Pollster.com

Articles and Analysis

 

Primary State Voters Making Up Their Minds

Topics: 2008 , The 2008 Race

1DemsDK1229.png

2RepsDK1229.png

Voters in the early primary states are making up their minds, or at least picking a candidate when pollsters call. For all that has been written about how unsettled the races in both parties have been, we are now seeing a clear decline in the rate of "don't know" answers to the vote question. Interestingly, that trend is clear in the earliest primary/caucus states, but only faintly visible if at all for the nation as a whole. This is further evidence that early state voters really do pay more attention and move to a choice sooner than the nation as a whole. Looming election days concentrate the mind apparently.

In both parties, the undecided rate has turned down the most in Iowa, to about 5% or a shade less. This is down from about 14% early in the year for Democrats and over 15% for Republicans. Even as recently as November 1, over 14% of Republicans were unable to give a candidate choice. Democrats were at about 11% undecided at that time. In both parties the undecided rate has fallen rapidly in November and December.

New Hampshire also shows some fast movement to a decision. NH Dems have been steadily decreasing their don't know rate all year from 17% in January, but it still stands around 10% across the most recent polls. NH Republicans were a bit slower to choose until the first of December. Since then we've seen a rapid decline to about 8% now.

And in South Carolina where there are fewer polls and the undecided rate has been all over the place, we are seeing evidence of more decision making since early November. That pattern has held for both parties, with Dems now at about 9% and Reps at around 10%.

Nationally there is no trend at all in Democratic undecided rates, which have held at 10% all year. For Republicans there has been a little movement nationally, down from about 15% to about 11% since late October.

Pollsters allow voters a variety of ways to say they haven't decided, so there are various ways we can measure the crystallization of preferences. One is to just use the percent who say they are "undecided", which is simple enough. But some voters, especially early on, pick options like "someone else" or "won't vote" and pollsters vary in how the report the no-preference alternatives. So I've calculated the percent who fail to choose any of the candidates the poll asks about. This is the blue "no preference" line. As it happens, these alternative measures track together pretty well, and recently any gap between them has largely vanished.

You can also see large differences across pollsters in how large an undecided rate they produce. A few national polls have zero percent undecided, while the highs at the same time are over 25% for Republicans and over 20% for Democrats. This is one of the sources of house effects in surveys.

There is one methodological issue that we can't address with these data. Near the end of the race some pollsters push voters harder to get a response to the vote question. That would, of course, artificially lower the "don't know" rate, and to some extent may be what we are seeing in these data. Such practices are not normally disclosed so there is no way to statistically adjust for them here.

Cross-posted at Political Arithmetik.

 

Comments

Thanks Charles! I've been asking for this for some time. I'm not sure that crystalization is the right word, though, since it implies a hardening of opinions, when I think they are still somewhat fluid. Perhaps it's more like "jello-ization"? Much to ponder here...it might be interesting to correlate the decline in undecideds with a measure of volatility in the horse race numbers.

On a scholarly note, there might be an interesting paper to write on the timing of the decline of undecideds and the date of a state's nomination contest. (One can imagine a Bayesian model of voter behavior, updating on new information based on national media coverage, local media coverage, major events, election outcomes in other states, and campaigning within the state, among other variables.) My guess is the national numbers have not moved as much because voters in most states have not had to think about the election yet in the same way as the voters in the early states have had to do.

I expect the national undecided numbers to start declining as Feb. 5 draws near. But we may actually experience a temporary increase in the national numbers if there are some surprises in the early states, which will quite possibly be true for people who currently support the national front-runners. Thus, I have to wonder, for example, about Giuliani's repeated statements that his campaign is not in trouble because he is ahead in so many election contests. I largely attribute his national lead and lead among many of the Feb. 5th states to his name recognition. He may be in for a rude surprise if voters decide to update their prior information based on his currently expected early losses as elections approach in their state. He's back in Iowa, now, which I think is smart because his campaign will have a difficult time recovering from a 6th place finish there.

____________________



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