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The Demographics of Ohio Polls

Topics: 2008 , ARG , Barack Obama , Divergent Polls , Hillary Clinton , Mason-Dixon , Mike McDonald , Pollsters , PPP , Quinnipiac , SurveyUSA , Washington Post

On Friday I posted demographic profile data on recent polls in Texas. Today I have the equivalent data from Ohio, and a few thoughts about what it all means.

Last week, I emailed questions about poll demographics to all pollsters that had fielded recent surveys in Ohio. Fortunately, those requests were less necessary than in previous contests, as more and more pollsters have been including demographic composition data in their releases. A thank you is in order, however, to the pollsters at the Washington Post, the University of Cincinnati, Quinnipiac University and Public Policy Polling that shared data not already in the public domain.

The racial composition of the Ohio Democratic electorate is less of a puzzle than in Texas, if only because Ohio's Latino population is relatively small (amounting to 3% or less on the various polls that reported it). Still, the surveys show meaningful variation in their African American composition from a low of 12% on the University of Cincinnati "Ohio Poll" to a high of 22% on today's new poll from the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Mason-Dixon Polling and Research. With Barack Obama winning the overwhelming majority of black voters, differences of a few percentage points can have a significant affect on vote preference. If African Americans had been 16% of the respondents instead of 22% in the PD/Mason-Dixon poll, Clinton would lead by roughly 10 rather than 4 percentage points.


03-02 Ohio demos2.png

The variation in age has been bigger, (although again, age comparisons are more difficult because pollsters are inconsistent about the age breaks they use). The percentage of 18-to-45-year-olds varies from a low of 26% by the University of Cinninnati and 28% by Quinnipiac to a high of 46% by SurveyUSA. The percentage of 18-to-50-year-olds varies from a low of 44% in today's PD/Mason-Dixon poll to highs of 57% and 60% in the most recent surveys from ARG.

As with Texas, I have included comparable numbers from the 2004 exit poll (based on final data from the Roper Center Archives), although the "right" answer for this year will be unknowable until all the votes are cast and this year's exit poll is available.

Also, as in Texas, I asked pollsters to estimate the percentage of Ohio adults represented by their samples (unless they included the necessary data in their releases). This statistic is a rough measure of how tightly they screened for likely voters. Ohio's Democratic primary drew 12% of eligible adults in 2000 and 15% in 2004 (as per Michael McDonald's turnout page). How high will it go on Tuesday? The Ohio Secretary of State is predicting a total turnout (for Democrats and Republicans) of roughly four million voters, representing a 60-70% increase compared to the last two presidential elections.

With that in mind, consider the percentage of adults that some of these surveys represent. The number of polls included in the table below is smaller, because fewer pollsters were willing or able to provide an estimate. Obviously, the percentages of adults sampled are much higher than previous turnouts, higher than even the optimistic projection from the Ohio Secretary of state. They vary from a low of 27% in the PPP survey to a high of 40% in the most recent poll by SurveyUSA.

03-02 screen2.png

What all of this means is that polls are in disagreement about who will vote in Tuesday's primary, and that uncertain composition will likely determine the winner. The polls we have before us can tell us a great deal about how preferences differ across the key demographic and regional groups, but the tools of survey research are simply not powerful enough to predict who will vote with great precision. I'll have more thoughts on this issue after we see the final round of surveys tomorrow.

 

Comments
nieddu:

What do you make of the Columbus Dispatch poll of RV released today which puts Hillary 16 points ahead of Obama?

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Thanks, Mark. Very helpful, as usual.

Just a note on the non-Dem percent voting: The pollsters average 22%, but 2004 was at 29%. According to the CNN Exit Poll, Wisconsin was at 37% non-Dem.

neiddu, I don't care what a poll of Registered Voters says at all, given that stat. I expect Ohio will be about the same and anyone not polling around 28% Ind and 9% Repub when they issue their results has some serious explaining to do.

This is why Obama keeps surprising people - because the pollsters just aren't learning from each and every spanking they get in the primary season.

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Tom Brady:

Nieddu,

It appears that they only sampled registered Democrats - if so, I'm guessing they are underestimating Obama's support among independents, although I'm not sure how easy it is for independents to register to vote in a Democratic primary.

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Andrew:

Something tells me Obama supporters will vote en masse in Ohio, and this will result in pre-election polls having underestimated Obama's vote total.

There is just more motivation in the Obama side. Look at Wisconsin. No pollster predicted such a rout. The media has a lot to do with this, and blacks are now voting in herds, because ever since the media-manufactured "race-war", they think their candidate is being victim of some Machiavellian racist plot.

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BitJam:

Nieddu,

Another reason the results of the Columbus Dispatch poll are so different from most of the others is because they didn't screen for likely voters. Therefore I don't think that poll provides a prediction for what to expect in the primary.

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Anonymous:

Thanks, Tom and Bit for your input.

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Byrd:

"What do you make of the Columbus Dispatch poll of RV released today which puts Hillary 16 points ahead of Obama?

Posted by: nieddu | March 2, 2008 11:14 AM"

Nieddu,

After reviewing this poll it clearly is not a valid indication of public opinion of the Democratic primary in Ohio for a number of reasons: 1) It was a mail poll of only registered democrats, which would weight strongly enthusiastic democrats. 2) It sampled a longer time interval than recent phone polls (2/21 - 2/29), and would be more heavily weighted for the beginning of that period resulting in a heavier sample of earlier opinions. 3) Most importantly, this poll was discredited by Columbus Dispatch themselves as they realize that voter models from past elections need to be tossed out the window and these results would have been more representative if this election were being held in a previous primary cycle.

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Byrd:

"What do you make of the Columbus Dispatch poll of RV released today which puts Hillary 16 points ahead of Obama?

Posted by: nieddu | March 2, 2008 11:14 AM"

Nieddu,
After reviewing this poll it clearly is not a valid indication of public opinion of the Democratic primary in Ohio for a number of reasons: 1) It was a mail poll of only registered democrats, which would weight strongly enthusiastic democrats. 2) It sampled a longer time interval than recent phone polls (2/21 - 2/29), and would be more heavily weighted for the beginning of that period resulting in a heavier sample of earlier opinions. 3) Most importantly, this poll was discredited by Columbus Dispatch themselves as they realize that voter models from past elections need to be tossed out the window and these results would have been more representative if this election were being held in a previous primary cycle.

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teacherken:

Andrew wrote "Look at Wisconsin. No pollster predicted such a rout." That's not completely true. The final adjust figures from PPP were for a 14 point victory by Obama. I'd say that was indicating something of the dimension of his win, even if not exact. Now, as far as I know none of the current polls in OH is attempting to do similar adjustments, so they are likely to understate his performance somewhat. But I also have not seen figures for the amount of voting early in the early voting cycle, which would have tended to tilt more heavily towards Clinton that recent polls might indicate.

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catspaw:

Just some history on the Columbus Dispatch Poll - they use to do telephone surveys with OSU for their surveys and polling.

What I heard is that Krosnick who is now at Stanford did an analysis for them, and basically told them that they could get away with mail surveys because the response bias in mail surveys closely modelled "likely voters" - in other words those who were most likely to respond to a mail survey (self-selection bias) would most be the one's most likely voting anyways...so they could get away with using mail surveys which are much cheaper.

Of course, this logic works when time and turnout are not a factor in low stakes/low turn out races - but for elections such as this one..as well as probably in Nov. which will be hotly contested...this methodology quite frankly is a huge mistake and totally wrong - which makes the results of their survey basically garbage in my mind.

The price of trying to do survey work on the cheap using inferior methodologies.

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Two points.

1) Ohio is a semi-open primary, which means that voters can change party affiliation on election day, at the polling place.

See:

http://tomwfox.wordpress.com/2008/02/20/ohio-is-a-semi-open-primary/

This means that a registered Republican wishing to vote in the Democratic primary will have to change party affiliation, and possibly face a challenge to his or her vote.

2) The National Weather Service is presently predicting freezing rain & ice for the northern one-third of Ohio starting Monday night and continuing all day Tuesday. This would include such cities as Cleveland, Toledo, and Akron. Rain is predicted for the remainder of the state all day Tuesday.

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Two points.

1) Ohio is a semi-open primary, which means that voters can change party affiliation on election day, at the polling place.

See:

http://tomwfox.wordpress.com/2008/02/20/ohio-is-a-semi-open-primary/

This means that a registered Republican wishing to vote in the Democratic primary will have to change party affiliation, and possibly face a challenge to his or her vote.

2) The National Weather Service is presently predicting freezing rain & ice for the northern one-third of Ohio starting Monday night and continuing all day Tuesday. This would include such cities as Cleveland, Toledo, and Akron. Rain is predicted for the remainder of the state all day Tuesday.

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