, Blanche Lincoln (D) 39%
Curtis Coleman (R) 48%, Blanche Lincoln (D) 38%
Tom Cox (R) 48%, Blanche Lincoln (D) 38%

Favorable / Unfavorable
Hendren: 37 / 20
Lincoln: 38 / 56
Baker: 42 / 20

Job Approval / Disapproval
Pres. Obama: 38 / 61
Gov. Beebe: 68 / 29

Generally speaking, do you strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose or strongly oppose the health care reform plan proposed by President Obama and the congressional Democrats?
35% Strongly/Somewhat Favor, 60% Strognly/Somewhat Oppose

CT: 2010 Sen (PPP 1/4-5)

Public Policy Polling (D)
1/4-5/10; 522 likely voters, 4.3% margin of error
Mode: Automated phone
(PPP release)


2010 Senate (trends)
Dodd* 43%, McMahon 43%
Dodd* 44%, Schiff 37% (chart)
Simmons 44%, Dodd* 40% (chart)
Blumenthal 60%, McMahon 28%
Blumenthal 63%, Schiff 23%
Blumenthal 59%, Simmons 28%
Murphy 43%, McMahon 36%
Murphy 44%, Schiff 28%
Murphy 42%, Simmons 35%

Job Approval / Disapproval
Pres. Obama: 54 / 38 (chart)
Sen. Dodd: 29 / 57 (chart)

Favorable / Unfavorable
Richard Blumenthal (D): 59 / 19
Linda McMahon (R): 26 / 29
Chris Murphy (D): 30 / 21
Peter Schiff (R): 9 / 13
Rob Simmons (R): 27 / 24

*Note: Poll was conducted before Dodd announced his decision to retire

A Red Herring

Topics: Disclosure , Divergent Polls , Measurement

Mark Blumenthal is right to argue in his recent National Journal article ("The Problem With Polling Cap-and-Trade,") that "politicians should proceed with caution when trying to anticipate public opinion on a complex policy issue." In my opinion, however, he goes too far when he implicitly expresses approval (or perhaps tolerance) for such polling, on the grounds that pollsters are just probing latent public opinion.

As Blumenthal notes, CNN and Pew each conducted polls on this issue, with CNN finding 97 percent of the public expressing an opinion, while Pew reported 89 percent with an opinion. Also, CNN found a 23-point margin in favor of cap-and-trade legislation, Pew an 11-point margin. Blumenthal emailed George Bishop, author of  The Illusion of Public Opinion, asking "What should we make of such findings?"

Bishop responded by writing: "Reliable and valid measures of public opinion on such a complex policy issue cannot be so simply simulated by merely telling respondents what it's about and then asking them to react to it on the spot. Down that road lie misleading illusions and the manufacturing of public opinion - a disservice to the Congress, the president and the press that covers them."

Blumenthal takes issue with Bishop's response, arguing that "policy makers have good reason to want to probe the sorts of opinions that the venerable political scientist V.O. Key once termed latent, those likely to be stirred up should the legislation become law or the focus of a future election campaign. Pollsters can attempt to simulate such hypothetical attitudes in a telephone survey, but the results will be very sensitive to the words they use and, more importantly, to the assumptions they make about the competing arguments voters may eventually hear."(italics added)

So far, I agree with everything Blumenthal says. Note especially the words in italics, which emphasize both that pollsters can "attempt" to simulate hypothetical attitudes, and that such results are sensitive to question wording.

But then Blumenthal argues that "It is possible to anticipate how public opinion on a topic like cap-and-trade may evolve, but proceed with caution." (italics added) Unfortunately, the assertion in italics lacks supporting evidence. In fact, the efforts to predict public opinion on complex issues are more likely to generate wildly conflicting polling results, such as polls on support and opposition for a bailout, or the "card check" (EFCA) bill. The reason: As Blumenthal cautions - because polling results in such situations are highly dependent on question wording and context.

More distressing, however, is Blumenthal's advice to "proceed" - even with caution - which implies 1) that pollsters recognize they are measuring "latent" opinion and 2) they are willing to admit as much to the public. But that is not the case.

It's important to remember that "latent" opinion is not "current" opinion. It is hypothetical, speculative, inconclusive - i.e., it is a concept about what opinion might emerge, depending on the varied ways in which the issue is covered in the press. It would be disingenuous for pollsters to (as Blumenthal says above) "attempt to simulate such hypothetical attitudes" using only one method (question wording) and then declare that the results represent current public opinion. Yet, that is exactly what media pollsters do.

Pollsters do not say they are "simulating hypothetical attitudes." Instead, recognizing that many people may not know anything about the issue (which Pew in fact acknowledges), pollsters feed their respondents information, used forced-choice questions to extract an immediate reaction, and then announce the results as though they represent what the public is currently thinking.

CNN announced its hypothetical results by saying - "CNN Poll: 6 in 10 back 'cap and trade'." Pew was no less assertive in presenting its hypothetical results, saying that "the survey finds more support than opposition for a policy to set limits on carbon emissions." Its sub-headline was also quite definite: "Modest Support for 'Cap and Trade' Policy." In no place did either polling organization admit that these results were based on "simulating hypothetical attitudes."

It's important to keep in mind that once respondents are fed information in the context of a survey, they no longer represent the larger population from which they were drawn - because the rest of the public has not been given the exact same information at the exact same time. Objective questions can often be asked of sample respondents without fatally tainting the sample, but giving respondents extra information about an issue cannot avoid contamination. Such a process inevitably means that, at best, pollsters are trying to simulate what public opinion might emerge. But they don't present their results with such a warning label.

So, it seems to be a red herring to justify polls on complex issues, such as 'cap and trade', by suggesting that policy makers may want to probe "latent" public opinion. Yes, perhaps they do. But that's not what the media pollsters admit to doing.

As Blumenthal writes in a previous post, "If subtle changes in wording can produce such different results, then we can assume that many respondents are forming opinions on the spot rather than sharing pre-existing views on the actual legislation. 'Public opinion' in this sense isn't so much 'fluid' (a favorite pollster cliché) as non-existent."

Yes, indeed. Pollsters converting non-existent public opinion into the appearance of current public opinion, exactly the "manufacturing" charge that Bishop makes.

If the media pollsters want to simulate hypothetical public opinion, they should clearly label it as such, instead of presenting their results as reflective of actual (existing) public opinion. Until pollsters are more candid about the nature of their polls, I've got to side with Bishop in characterizing this kind of polling as "manufacturing opinion," which produces "misleading illusions" about the public and is ultimately a "disservice" to the Congress, the president, the press and the people.

All About Rasmussen 'Outliers'

Topics: Outliers Feature

David Freddoso recalls another pollster accused of bias in 2004.

Think Progress notes a gap in Scott Rasmussen's bio (via Sullivan)

John Fund says Democrats are shooting the messenger.

And who do Americans admire more: Glenn Beck or the pope?

US: Congress (Rasmussen 12/30)

Topics: poll

12/30/09; 1,000 likely voters, 3% margin of error
Mode: Automated phone
(Rasmussen release)


Congressional Job Rating
12% Excellent/Good, 85% Fair/Poor (chart)

Over the past year, has Congress passed any legislation that will significantly improve life in America?
20% Yes, 61% No

Over the next year, how likely is it that Congress will seriously address the most important problems facing our nation?
38% Very/Somewhat likely, 56% Not very/Not at all likely

Liberal Democrats and Obama Approval

Topics: ABC/Washington Post , Barack Obama , Gallup , Gallup Daily , Liberals , National Journal column , poll , Progressives

Does Barack Obama have a liberal revolt on his hands? If you read progressive blogs, you would say yes, but if you talk to a representative sample of Americans who describe themselves as liberal and identify as Democrats, as the Gallup does on a daily basis, you come to a very different conclusion. See all the details in my weekly column.

Special thanks for Jeff Jones of Gallup and Jenn Agiesta and Jon Cohen of the Washington Post for providing additional data cited in the column. Also, note that the chart is the column is based on data that Gallup publishes in spreadsheet form so you can create your own charts galore (located on a standard web page showing data for the last few weeks). We all owe Gallup a big "thank you" for that.

MA: Coakley 50 Brown 41 (Rasmussen 1/4)

Topics: poll

1/4/10; 500 likely voters, 4.5% margin of error
Mode: Automated phone
(Rasmussen release)


2010 Senate (trends)
50% Martha Coakley, 41% Scott Brown

Favorable / Unfavorable
Brown: 58 / 25
Coakley: 60 / 35

Job Approval / Disapproval
Pres. Obama: 57 / 42
Gov. Patrick: 41 / 57

Assessing the 2010 House elections

Topics: 2010 , House of Representatives

Tom Edsall quoted me in a Huffington Post article today on the 2010 elections:

There are, however, a number of factors that suggest 2010 will be quite different from the Democratic rout of 1994 -- the so-called Gingrich Revolution. "First, 1994 was the culmination of the South moving into the Republican column; there's no equivalent regional shift trending against Democrats in this cycle. Second, the GOP brand is still in terrible shape relative to 1993-1994," says Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist at the University of Michigan.

For more, see this post on the 1994/2010 comparison from September. The statement about the Republican brand is a reference to this post, which shows that the GOP's net favorables in August 2009 were the worst since 1993 for an opposition party in the first year after a presidential election.

My assessment is roughly in line with the other political scientists Edsall quoted, Charles Franklin of the University of Wisconsin and Pollster.com and Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia:

"I'd say a loss of 20-30 seats, but not yet in the high 30s to make change of control a probable outcome," says University of Wisconsin political scientist Charles Franklin, who bases his prediction on historical precedents. "Presidential support needs to be in the low 40s to predict a very large loss of seats, based on post WWII data. Also, the GDP [Gross Domestic Product] per capita should be in decline or very small gains. At the latest revision of 2.2% in the third quarter, we are low but not as low as in worst midterms for parties."

The economy remains the crucial unknown: "If GDP grows at a three percent or so rate through the election, I think approval will turn up into the 50s, and that probably leads to Republican gains of 15 to 20 seats, which historically wouldn't be bad for the Democrats," Franklin says. If GDP begins to decline, "then approval will fall more and Democrats could be looking at 30-plus lost seats -- still a stretch for Republicans to gain control, but not out of reach."

..."There are several differences with 1993," says the University of Virginia's Larry Sabato. "First, Democrats then didn't believe it was possible for them to lose the House; now they know better and are more cautious." In addition, he says, there have been fewer retirements this year; the Democratic base after Obama's 53 percent win is stronger than it was when Clinton only won a 43 percent plurality in 1992; and the public image of the GOP was much better in the early 1990s than it is now.

For context, here's a lightly edited version of what I sent to Edsall:

As far as the House, I've seen nothing that would dramatically change what I wrote back in September. The Democrats will almost surely lose a significant number of seats, but at this point I still expect them to narrowly retain their majority. Also, there are two important differences between 2010 and 1994. First, 1994 was the culmination of the South moving into the Republican column; there's no equivalent regional shift trending against Democrats in this cycle. Second, the GOP brand is still in terrible shape relative to 1993-1994.

In terms of Obama's coalition, I don't think the decline so far has been especially dramatic (at least relative to my expectations). He started off with honeymoon levels of approval we haven't seen in some time, but now he's reverting toward where Reagan and Clinton were at this point in their term. We shouldn't have expected anything different -- Republicans and GOP-leaning independents were going to revert to disapproval of him as soon as he did anything controversial. Also, we expect him to (a) suffer from the poor economy (b) face a public that trends toward a preference for less government during a period of unified Democratic control and (c) lose seats in his first midterm like most recent presidents. Given all of those factors, I think he's in pretty good shape.

In related news, the Intrade futures market currently estimates the probability of the Democrats retaining control of the House at 66.5%: Price for 2010 US House of Representatives Control at intrade.com

(Cross-posted to brendan-nyhan.com)

About That HC Spending & Outcomes Chart

Topics: Andrew Gelman , Charts , Health Care Reform , National Geographic

Since I posted the National Geographic chart on global health spending and outcomes and included a link to commentary by Andrew Gelman that I characterized as "approving" of the chart, it's only fair to give equal space to an improved version that Gelman posted and explained late last week.

Here is the original version from National Geographic:


Here is Gelman's scatterplot:


And here is is explanation of why he considers the first one "somewhat misleading" (as noted this morning on FiveThirtyEight):

What the scatterplot really made me realize was the arbitrariness of the scaling of the parallel coordinate plot. In particular, the posted [National Geographic] graph gives a sense of convergence, that spending is all over the map but all countries have pretty much the same life expectancy--look at the way the lines converge to a narrow zone as you follow the lines from the left to the right of the plot.

Actually, though, once you remove the U.S., there's a strong correlation between spending and life expectancy, and this is super-clear from the scatterplot.

Of course, the key words above are "once you remove the U.S."  The point of the original graphic, as explained by the NGM blog, is that the exceptionally high per-person health care spending is not translating into greater life expectancy as compared to "most other developed nations and many developing ones." 

Careful What You Wish For 'Outliers'

Topics: Outliers Feature

Democrats accuse Rasmussen of releasing biased polls; Silver, Kristol and Pollowitz respond.

Steve Singiser reviews trends from a year's worth of weekly polls.

Chris Bowers examines the myths and realities of the turnout gap.

The Star Tribune warns Michelle Bachman on the risks of Census bashing (via Smith).

US: Health Care (Rasmussen 1/3)

Topics: poll

1/3/09; 1,000 likely voters, 3% margin of error
Mode: Automated phone
(Rasmussen release)


Generally speaking, do you strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose or strongly oppose the health care reform plan proposed by President Obama and the congressional Democrats?
42% Strongly/Somewhat Favor, 51% Strongly/Somewhat Oppose

NH: 2010 Sen (ARG 12/26-29)

Topics: poll

American Research Group
12/26-29/09; 566 registered voters, 4.1% margin of error
Mode: Live telephone interviews
(ARG release)

New Hampshire

2010 Senate (trends)
43% Kelly Ayotte (R), 36% Paul Hodes (D) (chart)
37% Ovide Lamontagne (R), 31% Paul Hodes (D)

AK: Palin (Hays 11/20-21)

Topics: poll

Hays Research Group
11/20-21/09; 400 adults, 4.9% margin of error
Mode: Live telephone interviews
(Anchorage Daily News story)


Positive / Negative
Sarah Palin: 55 / 33
Sean Parnell: 72 / 13