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Al Gore - Ahead in Michigan?

Topics: 2008 , Measurement , The 2008 Race

Here's another item from last week worth a second look: Is Al Gore really leading in Michigan?

When we linked to the latest Michigan survey from EPIC/MRA last week, we followed the lead of the Detroit News story and gave emphasis to the trial heat questions that included non-candidates Al Gore among the Democrats and Newt Gingrich and (non "announced" candidate) Fred Thompson among Republicans. The results had some Pollster readers scratching their heads, as the Democratic question showed that Gore "would top the Democratic slate" (with 36% to Hillary Clinton's 32%) and showed Gingrich receiving the support of 15% of Republicans.

"These results are pretty weird," wrote Pollster commenter Chris S., "when compared against other MI polls, and other state polls around the country." Chris has a point. When pollsters include Gore on the list of choices of national and statewide polls, he typically receives support in the high single digits to mid teens. Thirty-six percent is certainly high by comparison.

It turns out that EPIC/MRA asked their trial heat questions a bit differently, and that difference most likely explains the odd result. Virtually all of the other pollsters that include non-candidates like Gore, Gingrich and (technically) Fred Thompson start with a trial-heat question that includes all possible candidates and then ask respondents for their "second choice." They can then re-allocate the second choices of Gore supporters to calculate a "vote without Gore."

EPIC/MRA, on the other hand, did things differently. For each party, they first asked voters to choose from the "announced candidates" for president and then presented a choice from what they described as an "expanded list" of candidates.

08-23%20mi%20epic%20mra.png

That their approach showed greater support for Gore is not surprising. Presumably, many of Gore's potential backers take him at his word when he says he has no plans to run and tend to choose other candidates. However, Gore does much better when a pollster plays "what if" and says, in essence, "imagine that Al Gore decides to run."

That is one reason why -- despite considerable internal debate -- we have chosen to use the first question that pollsters ask on our charts, rather than relatively hypothetical follow-up questions based on second choice or compressed lists of candidates. For what it's worth, we are doing some work behind the scenes here at Pollster to allow readers more choices (such as charts based only on votes without non-candidates like Gore and Gingrich).

One of our fears is that as soon as we launch such a capability, pollsters will finally decide to stop asking about non-candidates. I generally agree with those who ask here, again and again, "why are pollsters asking about Gore?" Regardless of the way pollsters ask the vote question, the "support" measured for Gore will be hypothetical and artificial. So why bother at all unless he decides to run?

This result does help demonstrate something useful, however, which has less to do with Gore than with the current support for the frontrunner Hillary Clinton. Just how real (or solid) is her support, at least among Michigan Democrats? The fact that preference for Clinton drops from 45% to 32% with Gore's name included, suggests that many of her supporters remain open to an alternative. Less clear, of course, is whether any of the actual candidates (Obama, Edwards or any of the others) can replicate Gore's apparent appeal among Michigan Democrats (as support for the others also drops with Gore included). But the fact that the simple addition of Gore's name to the list of choices shakes up current preferences to this degree tells us that the vote preferences we are watching are still tentative, and the Democratic race is still a long way from over.

 

Comments

You state: "The fact that preference for Clinton drops from 45% to 32% with Gore's name included, suggests that many of her supporters remain open to an alternative."

I think it would be more accurate to point out that Clinton was less affected by the Gore question than the other candidates which suggests to me that her support may in fact be more solid than the rest of the democratic field. Clinton's numbers dropped by 29% when the Gore question was asked. Compare that to a 38% drop for Obama, a 50% drop for Edwards, a 67% drop for Biden, a 50% drop for Richardson, and a 50% drop for Kucinich. It seems to me that Clintons support is pretty solid in comparison.

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Jeff:

I'd love to see some more creative use of polling in this manner. For one, it's not always clear what's being measured in these early polls. Is it actual likelihood of voting, or merely name recognition? Second, the polls themselves become a principle data point for many people about the candidates. Since they don't know anything about them except how likely they are to win, this becomes a major (the major) factor when people are polled. The inevitability of a Richardson loss (as one example) - evidenced by polls - becomes his doom, never mind that the the low poll numbers may well only be reflecting name recognition.

Asking a careful follow-up or two can not only reveal what the numbers are measuring, but may also signal to other voters that the "inevitability" factor is a fiction.

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