When the Campaign Will Change

by: Chris Bowers

Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 18:21

Today, I finished up the final of the six panels I was on with an excellent session on polling featuring Tom Matzie (of MoveOn.org), Stan Greenberg (of Democracy Corps and GQR), Mark Blumenthal (Mystery Pollster of Pollster.com) and Joel Wright (of Wright Consulting, with whom MyDD produced the Democratic Congressional Challenger's Strategy Memo last year). One of my favorite parts of the panel was when Mark put up two graphs from his website that have been receiving a lot of play lately, and then kept rapidly flipping back and forth between them to show how they match up.

Check it out for yourself. First, here are the trends in national Democratic primary polls in 2003-2004:

Second, here is a chart on how closely people pay attention to campaigns, graphed according to how far away the election actually is:

The key point here is how these charts match up. Specifically, the rapid change at the end of the 2004 Democratic primary campaign occurred at the same moment when people began to pay far more attention to the campaign. Smaller changes that occurred before Iowa also corresponded with major media moment in the campaign, such as Clark's entry into the race and Gore's endorsement of Dean.  The point here, which should have been obvious to me all along, is that the campaign won't really change much until the level of coverage of the campaign changes.  Only major events that receive truly massive amounts of news coverage have any possibility to alter the shape of the campaign in a statistically significant manner.

The point here is this: don't expect any long-term, gradual improvement for any candidate.  National changes in campaigns like this will happen only in large chunks, and as the result of major events. Otherwise, expect the campaign to stay pretty much as it is, and pretty much the way it has been for the past four months, until such an event takes place. . Expect small, weekly changes away from the status quo to reverse themselves in only a week or two. Basically, unless something major happens, the horserace isn't going anywhere for a while.

Chris Bowers :: When the Campaign Will Change

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Off the Chart (0.00 / 0)
An alternative view is what is displayed here is how different this year is from others and how unprepared we are to know how it will play out.  When I looked at the first chart, I thought someone had scribbled something on the left side and then realized it was 2008 being displayed.  It bears absolutely no resemblance to the main graph in either its placement or movement.  We are seeing something completely different at this point and whether it will continue or eventually fall in line is really anyone's guess.

Heh (0.00 / 0)
The graphs should be flipped, but I sense that you are mostly correct, also in as much as the campaigns aren't going to try and make any big moves themselves for a while yet either.

The first poster is right that there are more people paying attention now than in previous years though, which seems to mean something, but I think the dynamics will shift some after labor day, and again around/after thanksgiving, and probably not too much otherwise until people start voting.

So, if the horserace is just holding steady as they go around the track, where's the real action at?

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Not so sure (0.00 / 0)
I think when you have what appears to be a sea change in behaviors (a significantly larger number of people paying close attention early), the logical conclusion of expectation is that you can't predict the results, and it's certainly not a wise bet to say that this one will turn out like all the others.

What if the early closeness creates an information boost about the candidate that then mutes the crazy swings and lurches that we usually see late, as people pay attention? Those swings I wager are ordinarily based on people making early judgements about people they largely don't know--and certainly the circumstance of the event directs those judgements. But what if a larger part of the voting population becomes immune to a sudden info-surge, having already formed vague opinions and learned something about the candidates over the slow summer?

And there's another unknown--is the pace of increase in participation stable, or is it going to change? Will Labor Day's passing allow the normal pace to return, or will we stay ahead of the pace, maybe even increase it? The primary voting begins in December--by September 2007 won't it feel like December felt when the primaries were later?

Don't high-participation elections usually correlate to change elections?

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2004 (0.00 / 0)
By the end of the second quarter of 2003, two candidates showed movement.  Joe Lieberman hsd dropped from the early lesd to become part of the lead pack (@ Jan: 21%, then 18 and 16% in June vs. around 14% for both Kerry and Gephardt.  Dean was threatening to join the lead pack going from 3% to 5% and then 9%.  By September, Clark was in the race and led narrowly with around 13% to 12% for Dean, 11% for Holy Joe and 10% for Kerry and Gephardt.

Oddly, Edwards pattern in 2004 showed a small, steady decrease until plateauing. After Iowa, Edwards started to gain again. Kerry exploded after Iowa. going from around 12% in December to 47% or thereabouts just two months later.

The interest level now is akin to when the results started to matter in 2004. 

2004 was the anomaly (0.00 / 0)
Or so I claim, anyway.  (Full argument here.)

We're back to normal this year - one veteran Dem (like Mondale '84, Clinton '92, or Gore '00) that is positioned to pick up the votes of blacks and working-class whites, with the main challenger being a good-government reformer (like Hart '84, Tsongas '92, or Bradley '00) doing best among voters with college degrees.

Forget 2004.  We may never see another Dem nomination season like it.


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