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Splitting Apart: American Polarization, Part 1

This is part one of a two-part series on polarization in America. This post focuses on Americans' views on, and roles in, polarization. Part two addresses the systemic causes of polarization that result from our ... Read Now >


2/19: It’s Getting Later Earlier

By Dr. Lee M. Miringoff

Some time back, we added 24 x 7 and the permanent campaign to America’s political lexicon.  But, it sure seems like we are pushing the envelope this time around with about 20 GOP wannabes off and (almost) running for their party’s nomination.  On the Democratic side, things are atypically more organized with Hillary Clinton pretty much jogging around the track by herself.  Cast in the role of inevitable this election cycle may play out better for her at least as far as the Democratic nod is concerned.

caricature of Lee MiringoffLast night, I was co-teaching Political Communication at Marist College along with Mary Griffith, The Marist Poll’s director of Media Initiatives and Polling News.  The discussion moved onto the 1968 campaign and how Robert Kennedy didn’t declare his candidacy until that March after the New Hampshire primary.  Recognizing that the rules of selecting nominees are wholly different than they were back then when I was still in high school… nonetheless, this drawn out testing of the waters, forming exploratory committees, and then, finally taking the plunge seems a bit overplayed this time.

Now, we are as guilty as anyone else, although not perhaps as guilty as the potential candidates, on jumping the starting gun.  We have already conducted a series of polls, along with our NBC News media partner, of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.  We have also done several national trial heats with the McClatchy News Service.

So, 24 X 7 and the permanent campaign welcome to 2016!

12/19: Holiday Wishes from the Marist Poll

The entire Marist Poll team would like to wish you a very happy holiday season and a healthy and joyous New Year.

Click below to watch our holiday greeting, including a couple of twists on some holiday favorites.

10/9: Too Close to Call? Not This Time

By Barbara Carvalho

It all came down to Buster Posey vs. Yasiel Puig, and it had nothing to do with the baseball playoffs.  No, it had everything to do with whether I would win this year’s (the 64th) season of the 300 Club.  The group that is made up of around 100 baseball junkies who each year pick ten players and three alternates from the entire major leagues as their roster for the season.

Having trailed miserably for much of the season, I surged in September owing in large part to batters like the Tigers Paul Goldschmidt who failed to qualify.  Although I have mixed feelings about Robinson Cano, (he cost me the 300 Club championship a few years back on the final day of the season, not to mention his deserting my Yankees for the West Coast this year), he made, along with Justin Morneau, for wonderful alternates.

At approximately 3:50 pm on game 162, I took a narrow lead when Daniel Murphy of the Mets (of all teams) finally got a hit in his last AB of the season.  Everyone was now accounted for with the exception of my chief competitor’s pick of Posey and my last gasp, Puig.  Would my .0003 lead hold up? I could barely stand the tension.  It was like watching Eli Manning lead my favorite football Giants down the field (twice) to win the Super Bowl, or waiting for the exit polls to confirm the pre-election estimates that I’m responsible for at The Marist Poll.

The 4pm games started badly for me when the Giants Posey belted a home run in his first AB… Would Puig hold the line?  Would Posey ruin my season?

Posey ended up being taken out of the game after going 2 for 4, closing the gap ever so slightly.  Puig went 0-3 but because of rounding only dropped 1 point for his lack of production.  Final result: I won by .0001 of a point.  Much closer than the Bush-Gore battle in Florida in 2000.

To what do I owe my success?  Does my career as a pollster improve my estimates as a predictor of baseball averages? Or, is it vice-versa?

I’ve pondered this for the better part of the week.  And, with the mid-term elections rapidly approaching, I feel my Marist Poll colleagues and our NBC News partners would like me to arrive at a definitive conclusion.

Here goes… I’m clearly a numbers person and enjoy compiling stats in both arenas.  Early trends also are key in baseball and politics.  I’m not required to pick the 300 Club players until roughly a month into the season and everyone knows there are plenty of pre-election polls to establish trends.  Both fields are also the subject of number-crunching aggregators.

There is, however, one startling difference between baseball and election prognostications.  With the 300 Club, there is no margin of error.  Thankfully, winners and losers in elections don’t require .0001 poll precision.

7/25: Candidate Clinton? 50-50 Odds Are Never a Sure Bet

By Dr. Lee M. Miringoff

There are two schools of thought on whether Hillary Clinton is running for president in 2016.  Some say she is and some say she isn’t.

But, is Clinton in essence already on the campaign trail?  I don’t know.  What have we learned about whether she will eventually run for real?  I don’t know.

Why? Because if Hillary Clinton is running for president, she’d be doing exactly what she’s been doing lately… a book tour, public pronouncements, TV appearances etc.  If Hillary Clinton is not running for president, she’d also be doing exactly what she’s been doing lately… a book tour, public pronouncements, TV appearances etc.

There are several interesting take-aways from our recent NBC News/Marist Polls of Iowa and New Hampshire on what the public thinks about the former First Lady, former US Senator, and former Secretary of State.  First off, Democrats are ready for Hillary.  Her favorable rating with her party’s faithful is 89% in Iowa and 94% in New Hampshire.  WOW!  And, she trounces VP Joe Biden in both of these states in early hypothetical matchups by 50 points in Iowa and 56 points in New Hampshire.  DOUBLE WOW!!

Dems may be ready for Hillary, but the rest of the voters in these two states are less than eager.  In fact, she is closely matched against most of her potential GOP rivals, and is under 50% in both states against all comers except Scott Walker in Iowa and Ted Cruz in New Hampshire.  To make matters even less comforting for the Clinton for President team, each of the Republicans runs better in pairings against Clinton than their own favorability rating.  In other words, Hillary Clinton unifies the GOP opposition.  Right now, she’d make Iowa and New Hampshire, states that Obama carried both times, swing states.  Not a pretty picture for the Democrats.

So, Hillary Clinton may ultimately toss her hat into the ring.  And, she may have a clear path to her party’s nomination.  But, she will have to go through a prolonged battle against her eventual GOP opponent before anyone should talk of her winning the White House.

7/9: Incumbent Cuomo Favored by Those Who Want Change

By Dr. Lee M. Miringoff



Change is usually a welcome sign in politics for a challenger looking to unseat an incumbent.  But, so far, in NYS the sentiment to move in a new direction is not providing Rob Astorino, the GOP challenger to Governor Andrew Cuomo, the kind of boost he needs.  In the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC 4 NY/Marist Poll, 57% of voters think NYS needs major changes.  Although this is down from the 73% who held this view when Cuomo first took office, it could provide the foundation for a serious challenge to the first term governor, all things being equal.

But, all things are not equal. 55% of NYS voters are confident Cuomo is changing state government for the better.  They see the incumbent as a strong leader and as someone who cares about the average person.  Yet, don’t expect a record-breaking re-election for Cuomo.  His approval rating at 48% is not off the charts.  Although most NYers think the worst of the economic slump is behind them, 60% still think the state is in a recession.

Right now, a majority of NYS voters do not know enough about Astorino to have an opinion of him.  That represents an opportunity for him but also carries a risk.  Once the Cuomo campaign shifts into high gear, they will try to define Astorino as unacceptable to NY voters.  Unless Astorino can set his sails to the winds of change, he will finish a distant second.

6/2: MIPO Crowns Photo Caption Winner

The votes have been tallied (something at which we are adept), and The Marist Poll has declared a winner in its photo caption contest!

Last month, MIPO asked you to caption the attached photo of Dr. Lee M. Miringoff and President Barack Obama at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. And, many of you joined in the fun to win a Marist Poll fleece jacket!

MIPO is pleased to announce the winner is:

“Sure, we’d love to have you join the White House intramural basketball league, Lee!  As a matter of fact, Vice President Biden is looking for a low post player, and I think you would be perfect,” submitted by Sean Kaylor.

MIPO would also like to give honorable mention and a Marist Poll T-shirt to:
“Rock, Paper, Scissors Shoot.”  I win again,” submitted by Margaret Monti.

Many thanks to all who participated!

6/2: Likely Voters: Why Later Not Now

By Dr. Lee M. Miringoff

Registered voters early. Likely voters later.  Public polls serve their audience well by capturing the views of the electorate at an appropriate time and communicate precisely what group of voters they are including in their tabulations.

caricature of Lee MiringoffEarly in a contest, before voters have focused on the candidates or the race, maybe even before they even know a seat is being contested later that fall, The Marist Poll, along with its NBC News partner offers a preliminary look at voters and candidates.  This is when registered voters, the entire potential electorate, is measured.  It is the only group of voters whose views can be legitimately assessed this early.

It would be simpler to report the preferences of likely voters six months out from an election, and trend those numbers as Election Day approaches, but simpler doesn’t make it possible or right.  In fact, to designate an individual who is likely to vote far away from an election would be misleading.  It is hard enough identifying a pool of likely voters close to an election.  Doing so long in advance is a misuse of public poll technology and data.

Why not model early poll results to a previous general election turnout? Again, let’s not get ahead of our skis here.  It would make matters easier if history repeated itself when it comes to the composition of an electorate.  But, the future is not always as we remember it.  Demography changes from election to election, as does the interest level of different groups of voters, and the ability of campaigns to turn out their supporters.  Campaigns and candidates matter, as does the changing demographic landscape on which these battles are waged.  Without these important factors considered close to Election Day, you easily can end up with public polls predicting a President Romney.

As for the growing interest in predicting elections without poll data, good luck to you!  The more successful forecasting models will include rigorous, scientific public polls in their equation to capture the unique dynamics of each election cycle.  Why are the early forecasting models of who will win the majority of the U.S. Senate all over the place… ranging from around a 40% chance of the Republicans gaining control to roughly a 75% “probability”?  It’s a long way to Election Day and some models are adjusting for early public polls, others are not.  More on this in a subsequent discussion.

So, why bother with early public polls?  There are several solid reasons.  First, the candidates are conducting their private surveys to base campaign strategy or to offer early spin on a contest.  An independent source of poll data, available to journalists and the public, is a useful guide in understanding how competitive a race is.  Second, follow-up polls provide insights into how a contest is trending.  No harm there, as long as you are comparing apples to apples… registered voters to registered voters and later, likely voters to likely voters.

Are early polls of registered voters predictive of the eventual election result?  Of course, not.  That’s why there are campaigns.  But, that is not what we are tasking with these early measurements.  The segment of the electorate, if carefully measured and communicated accurately, can be helpful in assessing campaign politics, especially given the earlier start to campaigns.  2014? Not just the mid-term elections, but 2016 is now already in view.  The farsighted analysts will, no doubt, be shortly speculating about 2020, the election that will require perfect vision no doubt.

3/28: The Marist Poll Celebrates 35 Years

The Marist Poll is marking a milestone.  For 35 years, The Marist Poll has been accurately and scientifically gauging public opinion.

To commemorate this achievement, The Marist Poll recently held a panel discussion at The Paley Center for Media in New York City.  As moderators, poll directors Lee M. Miringoff and Barbara L. Carvalho welcomed four distinguished political journalists — Mark Murray, NBC News’ Senior Political Editor, Michael Oreskes, Vice President and Senior Managing Editor of the Associated Press, Steve Thomma, Senior White House Correspondent and the Government and Politics Editor for McClatchy Newspapers, and Amy Walter, the National Editor of The Cook Political Report — to discuss the topic, Can 2014 or 2016 Fix a Broken Washington?

Introductions by Chris DelGiorno and Dr. Dennis J. Murray

Welcome by Dr. Lee M. Miringoff and Addressing the Political Landscape by Dr. Barbara L. Carvalho

Obama, Congress, and 2014

The Changing Demography and 2016

Panelists Answer Audience Questions

11/21: A View from the Band: Coming of Age and the JFK Assassination

It was a once in a lifetime experience turned tragic.  On the morning of November 22, 1963, a young John Sparks joined his fellow high school band members to play “Hail to the Chief” for President John F. Kennedy.  Hours later, like the rest of the world, Sparks learned of Kennedy’s assassination.

The experience shaped Sparks’ career path as a journalist., and as a native Texan, Sparks began to learn of unique personal connections that he had to the assassination of the president.  Years later, he would uncover more associations during his professional career as a journalist.  Five decades later, Sparks, who also serves as The Marist Poll’s Senior Website Editor, shares his unique perspective of that day in a 23 minute documentary, “A View from the Band: Coming of Age and the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy.”

Watch “A View from the Band” here.

In just the latest chapter in Sparks’ illustrious career in broadcast journalism, Sparks is currently co-host of The Texas Daily on KTXD-TV in Dallas, Texas.  To mark the anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination, Sparks will serve as Executive Producer and co-anchor during 12 hours of coverage tomorrow, Friday, November 22, 2013.  The special will air on Channel 47 in Dallas, beginning at 7 A.M. CST.  “JFK 50: A Texas Tribute” will also be streamed online at

9/12: The Role of Public Polls

By Dr. Lee M. Miringoff

This NYC primary season brought both an anticipated “poll-iferation” and an equally expected questioning of the reliability of public polls.  With the first round of 2013 citywide voting now over and primary day in our rear view mirror, let’s assess how the public polls fared.  (Helpful hint: we adhere to principles of transparency.  If you want to number crunch, check out the rest of the site.)

caricature of Lee MiringoffA clarification on the role of public polls is the first order of business.  The case is often made that public polls move voters and unduly influence the outcome of an election.  The argument typically takes the following form: everybody likes a winner and public polls become self-fulfilling.  If this view was correct, it would be understandable for candidates who trail in public polls to shoot the messenger for allegedly overstating a front-runner’s support.

But, this is not a position I subscribe to.  Christine Quinn, the early favorite, did not widen her lead.   No bandwagon effect here.  Eliot Spitzer would have taken his early measure of Stringer and won by a landslide.  In fact, front-runners would always be expected to run up the score as Election Day neared.  Au contraire.  The political graveyards are full of fallen front-runners.  There must be something more to the role of polls then the self-fulfilling prophecy.

The truth is, it’s the candidates and their campaigns that win or lose elections.  This doesn’t come as a revelation to anyone involved in the world of political consulting or political reporters well versed in survey methods.  Public polls, if done scientifically, monitor campaign developments and changes in candidate support.

Second, even if the above assertion were true, in this era of “poll-iferation,” voters would be able to find poll numbers for many different potential scenarios.  Think back to Obama-Romney last fall.  Public polls were often at odds over where the electorate stood. If you liked Romney, you could find evidence for his lead.  And, you didn’t have to search too far to find numbers to your liking if you were an Obama supporter.  No need to switch your allegiance because of poll findings.

Rather than being targeted erroneously, public polls serve a useful, and yes, even a vital function in today’s high tech politics.  They offer, if conducted well, an insightful narrative of a campaign.  They guide journalists and poll-watchers about the dynamics shaping the electorate.  What are the issues driving voters? How are they reacting to campaign developments? What is the composition of the electorate and the appeal of the candidates?  This primary, it was extremely interesting to see how Democratic voters were assessing term limits, stop and frisk, affordability,  the 12-year incumbency of Michael Bloomberg, and the television campaign ads… the so-called “Dante effect.”

Debate watchers, for example, may think candidate Anthony Weiner won a debate, but the poll can tell us if the voters were moved.  (They weren’t).  In fact, public polls informed the public and the media about the willingness of voters to give Anthony Weiner a second chance, but not a third. Yet, his initial rise in the polls, provided some insight into Quinn’s weakness as the early front-runner.  The public polls documented the rise in her negatives and, most recently, the de Blasio surge.

Public polls also let the public in on the secret of what the private campaign polls are showing and provide insight about how candidates shape their strategies to survive the rough and tumble world of Big Apple electoral politics.  Does an opponent step up the attacks on a frontrunner?  First, Quinn took the incoming from her rivals.  Then, de Blasio was the target.  Check out Thompson’s ads about de Blasio and stop and frisk.  Don’t you think their campaign polls were telling them something?  You betcha!

How did the public polls perform tracking the Democratic primary in NYC ’13? Phase one: Speaker Christine Quinn was the early front-runner, but never had a lock on the primary.  She was the target of attacks as she tried to delicately balance her legislative work with Mayor Bloomberg with her desire to provide some distance.  No fourth term was she.  But, Quinn was unable to navigate this tightrope successfully.

Phase two: Anthony Weiner entered the fray and emerged as a serious contender.  This suggested both weakness in Quinn as the early front-runner, and that New Yorkers were willing to give Weiner a second chance.  He, and later Spitzer, took all the oxygen out of the electoral room during the summer and stymied the rest of the Democratic field from making serious inroads.

But, voters experienced redemption overload when a second round of Weiner’s sexting scandal emerged.  As the public polls documented, his negatives soared.  He continued to make good copy for the media, and remained very visible in terms of his ads and debates.  But, end of story for Anthony Weiner.

Summer turned to fall and the TV air wars intensified.  Finally, the Democratic field had a chance to breathe.  The de Blasio campaign captured the attention of Democratic voters with a well-constructed ad featuring his son Dante, and cornering the issues of stop and frisk, term limit extension, and city affordability.  This carried him through the primary.  No band wagon effect.  It was a well-constructed campaign.

Primary polling is no picnic.  But, I’ll leave that for another time.  For the present, the public polls provided a useful narrative on this mayoralty contest.  Today starts a new day!