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The Demographics of the North Carolina Polls

Topics: 2006 , Barack Obama , Divergent Polls , Hillary Clinton , LA Times/Bloomberg , Mike McDonald , Pollster , Pollsters , SurveyUSA , Zogby

Time for another round-up of available poll demographics, this time from North Carolina. The most important variable in this state is the African American percentage of likely Democratic primary voters. The most recent polls -- at least among those that have disclosed their demographics -- have converged around a black percentage of 32-33%. Needless to say, given the near monolithic support that African Americans have given Barack Obama, that percentage will ultimately be critical to his share of the vote on Tuesday.

The following table shows demographic composition statistics for those pollsters that have released them. Click on the table to display a larger version that also includes the vote preference results for reach poll.

05-06_NCDemos6-sml.png

The table excludes the pollsters that have, as of yet, not publicly released demographic information for their North Carolina surveys: Mason-Dixon, Rasmussen Reports, and LA Times/Bloomberg (special thanks to readers Paul and jac13 for sharing the demographic profile data that Zogby shares with paid subscribers).

As in previous states, we see considerable variation in the kinds of voters selected as "likely primary voters." Easily the most variant likely voter sample on the list is the one from the Civitas Institute from early April, with a composition of just 28% African American and 17% under the age of 45. However, even if we set that survey aside, we still see considerable variation: from 51% to 58% female, from 39% to 55% age 18-to-44 and from 25% to 37% African American (and those last extremes come from a single pollster -- more below).

A quick review from my post on the demographics of the Pennsylvania surveys:

It is important to remember that pollsters come to these composition statistics through different paths. Some interview samples of adults, weight those demographically to match census estimates of Pennsylvania's adults, then select "likely voters" and let their demographics fall where they may. Others will weight their "likely voter" samples directly to pre-determined demographic targets. Some pollsters will not set weights or quotas for demographics, but will set such weights or quotas for geographic regions (based on past turnout and their assumptions about what might be different this time).

With that in mind, note two very striking changes from two pollsters that set pre-determined demographic targets, Public Policy Polling (PPP) and InsiderAdvantage:

  • The first three surveys released in April by PPP had an African American composition of 36% or 37%. Their most recent survey, fielded last Sunday and Monday evenings, had a black composition of just 33%.
  • The gyrations in the weighting by InsiderAdvantage are even more dizzying. Their first North Carolina survey in late March was 37% African American. Their next two surveys in April were only 25% African American, and their most recent poll last week bumped the black percentage back up to 33%. Notice that none of their percentages for women, 18-29-year-olds, 18-44-year-olds or those 65+ changed by a single digit, despite a 12-point variance in the black percentage.

Both pollsters put out written summaries of their results, but neither made any reference (that I could find) explaining or justifying their changing assumptions about the racial composition of the North Carolina electorate. [Update: On their final poll, PPP upped the black share to 35%, but explained their rationale]. By the way, we know that these two pollsters set predetermined demographic targets, because both have confirmed as much to me in previous communications (here for InsiderAdvantage and here for PPP).

The change in the PPP poll is important -- they should have noted it -- but relatively modest compared to the astonishingly large, significant and unexplained shifts in the African American composition in the InsiderAdvantage polls. InsiderAdvantage's Matt Towery likes to brag of his "significant experience" as a pollster, but after a number of curious episodes over the last few months, it is getting very hard to take those claims seriously.

It's also worth pointing out the relative stability in the racial composition of the SurveyUSA results, given that they do not force their samples to a pre-determined demographic profile (details on their procedures here). The percentage of African Americans in their four surveys since March have remained relatively stable, falling within the range of 30% to 33%.

Finally, one caution about the percentage reported as "unaffiliated" (having no party affiliation). Only PPP includes the full text of their party question, and it is possible other pollsters are asking about party identification (whether respondents "consider themselves" as partisans) rather than party registration.

Update: Almost forgot. Fivethirtyeight's Poblano posted a handy spreadsheet that can help you see just how much small changes in the racial composition of the North Carolina electorate can affect the potential margin between the candidates. It's well worth the click.

Update II: In posting this last night, I neglected to point out that North Carolina has been releasing reports on the demographics of early voters. As North Carolina is one of nine southern states still required by the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to track voter registration by race, racial tallies among early voters are also available. The demographic composition of early voters have been analyzed by Brian Schaffner, DailyKos diarist dean4ever and noted in comments by many of our readers over the weekend.

Overnight, GMU Professor Michael McDonald, whose academic focus is voter turnout, posted the following comment:

North Carolina is an exceptional state in that it provides near real-time updates of its voter registration file. Indeed, you can download the entire file of absentee and early in-person voters directly from the state's ftp site.

North Carolina is also an interesting state because race and gender are recorded on the voter file (birthdate appears to be supressed in the absentee file). When I crunch the numbers, out of the 397,850 persons who are listed as returning a Democratic Party ballot as of 5/03:

39.9% are African American
60.8% are women

Note, a small percentage (less than 1%) of records have missing data.

Will these percentages hold for Tuesday? That is hard to say, mostly because people who study early voting (myself included) don't know much about the characteristics of early primary voters. Added is the confounding factor that one-stop registration and voting is permitted for in-person early voters only and not for Election Day voters. Providing little further clues, African-Americans are only slightly more likely to vote early in-person, 40.6%, and women slightly less, 60.7%.

The fact that nearly 400,000 early votes have been cast so far is remarkable given past primary turnout in North Carolina. The state held a caucus in 2004 (due to a redistricting battle that delayed the primary), but 544,922 Democrats voted in the largely uncontested primary in May 2000, and 691,875 voted in May 1992 (statistics I gathered for a column noting that pollster PPP has been sampling from a total universe of 874,222). The record was 961,000 in 1984, according to the Charlotte Observer, which cites "long time N.C. political observers" guessing that "as many as 1.5 million" may vote this year. So this early vote will be a significant portion of the total votes cast, but as McDonald points out, no one knows exactly how big.

It is also worth pointing out that the Obama campaign has made early voting drives a focus of their field organizing, so it is certainly possible that the ranks of early voters are disproportionately swollen with Obama voters. Last week's poll from SurveyUSA showed Obama leading by a 18 points (57% to 39%) among early voters, but that subgroup was just 2% of their total sample. Thus, one key result to watch in the final poll releases today -- among those far sighted enough to track and report it -- will be the size and preference of the early voters.

 

Comments
BenjaminOMeara:

My question to you is this. And it may have more to do with politics than polling but most pollsters here seem to settle around AA being a third of the electorate.
But near 40% of the early voters were AA. Does this play a part in the calculations ? Or should it be considered a potential sign the demographic composition of the samples may be underestimating the AA turnout ?

____________________

adocarbog:

Mark what do you think about this projection (includes AA turnout projection)
I did this 4/25

With 10-11 days to go it would be good to get some predictions on NC out so that we can compare later on May 7th.


With 10-11 days to go it would be good to get some predictions on NC out so that we can compare later on May 7th.


NC should not be too difficult to predict. We already have results from GA, SC, VA and MD. NC is right in the middle. It is also a growing state. in 2000 it had just over 8Mil people and by 2006 it gre an amazing 10% to over 8.8 Mil. So unlike PA and OH it's not stagnant. VA where Obama did great also grew 8-9% in the same 6 years. MD where Obama did great as well but not the the extent as in VA population grew 6% from 2000-20006.
Georgia population in that time frame grew by 7.7% while GA where Obama did best grew 14% in just 6 years.

So the growing south and south east is favorable to Obama as it is a growing and economicaly vibrant part of the US. On the other hand OH and PA grew by a mere 1% during that period.

Now for the meat:

MD Obama 61% HRC 36% White Vote (WV) was 53% and Obama got 42% of WV
Kerry won MD v Bush by +13 and AA vote in 2004 was 24%. AA are 29% of voters in MD so they undervoted. They were 37% of the Primary 2008 vote. They also undervoted here because that is only a 28% increase over population percentage. This can be explained that MD is a safely democratic state where a lot of WV vote for democrats. 28% increase is the important number to remember as well as Obama getting 42% ow WV.

VA Obama 64% HRC 36%. WV was 61% and Obama won the WV with 52%. Bush won VA in 04 by +8. AA are just under 20% of population in VA and they were 21% of the 04 VA voters. So VA AAs tend to vote in proportion or even slightly higher. In the 2008 primary they were 30% of the vote so the voted 50% over, more that MD 28%. this can be explained by AA voting slighlty more in VA and there also being fewer WV for democrats in VA.

North Carolina went for Bush +12. AAs are just under 22% of the population and they were 26% of the voters in 2004 GE. So AA in NC sure like to vote.

South Carolina is a bit strange because Edwards was still in. AA are 29% of the population. They were 55% of the primary vote so they voted 89% over. Bush beat Kaerry by +17 so most WV are republican. AA were 30% of population so they voted in 2004 in proportion. Obama got 24% of WV but HRC got only 36% and Edwards won WV at 40%. It is safe to assume that if he were not there Obama would get at least hal of that vote fo a totla of 42% of WV.

GA 29% AA population and Buch won 2004 by +17. AA vote in 2008 primary was 51% or 76% over population. Again WV are mostly pro republican. Obama got 43% of WV.

So waht does this mean for NC. Likely the AA turnout will be less that +89% in SC but more than +50% from VA. Obama's WV floor will be 40%. He will liley do a bit better than 40% but let's assume 40% in case the Wright thing hurt him some. AA vote may be 65%+. That would put AA at 36%.

So Obama wins 90% of AA for a total of 32.5% and he gets 40% of WV (and others) (40% X 64%) for a total of 25.6%.
Obama's total will be 58.1% at the minimum. to HRC 42% at the maximum.

Turnout will be 100% of Kerry vote are AA will be energized as well as independents and cross over Republicans. Turnout will be 1,500,000 +/_ 100K.

This will be a net + pop vote for Obama of 240,000. I am very confident he will pick up more Popular vote net from NC than she did in PA as well as delegates. Delegates +20 for Obama.

____________________

North Carolina is an exceptional state in that it provides near real-time updates of its voter registration file. Indeed, you can download the entire file of absentee and early in-person voters directly from the state's ftp site.

North Carolina is also an interesting state because race and gender are recorded on the voter file (birthdate appears to be supressed in the absentee file). When I crunch the numbers, out of the 397,850 persons who are listed as returning a Democratic Party ballot as of 5/03:

39.9% are African American
60.8% are women

Note, a small percentage (less than 1%) of records have missing data.

Will these percentages hold for Tuesday? That is hard to say, mostly because people who study early voting (myself included) don't know much about the characteristics of early primary voters. Added is the confounding factor that one-stop registration and voting is permitted for in-person early voters only and not for Election Day voters. Providing little further clues, African-Americans are only slightly more likely to vote early in-person, 40.6%, and women slightly less, 60.7%.

And for a bit of humor: if you believe the ballot return dates, 15 people have voted from the future, Terminator-style. One from April 30, 2009. I hope that doesn't mean the Democratic nomination contest is still going on a year from now!

____________________

lemonfair:

Mark - your table above shows Clinton leading by 9 in the latest 2 Zogby polls, whereas your graph under "upcoming primaries" has the Zogby lead being 9 for Obama, which I assume is correct.

____________________

Mark Blumenthal:

Lemonfair: That's right, thank you. That glitch is now repaired.

____________________

Latest polls:
Zogby IN: Obama 44, Clinton 42
Suffolk U. IN: Clinton 49, Obama 43
Zogby NC: Obama 48, Clinton 40
InsiderAdvantage: Obama 48, Clinton 45

And IA is *still* vastly overcounting voters 65 and older.

____________________

RS:

Mark:
PPP's latest poll apparently will have African-Americans at 35%:
http://publicpolicypolling.blogspot.com/2008/05/weighting-our-final-nc-poll.html

____________________

FlyOnTneWall:

Two things worth noting. The first is that PPP's sample has 29% early voters, and that Obama leads among them, 63-34. So they're projecting turnout around 1.37 million.

Also, I'm intrigued by Prof. McDonald's calculations, but can't open the entire file in Excel. The portion I can open suggests that the high female turnout is largely a function of the black turnout - black women outnumber men in my sub-sample roughly 63-37, whereas among white voters it's more like 57-43. That sounds right, intuitively. As if we needed a further reason to distrust InsiderAdvantage, that result also suggests that the percentage of female voters ought to vary more or less as a function of black turnout - and IA has the two essentially independent of each other. Can anyone confirm that for me using the whole file?

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Andrew Therriault:

Any chance of getting sensitive estimators based on today's polls for IN and NC? Just curious, given the volatility of the polls both within themselves over the past few days and between them.

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