Seeking information on a push-poll in IA-02

I’ve heard several accounts of a push-poll going around Iowa’s second Congressional district since shortly before Thanksgiving. The call apparently asks about four-term incumbent Dave Loebsack, his declared Republican opponent Mark Lofgren, and his 2008 and 2010 opponent Mariannette Miller-Meeks, who appears likely to run for Congress again. Some Republican-aligned entity clearly paid for the calls, because the script alleges that millions of people have lost their health care (a reference to many health insurance plans being cancelled for not meeting new federal requirements). The script also suggests that Loebsack lied about the health care reform law he voted for in 2010.

I encourage Bleeding Heartland readers to stay on the line and take notes whenever you receive a push-poll or a legitimate survey testing messages for or against any candidate. If you received a call like this recently in IA-02, any details you can remember would be helpful, such as the question wording, question order, or who paid for the call (should be mentioned at the end). You can either post information in this thread or contact me confidentially: desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com.

One person thought the call came from “Victory Polling.” The Davenport-based political consulting firm Victory Enterprises has a polling division and has been doing work for Lofgren’s campaign. It’s also possible that the National Republican Congressional Committee or some conservative group that gets involved in House races would pay for calls hitting Loebsack on health care reform.  

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Small Business Support for Clean Energy A Key to 2010 Elections?

Yesterday’s Democratic Senate caucus meeting – combined with Majority Leader Reid’s push on this issue, combined with President Obama’s leadership, combined with a clear demand by the public for action – has given comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation a major boost as we head towards the 4th of July recess. Clearly, at this point, there’s a better path to 60 votes in the U.S. Senate for comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation than ever before. We are that close to making history, let’s make sure we seize this moment!

With all that in mind, a recent national survey by Al Quinlan of Greenburg Quinlan Rosner Research has potentially powerful implications for the 2010 elections, providing yet more evidence that climate legislation – despite a fallacious “mainstream media” narrative arguing otherwise – is actually good politics. The key findings are threefold (note: the document talks about strategy for the Democratic Party, but could apply to Republicans as well):

  1. Small businesses “are among America’s most popular entities,” with an eye-popping 44:1 favorable to unfavorable ratio (“the highest we have ever seen in our polling on any topic”)
  2. Generating support from small business owners, for either political party, is a key to success in the upcoming mid-term elections.
  3. Small business owners strongly agree “that a move to clean energy will help restart the economy and lead to job creation by small businesses.” In fact, according to Greenburg Quinlan, “One of the most surprising findings of the survey is that despite the fact that nearly two thirds of business owners believe it would increase costs for their businesses, a majority still want to move forward on clean energy and climate policy.”

As if that’s not evidence enough that there’s broad support out there for comprehensive, clean energy and climate legislation, how about this Benenson Survey Group survey, conducted in late May/early June 2010? The key findings of this poll are:

  • 65% of “likely 2010 voters” believe that “the federal government should invest much more than it currently invests [or] somewhat more than it currently invests .”
  • 63% of “likely 2010 voters” support an energy bill that would “limit pollution, invest in domestic energy sources and encourage companies to use and develop clean energy…in part by charging energy companies for carbon pollution in electricity or fuels like gas.”
  • Among “undecided voters,” “62% support the bill and just 21% oppose.”

There is also strong evidence from this polling that voters – including independent voters by a 2.5:1 margin – are strongly inclined, by around a 2:1 margin, to be “more likely to re-elect” their Senator if he or she voted for a strong, comprehensive, clean energy and climate bill.

In sum, solid majorities of small businesspeople and the public at large both support comprehensive, clean energy and climate legislation. Which is why, once again – as we pointed out yesterday – the “mainstream media” narrative, that voting for limits on carbon pollution is bad politics, is just dead wrong. To the contrary, victory this November could go to the candidates – and the party – that seizes this issue and makes it their own. Ideally, it would be great to see both Republicans and Democrats fighting to be the “greenest” candidate, and not just in terms of how much money they raise.

UPDATE: Add another poll to the list, this one by WSJ-NBC indicating that “Respondents favored comprehensive energy and carbon pollution reduction legislation by 63 percent to 31 percent – a two to one margin.”

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A few questions about polling the Obama-McCain race

I am not a pollster or a statistician, but I have been thinking about some factors that may cause problems with the polling of this year’s presidential election. I welcome input from anyone with expertise in this area.

1. Cell-phone only voters.

I gather from this piece in the New York Times caucus blog that several prominent pollsters now routinely include cellphone samples in their surveys in light of the growing number of Americans who use only or mostly cell-phones.

I also know that a Pew Research Center survey taken in July suggested that Americans who use cell-phones are not that different politically from the population at large. To be more precise, people who use cell-phones most of the time are very much like the electorate at large, while people who exclusively use cell-phones are a bit different, but are also less likely to vote:

The cell-only and cell-mostly respondents in the Pew poll are different demographically from others. Compared with all respondents reached on a landline, both groups are significantly younger, more likely to be male, and less likely to be white. But the cell-only and cell-mostly also are different from one another on many characteristics. Compared with the cell-only, the cell-mostly group is more affluent, better educated, and more likely to be married, to have children, and to own a home.

We know from many years of polling that married people, people with children and home-owners are all groups more likely to vote Republican than the population at large. The Pew study also found that

In the current poll, cell-only respondents are significantly more likely than either the landline respondents or the cell-mostly respondents to support Barack Obama and Democratic candidates for Congress this fall. They also are substantially less likely to be registered to vote and – among registered voters – somewhat less likely to say they are absolutely certain they will vote. Despite their demographic differences with the landline respondents, the cell-mostly group is not significantly different from the landline respondents politically.

Yet as Pew has found in the past, when data from landline and cell phone samples are combined and weighted to match the U.S. population on key demographic measures, the results are similar to those from the landline survey alone.

I get that the phenomenon of cell-phone-only users is probably not introducing large errors in poll findings.

My question is, does the proportion of cell-phone only Americans differ substantially from state to state, or is it a fairly uniform phenomenon across the country? To put it another way, are certain regions of the country, or states with a higher percentage of urban residents, more likely to have larger than average numbers of people who use cell-phones exclusively?

If any swing states have a particularly large number of cell-phone only residents, that would be interesting to know. It could affect the accuracy of polling in that state (depending on the methodology of the polling firm and whether it includes cell-phone samples).

2. Weekend samples for tracking polls.

I was unable to find the archive of Rasmussen’s 2004 presidential tracking poll results, but my memory is that there was a clear pattern whereby Kerry did a little better in the samples taken on weekdays, and Bush gained ground in the samples taken on weekends.

That created the appearance of small movement toward and away from each candidate, with the pattern repeating almost every week in the late summer and fall. I remember reading some speculation that Bush was consistently doing better on the weekends because Democratic-leaning demographic groups are more likely not to be at home on Fridays and Saturdays.

I would like to know whether that is true, and if so whether the major tracking polls (Gallup and Rasmussen) are doing anything to account for this problem.

When we see shifts in tracking polls, we assume voters are reacting to the news of the last few days, but perhaps this is just an illusion created by changes in the pool of people who answer the phone on certain days of the week.

3. Weighting for party ID, race or other factors.

What is considered the best practice in terms of weighting poll results if the sample differs from the demographics of those who voted in the 2004 presidential election?

A Survey USA Virginia poll recently found McCain leading Obama by 48 percent to 47 percent. Commenting on the finding, fladem pointed out that the poll

had 19% of the electorate made up of African Americans.  In 2004 it was 21%.  I have got to believe that African American participation will be higher than 2004.  

I share fladem’s belief, not only because Obama is black, but also because Obama has at least 35 field offices in Virginia, a state Kerry wrote off.

(UPDATE: fladem tells me that there is some evidence that 2004 exit polls overstated the share of the black vote in Virginia.)

We know that registering new voters in groups likely to favor Obama is a crucial part of his campaign strategy. Speaking to David Broder, campaign manager David Plouffe

said that “turnout is the big variable,” and the campaign is devoting an unusually large budget to register scads of new voters and bring them to the polls. “That’s how we win the Floridas and Ohios,” he said, mentioning two states that went narrowly for George W. Bush. “And that’s how we get competitive in the Indianas and Virginias,” two of six or seven states that long have been Republican — but are targets this year.

“That’s why I pay more attention to the registration figures than to the polls I see at this time of year,” Plouffe said. “The polls will change, but we know we need 200,000 new voters to be competitive in Georgia, and now is when we have to get them.”

Should pollsters adjust state poll findings to reflect the Obama campaign’s massive ground game and voter registration drives? How would they do that?

If a polling firm routinely weights for race, should the pollsters assume that the racial breakdown of the electorate will be roughly the same in a given state as it was in 2004? If not, what should they assume?

I have a similar question with respect to party ID. We’ve seen in state after state that the Democratic Party has gained significant ground on the Republican Party in terms of voter registration. In Iowa, there were about 8,000 more Republicans than Democrats in the summer of 2004, but as of June 2008, there were more than 90,000 more Democrats than Republicans. That’s a huge shift in a state where about 1.5 people voted in November 2004.

Are pollsters weighting for party ID, and if so, are they accounting for the big gains in Democratic voter registration since the 2004 or 2006 elections?

4. The disparity in the two campaigns’ ground games.

I know that different pollsters use different screens to separate likely voters from the rest of the sample. One indicator sometimes used is whether the respondent voted in the last presidential election.

But the Obama campaign turned out incredible numbers of first-time voters during the Democratic caucuses and primaries. I laughed at the Des Moines Register’s final pre-caucus poll projecting that 60 percent of caucus-goers would be first-timers, but that turned out to be almost exactly right.

For the general election, the Obama camapign is building a field operation on a scale never seen before.

To further complicate matters, the Obama field operation is enormous in many states where Democrats have not competed in recent presidential races. I mentioned the 35 field offices in Virginia already. Soon there will be 22 field offices open in North Carolina. There are at least 26 Obama offices up and running in Indiana. Even North Dakota has four Obama field offices. Al Gore and John Kerry bypassed all of those states.

Obama’s ground game is going to be much bigger than Kerry’s ground game was even in the swing states Kerry targeted. Nevertheless, it seems reasonable to assume that the increased turnout of groups that skew toward Obama (e.g. blacks, voters under 30) will affect the demographic composition of the electorate more in states where Democrats had nothing going in 2004.

Should pollsters do anything to account for this factor? Could they take this into account even if they wanted to?

I know that some of my questions are unanswerable, but I appreciate any insight readers can provide.

(SECOND UPDATE: Thanks to the reader who wrote me to point out that the factors I mention, while not necessarily reflected in polling, may be reflected in online prediction markets that currently show Obama with a 20 percent greater chance of winning the election than McCain.)

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Adventures in confounding variables

This Associated Press story has the worst analysis of a poll I’ve seen in a while (which is saying something): Pet owners prefer McCain over Obama

Click the link to read about an AP-Yahoo! poll that showed pet owners prefer McCain, 42 percent to 37 percent, while people who don’t have a pet prefer Obama 48 percent to 34 percent.

Associated Press writer Randolph E. Schmid asserts that the “pet-owning public seems to have noticed the difference” between McCain, who has many pets, and Obama, who has none. There are some silly quotes from pet owners about the fine characteristics of people who have pets at home.

I’m not a pollster or a statistician, but without even trying hard I can think of five confounding variables that may have more to do with the results than pet owners identifying with McCain because he also has animals at home.

1. Are wealthier people more likely to have a pet? Because that group would skew more Republican than the population at large.

2. The same goes for people who own their own homes, who are probably more likely to own pets than people who are homeless or live in apartments. Remember, many landlords don’t allow pets in apartments.

3. Are married people more likely to keep a pet than single people? Republicans tend to do better among married voters than single voters.

4. The AP piece mentions that dog owners are particularly slanted toward McCain. Well, most hunters own at least one dog, and people who keep a gun at home are more likely to vote Republican than people who live in a home with no guns.

5. Are men more likely to be dog owners than cat owners? The gender gap in voting behavior has been documented for decades.

The AP article doesn’t bring up any most of these potential confounding variables. [CORRECTION: Buried down at the bottom of the piece, the AP article does mention that a higher proportion of dog owners are married, compared to the population at large, and that white people are more likely than black people to own dogs.]

Despite being a dog-lover myself, I didn’t even know that Obama had no pets, and I’m well-informed politically. I doubt that even 1 percent of Americans will make up their minds based on whether a presidential candidate has a pet.

UPDATE: The “mystery pollster” Mark Blumenthal posted his entertaining and informative take on this story. He also links to this Google search showing how many mainstream news outlets ran with the AP’s misleading but “irresistibly cute lead.”

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What to do if you get push-polled or message-tested

cross-posted around the blogosphere

Two days before the June 3 Democratic primary in Iowa, I received an automated push-poll, followed the next day by a second robocall containing “important information” for me. Both calls were hit jobs on Jerry Sullivan, the leading Democratic candidate in Iowa House district 59.

Many of us will receive similar calls between now and November. We need to be prepared to help the Democrats who will be targeted in this way.

My number one piece of advice is do not hang up the phone.

Do not hang up the moment you hear an automated voice on the other end.

Do not hang up the moment you are asked to participate in a brief survey.

Do not hang up the moment you realize that this is not a legitimate opinion poll.

Stay on the line and grab a pen and paper for taking notes.

Follow me after the jump for further instructions.

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