Articles and Analysis


Karl Rove's Math

Topics: 2006 , The 2006 Race

Alert reader GS and AAPOR colleague CP alerted me to an intriguing (and somewhat contentious) NPR interview of chief Republican strategist Karl Rove conducted last Tuesday by correspondent Robert Siegel. Whatever one might think about Rove's spin, his comments remind us that for all the data we have gathered here on Pollster.com, the party strategists have their own flow of data that remains hidden from public view.

According to the transcript, the interview kicks off with Rove, "responding to a question about public polls and analysis predicting a Republican loss in November:"

KARL ROVE: I see several things; first, unlike the general public, I'm allowed to see the polls on the individual races and after all this does come down to individual contests between individual candidates. Second of all, I see the individual spending reports and contribution reports. For example at the end of August in 30 of the most competitive races in the country, the house races, the Republicans had 33 million cash on hand and Democrats had just over 14 million.

Siegel asked next about television advertising and their content. Then he came back to the topic of polls.

SIEGEL: We are in the home stretch though and many would consider you on the optimistic end of realism about...

ROVE: Not that you would be exhibiting a bias or anything like that, you're just making a comment, right?

SIEGEL: I'm looking at all the same polls that you are looking at.

ROVE: No, you are not, no you're not, no you're not, you're not. I'm looking at 68 polls a week [for candidates for the US House and US Senate, and Governor.]** You may be looking at 4 or 5 public polls a week that talk about attitudes nationally but that do not impact the outcome of individual races.

SIEGEL: If you could name races between, certainly Senate races, all...

ROVE: Like the poll today that showing Corker's ahead in Tennessee or the poll showing Allen is pulling away in the Virginia Senate race.

SIEGEL: Leading Webb, in Virginia, yea...

ROVE: Yeah, exactly.

SIEGEL: ...you've seen the DeWine race and the Santorum race and, I don't want to...you call [the] races.

ROVE: I'm looking at all of these Robert and adding them up. I add up to a Republican Senate and Republican House. You may end up with a different math but you are entitled to your math and I'm entitled to THE math.

SIEGEL: I don't know if we're entitled to a different math but your...

ROVE: I said THE math.

Now whatever one thinks of Rove's spin -- and I'm certainly dubious, at least with respect to the House -- he is probably not exaggerating the number of polls he sees a week in statewide and congressional races. The Republican campaign committees are likely conducting weekly tracking polls in at least a dozen competitive Senate races and 30 or more House contests. They have also probably fielded survey less frequently over the last month in another 40 to 50 less competitive House races to check their status. On top of that, many individual campaigns are sharing their own internal tracking polls privately with Rove and their national party.

The Democratic campaigns and the Democratic campaign committees have a similar research programs underway (and interests disclosed: my partners at Bennett, Petts & Blumenthal conduct some of the internal tracking polls for the DCCC and DSCC).

If you wanted to build the a true "dream" polling scorecard for the House, you would combine Rove's spreadsheet with the counterpart maintained by Rahm Emmanuel at the DCCC. The numbers in that combined scorecard spreadsheet would represent the collective efforts of the most pollsters with by far the most experience measuring preferences at the Congressional District level.

We cannot see that data, unfortunately, but we might be able to judge Rove's spin by the number of partisan polls that have been publicly released by the campaigns and party committees. Of the polls in our House database, 43 of the partisan polls released since Labor Day came from Democrats, only 11 from Republicans.

I am not giving away any trade secrets in pointing out that campaigns and party committees release internal polls only when they show good news for their candidates. Bad news rarely sees the light of day. If Rove's internal polls really add up to a "Republican House," it is hard to imagine we would not see more Republican polls showing it.

**I revised the "rush transcript" posted on NPR.org (also characterized as "transcribed excerpts") to include the discussion between Siegel and Rove on the races in Virginia, Tennessee, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The transcript omits that exchange and instead substitutes the phrase in brackets.

Correction: The original version of this post incorrectly reported the number of partisan polls released since Labor Day in our database as 47 from Democrats and 12 from Republicans. Apologies for the error.


Gold Star for Robot Boy:

Occam's Razor: Rove is bluffing/lying.



Hellow to the P.com team,

First, thanks to all of you. You must be very tired at this point, so just a word to say how much we appreciate it.

Second, Mark's post reminded me of an article in either the WP or the NYT in early to mid-October in which a Republican operative was anonymously quoted as saying that they spend and spend, but the numbers weren't moving. Now, that was at the height of Foley hysteria, that hysteria has been replaced by a very bad stream of news from Iraq, so I'm assuming not much has changed.

Third, as if you folks aren't exahusted enough, it would be interesting to take October House polls (only) and show the average for the Republican incumbents and undecided for the X most competitive races. I'm guessing the incumbent average is still well below 50 and undecideds still around 10. I'll leave it to Mark and Charles to tell us what this would mean, but I don't think it can be good for incumbents.

Finally, my own anecdotal evidence from the field (nearby competitive races) suggests to me that this is not a "wave" election --it is close to an insurgent election. Could be some surprises on November 7 even beyond the commonly quoted red-to-blue districts.



The Democrats have a great chance of winning back the House and Senate if we get people to the polls to Vote. The polls do not take in to account voter turnout. I am calling November 7th "Touchdown Tuesday" because the Democrats need 6 wins (you get 6 points when you score a Touchdown in football)to win back control of the U.S. Senate. We might even kick the extra point and win 7 seats, but every single person who reads this who is going to vote Democrat must get to the polls AND VOTE! Check out my weight training website: www.bigguysgym.com and VOTE DEMOCRAT ON NOVEMBER 7TH!


pol junkie:

What came across very loud was Rove's dismissive attitude toward Siegal and NPR. He didn't want to have to deal with the "enemy camp" that is non-believers who would challenge his logic. I agree with your comment that if the Republicans had some winning numbers in their private polls why aren't they touting them. Rove is quite the spinmeister and he had a microphone in his face so I didn't expect anything from him except more spin.



To echo what Dan just said, it would be nice to at least have the option seeing only polls in house races from October on...that gives a better sense I think, and maybe a filter to take out internal polls

honestly though, does throwing in a poll from early september that is way out of whack with current Oct 29th polling really make for an accurate map?

I think you guys should either throw out the september polls or make an option that you can filter them out

BTW, besides my bitching and moaning, this site is amazing and beautiful



During the 1997 General Election here in the UK, Tory campaign chiefs and leading spokesmen were constantly saying that their own private polling was showing that it was a much closer race that the national polls being published by the media.

All the talk was of a 30/40 seat Tory majority.

Result - A Labour majority of over ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY!!! (My celebration hangover lasted a week!)

When confronted with the obvious statistical contradiction, Deputy PM Michael Heseltine 'fessed up that you have to keep a positive spin on things to keep morale amongst your campaign workers and supporters up.

Rove is whistling in the dark - and it's out of tune whistling.



I am shocked. George Bush has said repeatedly that he doesn't worry about polls. He routinely mocks those who would suggest that polls show he is out of step with the American people.

And yet his top political advisor is reading 68 polls a week? I'm sure that's not possible.



Seems pretty obvious to me that Rove is full of it and is relying on the well-honed Republican skill of making brash, wild assertions that fly in the face of reality, on the (usually correct) assumption that the Media won't bother to correct them and ordinary folks won't dig into it any deeper than seeing a headline on CNN. Isn't this the kind of thing that Rove is famous for?

I mean, what is he talking about? He claims that the general public only has access to 4 or 5 polls which only deal with general, national attitudes, nothing about specific races. Huh?!?! I guess he's never seen this website. Anyone who's interested in this stuff is practically drowning in poll numbers at this point, from many different sources and on many different races. But that doesn't stop this clown from pretending that he's the only one in the US who's allowed to see the REAL numbers. It really is a pitiful spectacle.



While Rove is obviously privy to information that the general public is not, his comments are also reminiscent of the overall Bush team approach: we know secrets you don't, so just trust us. Whether it's secret intelligence on Iraq, secret evidence in trials, secret interrogation techniques, or secret polls, they seem assured that they know best, and that we should just sit quietly and trust them. I hope that the election results this November tell them otherwise!



While Rove is obviously privy to information that the general public is not, his comments are also reminiscent of the overall Bush team approach: we know secrets you don't, so just trust us. Whether it's secret intelligence on Iraq, secret evidence in trials, secret interrogation techniques, or secret polls, they seem assured that they know best, and that we should just sit quietly and trust them. I hope that the election results this November tell them otherwise!



Before making my main comment, I wanted to tell you that I've really enjoyed this site. It is detailed and objective.

Rove's comments struck me as classic spin doctoring. I agree with Mr. Blumenthal that if Rove had the data he implies he has, the Republicans would be leaking it like crazy to blunt the Democratic bandwagon effect.

My best guess is that the Republicans will keep the Senate but lose more House seats than generally expected. I have a suggestion for a column: What does the 2008 Senate map look like? It seems as if there were more vulnerable Democrats this year (or at least fewer vulnerable Republicans) than normal. Am I right? Will the underlying dynamics look better for the Democrats next time, as I suspect?



I suspect the Republicans will retain control of both houses. Imo, the House by a very narrow margin. If the House switches parties it'll be by 1 or 2 votes.

The Senate map is odd since it says the keys to victory are Corker, Burns, etc. I think you may see GOP surprises in MD and NJ that counteract a possibly loss in OH and PA. Really the Senate will only shift two seats, if that (I think it'll remain virtually unchanged).

Looking at the national dynamic is a huge mistake. For instance if Bush's approval rating truely reflect the voting stances than why is Steele only trailing by 5 in Maryland when Bush barely polls 1/3 in the state? Those polls are hopeless.

Imo-- everyone hates all politicians, but they tend to like their own politicians more than the whole.



Now might be a good time to go back and re-read Ron Suskind's analysis from a few years ago of the Bush White House. This passage still startles me:

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''



"why is Steele only trailing by 5 in Maryland when Bush barely polls 1/3 in the state? Those polls are hopeless."

Well maybe it has to do with Steele's reluctance to identify himself as a republican?



Rove and the Republicans just want to try to convince the Democrats and independant voters that we don't have a chance to win so we will stay home on election day. It is a sick psychological game that they are playing. We have a great chance of winning back both the House and the Senate according to the latest polls. BUT WE HAVE TO VOTE ON NOVEMBER 7TH TO WIN! I AM ASKING EVERYONE WHO IS GOING TO VOTE DEMOCRAT TO GET TO THE POLLS AND VOTE! Check out my weight training website: www.bigguysgym.com and VOTE DEMOCRAT ON NOVEMBER 7TH!



I've pondered Karl Rove's statement that "you're entitled to your math and I'm entitled to my math" for several days now and I think I've finally figured out what he meant by that: Rove must be counting Republican votes in base 2 and Democratic votes in base 17. Speaking from experience, it is easy to make mistakes when you do your math that way.



No matter the final count in the House after the election, the House will be moved to the right. The Rs who lose in D heavy states were the most liberal and moderate Rs. Therefore the % of conservative Rs rises. The Ds who win in R heavy districts will be the most conservative and moderate Ds. So the % of conservative and moderate Ds in the House also rises. Very interesting. The D leadership is very left. This could lead to some interesting alliances. The new Ds have to worry about being voted out in 2008 if they stick with the lefties leading their party.


It would be interesting to compare the cycle over cycle releases of polling data by the campaigns: 2006 DEMs 47; GOP 12 :: 2004 ?? 2002 ??.

Are the GOP release numbers significantly higher in the other "Rove" cycles?



Fschmieg's assessment is many parts wishful thinking and dependent on Democrats behaving like Republicans when a power change occurs.

The GOP has an arrogant tendency to call any shift of power in their direction a mandate or revolution. President Bush called his re-election a mandate: it was 51-48!

The only people Pelosi's leftward politics will affect are the Rush Limbaughs and Sean Hannity's of the world. If this Congress gets turned out, it will just go from a "Do Nothing" Congress to a "Do Nothing Risky" Congress. The Dems have to keep power in the House until 2010 in order to realign the map on their terms. Don't assume that they are going to take many risks that go beyond populism.

They won't and I know that will disappoint the Fschmiegs of the world. The world is not as black and white as the Rush Limbaughs and Sean Hannitys make it out to be.



"The GOP has an arrogant tendency to call any shift of power in their direction a mandate or revolution."

That's a universal trait of politicians. Clinton won in 1992 with 43% of the vote, and it was called a "Renewal" and "Reclamation."



Of course Rove is lying out his butt. He has zero reason NOT to lie. This is his last major national campaign and it's for all the marbles.

Either he goes down as the man who drove George Bush's agenda into the dumster or a political genius who rescued Bush when it looked like nothing could do it.

At least for a few months before Iraq blows up again or another disaster happens. But, he's not thinking that far ahead.

If Republicans lose the House (and they will) then Bush is finished. He can't govern from the middle he's not constitutionally capable of it and he's totally alienated all the people he'd have to build relationships with in order to do it. After being demonized for 6 years Democrats are in no mood to compromise with him anyway and the House and Senate Republicans have played every nasty deeply personal trick they can.

At this point it's hold power or else. . . .

So what single incentive does Rove have to tell the truth about anything? He's spinning like a top.


First, Prof. Schmieg is correct that most of the Democrats running against the most endangered Republicans, particularly in the midwest, west, and south, are running as moderate-conservatives. Heath Shuler in NC-11, for instance, refuses to publicly commit to voting for Pelosi as Speaker.

Of course, he couldn't call his own plays on the football field, why assume he would in Congress?

Rove certainly could be spinning the results, although in his position one might expect he would be privately laying the ground with reporters as to how it was someone else's fault, so as to preserve his reputation for future employment opportunities. His track record, though, speaks for itself. In the past, he's been better than the public polls, the press, the pundits, and the opposition.



"After being demonized for 6 years Democrats are in no mood to compromise with him"

Demonization is a two-way street.



A question: Would there be any reason that the GOP might in fact hold back on the details of favorable polls (other than to indicate they exist) in order to sucker the Dems into complacency? Is there any precedent for that strategy?



Interesting comment from Fschmeig that the Congress will tilt more conservative if the Democrats win back many seats. By that logic, the Congress has been more liberal the last few years with more moderates on the Republican side and the Democrats pushed more to the left. Funny that I hadn't noticed the Republicans were acting all that moderately.

If the Congress replaces 30 Republicans with 30 Democrats, the House as a whole becomes more liberal. The Democratis caucus of course becomes relatively more moderate or conservative but the new representatives will have low seniority and the leadership can determine the agenda. However, since the Democrats tend not to be as brutally effective as the Republicans at enforcing party discipline, I think they're less likely to swing far to the left.



Very late addition to this discussion but it may be worth something.

What everyone seems to be taking as a given here is that with Karl Rove we are dealing with a master strategist or a craven manipulator. I think folks overlook that Rove is a direct marketer by training.

What a lot of direct marketers will tell you is that everything they do is a poll or election and that they use the results in future campaigns.

I believe Rove when he says he sees all the data (okay, he said polls) and I believe that there is THE math. And it's the same math we'd use in analyzing a poll. But I'm betting there are a lot more data points in play.

This is all just a guess based on my experience. But I've conducted a lot of surveys and run hundreds (maybe thousands) of tests over the years. And every time you marry randomly sampled opinion data with behavioral, demographic or lifestyle data (which can be purchased on the open market)you see significant (in the statistical, financial AND commonly understood sense of the word) improvements in results.

One of the reasons I do what I do is that it keeps me honest and I've learned not to bet against a man with a model--much less one he's been tweaking for decades.


Whether tragic events touch your family personally or are brought into your home via newspapers and television, you can help children cope with the anxiety that violence, death, and disasters can cause.

Listening and talking to children about their concerns can reassure them that they will be safe. Start by encouraging them to discuss how they have been affected by what is happening around them. Even young children may have specific questions about tragedies. Children react to stress at their own developmental level.

The Caring for Every Child's Mental Health Campaign offers these pointers for parents and other caregivers:

* Encourage children to ask questions. Listen to what they say. Provide comfort and assurance that address their specific fears. It's okay to admit you can't answer all of their questions.
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* Find out what frightens them. Encourage your children to talk about fears they may have. They may worry that someone will harm them at school or that someone will try to hurt you.
* Focus on the positive. Reinforce the fact that most people are kind and caring. Remind your child of the heroic actions taken by ordinary people to help victims of tragedy.
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* Develop a plan. Establish a family emergency plan for the future, such as a meeting place where everyone should gather if something unexpected happens in your family or neighborhood. It can help you and your children feel safer.

If you are concerned about your child's reaction to stress or trauma, call your physician or a community mental health center.


Mike Nutt:

i hope they don't teach karl rove's math in schools.



Well, there you have it,"our" math did away with "THE" math, and wow! It definitely does look like an Insurgent vote, I mean c'mon I expected some good wins at least in the senate, But this is great! the people ARE definitely fed up! and beleive me, the rest of the World can breathe a little easy too!

Congrats to you all:

The Compa


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