Polls

Messaging & the future: Progressive polling post-mortem from Stan Greenberg & Robert Borosage pt 2.

by: Paul Rosenberg

Mon Nov 08, 2010 at 09:00

This Friday morning I participated in a briefing with pollster Stan Greenberg and Campaign for America's Future co-director Robert Borosage, based on an election post-mortem poll done by Greenberg's firm, Greenberg Quinlin Rosner, which Greenberg has been doing every election since 1996.  I wrote about this earlier in my diary, "Progressive polling post-mortem from Stan Greenberg & Robert Borosage".  Now I want to take a narrower look, specifically at questions that deal with how people see the state of the country and the challenges ahead, and how well the Democrats could have or did reach them.

The first slide shows strong support for three narratives, about the country being in decline, "while countries like China have a vision to succeed," about "entrenched special interests that finance both parties' campaigns," and about politicians "pursuing their own party's agenda - ignoring the needs of regular citizens and the country."  The first narrative is relatively rare as a message in the elite media, and is generally bad for conservatives, the second two are increasingly more common, and tend mask a fairly significant asymmetry between the two parties.


[Click to Enlarge in New Window]

The second slide shows only slightly lower levels of support for three more narratives: that middle class families played by the rules, and got screwed, while Wall Street, big banks & CEOs destroyed the economy and got bailed, that America's prosperity was built on a growing middle class that's now in decline, while the government serves CEOs instead, and that "Politicians have spent the country into bankruptcy."  The first two narratives are relatively rare in elite media, and damaging to conservative ideology, while the third is fairly omnipresent in elite media, and quite useful for conservative elites, even though they are responsible for the vast majority of the debt:


[Click to Enlarge in New Window]

Collectively, these views represent a fairly substantial net potential advantage for liberals and Democrats, if they chose to mobilize and message based upon four of these six narratives. Inaction, however, allows two of them to be used against liberals and Democrats (post-partisanship & the debt), even if conservatives & Republicans are actually the ones responsible for the problems identified.

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Ross Douthat & the elite manufacture of "populist" dissent on global warming

by: Paul Rosenberg

Fri Oct 15, 2010 at 12:00

Facts be damned, ain't democracy grand?  That's Ross Douthat's response to recent commentary on the fact that the GOP is virtually alone among the world's major political parties in opposing the science of global warming.

Here's the sequence of events. In the National Journal, Ronald Brownstein wrote last Saturday "GOP Gives Climate Science A Cold Shoulder", about the GOP's unique situation. He lead off by noting the position of the British Conservative Party Foreign Secretary:

When British Foreign Secretary William Hague visited the U.S. last week, he placed combating climate change near the very top of the world's To Do list.

"Climate change is perhaps the 21st century's biggest foreign-policy challenge," Hague declared in a New York City speech.


and went on to note:
His strong words make it easier to recognize that Republicans in this country are coalescing around a uniquely dismissive position on climate change. The GOP is stampeding toward an absolutist rejection of climate science that appears unmatched among major political parties around the globe, even conservative ones....

Of the 20 serious GOP Senate challengers who have taken a position, 19 have declared that the science of climate change is inconclusive or flat-out incorrect. (Kirk is the only exception.) With sentiments among rank-and-file Republicans also trending that way, it's no coincidence that two Republicans who affirmed the science -- Rep. Michael Castle in Delaware and Sen. Lisa Murkowski in Alaska -- were defeated in Senate primaries this year....

Indeed, it is difficult to identify another major political party in any democracy as thoroughly dismissive of climate science as is the GOP here. Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, says that although other parties may contain pockets of climate skepticism, there is "no party-wide view like this anywhere in the world that I am aware of."

Douthat led off by citing Brownstein's piece, then wrote:

What's interesting, though, is that if you look at public opinion on climate change, the U.S. isn't actually that much of an outlier among the wealthier Western nations. In a 2007-2008 Gallup survey on global views of climate change, for instance, just 49 percent of American told pollsters that human beings are responsible for global warming. But the same figure for Britain (where Rush Limbaugh has relatively few listeners, I believe) was 48 percent, and belief in human-caused climate change was only slightly higher across northern Europe....

There's a reasonably large Western European constituency, in other words, for some sort of climate change skepticism.... But the politicians haven't been responding. Instead, Europe's political class, left and right alike, has worked to marginalize a position that it considers intellectually disreputable, even as the American G.O.P. has exploited that same position to win votes.

The debate over climate change isn't unusual in this regard. On issues ranging from the death penalty to (at least until recently) immigration, America's major political parties generally tend to be more responsive to public opinion, and less constrained by elite sentiment, than their counterparts in Europe. Overall, I much prefer the American approach, populist excesses and all. (It helps in this case, of course, that I'm deeply skeptical about the efficacy of climate change legislation anyway.) But there's no denying that its left the G.O.P. on the wrong side - and increasingly so - of a pretty sturdy scientific consensus.

As usual with Douthat, there are problems galore with his reasoning.  

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Gibbs as pure outreach fail

by: Chris Bowers

Wed Aug 11, 2010 at 16:19

Today, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has stood by his remarks about lefties criticizing the Obama administration:

Taking the podium after a day off to tend to a sore throat, Gibbs said he has not reached out to any Democrats to discuss his remarks, in which he chastised liberals for wanting to "eliminate the Pentagon" and pursue Canadian-style health care reform. Nor, he added, has he talked to the president about the matter.

Does he stand by the comments? "Yes," he replied.

Standing by his remarks is one thing.  Really, it is to be expected.  Robert Gibbs has a long history of trying to take down the left-wing of the party.  Remember when Gibbs was the spokesperson for the anti-Howard Dean 527 back in 2003?

On November 7, 2003, a strange new group no one had ever heard of called "Americans for Jobs & Healthcare" was quietly formed and soon thereafter began running a million dollar operation including political ads against then-frontrunner Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean. The commercials ripped Dean over his positions or past record on gun rights, trade and Medicare growth. But the most inflammatory ad used the visual image of Osama bin Laden as a way to raise questions about Dean's foreign policy credibility. While the spots ran, Americans for Jobs-through its then- spokesman, Robert Gibbs, a former Kerry campaign employee-refused to disclose its donors.

I don't expect someone with such a past to apologize for slagging the left-wing of the party.  Or, if they do apologize, I don't expect them to mean it.

However, it is stunning to me that the most prominent staffer responsible for outreach from the White House "said he has not reached out to any Democrats to discuss his remarks."  Really?  Gibbs didn't talk to a single Democrat about saying something that pissed off a lot of Democrats?  And he is in charge of maintaining the White House's message?

As Mike wrote earlier today (and I encourage you to read his article if you have not already done so), this is pure outreach fail.  Even if you are a huge Obama supporter who thinks that the lefties criticizing Obama are just a bunch of naïve, whiny brats, and that if Democrats get clobbered in 2010 it will be entirely the fault of said brats, then you should still be in favor of reaching out to them.  That is, you should be in favor of reaching out to them, unless you are cool with Democrats getting clobbered in 2010, as long as the whining brats get blamed for the clobbering.

If you want to keep your coalition together, you have to do the outreach, even to members of the coalition you hate.  And, right now, liberal support for Presidnet Obama is not where it needs to be.  Even if you dismiss the Gallup polling, whose enormous, unparalleled  subsample of liberals shows President Obama at 74% among the group, even the 85% approval rating the President has among liberals in other polls is not high enough (click here for a further discussion on President Obama's approval rating among self-identified liberals).  Back in 2004, John Kerry got 85% of the vote among liberals, and that was not enough for victory.  Democrats need very, very high numbers among liberals to win nationally.  As such, those who want to win nationally need to be willing to engage in actual outreach to them rather than just standing by their insults.

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A reality check on the reality checks about Obama's approval among liberals

by: Chris Bowers

Tue Aug 10, 2010 at 17:19

Greg Sargent, Political Wire, and others have cited numbers from Public Policy Polling to argue that President Obama's approval ratings among self-identified liberals remain quite high.  According to PPP, President Obama's job performance among self-identified liberals is still a robust 85%.

However, there is a serious flaw in citing these numbers: they are only based on a subsample of between 125-130, which gives them a margin of error of plus or minus 8.9%.  That is, they are only based on a subsample of 125-130 registered voters if PPP's new national survey is anything like their national survey from last month, when 19% of their overall sample of 667 voters self-identified as liberal.

By way of comparison, across the last four Gallup weekly approval polls, which have a combined sample of 14,346 respondents, President Obama's job performance among self-identified liberals has only averaged 74%.  With Gallup identifying 20% of the electorate as liberal so far in 2010, that would mean a liberal subsample of 2,869, that would mean a margin of error of only 1.8%.  That makes the Gallup numbers far, far more reliable than the PPP numbers.

Looking across all other job performance polls taken over the past month, only one organization, YouGov, produced crosstabs based strictly on ideological self-identification.  There are literally no other polls that released such crosstabs-only PPP, Gallup and YouGov.

Across 899 self-identified liberals surveyed in their last four polls, YouGov's does show President Obama's approval rating at 84%.  That number is much closer to PPP's result than to Gallup's.  Also, the subsample only has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3%, which means that random error alone cannot account for the difference between the Gallup and YouGov numbers.  Further, both Gallup and YouGov are sampling "all adults," and cell-phone onlys, so the difference cannot be found there either.  That YouGov is conducted over the Internet might be causing problems, but Polimetrix, which actually conducts the YouGov polls, actually has a decent track record.

So, where does Obama's approval actually stand among self-identified liberals?  While PPP's sample size is too small to be taken seriously, it would be unwise to look for "The One, True Poll," and completely ignore either YouGov or Gallup, both of which have good sample sizes.  Personally, I am a big believer in simple poll averaging as a way of providing an accurate snapshot of electoral preference, and the numbers back me up on that belief.  I see no reason why simple poll averaging can't be applied in this situation as well, which would peg President Obama's approval rating among self-identified liberals at around 79-80%.

Those are not very good numbers for President Obama among self-identified liberals.  However, they are too be expected given his overall approval rating of 44.6%, which is itself not a very good rating. Also, until the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats start passing public policy that has a more immediate, positive impact on the lives of most Americans, it is unlikely that this rating will improve.  That is the case no matter the "political reality," and no matter much anyone sneers, or does not sneer, at progressives.

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Generic Congressional Ballot, June 29th: Removal of Daily Kos polls doesn't change overall picture

by: Chris Bowers

Tue Jun 29, 2010 at 12:39

Update: Markos is suing Research 2000 for fraud, and it sure seems like he has a case.  I am going to have to dump Daily Kos polls from all my former research, and start again.  Given my additional lack of confidence in Rasmussen polls, this means the Senate and national house ballot forecasts are on hiatus for a couple of weeks.

****

Despite Daily Kos suspending polling earlier this month, the generic congressional ballot picture remains unchanged. Two weeks ago, Republicans led by a simple mean of 0.9%, and currently lead by a simple mean of 1.0%.  Here are the polls used in the calculation:

Generic Congressional Ballot, June 29th: GOP +0.9%
Polls can be found at Pollster.com and Pollingreport.com

Methodology

Once again, the numbers stay in the narrow range of Dems +0.7%, to GOP +1.7%, that has been the state of play since mid-January.

While the removal of Daily Kos polls made no difference to the overall result, there is one poll which, if removed from the average, would make a big difference.  Removing Rasmussen polls from the averages produces a pro-Democratic shift of 1.9%

Generic Congressional Ballot, June 29th: GOP +0.9%
No Rasmussen polls included

By consistently outlying  in favor of Republicans, Rasmussen skews polling averages unlike any other.  I still don't have a good solution for this as an election forecaster, but it remains worth noting nonetheless.

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Kagan confirmation a ratification of the blank slate strategy for SCOTUS nominees

by: Chris Bowers

Mon Jun 28, 2010 at 14:30

If you had forgotten all about Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court, and that her confirmation hearings are scheduled to begin today, then you are not alone.  The Kagan nomination fight has really flown under the radar.  According to Pew, the week Kagan was nominated, all of 5% of the country said news of her nomination was the story they followed most closely (tied for third with news of Iraq).  Since that time, her nomination never cracked the top five news stories, or was the top story for more than 1% of Americans, again.

All of this is good for the White House, since Kagan's confirmation numbers are less than stellar.  As I analyzed four weeks ago:

So far, Gallup, Fox, Pew, and Rasmussen have released polling on whether the public thinks Elana Kagan should be confirmed or not.  Compared to polling from these same four outlets at the same point in the Alito and Sotomayor confirmation process, Kagan lags behind (see Miers, Alito, Sotomayor, and Kagan for the Rasmussen polls, and here for all other polls).

Sotomayor: +18.2% (mid-June 2009)
48.0%--29.8%

Alito: +12.3% (mid-December 2005)
37.3%--25.0%

Kagan: +9.0%
37.8%--28.8%

Miers: +1.5 (late-October 2005)
35.5%--34.0%

Kagan has a net positive "confirm" of 9%.  While that puts her well clear of the failed nomination of Harriet Miers, that is half of what Sonia Sotomayor had in mid-June of 2009 according to these four polling firms, and even less than Samuel Alito's numbers in mid-December of 2005.

Since that time, Kagan has continued to receive anemic numbers from CNN (44%--39%), Pew (33%--25%) and NBC (29%--23%).  Even without a clear line of attack on Kagan, these are tricky numbers for a Supreme Court nominee.  There was one wildly favorable poll for Kagan, from ABC / WaPo in early June.  In that poll, Kagan's confirmation numbers were 58%-24% in favor. The difference between that survey and the others which have been conducted is that she was referred to as "U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan" rather than just "Solicitor Elena Kagan" or "Elena Kagan."

Despite these (generally) low poll numbers, Kagan's confirmation appears to be a certainty.  The ranking Republican on the Judiciary committee, Orrin Hatch, waved the white flag this morning:

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the second-ranking Republican on the committee who has at times served as its chairman, downplayed the likelihood of Republicans looking to block Kagan's nomination, as the Judiciary panel begins hearings on her this morning.

"I don't think anyone's going to do that," Hatch said during an appearance on MSNBC when asked if a filibuster was in order. "After all, there's 59 Democrats, and I suspect there'll be a few Republicans who will vote for her regardless."

That Republicans are basically giving up any attempt to defeat Kagan, despite her low poll numbers, is a ratification of the blank slate strategy for Supreme Court nominees.  A blank slate is a boring news story, and so there was little coverage of her over the past six weeks.  A blank slate also doesn't have scandals or skeletons, which has prevented Republicans from adopting a coherent or effective line of attack against her.  It is also a replication of what the Bush White House did with John Roberts, so the blank slate strategy now has the bipartisan seal of approval.

At the end of a very hot June, with political attention still turned elsewhere, and with Kagan effectively pulling off a blank slate strategy her whole life, her confirmation appears certain.  More worryingly, it also seems certain that any future President will be able to replicate this blank slate strategy with any nominee.  If there is a way to defeat it, no one appears to have figured it out yet.

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Conservative ideological self-identification on the rise

by: Chris Bowers

Fri Jun 25, 2010 at 14:08

New numbers from Gallup suggest that the percentage of Americans self-identifying as "conservative" is on the rise:


It is important to keep in mind what this means, and what it doesn't mean:

  • It is not necessarily a reflection of policy preferences. For example, views of the role of government swing pretty wildly while ideological self-identification is flat. These views are also more tied to which partisan self-identification than to ideological self-identification.  For example, take a long-running poll conducted by Pew:


    Most Americans do not have particularly thoroughgoing, coherent ideological perspectives. So, a change in ideological self-identification does not necessarily reflect a change in policy preference.

  • What it does mean is that the Republican base has increased in size.  Ideological self-identification is a very good predictor of voting habits.  With Democrats consistently receiving only 15-20% of the conservative vote since the early 1980's (following the loss of the "solid South" in Presidential elections), a 5% shift toward conservative self-identification is a definite win for Republicans.  A shift of this size in the 2008 electorate would have resulted in Obama only defeating McCain by 2%, instead of by 7%.  Combined with an enthusiasm gap of at least 2-3%, this ideological shift thus represents the entirety of Republican gains since 2008.
Without more specifics, or perhaps even a larger sample size (Gallup sampled 8,000 people for the 2010 poll), attempting to pinpoint which groups are shifting toward increased conservative self-identification is pure guesswork.  Still, to speculate, my bet is that this is an exacerbation of the white Christian vs non-white and / or non-Christian dynamic that has been underlying the two major political coalitions for some time now.

Despite the greater population growth among demographics that tend to vote for Democrats, Republicans always had a path to remain competitive electorally if they increased their share of the white Christian vote, and remained steady among non-whites and non-Christians.  I have feeling that is exactly what is happening right now, and the two coalitions are becoming even more demographically polarized than ever.  Things are going to get a lot worse in this regard before they get better.

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Don't sweat individual polls

by: Chris Bowers

Tue Jun 15, 2010 at 16:15

The latest poll that is supposed to cause Democratic panic was released today by NPR.  This poll showed Republicans ahead by 8% in the 70 most heavily targeted congressional districts in the 2010 elections.  As with the Gallup poll from two weeks ago that showed Democrats down 6% in the generic ballot, the largest Republican lead ever in that poll, there is only one appropriate way to react to this poll: total, uncontrolled PANIC!

Or not.  The appropriate way to react to polls like these is, as always, to look at the broad context of all polling.  Here is why:

  • There is no One, True Poll There is a tendency among people who follow elections to look for The One, True Pollster that is more accurate than any others.  This is folly.  Every poll has error. No poll that is always right, nor will there ever be a poll that is always right.  The goal it to minimize the error as much as possible.

  • Polling averages more accurate than any poll: Simple polling averages of all available polls have less than 50% the error of individual polls. Across 144 statewiode, general election campaigns from 2004 to 2010, simple polling averages have produced a total error of just under 1.8% from the final projected margin to the final result.  By way of comparison, the average total error from individual polls to the final result was just over 3.6% for the same time period (the NCPP report linked in the previous sentence halves the total error, and refers to it as "candidate error.").  No pollster is ever going to beat the average of  all other polls by 50% across that many campaigns.  Poll averaging works.

  • The broad view of generic congressional ballot polling shows a toss-up.  Here are the 24 generic congressional ballot polls conducted over thepast month and released to public (Zogby Internet polls excluded).  When they are sorted by margin, the tightness of the 2010 campaign is clearly revealed:

    Generic Congressional Ballot, June 15th: GOP +0.9%
    Polls can be found at Pollster.com and Pollingreport.com


    Rasmussen's pro-GOP outliers aside, this is an extremely tight campaign. Of the 20 non-Rasmussen polls, 11 show the campaign either in a dead heat or with one party up by a single point. Only 4 of the 20 non-Rasmussen polls show a margin of more than 3%.  That is a pure toss-up.

  • Little has changed in five months: Since mid-January, the 30-day, simple mean polling average in the generic congressional ballot has shown little variance.  The high point for Democrats was a lead of 0.7%, and the high point for Republicans was a lead of 1.7%.  The current Republican lead of 0.9% is thus not only not cause for panic, but it is hardly newsworthy at all. The electoral environment remaains in a five-month period of near statis.
I understand entirely that writing blog posts about polls is both tempting and easy.  Not only are polls news, but there is an attractive, empirical side to them that can elide the oft-annoying spin tsunami of the political news cycle.  However, when looking at polls, it is always best to look at the entire picture.  While doing so makes for a less dramatic view of the electoral environment, it does make for a more accurate one.
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Um, deficit concerns not "dominant"

by: Chris Bowers

Thu Jun 10, 2010 at 10:45

Based on a single poll, Ezra Klein presents a difficult-to-support reading of the public's sense of national priorities:

And a new Gallup poll shows people are more worried about the deficit than about health-care costs, immigration, global warming, corporate power, unemployment.

Here is the poll in question:


Klein is being far too credulous in this case, and also demonstrating why journalists should refrain from basing narratives on single polls.  Consider:

  1. In the last two polls (Fox and NBC from early May) where Americans provided a list of national priorities, and asked to name the top priority, the deficit averaged 17.5%, well behind the 41% for economy and jobs.

  2. In the last poll where Americans where asked to list the top priorities facing the country, and where not prompted with the list of priorities (CBS from early April), the deficit came in at 5%, compared to 49% for jobs and the economy..

  3. Even in the Gallup poll quoted above, 83% of the country cites unemployment as either "extremely" or "very" important, more than any other issue.
It is not supportable to look at available public polling and conclude that the deficit is the nation's top priority.  It is not even supportable to look at available public polling, and conclude that anything is close to the economy and jobs as the nation's top priority.

This is an "It's the Economy, Stupid,' election.  There is just no credible argument against that right now.

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Public opinion now opposes expanded offshore drilling

by: Chris Bowers

Mon Jun 07, 2010 at 09:38

The oil spill in the gulf continues to create a tectonic shift in public opinion over offshore drilling, making Obama's mid-2008 flip-flop on expanding offshore drilling to placate public option all the more ironic.

From 2008-2010, support for increased offshore drilling was around 2-1 in favor.  Polls from CBS, Pew, ABC News CNN and Gallup all showed over 60% of the country in favor, and less than 35% of the country opposed.  In no poll was the ratio in favor of expanded drilling greater than CBS News.  In two polls conducted in July and August of 2008, CBS found super-majorities in favor, by margins of 64%--28% and 62%--28%.

Support for expanded offshore drilling was do great, and high gasoline costs were such an issue, that between those two CBS polls Barack Obama, then a candidate for President,  made a public flip-flop on the issue.  Once opposed to expanded offshore drilling, Obama said he was open to it.  Eventually, as President, Obama actually lifted the moritorium on expanded offhsore drilling in states represented by ConservaDems, just three weeks before the deadly BP explosion.

Now, however, that same CBS poll, using exactly the same wording it did in 2008, shows the country opposed to expanded offshore drilling, 40-51%.  Other polls--Gallup, CNN, Fox--have also shown support for expanded drilling plummeting.  For supporters of expanded drilling, at best the country is now evenly divided on the issue.  With the plugging efforts and cleanup expected to last another few months, it won't be long before a clear  majority is opposed to expanded offshore drilling.

Just as notably, there is now evidence that President Obama's approval rating has taken a real hit as a result of the BP oil disaster.  As such, this entire episode has become a morality play reminiscent of the Democrats who favored the Iraq war back in 2002.  With public opinion on the side of conservative policy, some Democrats went along with a war that they thought was a bad idea.  Then, only a few years later, that policy caused a huge disaster, and public opinion shifted against that policy.  The Democrats who flipped ended up holding the bag, sitting on the wrong side of public opinion and lacking both foresight and principles.

Hillary Clinton's error in this regard is a significant reason why Obama, rather than Clinton, is currently  President.  Now, Obama's own error is dragging down his Presidency.  That is some remarkably thick irony, about as subtle as the message of an after school special starring Ben Affleck.

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Kagan has anemic confirmation numbers

by: Chris Bowers

Thu May 27, 2010 at 13:36

So far, Gallup, Fox, Pew, and Rasmussen have released polling on whether the public thinks Elana Kagan should be confirmed or not.  Compared to polling from these same four outlets at the same point in the Alito and Sotomayor confirmation process, Kagan lags behind (see Miers, Alito, Sotomayor, and Kagan for the Rasmussen polls, and here for all other polls).

Sotomayor: +18.2% (mid-June 2009)
48.0%--29.8%

Alito: +12.3% (mid-December 2005)
37.3%--25.0%

Kagan: +9.0%
37.8%--28.8%

Miers: +1.5 (late-October 2005)
35.5%--34.0%

Kagan has a net positive "confirm" of 9%.  While that puts her well clear of the failed nomination of Harriet Miers, that is half of what Sonia Sotomayor had in mid-June of 2009 according to these four polling firms, and even less than Samuel Alito's numbers in mid-December of 2005.

While it still seems likely that Kagan will be confirmed, her numbers are low enough that a bad revelation or two might cause real problems.  Even absent such a moment, the general lack of strong feeling on the nomination (another area where Rasmussen is an hysterical outlier, incidentally) means that there will be little political cost to Senators no matter how they vote.  There is not much public engagement on this fight, leaving this nomination a largely internal affair for the Senate.

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Lack of wireless-only helps explain Rasmussen outliers

by: Chris Bowers

Mon May 24, 2010 at 11:57

A new study from the CDC shows that 24.5% of US households, and 22.9% of US adults, were wireless-only in the second half of 2009.  This is a sharp increase over the past two years.  In late 2007, 14.7% of US households, and 13.6% of US adults, were wireless-only.

This rapidly increasing level of wireless-only Americans will have an impact on political polling.  Specifically, excluding wireless-only adults from political surveys will have a statistically significant, negative impact on Democratic performance in political polling.  This was confirmed in a recent study by Pew, which compared the national generic ballot preference of a landline-only sample of 4,683 registered voters with a combined landline and cell-phone sample of 7,055 registered voters:

In the landline sample, Republican candidates have a 47%-to-41% margin over Democratic candidates on the 2010 generic horserace, but in the combined sample voters are evenly divided in their candidate preferences for this November (44% for each party).

There is still a margin of error in a poll with such a large sample size, but it is just barely over plus or minus 1%.  As such, with an overall six-point gap, the survey shows a statistically significant difference between polls that include cell-phone only adults and polls that do not.

Previous research has shown that Rasmussen's use of a likely voter screen is not the reason why their polls now differ strongly from the trendline of all other polls.  Rasmussen's likely voter polls are about six points more favorable to Republicans than other likely voter polls.  Also, Rasmussen polls of all adults are six points more favorable to Republicans than other polls of all adults.  This six-point pro-Republican tilt is exactly the gap found by Pew in their landline-only sample.

Since Rasmussen Reports excludes wireless-only adults from their surveys (possibly due to restrictions on automated phone calls to cell phones), it is likely that the wireless-only effect is one of the main reasons that Rasmussen surveys are now outlying compared to other polling outfits.  Further, the lack of wireless-only adults also plays a role in the recent, particularly eye-popping Rasmussen results in Kentucky (Rand Paul up by 25%) and Arkansas (Boozman up by 27% on Bill Halter).  In 2007, state-level data showed that cell-phone only adults were particularly prevalent in Arkansas and Kentucky.  While 13.6% of the nation as a whole was cell-phone only in 2007, in Arkansas that figure was 21.2% and in Kentucky it was 21.6% (PDF, page 5).  Given the trends nationwide, by May 2010 it is likely that roughly one in three adults in Arkansas and Kentucky are wireless-only.  This would make for an even more pronounced, localized gap than the national discrepancy found in Pew's 2010 study.

Additionally, given that New Jersey has one of the lowest rates of wireless-only adults in the country, this might also help explain why Rasmussen polls for the New Jersey Governor's campaign did not significantly differ from other polls in New Jersey.

The rapidly rise in wireless-only adults, along with the confirmation of the pro-Democratic tilt of those adults, helps explain some, and possibly all, of the difference between Rasmussen polls and other polling firms.  Americans are dumping landlines at a rapid rate, and those Americans doing do skew heavily Democratic.

Update: As an election forecaster, I honestly don't know what to do about the emerging gap between polls that include cell-phone only and those that do not.  About all I can say is that "it's a problem."  I strongly prefer to base my methodology on empirical studies of what has worked in the past when it comes to poll-based electoral forecasting, but the emergence of a very sizable, heavily-skewed cell-phone only population is a relatively new problem.  Polls from 2004-2008 will not offer much guidance here.

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Generic Congressional Ballot, May 18th: Democrats retake a narrow lead

by: Chris Bowers

Tue May 18, 2010 at 12:35

Democrats have taken the lead in the generic congressional ballot average for the first time since April 7th:

Generic Congressional Ballot, May 18th: Democrats +0.2%
Polls from here and here

Overall, this is a 1.7% improvement for Democrats since their April 21st low point.  Republicans had gained 1.7% in the thirty days before then, which were the first 30 days since the passage of health insurance reform.

It should be noted that 1.8% is the median amount of error for this forecasting methodology, so this is not actually a significant amount of movement yet.  All of the movement over the last two months could very well just be random fluctuations within the margin of error.

Perhaps more notably, at Gallup's 2010 election preview event today (follow it on Twitter at #gallup2010), Jeff Jones produced a chart that projected seats in the House of Representatives based on the Generic Congressional Ballot.  According to Jones, if Democrats received 50% of the two-party vote, as the current average projects, they would win 234 seats and maintain control of the House of Representatives:

Projecting seat totals based on Generic Congressional Ballot

This model from Jones suggests that a swing of 7% in the national two-party Congressional vote could result in a net swing of 64 seats in the House of Representatives.  While that seems extremely wide for only a 7% shift, from 2004 to 2008 the Demcoratic share of the national two-party Congressional vote swung almost precisely 7% (from 48.6% to 55.6%), and Democrats gained a net of 54 seats over those two years.  So, perhaps Jones is exaggerating a bit, but not by much.

What this means is that even small shifts in national vote preference can make a huge difference in the final result.  If Democrats were to improve by 3%, they could keep their majority at close to its current size.  By contrast, if Republicans were to improve by 3%, they would be able to take control of the chamber.  At a rate of eight seats for every 1% shift, there is a lot on the table even with small fluctuations.

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National Congressional Ballot: Dems inching up

by: Chris Bowers

Mon May 17, 2010 at 11:25

Don't look now, but Democrats have gained over 3%, on net, in the generic congressional ballot on Pollster.com since early April:


My own numbers don't show quite as dramatic a swing, but Democrats have still gained 1% over the last month (from down 1.3% to down 0.3%), with more likely to come by the end of the week:


The average since April 22nd has Democrats up 0.56%, gaining almost another 1%.

There have been rumored Democratic comebacks before, all of which quickly dissipated.  However, this recent rise is the largest Democratic net gain since the September improvement of last year.  There are also good reasons to think this improvement will stick this time, as the economy continues slowly to improve (even though it is still nowhere near full recovery, there are indications that the relative direction of the economy is has more impact on electoral outcomes than the its absolute condition.)

At least for 2010, Democrats have likely already hit their low point, and won't see the electoral environment become any worse than its current state.  As such, Democrats should maintain a narrow advantage in the generic Congressional ballot from here on out, and thus keep narrow control of the House after 2010.  A prediction like that might make me look foolish in November, or even in just a few weeks, but it is fun to go out on a limb every once and a while.

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Republicans more excited about opposing Obama than Democrats are about supporting him

by: Chris Bowers

Thu May 13, 2010 at 13:30

The latest NBC poll has an interesting tidbit that helps explain a lot about the current political environment:

Obama is more helpful in rallying the GOP base (64% of Republican voters say they're voting GOP to OPPOSE Obama and Dem candidates) than he is his own base (49% of Dem voters say they're voting to SUPPORT Obama and Dem candidates). Translation: Obama's presence on the campaign trail might solidify the GOP base without guaranteeing the same lift to Democrats.

Second translation: Obama is the enthusiasm gap.  He makes Republicans more excited about opposing him then Democrats more excited about supporting him.

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