Do you favor or oppose the U.S. war in Iraq?
34% Favor, 65% Oppose
All in all, do you think the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over, or not?
37% Worth it, 62% Not worth it
As you know, all U.S. combat troops have been removed from Iraq but 50,000 troops will remain in
a non-combat role until next year. Which of the following statements comes closest to your view:
28% This was the right time for the U.S. to remove its combat troops
40% The U.S. should have removed combat troops before now
25% The U.S. should remove combat troops at a future date, but keep them in Iraq now
6% The U.S. should keep combat troops in Iraq permanently
Based on what you have heard or read about the events in Iraq over the past few weeks, do you
think that for all intents and purposes, the war in Iraq is over, or not? Would you describe the war in Iraq as a victory for the U.S., a defeat for the U.S., or
something in between?
4% Over, victory
1% Over, defeat
15% Over, in between
80% Not over
On Saturday, political scientists at the American Political Science Association conference in Washington, D.C. will debut their models for predicting results in the House of Representatives. In this article, I put forth my own model that translates Gallup's final generic ballot result into seats. While the generic ballot has generally not been fantastic at forecasting House outcomes, Gallup's final likely voter generic ballot poll has proven itself to be a great predictor in midterm elections.
In 2002, Alan Abramowitz created a model based off of Gallup's final likely voter poll in every midterm election since 1950. What I have done here is recreate that model and included 2002 and 2006 data. Abramowitz's model estimates the amount of seats the Republican party will gain by how many seats they won in the prior Congressional election, the party in the White House, and the Republican lead (or deficit) on the final generic ballot. I have also added my own variable: whether the party in the White House has been in power for more than one term. It is important to keep in mind that this model is based off only 14 elections and the final Gallup likely voter poll (before then Gallup's polls can be bouncy). If past trends hold, the model will do very well at predicting the 2010 final House seat count.
This simple model is quite robust and explains a little over 97% of the variation in the amount of seats won by Republicans in midterm elections from 1950-2006. In addition to gaining more seats when they do better on the generic ballot, Republicans are also more likely to perform well when Democrats control the White House, and the party in the White House has been there for more than a term. In 12 of the 14 elections*, the regression's error is 5 seats or less. The model's error is never greater than 9 seats for any of the 14 elections.
So what type of lead do Republicans need on Gallup's final likely generic ballot to take back the House? Amazingly, they only need to be leading by 3% to be slated to garner 218 seats and win a majority by the slimmest of margins. If Republicans have a 6% lead, an error in estimate larger than this model has ever seen would be needed for Republicans not to gain back the House. A likely voter lead of 10% like Republicans had on Monday with registered voters, not likely voters who Republicans will do better among, translates into a cosmic 240 seats.
Other possible generic ballot margins to seat translations are
When Gallup makes the transition to a likely voter model, we will have a very good idea which party is destined to control the House chamber. Considering the current Republican position on the registered voter ballot, and how that has historically translated to the likely voter model, the Republicans look to be in mighty good position. Of course, November is still two months away.
*Gallup did not have a likely voter model in the fall of 1986.
More and more pundits are jumping on the Democrats/Obama-are-in-trouble-due-to-bad-messaging bandwagon (for recent examples, see here, here, here, and here). What we're observing is a classic example of what you might call the tactical fallacy. Here's how it works:
1. Pundits and reporters closely observe the behavior of candidates and parties, focusing on the tactics they use rather than larger structural factors.
2. The candidates whose tactics appear to be successful tend to win; conversely, those whose tactics appear to be unsuccessful tend to lose (and likewise with parties).
3. The media concludes that candidates won or lost because of their tactical choices.
The problem is that any reasonable political tactic chosen by professionals will tend to resonate in favorable political environments and fall flat in unfavorable political environments (compare Bush in '02 to Bush '06, or Obama in '08 to Obama in '09-'10). But that doesn't mean the candidates are succeeding or failing because of the tactics they are using. While strategy certainly can matter on the margin in individual races, aggregate congressional and presidential election outcomes are largely driven by structural factors (the state of the economy, the number of seats held by the president's party, whether it's a midterm or presidential election year, etc.). Tactical success often is a reflection of those structural factors rather than an independent cause.
What advocates of the tactical view have failed to do is provide a viable counterfactual -- where is the example of the president whose messaging succeeded despite a similarly poor economy? TNR's John Judis has tried to argue that Reagan was more successful than Obama in 1981-1982 (here and here), but as I have pointed out (here and here), the 1982 election results do not suggest Republicans significantly overperformed and Reagan's approval ratings (both on the economy and overall) were extremely similar to Obama's at the same point in their presidencies.
The reality is that Obama's current standing -- and the rush to blame it on tactical failures -- could be predicted months ago based on structural factors. His approval ratings largely reflect a poor economy. Similarly, Democrats were likely to suffer significant losses in the House no matter what due to the number of seats they currently hold and the fact that it is a midterm election. Nonetheless, expect the tactics-are-everything crowd to be saying "I told you so" on November 3.*
* Bonus prediction: If the economy rebounds before 2012, the media will rediscover the tactical genius of Obama and David Axelrod.
The Gallup generic ballot has provided plenty of fodder with election analysts this summer. No clearer was the importance of the Gallup generic ballot to the news cycle than it was on Monday when Gallup showed a 10% Republican advantage. As noted, a 10% Republican lead on Gallup's generic ballot is unprecedented, and it will likely get worse once Gallup switches over to a likely voter model. Congressmen and political analysts alike have mentioned that Republicans could possibly do 4% better on a likely voter model. Upon further examination, however, I think it could be worse for Democrats. Why? History.
Gallup has a relatively famous likely voter model that has been in place since 1950. Therefore, we can compare past differences in the generic ballot between registered and likely voter models to give us an idea of how different they will be this year. Below, I have gathered the relevant Gallup data from every final midterm poll since 1994 and contrasted the registered and likely voter model. I have also placed the difference in net enthusiasm (percentage of voters saying they are more enthusiastic about voting and less enthusiastic) between Republicans and Democrats in the table. You should notice two important pieces of data.
First, Republicans have for the past four midterms always done better on the final Gallup likely voter poll than registered voter poll by at least 4%. This deviation is to be expected as midterm electorates tend to be older and whiter than presidential year ones.
Second, the gap between the likely and registered models benefited Republicans greatest in years where they had large leads in enthusiasm. In both 1994 and 2002 (where Republicans held at least a 8%+ edge in Gallup's final measure of enthusiasm), the Republicans margin was 7% and 11% higher respectively on the likely voter model. In 1998 and 2002 when Democrats had a lead in enthusiasm, they "only" picked up 5% and 4%. The Republicans edge on net enthusiasm was 28% a month ago, which means that voters this year are even more enthusiastic than in 1994 or 2002. So what does that mean for the registered to likely voter transition for this year?
It is important to keep in mind that the correlation between enthusiasm and differences between the registered and likely voter model has only been about 68% (not statistically significant at 95% confidence). Still, there seems to be some relationship. And keeping this connection in mind, the general Republican advantage on the likely voter model, and the large Republican lead in net enthusiasm this year, I believe that it is quite possible that at least on the final Gallup generic ballot (prioronesmay differ) the Republican margin on the likely voter model could be 5-10% greater than on the registered voter model.
Is the latest Newsweek poll "fishy?" As we reported yesterday, their latest sample of registered voters split evenly on the question of whether they plan to vote for a Democrat or a Republican for Congress this year. Over the weekend, Todd Eberly, an assistant professor of political science at St. Mary's College of Maryland, argued that the poll seemed "fishy" and "cooked." Jim Geraghty gave Eberly's post a plug on National Review Online and, as a result, commenters on my report on Pollster.com have been howlingwithoutrage that we gave any credence to a "dishonestly weighted" poll.
As I noted yesterday, the Newsweek poll did produce a result on the more positive end of the bell curve for Democrats. Make no mistake: A simple average of recent polls (including Newsweek) shows a roughly five-point Republican advantage on the so-called generic House ballot -- a result that points to Republicans winning 50 or more seats and with it, control of the House. Moreover, the trend is moving in the Republican direction. So no one should interpret anything that follows as evidence that "all is well" for the Democrats.
If Eberly had confined his criticism to Newsweek's headline and story, which focused only on the Newsweek poll and thus concluded that Democrats "may not be headed for a bloodbath," I would be sympathetic. But Eberly goes much farther and alleges that the data are "fishy," that "someone at Newsweek cooked the books and hoped we wouldn't notice."
On that score Eberly has his math -- and the facts -- flat wrong.
The crux of his argument -- the evidence that he oddly alleges the Newsweek pollsters hoped we wouldn't notice -- appears at the very top of the "complete poll results" document produced by Newsweek's polling firm, Princeton Survey Research Associates (PSRA; interests disclosed: PSRA CEO Evans Witt is a neighbor and friend). Because they provide results for the entire survey tabulated by party identification, PSRA also discloses the unweighted sample sizes for all the party subgroups, Democrats (280 registered voters), Republicans (284) and independents (247) as well as the total of all registered voters interviewed (856).
Eberly finds that partisan mix inconsistent with the results that Newsweek reports for the generic ballot. "[I]t is mathematically impossible," he writes "for Democrats and Republicans to be tied at 45%" given that party breakdown.
Well of course it is. The party breakdown is unweighted. PSRA also discloses, on the same front page of their questionnaire, that their data are "weighted so that sample demographics match Census Current Population Survey parameters for gender, age, education, race, region, and population density."
Now in fairness, PSRA's report does not explicitly say that the subgroup sample sizes are unweighted -- an omission which often leads to this sort of confusion -- but they do provide weighted results for party identification at the end of their report. Among registered voters the weighted result is 32% Republican, 35% Democrat, 29% independent and the rest volunteering that they have no party (5%), are a member of another party (1%) or are unsure (3%).
"Now it's possible," Eberly concludes, "that after weighting for gender, age, education, race, region, and population density the partisan ID of the sample would change."
Yes. It's also likely. Any national pollster will tell you that weighting a sample of adults to match census statistics will typically make the sample a few points more Democratic. The four-point shift seen on this survey is slightly bigger than usual, but that's the way random variation works.
Newsweek does not weight it polls by by party. They weight their adult samples demographically and then, in this case, report on the results among registered voters. Most national media pollsters use the same procedure. A simple Google search on "weighting by party ID" will quickly yield a full explanation and more.
But Eberly is having none of that. His smoking gun? When he enters Newsweek's results-by-party ballot into a spreadsheet, and plugs in the "reported [party] breakdown" (36% Democrat, 32% Republican), he can't reproduce the 45% to 45% tie on the they report on the generic House ballot. By his calculations, "the Republicans still lead by 47.4% to 42.6% -- [so] the poll is pure nonsense."
Professor Eberly? Did you notice that the the unweighted sample sizes of Democrats (280), Republicans (284) and independents (247) add to just 811, not the 856 registered voters that Newsweek reported?* Did you wonder why? Did it occur to you that your tabulations *omitted results for 45 interviews conducted among the registered voters whose answers were "other," no party or unsure and that the omission might explain why your calculations don't match what Newsweek reported?
Now there's nothing unusual about Newsweek's omission. Few public pollsters report results for subgroups of less than 100 interviews, and for good reason. The margin of error on 45 interviews would yield a margin of error of at least +/- 15%. But I asked PSRA to make an exception in this case and they kindly disclosed that the 45 other/none/unsure respondents support the Democratic candidate in their District rather than the Republican by a 40% to 29% margin. Put those numbers into a spreadsheet along with the rest of the result-by-party, apply the weighted party composition reported at the end of the questionnaire (36% Democrat, 32% Republican, 27% independent, 5% other/none/unsure), and I get a result on the generic ballot of 45.8% Democrat, 44.6% Republican. The slight difference from the 45% to 45% reported by Newsweek is likely due to the rounded numbers we plugged into the spreadsheet.
Eberly calls on Newsweek "to release fully the effects of it's weighting." I have no idea what he means, but readers should know that Newsweek discloses more about its weighted and unweighted party identification results than most pollsters. Can you point to any Rasmussen poll of registered or likely voters, for example, that discloses either its unweighted or weighted party identification breakdown?
Now again, the results of this Newsweek's poll are arguably on the optimistic end of the bell curve for Democrats, but given the reported +/-4% margin of error, the 45%-to-45% result does not differ significantly from our 45.6% Republican to 41.1% Democrat trend estimate (as of this writing) based on all available public polls.
The charge that Newsweek and PSRA intentionally "cooked the books and hoped we wouldn't notice" is nonsense. Eberly owes them a retraction and an apology.
Minnesota Public Radio / University of Minnesota
8/25-29/10; 750 likely voters, "The margin of error ranges between +/-3.6 percentage points based on the conventional calculation and +/-5.3 percentage points, which is a more cautious estimate based on professional best practices"
Mode: Live telephone interviews
Kaiser Health Tracking Poll
8/16-22/10; 1,203 adults, 3% margin of error
1,066 registered voters
Mode: Live telephone interviews
(Kaiser release, summary)
Of the issues you said would be extremely important to your vote for Congress in November, which one would you say will be MOST important? (asked of half samples)
Adults: 27% Economy and jobs, 14% Dissatisfaction with government, 12% Health care reform. 8% Budget deficit, 7% Immigration, 4% Afghanistan, 1% Energy policy, 1% Oil Spill
Registered voters: 28% Economy and jobs, 15% Dissatisfaction with government, 11% Health care reform. 9% Budget deficit, 6% Immigration, 5% Afghanistan, 1% Energy policy, 1% Oil Spill
What will make the biggest difference in how you vote for Congress in your district: specific national issues, local or state issues, the candidate's character and experience, or the direction of the nation as a whole?
Adults: 34% Direction of the country, 23% Candidate, 19% Local/State issues, 16% National issues
Registered voters: 34% Direction of the country, 23% Candidate, 19% Local/State issues, 16% National issues
As you may know, a new health reform bill was signed into law earlier this year. Given what you know about the new health reform law, do you have a generally favorable or generally unfavorable opinion of it?
43% Favorable, 45% Unfavorable (chart)
34% Democrat, 23% Republican, 34% independent (chart)
Two national polls released today and over the weekend report very different results leading to very different conclusions:
On Friday, under the headline "Democrats May Not Be Headed for Midterm Bloodbath," Newsweek reported results from a new national poll of registered voters showing Americans evenly split (45% to 45%) on the question of whether they would vote for the Democratic or Republican candidate for Congress in their district.
This afternoon, Gallup released another national survey of registered voters, also conducted last week, showing Republicans with an "unprecedented 10-point lead" (51% to 41%), the largest Republican advantage Gallup has measured in its nearly sixty years of tracking the so-called "generic ballot."
So what's going on?
Much of the gaping difference between the two polls is probably explained by the usual random variation that affects all polls. Use your mouse to poke around our interactive chart (posted below), and you will soon discover that the latest Gallup survey result is more favorable for the Republicans than most, the Newsweek poll is similarly more favorable for the Democrats and that both fall within the typical range of variation, amounting to +/- three or four points from the trend line. Our overall trend estimate based on all of the available polls gives Republicans a 5.2 percentage point advantage (46.8% to 41.6%)
We could obsess further over the consistent differences ("house effects") among pollsters, but what is far more important, is that the averages show a GOP lead that has been trending in the Republican direction all summer. That trend is consistent with the historical pattern identified here on Friday by political scientists Joe Bafumi, Bob Erikson and Chris Wlezien, the "electorate's tendency in past midterm cycles to gravitate further toward the "out" party over the election year."
Moreover, you see the same trend even if we drop all Newsweek and Gallup polls, plus all of the Internet-based surveys and automated surveys (including Rasmussen), and focus only on the remaining live-interviewer telephone surveys, as in the chart below. The margin for the Republicans is virtually identical (46.6% to 41.4%).
So while the "unprecedented 10-point lead" reported by Gallup probably exaggerates the Republican lead, any result showing a net Republican advantage on the so-called generic ballot is bad news for Democrats. Bafumi and his colleagues estimated their 50-seat gain for the Republicans assuming a two-point advantage for Republicans on the generic ballot, which they project will widen to a six-point lead by November. If the Republican lead on the generic ballot is already that wide (or close), their projection for the Democrats would worsen.
Research and Polling Inc for the Albuquerque Journal
8/23-27/10; 942 likely voters, 3% margin of error
402 likely 1st district voters, 5% margin of error
404 likely 2nd district voters, 5% margin of error
Mode: Live telephone interviews
(Albuquerque Journal: Governor, District 1, District 2)