It might be said that in polling you get what you ask for. That’s the case in the word choice of questions that measure the approval rating of an elected official. Different polling organizations use different approaches. For more than three decades, The Marist Poll, has relied upon a four-point question asking respondents to pick from “excellent, good, fair, or poor.” “Excellent” and “good” in this measure are combined as a positive score.
In the interest of transparency, all of our poll results are released publicly sometimes creating a poll-watchers give-and-take. This is the case in the minor dust-up in our latest NYC measure of Mayor Bloomberg. Some have argued that our measure undercounts how well the mayor is doing because some voters who say “fair” have a positive view of his job performance.
Several points need to be made. First, we recognize that many voters who believe that Mayor Bloomberg is doing a “fair” job would tell us, if asked, they “approve” of his job performance. Therefore, on a two-point approve-disapprove question, his job performance would be scored somewhat higher than it is on our four-point measure. But, a two-point measure, which includes some “fair” responses as positive, represents exceedingly tepid support for the mayor and nothing you would want to build a campaign around if you are seeking to replace him next year. It inflates his standing for 2013 beyond his campaign value.
Second, an approval rating with a four-point measure offers a look at the intensity of voters’ views… the “excellents” and the “poors.” And, because of our long history of polling New York public officials, we can provide trend data on this question. Third, the combined “excellent” and “good” responses can serve as a barometer of an office holder’s re-election prospects.
In the case of Mayor Bloomberg this election year, it’s a useful way to assess the potential impact of his endorsement or whether a candidate is helped or harmed by being too closely identified with him. The results from this Marist Poll of Mayor Blomberg’s approval rating is 50%. In fact, when New Yorkers are asked specifically whether his endorsement would make them more likely to vote for a candidate, 36% say “yes” and 44% say “no.”
The Mayor need not apologize for a decent approval rating as he approaches a dozen years in office. But, these numbers suggest that candidates this year will not be running on the mantle of anything that resembles making their election Bloomberg’s fourth term. Among the Democrats, City Council Speaker Quinn will need to deftly pick and choose from the city’s accomplishments. For the other Democratic candidates, it requires them to both try to tie Quinn to the mayor while separating themselves from the pack of alternatives. The mayor’s influence is not much different for candidates vying for the Republican nomination. It’s Rudy Giuliani’s endorsement that matters for the GOP nod.
Along with most of the nation today, I’m thinking inauguration. My first memories of a president taking the oath of office date to 1961. My age. Ask not! My favorite inauguration was the first I had attended, Bill Clinton’s in 1993.
There are many great memories from those few days in Washington from the swearing in (excellent seats) to attending the NYS ball that evening (rubbed shoulders with Nelson Mandela).
The top recollection, after the passage of several decades, remains watching the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue from Senator Moynihan’s apartment. Our own private viewing stand.
My contact with Senator Moynihan dates to phone calls I would regularly receive in the early ‘80s about his latest Marist Poll numbers from his, then, staff aide, Tim Russert. The relationship with the Senator grew over the years to include seminars at Marist College where he would treat political science students to his special take of politics and policy. On one occasion, he was even a good enough sport to try his hand at an interview as “Daniel Patrick” with a voter who unfortunately couldn’t rate Senator Moynihan because he had never heard of him. (Won’t ever try that again.) And, there were the lunches in the Senate dining room always full of insight and dripping with Capitol lore.
But, his invitation to attend his inauguration party was the best. And, the memories stay fresh as does my recollection of Senator Moynihan as a great host and gentleman.
It’s been 6 years since our mentor, colleague, and friend’s death. Warren Mitofsky was a clear thinker and major innovator of the public polling community. Beyond his methodological rigor, he communicated long-lasting, yet, simple messages to the profession. His thoughts remain vital through the 2012 election cycle.
Despite this year’s successful scientifically based public polls, the road was rocky, beset by a drum-beat of critics. Yet, Warren’s frequently uttered message, now ably echoed by Joe Lenski, remains a guide. “Believe your numbers!”
If your methods are scientifically sound, and
…you uncover unique results which pin the tag “outlier” on your findings, believe your numbers.
…you have a wider than expected spread in party identification, that brings a cascade of unwarranted criticism about weighting to party, believe your numbers.
…you are labelled a “newcomer” to Florida polling when you have Obama +2 and other long-standing polls have Romney +6, it isn’t a “house effect”. Believe your numbers.
…you detect a changing demography… an increase in minorities… in your likely voter models, it may simply reflect changing demography. Believe your numbers.
…more voters are telling your interviewers that they have already voted than are being reported by state tallying sources, it may reflect a time delay in mailing and recording early votes. Believe your numbers.
And, if you are being hammered for belonging to a conspiracy of pollsters who are cooking numbers and skewing results, stay focused.
Yes, it was “shoot the messenger” time and public pollsters were definitely in season.
Warren also advised us to always, always, always, poll right up to Election Day, even if you opt, to avoid confusion with Election Day exit polls, not to release the poll. Recognizing that campaigns don’t stop when you finish your “final” survey, sometimes a week out, there just might be something to be learned for future elections about the electorate and your likely voter models with this “exercise.”
We forgot his sage advice on the eve of the 2008 New Hampshire presidential primary when Hilary Clinton “upset” Barack Obama. It would have saved us re-calling our respondents all week to ascertain the late movement among women to Clinton.
This year, the initial impact of Hurricane Sandy was picked up in our pre-weekend NBC/WSJ/Marist Polls of FLOHVA — Florida, Ohio, and Virginia. But, was there any late movement on the eve of the election? We decided to invest, as per Warren’s dictum, in one last poll, bringing the grand 13 month total to 53 surveys. Sunday and Monday, we conducted a national survey and found Obama +3 among registered voters and +2 among the likely electorate.
There were many juicy poll nuggets in this survey including information about independent voters, approval ratings, the electorate’s view of the direction of the nation and the economy, minority participation, and where undecided voters were likely to end up. This all provided a context for Tuesday’s official tally and will guide our polls, especially our likely voter models, in future election cycles.
So, Election 2012 is now comfortably in our rear view mirror. Thanks, Warren, for being the lead driver once again.
When it comes to public opinion polls, this election cycle has had more shoot the messenger reactions than ever before. There’s little doubt that pollsters are in season for October and November.
Maybe this results from the growing twitter-sphere. I can’t recall the number of times I’ve had to explain that we don’t weight by party, can’t weight by party, and shouldn’t weight by party. Party identification is a variable that moves from election to election and from poll to poll. If you had used the ’04 exit polls as a guide for ’08, McCain would have been elected.
Ironically, I’ve never been asked why we might be undercounting young people or overcounting conservatives. I guess the criticisms of poll data are motivated by the political cliche: “Where you stand depends upon where you sit.”
Pollsters can adjust data when there are population parameters but not for attitudes. By way of example, pollsters can weight by age because it is a known number, but not by whether you consider yourself to be young, middle-aged, or old, an attitude.
Then, there’s the issue of pollsters “cooking the numbers” to create some pre-desired result. This criticism is often tied to the “weighting by party” argument.” If you have any worries about pollsters forming a conspiracy, you should attend a professional gathering of number crunchers and watch them try to figure out where to go to lunch. There isn’t a scientifically based public pollster I’ve ever come across in more than three decades of polling who isn’t motivated exclusively by the desire to be accurate and informative.
Then, there’s the matter of track record. A couple of facts about The Marist Poll. In the presidential election of 2008, we polled five of the current battleground states. We called every one right. The average difference between our final estimates and the Election Day results was 2%. And, we underestimated Obama in each case. We are sufficiently humble enough to understand that you are only as good as your last election cycle. And, the battleground states this time are very close.
We are firmly committed to transparency, and make all of our numbers available to the public. Unfortunately, it is our belief in sharing all of our internal numbers that frequently creates the misuse of our polls. But, we will continue to provide the numbers nonetheless because so many people find them valuable and informative.
Finally, I’ve never been convinced that voters are waiting for the next poll to decide who to support. It’s really the other way around. Public polls measure what voters think based upon what the candidates and their campaigns are doing.
Now, I’ve been asked my take on who will win the battleground states. The ‘ol perfessor Casey Stengel used to say, “It’s very difficult making predictions, especially about the future.” Nonetheless, affix your bayonets… Here goes.
Obama has a slight advantage in Ohio and Iowa. Nevada and Wisconsin are leaning his way. The remaining swing states: Florida, Virginia, Colorado, New Hampshire, and North Carolina are simply too close to call.
If (and, it’s still a big “IF”) you give Obama Ohio, Iowa, Nevada, and Wisconsin, and Romney the remaining five states, then Obama ends up with 277 electoral votes to Romney’s 261. The assumption here is that Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Minnesota all remain blue states (another ”IF,” even if not as big). We have not polled these states.
Also, recognize these states are all within single digits and most are within the margin of error. Late movement among undecided voters and get out the vote efforts can still have a big impact on all the contested states. Why? Because it’s very close!
Have a good Election Day. My thanks and gratitude to the more than 100,000 voters who have taken their time to share their views with us this election year.
The GOP convention is (finally) off and running followed next week by the Democratic gathering. With Obama and Romney closely matched at the start of these two quadrennial events, as they have been since Romney emerged as the presumptive GOP nominee, what should we expect poll number-wise once the final gavel goes down in Charlotte?
Post-convention bounces are often dissected for any hint that the character of the contest has changed. Yet, typically 5% has been about all a candidate can count on, and that advantage often quickly dissipates.
Don’t be surprised this go-around if the Romney and Obama bounces are even smaller. Simply put, there’s far fewer persuadable voters to reach. The “undecided” and “”those who might vote differently” groups now are about half the size of recent election cycles.
Part of the explanation has to do with the relative lateness of these conventions. The summer is practically over. Part of the explanation resides in the polarization that divides the electorate. Most voters have already picked sides. Part of the explanation is the result of limited network coverage for these increasingly staged events.
Nonetheless, the two conventions are important for Romney and Obama. Romney has to solve his likeability problem. Obama has to address why any shortcomings of his first term are likely to vanish if he is re-elected. And, both camps are keen on rallying their respective bases. Enthusiasm doesn’t show up in tossup numbers or poll bounces, but it is likely to determine who takes the oath of office in January.
Are you in search of the definitive narrative for decision ’12? Each time something BIG happens…an Obama or a Romney gaffe, the SCOTUS ruling on immigration or health care, the latest jobs numbers etc… the pundit and polling communities pounce on it as the storyline for the election.
Well, chattering class, be patient. It is true the candidates are already in high gear and the ad makers are regularly launching their missiles, but national polls and battleground state polls continue to show the race to be close. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Certainly, there’s much to be learned along the way from the political insights of experts about campaign strategies and public polls about how voters are absorbing what is being offered to them.
But, the conventions, the debates, the October economy, unforeseen international events, and (perhaps, most significantly) the ability of the campaigns to turn out their supporters will ultimately connect the dots that form the picture of the Obama re-election effort and the Romney challenge.
Sure. Early public polls both national and state are open to the charge of not being predictive. National polls carry the added burden of not necessarily reflecting the electoral college state-by-state vote.
Now, if you don’t want to be a public poll-tracker but are interested in the ups and downs of the campaign, there’s an easy way out. Just follow where Obama, Romney, and their surrogates are campaigning (not raising money). That’ll provide you with a short-hand map of the battleground states and who is fighting on whose turf.
However, if you want to gain insight beyond the horse race, you don’t have to drill down too far in the public poll numbers. These electoral snapshots not only provide a sense of why Obama and Romney are doing what they do and where, but an insider’s appreciation of the dynamics shaping voters’ views about campaign ’12.
First, public polls let the public in on the secret of what the candidates and frequently the media know, often based on campaign polls about the latest trends. If you’re interested, check out yesterday’s NBC News/Wall Street Journal national poll or tomorrow’s NBC News/Marist Poll of three battleground states: North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Michigan. The results will be detailed on Chuck Todd’s The Daily Rundown beginning at 9:00 A.M. on MSNBC.
The poll numbers reveal the unique flavor of the 2012 electorate over who’s better suited to lead the economy, to what extent voters think Obama inherited the economic mess, an argument he often makes, and what voters think about the direction of the nation, a topic Romney is happy to discuss.
When checking out the numbers in individual battleground states, beyond the tossups, what is Obama’s approval rating? who is more likeable? How committed are each candidate’s supporters? What is the likelihood they will vote? How interested are they in the campaign? How enthusiastic are they?
Drill down a bit more to find out how wide the gender gap is in this election cycle. Is the youth vote, critical to Obama’s 2008 victory, in line for him this time?
So, stay connected to the public polls whether your candidate is ahead or behind. I think you will find them to be interesting and valuable. If not, label the poll “an outlier” and wait for numbers you like better.
It should be the battle cry of all pollsters and poll watchers interested in accuracy when it comes to presidential polling. The problems of reaching cell phone only respondents are well documented. But, measurements of the Obama-Romney horse race that rely solely on landline households do so at great peril.
Check out the results from the recent NBC News/Marist Polls of swing states. In Florida, Romney is +3% with landline voters, but Obama is +23% with cell phones. In Virginia, it’s pretty much the same… Romney +1% with landlines, Obama is +18% among cells. Owing to his wider lead in Ohio, Obama is +4% with landline voters but is also +9% with the cell phone electorate.
Two final comments on this issue of methods: First, there’s no doubt that Obama’s advantage with cell phones has a lot to do with younger people dominating the cell phone only electorate. But, the under 30 aged voters made the difference in 2008. It would be a pollster gamble to undercount them this time. Second, this discussion has been only about telephone surveys with live interviewers. Robo-polls which also exclude cell phone households are an entirely different polling battlefield.
The bottom line: cell phone only households need to be included in all accurate attempts at public opinion measurement. For campaign 2012, it’s not a choice, it’s a necessity.
A little perspective seems in order over the recent dustup in Albany involving Governor Cuomo’s staff keeping tabs on reporters’ comments about him. No, this is not a throwback to Richard Nixon’s Enemy’s List. It barely resembles the legendary Mario Cuomo’s late-night tussle with reporters over nuanced points of theology. Hopefully, aside from this tongue-in-cheek comment, we never hear this referred to as “Press-Gate.” (My pet peeve is that “Gate” is typically used way too often and thereby loses its muscle… See Seamus-Gate).
Instead, I think we have just gotten an up close look at how politics has long been played. Closely monitoring references made about a politician both big and small is made necessary given the quick-speed technology of today’s political world. What were once cast aside as seemingly insignificant gaffes now go viral…Etch a Sketch, working women etc… in recent days. And, nowadays, things hang around for eternity. So, anything you said or said about you at any prior point can resurface in the future… like 2016, for example… and have a major impact in the court of public opinion.
If you believe that politicians and the press have largely an adversarial relationship, than chalk this one up to your side of the argument. In the meantime, here’s to the press for not getting intimidated when a pol is watching your every blog, and here’s to the right of our political leaders to watch out for their own good.
Who can argue against this GOP contest as being the most topsy-turvy in recent memory? True. But, in our desire to grasp a little certainty, to this at times spinning out of control roller coaster ride, just what is the historical precedent we can grab onto?
A few cases come to mind. The Romney campaign is happy to trumpet any comparisons between this primary season and the Obama/Clinton contest in 2008…a long, drawn out contest with Obama riding his delegate advantage to the nomination (and, of course, eventual election). Team Romney is eager to overlook the part that Hillary was also cast in the role of the inevitable victor.
If you don’t buy this most recent comparison to model the GOP 2012 campaign, there’s plenty of other examples from which to pick. Try the 1976 GOP variety on for size. Here, the state by state slog of primaries and caucuses resulted in a narrow win for Gerald Ford, the front-runner, over the insurgent Republican conservative Ronald Reagan. No argument from the Romney camp here.
How about the Democratic ideological and personal split in 1980 between Carter and Kennedy? No party unity that year was found as Carter unsuccessfully chased a reluctant Kennedy around the convention podium for a friendly group photo. This is not the picture Romney would like to see in Tampa this summer.
But wait, there’s more. Chuck Todd aired on the Daily Rundown (3/18) some great footage from the 1964 GOP battle between Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller. Although I’m reluctant to admit it, I do recall this campaign. Indeed, there were many reasons to account for the GOP disaster that election cycle. But, as Todd points out, ideological fights inside the nominating process can doom party chances for the general election. Stay tuned on this one.
If the war over delegates drags on, then a brokered convention will top the list of pundit terms this summer. That will cause all of us to dust off our history books to reconnect with the 1948 GOP convention battle in Philadelphia which was resolved following two contested ballots. At least from the convention that year, the headline, “Dewey Wins!” was correct. And no, that election was before my time.