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The Candidate "Brands" - Part I

Topics: 2008 , The 2008 Race

Yesterday, Hotline On Call's Marc Ambinder posted his thoughts on the "Branding Study" of the Democratic candidates conducted by two South Carolina advertising agencies, Chernoff Newman and MarketSearch. "We're sure," Ambinder wrote, "Mark Blumenthal will weigh in." Well, since he asked...

I started to write something on the notion of "brand analysis" of presidential candidates, but wanted to first kick the tires on the survey behind the study before thinking about the results. Unfortunately, what I found raises some doubts about how representative the sample is of true "likely Democratic primary voters" in South Carolina.

First, consider the racial composition of the sample. African-Americans comprised 47% of Democratic primary voters in the 2004 South Carolina primary, according to the network exit poll. Two surveys also conducted in April report an even bigger percentage of African-Americans among likely Democratic primary voters in South Carolina: 53% on the poll by Democratic firm Garin-Hart-Yang and 56% on the survey from the bi-partisan team of Hamilton-Beattie (D) and Ayres-McHenry (R). In However, African-Americans make up only 30% of Democratic primary voters on the CNMS survey. That's a pretty big discrepancy, especially given the importance of African-Americans vote in this primary**

Second, consider geographic composition. The CNMS report breaks out the contribution of the six largest counties, leaving 51.3% in the "other" category of generally smaller and more rural counties. Yet according to the turnout statistics I obtained from the South Carolina Democratic Party, those smaller counties contributed 58.5% of the vote cast in the 2004 Democratic presidential primary. My assumption is that rural Democrats in South Carolina tend to be more African-American than those in bigger more urban counties (as indicated by question F6 in the Garin-Hart survey).

05-03%20sc%20dem%20counties.png

Third, the authors of the CNMS questionnaire made a very unconventional choice in terms of question order. They asked the vote horse-race question at the end of the survey, after their full battery of candidate attribute questions. Notice that the two other polls linked to above follow the standard procedure of media and campaign pollsters, asking the vote after the favorable ratings but before specific questions that may "prime" attitudes and skew vote preference.

All of which brings me to the horse-race results for this survey, which are something of an outlier. They show Hillary Clinton leading Barack Obama by 17 percentage points, far more than the three surveys conducted over the same period, which show Clinton leading by margins of only 3 to 7 points.

05-02%20sc%20dem%20polls.png

So while the issue of "brand attributes" is worth exploring further, and something I'll try to come back to it tomorrow, I have some grave questions about how representative this survey of actual Democratic primary voters or how accurately their horse-race question measures existing vote preference.

**The discrepancy in the racial composition may not explain why the CNMS survey shows Clinton with a bigger lead. Unfortunately, of the four recent South Carolina surveys, only Garin-Hart-Yang released tabulations by race. Those show a big difference in for John Edwards -- he wins 35% of white voters but only 9% of African Americans - but not as much net difference in the Obama-Clinton contest. Clinton leads Obama by 4 points (23% to 19%) among white voters and by 5 points (40% to 35%) among African-Americans. Nationally, the vote-by race tabulations in the most the Pew Research Center report show essentially the same pattern.

Update: I emailed the Chernoff Newman and MarketSearch team for comment and received the following reply from MarketSearch regarding the differences in racial composition:

When we drew our sample of registered voters we selected those who had voted in one or more elections starting with the November election of 2004 as well as those who are now under 21 and registered since the last presidential election. As we noted earlier, we also excluded anyone who did not indicate they were "very likely" or "somewhat likely" to vote in the upcoming primary. Our intention was to select a sample that would have the most familiarity with candidates and thus be in the best position to address our questions about branding. I don't have the exact figures at my disposal right now, but these steps may have resulted in a lower percentage of African Americans in the final sample.

And regarding placement of the vote horse-race question:

We did this deliberately since our interest in this study is not the horserace but the branding issue. Our intention was to do a follow through from brand image to the person for whom the respondent would vote. We are not positioning this study as a head-to-head comparison of those whose interest is the horserace.

 

Comments
Aron:

Mark,

If someone says they are "somewhat likely" to vote in a primary, does that, by your measure, really constitute a "likely voter" for polling purposes?

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