Pollster.com

Articles and Analysis

 

Polling a Semi-Open Primary as Closed

Topics: 2008 , Barack Obama , Divergent Polls , Hillary Clinton , Likely Voters , SurveyUSA

The Columbus Dispatch released a mail-in survey of registered Democrats and Republicans in Ohio this morning. We have chosen not to include that survey in our chart for the Ohio primary because the Dispatch made the odd choice of sampling only registered Democrats and Republicans in a semi-open primary that allows non-partisan registrants to participate. We did briefly and inadvertently include the poll in our chart earlier this afternoon, but have removed it.

The Columbus Dispatch has long conducted pre-election polls by mail, but our issue with this particular survey is unrelated to its mode. The Dispatch sends out poll "ballots" to voters randomly selected from Ohio's list of registered voters. This method has been surprisingly accurate in general elections since 1980, something I wrote about approvingly in October 2004. On the other hand, the Dispatch poll produced a disastrous result on a set of ballot initiatives in 2005, owing partly to some deviations from their usual methodology, such as not replicating the exact ballot language, including an undecided option and fielding the survey a week earlier than usual.

However, in this case, the key issue is that the Dispatch sampled only registered partisans, that is, voters with some previous history of voting in primaries. Why does that matter?

Ohio has a "semi-open" primary. The state has no formal "party registration," in that voters do not choose a party when they register to vote. However, those who vote in primaries have their party affiliation recorded in the voter lists. Those who have previously voted in a primary and want to switch their party affiliation can do so by filling out a form on primary day (or when they request an absentee ballot). But those who have never voted in a primary before [and are registered to vote] -- those considered "non-partisan" by the registrar of voters -- can opt to participate in any primary simply by showing up on Election Day (for more details, see the blog post by Pollster reader Tom Fox).

As of 2006, Ohio had 7.6 million registered voters, but only 2.4 million voted in the primary election (of either party) in 2004. Slightly more, 2.5 million, voted in the Ohio primary in 2000, and the turnouts in off-year primaries are lower.

As such, the majority of Ohio's registered voters do not participate in primaries and are, therefore, registered as "non-partisan" but yet still fully eligible to participate in Tuesday's primary. The current voter file maintained by Voter Contact Services (a political list vendor) includes 7.9 million registered voters of whom 20% are "registered Democrats," 19% are registered Republicans and 60% are non-affiliated.

Keep in mind that "party registration" in Ohio is very different from the self-reported "party identification" that most surveys measure. While 60% are unaffiliated on the voter lists, a recent SurveyUSA poll of registered voters finds only 23% identifying as "independent" (while 44% identify as Democrats and 29% as Republicans).

Typically, most primary voters in Ohio have voted in primaries before. So the choice by the Dispatch to sample only those with previous primary history may have been appropriate for typical off-year primaries. The 2008 primary will be anything but typical, however, and their decision to exclude non-partisan voters from their sample is questionable.

Ohio's Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner is predicting that 52% of Ohio's registered voters will participate this week, a level that the Associated Press appropriately described as "incredibly high." They also reported that Brunner cited as as evidence the early requests for absentee ballots and the experience of other states this year.

As the Dispatch observed, if Brunner is right and this week's turnout hits 4 million, it would mean that "well more than a quarter of Ohio's 5 million-plus nonpartisan voters will vote" in the primary. That means that roughly 30% percent of the voters in the two primaries would be unaffiliated. Presumably, given the interest in the Obama-Clinton race, the percentage of non-affiliated voters in the Democratic primary would be higher.

Of course, the percentage of unaffiliated voters that turn out on Tuesday is a matter of speculation. However, since the Dispatch sample design entirely excludes this potentially critical category of voters from its sample, we are not including it in our trend chart.

 

Comments
Jon:

What that is unfair, says Hillary.


I am waiting for the cry or the emotional out burst of Bill. its now or never Hillary

____________________

Chris Cichorek:

Jon--don't be a douchenozzle

____________________

Chantal:

So Obama trails Clinton by 16% among registered Democrats, and yet this guy is going to win the Democratic nomination. Do you guys understand why registered Democrats are so upset that they are no longer the ones deciding who their party's nominee is? Does Obama even care about winning over the rest of the party, especially those working-class whites in a swing state like Ohio?

Or better yet, can someone please explain why it's okay for a pollster to think 60% of the likely democratic primary voters will be independents (such as Zogby in California), but it's not okay for a pollster to think it will be 0%? Or is this just part of the expectations game?

____________________

jack:

so b/c hills is up ....something is wrong with the poll.

____________________

G.G.:

For once, I agree with AP -- that 52% turnout prediction is difficult to imagine. Consider that Wisconsin, which has been compared on this site to Ohio, had little more than its usual 35% primary turnout -- and Wisconsin is one of the most-voting states. (A factor could have been that the weather wasn't great in Wisconsin on primary day, but it was past the worst. And predictions are for bad weather on Ohio's primary day.) Other states also have seen a great increase in early ballots without similarly extraordinary turnouts, it seems.

____________________

Jan:

DHinMi.

Dude you are not doing favor to any one stay away from the sexist talk, we need and value female voters for Sen. Obama, i would say to you DHinMi be like Obama treat woman with respect, besides comment on the poll not itself (i know... ironi)

____________________

jon:

to Chris

I am sorry I reject and denounce my past statement, i see the eror of my way.
Sen. Clinton should be respected, and i was a out of line.. sorry

____________________

Anonymous:

Chantal, if I am understanding how things work in Ohio, "Independent" voters would mostly be people who hadn't voted in a Democrat primary before. So it will be many Democrats who just have voted in a general election, people who haven't felt motivated to vote previously, and new voters. Nothing wrong with that.

Regardless, your attitude seems to be that your vote should count for more than someone else's, and that's just not right. Who cares if in another state registered Independents voted, they have just as much right to choose who they want to be president as you.

____________________

Anonymous:

Zogby released today's 3/3/08 poll, giving Obama 3 points lead over Hillary in Texas, and a 2 points lead in Ohio, this is the first poll that puts Obama in the lead in Ohio. While Obama is going to take Texas tomorrow at this point Ohio is too close to call. Hillary is not going to get the nomination.

____________________

Jan Koivisto:

We'll see if Zogby is spot on this time.

Both are within the MOE and so movement in OH may just be statistical noise, nothing meaningful.

I would be surprised if Hillary lost OH...and surprised if she won TX.

I think she'll win OH by about a similar margin she loses TX.

____________________

G.G.:

For once, I agree with AP -- that 52% turnout prediction is difficult to imagine. Consider that Wisconsin, which has been compared on this site to Ohio, had little more than its usual 35% primary turnout -- and Wisconsin is one of the most-voting states. (A factor could have been that the weather wasn't great in Wisconsin on primary day, but it was past the worst. And predictions are for bad weather on Ohio's primary day.) Other states also have seen a great increase in early ballots without similarly extraordinary turnouts, it seems.

____________________

s.b.:

Mark I'm not sure why you have taken some bloggers word as gospel, but you have to be registered to vote 30 days before this primary. You can't just show up at the polls and vote.

You can check the Ohio state web page or the democratic parties web pasge for verification of this.

____________________

Mark Blumenthal:

s.b.: I added five words -- "[and are registered to vote]" -- above to clarify my meaning. The point is that there are no barriers to participation by registered non-partisan or "no party" voters. The automatically designate a party upon voting in a primary.

____________________

s.b.:

One more thing MArk,

Isn't it more misleading to publish or link to polls for the primary nomination of Likely Voters that is polling states that have already voted??????

It is imposible for people to vote again and hence be likely voters in states that have already voted, not just unlikely, but you link to these polls all the time and cite them all the time.

____________________

Bill Clinton:

Wrong sb, you had to be registered by FEB 19, not 30 days before.....

____________________

Shawn:

Is the DHinMI on this thread the Kos frontpager or someone spoofing his name to make him look bad?

____________________

michelle:

I'm really impressed with this website, most of all, with the people who post analysis on it. The widely varying polls don't make sense to me (a layperson with no knowledge of or facility with statistics) without commentary on the sampling methodology. Let me say, on behalf of a grateful nation, "Thanks, nerds!"

Also, a question. Has bad weather more adversely affected Clinton or Obama in the past?

____________________

Expatriot:

The results of this poll show what Democrats of conviction, i.e. having been registered as a Democrat for more than five minutes before entering the voting booth, as opposed to Democrats of convenience have known for many weeks: The whole Democratic Party nominating process this year has just been a lesson in how to pimp the primaries (and caucuses).

It's actually the Democratic Party who has betrayed its base in the nominating process and provided an extraordinary opportunity for the Republicans to solidify in the middle by picking up disgruntled moderate Democrats in the general election. The Democratic Party itself is putting these voters in play.

The Republicans now have the ideal candidate to do just that. Forget Obama. The most important person in this fall's election will be the Republican choice for VP.

____________________

cinnamonape:

I must admit that accepting the Columbus Dispatch survey for the metaanalysis would give erroneous results. What it "predicts" is the registered Democratic prefences for the primary, not the results of the Democratic primary. It might serve a "purpose" when comparing the results of changes in the Democratic voters after exit polls are completed...but it does little in predicting trends in the overall voters who will elect to vote in the Democratic Primary (which allows both Independent and Republican voters).

The pollster estimates must be consistant in including samples of all groups eligible for this election and state a preference to vote in the Democratic Primary.

I believe the Marist poll also has the same flaw. Their methodology needs to be double checked.

One issue with all these polls is that they reflect percentages of votes cast. The ultimate game for the candidates is to win delegates. The Texas system of allocating delegates is a complex one, but favors Obama winning more delegates even if he is tied or a little behind in the overall statewide vote. In fact, Clinton must win many more precincts with >63% to actually score more delegates. Obama could easily balance that in Dallas-Ft. Worth, Houston and Austin (which have more delgates assessed). The Ohio vote will likely result in a split of delegates.
Obama may actually increase his delegate count in Vermont and break even in Rhode Island.

I don't see much chance for Hillary to actually gain on Obama although she could say she won a State or two (in the vote count). But even there the numbers are likely to be close and not enough to alter Obamas lead in actual votes either (which is about 1 million).

____________________

cinnamonape:

Excuse, above I referred to the Marist Poll, that should be the Suffolk College Poll. That one shows a 50%-44% Clinton lead in Ohio. But that poll appears to be sampling only Democratic "likely voters", I think?

____________________

Al, KS:

Actually, the Dems are very smart to remove as many barriers to voting as possible. Voting in a primary or caucus is the first step to voting in the general election. It gets people involved and provides "ownership" in the campaign. And if you can register the day of voting (which is not the case in OH), you obviously add more potential voters for the fall. Afterall, the party's goal is to win the fall election, not limit who votes in the primary.

____________________

FLORIDADEM:

hillary is a great republican candidate

____________________



Post a comment




Please be patient while your comment posts - sometimes it takes a minute or two. To check your comment, please wait 60 seconds and click your browser's refresh button. Note that comments with three or more hyperlinks will be held for approval.

MAP - US, AL, AK, AZ, AR, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, HI, ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, LA, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, MS, MO, MT, NE, NV, NH, NJ, NM, NY, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VT, VA, WA, WV, WI, WY, PR