Wednesday, October 31, 2012

National Tracking Polls vs. Full National Polls

A few days ago, I asked, "where are the national polls?" Many have pointed out that the national polls and state polls seem to be saying different things and I suggested that one possible explanation for the difference is that we weren't seeing many full national polls at all. Instead, we were awash in national tracking polls. And I questioned whether there is some difference between these full national polls and the tracking polls that could explain the disconnect between state polls and national polls.

Since then, several full national polls have come out. Let's compare these full national polls with the national tracking polls to see if they tell us something different. I've listed the last 20 national polls (full or tracking) below with the most recent dates in the field on top.

The differences here are not quite as large as they might appear at first ... but there does seem to be a little bit of a difference. If we just take a straight average of the polls on each side of the ledger, Romney leads by an average of 1.1 among the tracking polls and Obama leads by an average of 1.0 on the full national polls. But this is mostly because of a few outliers on each side. Let's throw out the biggest outlier on each side (Gallup among the national tracking polls and National Journal among the full national polls). What do we get then? Among the tracking polls, Romney still leads by 0.6 points on average and, among the full national polls, Obama leads by 0.2 points. It is a 0.8% difference.

That's not a lot but it is something. More notable than that to me is that Obama does not trail in any full national poll. It does seem to me there's something different happening with the tracking polls. If we look at just the full national polls, the split between the national vote and the state polling is just a little less large.

You probably saw that Nate Silver discussed the differences between the state polling and the national polls in a post earlier today. In that piece, he does not consider the issue I'm raising here and expresses some rationale for why he throws his lot in with the state polling. Whether what I'm talking about is a part of this story or not, Silver's argument is a good one and is good reason to think the state polling is more to be believed. But this piece may get us a small distance towards reconciling the two.

Romney's Pennsylvania Gambit ...

... is funny.

I woke up this morning to this nonsense about Romney trying to "expand the map" in Pennsylvania. It seems Romney Romney's super PAC has some extra money to burn so they're burning it in Pennsylvania with a media buys of about $2.6 million. The Obama campaign has responded by spending about $600,000.

In defending the move, the Romney campaign has said they think Pennsylvania is in play and Politico (et tu Politico???) reports that "some polls have shown tightening there." Oy.

I have written more posts railing about how Pennsylvania is not in play than I can count. Here's one. Here's another. You can search the blog for more.

I guess it would be helpful if there were some data that could help us determine whether Pennsylvania is in play:


It turns out there's been exactly one poll since February that has showed Romney in the lead. That poll was done by ... the Republican State Committee of Pennsylvania. Interesting. Rasmussen polled Pennsylvania just a week ago and has Obama over 50% and 5 points ahead.

Perhaps you know all this but you worry because Obama spent that $600,000 in Pennsylvania. Believe me folks. The Obama campaign is not sweating Pennsylvania. They can't literally spend every dollar in Ohio. So why not spend a fraction of what the other side is spending to get a little bit of a counterargument on the air.

Let me leave you with this thought. In 2008, Obama beat McCain by just over 10 points in Pennsylvania. The whole nation has shifted a bit back towards the Republicans since then. Has Pennsylvania shifted by 10 points? No. Will $2.6 million in last-minute spending on Romney make it shift 10 points? No.

Romney has one hope for winning Pennsylvania and it is not $2.6 million in ads. Romney's only hope in Pennsylvania is ... systemic polling failure.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Rasmussen, Systemic Polling Failure, and "Truth"

There's quite a brouhaha spinning around the interwebs with conservatives complaining that Nate Silver is cooking the books in his polling model because he's a liberal shill. Here's the argument in its original full form. It is pure drivel. Silver himself had this brilliant retort today ...

But, anyway, the whole thing got me to thinking about the state of the polls and the state of the race. Conservatives are reading Rasmussen and Gravis and Gallup and celebrating what is sure to be a big victory for Romney next Tuesday. Liberals are reading ... well, everything else and are sweating the national vote polls that have it close (actually, if you take Gallup and Rasmussen out of the naional poll averages, Obama is very slightly ahead) but feeling pretty comfortable about the state-level polls that show Obama leading in more than enough states to win a majority in the Electoral College.

What is the state of the race and whose polls are right? The truth is we don't really know for sure which set of polls is right. But, if I had to bet, I'd say Rasmussen and Gallup are wrong (for different reasons). Let me lay out the case for each side and explain why I think Rasmussen has it wrong but it is important to acknowledge that ...

Rasmussen could be right. Rasmussen has been identified as a pollster that has a "Republican lean" but this is really a mislabeling of what they are doing. It suggests that the pollster is just putting his thumb on the scale and cooking the books. That's not what Rasmussen is doing. At least I'm pretty sure they're not. What Rasmussen does is to use "dynamic party weighting." They weight their sample of voters so that they get to a designated number of Republicans and Democrats in their sample. The party weighting is "dynamic" because Rasmussen comes up with the relative weights of Republicans and Democrats based on some recent previous period of polling. Effectively, Rasmussen is making an educated guess about what the partisan makeup of the electorate will be (nationally or in a state) and then they make sure their sample looks like that.

So is it possible Rasmussen is right? Absolutely, it is possible. If their dynamic weights are accurate, then their polls will be accurate. And the flipside is also true. If their weights are wrong, they'll be wrong.

So what's the case against Rasmussen? A couple of days ago, Nate Cohn wrote that, if the polls stay where they are up to Election Day, Mitt Romney's only hope will be "systemic polling failure." This means that the vast majority of polls must have done something (question wording, poor sampling, etc.) that led them all to the wrong answer. Nate Cohn is right about this.

Systemic polling failure does happen. To understand why it is unlikely, we have to understand what other pollsters are doing differently than Rasmussen to get such systematically different results. First, other pollsters are not weighting by party ID at all. To most pollsters, party ID is something to be discovered in a poll, not something to use to weight the sample. This is because party ID is a fluid construct. People tend to change their response to a party ID question based on how they feel about the competing presidential candidates or based on how enthused they are to vote for their preferred candidate. Other pollsters simply ask respondents who they are planning to vote for and then use likely voter screens (of different varieties) to determine who is likely to vote and who is a non-voter.

It is entirely possible that this methodology will lead to a sample that is not reflective of the population as a whole. One reason is simply statistical variation. Maybe you just happened to get a disproportionate number of Romney supporters in your sample. This happens but we know the precise likelihood it will happen and this problem is corrected for by the various polling averages out there. Only a very small number of polls will be outliers for this reason and, when they are averaged into the rest, they will not have a substantial effect on the overall average number. A second problem is some kind of problem with the way we are sampling. One problem along these lines is the undersampling of certain kinds of populations like cell phone users or Hispanic voters who do not speak English, either of which may not be called by pollsters for different reasons. Some pollsters do call cell phones and some call Spanish-only voters. Here's Stan Greenberg talking about why undersampling of cell phone voters is causing Obama voters to be under-represented in the public polls we see:

Other pollsters who are good at what they do, use some kind of weighting mechanism to try to get a representative sample without calling them. This is increasingly problematic but is done well by some pollsters (like PPP in my view).

The point is that these pollsters are either getting a truly representative sample or they are using demographic weighting (not partisan ID weighting) to make sure they don't have a problem with their sample. The fact that so many pollsters are coming to basically the same conclusions (for instance, that Barack Obama has a small lead in Ohio) is evidence that they are likely right.

Could Ohio (and other states) still shift? Yes, but it is getting very late.

Could Rasmussen be right and the other polls wrong? Yes. I don't think so but it could happen and, if it did, it would be exactly the kind of "systemic polling failure" Nate Cohn was talking about.

We'll know next Wednesday morning.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sundays Are Not Always Lazy

Sunday has been a very active day for polls coming out and it has been a very good polling day for the President. There was an Ohio poll that came out late Saturday night that had Obama and Romney tied at 49 and that can be considered bad. But everything else has been either good or trending in the right direction for Obama today.

A PPP poll just came out giving Obama a 4-point lead (51-47) in Ohio. That's not only a good number for the President, it is from a pollster that had him up by just 1 last week. PPP found that 36% of Ohio respondents have already voted and Obama leads 63-36 among them. Democrats are heavily unified in Ohio and there is no enthusiasm gap between Democrats and Republicans. These are all tough, tough numbers for Romney if they are accurate (that's the big "if"). Similarly, PPP had Obama down by 1 in New Hampshire last week and today, they have him up by 2 (49-47). Rasmussen and Gallup each moved a point in the President's direction in their national trackers. Finally, Gravis Marketing has a poll out tonight showing Obama up by 1 in Ohio. This might seem like bad news ... except that Gravis has about as strong a Republican lean as anybody (see Simon Jackman's recent discussion of house effects). Add that house effect in to Gravis and their poll looks a heck of a lot like PPP's.

We'll see how the rest of the day plays out (more polls to come tonight) ... but it is a good day so far for the President.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Where are the National Polls?

We all see the divergence between the national tracking polls, which generally show Romney with a small lead on average, and the state-level polls, which generally show Obama with small leads in most of the key swing states on average.

How could these two things be true at the same time? There's actually two things going on here:

First, it is entirely possible that the President is winning by narrow margins in swing states like Ohio and Colorado but is losing by more in "solid Romney" states than he is winning in "solid Obama" states. That would translate into a national popular vote deficit but, potentially, an Electoral College victory. Most of the sites that create election-prediction models like Sam Wang's Princeton Election Consortium and Drew Linzer's Votamatic use state-level polls either exclusively or more heavily than national polls because the state-level polls provide more information that is useful. They are generally right to do this in terms of predicting what matters - the Electoral College outcome. But those national tracking polls are still unpleasant to look at ... which brings me to my second point ...

Second, it is really striking to me how few "full" national polls there have been in this campaign, especially in the final weeks of the campaign. There are at least 8 different national "tracking" polls that are released just about every day. But these are not the same as a regular poll. I can't claim perfect expertise on the impact (or not) of this phenomenon but it does seem to me there is some important effect of looking at only tracking polls as opposed to regular "full" national polls. Tracking polls take a smaller sample every night for 3 or 4 or 5 or even 7 (in the case of Gallup) nights. They put these together to create a national polling number. Then, when a new night comes on board, the sample from the oldest night drops out. What you end up with is a "rolling average" of the most recent nights. One potentially problematic aspect of this is that, because each night is a distinct sample and because the pollster wants to keep the demographics in the full sample correct from night to night, you have to weight some very small samples night to night before adding them to the sample. This would seem to introduce some error as opposed to doing a regular 2 or 3-night poll and then weighting the whole sample from there. In effect, you'd need to do less weighting as you'd have stronger sub-samples to work with.

Now, I'm just kind of spit-balling on all that and I could be wrong. But I do think that regardless, it is notable that there have been so few full national polls. Indeed, there has not been one full national poll that I can find since the third debate. I'd be interested to see one of those from a good pollster who does live interviews with cell phones included.

UPDATE: In a post today, Nate Silver speaks to the question of the split between the national tracking polls and the state-level polling. The bottom line is that he says the state-level numbers are suggesting leads for Obama in swing states like Ohio that are statistically very meaningful. Mark Blumenthal makes some similar arguments in

Friday, October 26, 2012

What a Fool Believes

You know that is flat-out the best Michael McDonald song.

Now that you're in a Michael McDonald mood, let's get to his latest work. The "other" Michael McDonald is the foremost expert on early voting and posted this fantastic review of early voting around the country.

There is a lot of discussion of early voting and its impact among pundits and media folks, not to mention pollsters. A lot of the polling, particularly in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Ohio, has found that early-vote respondents are telling pollsters that they are voting very heavily for Obama. This has led some to think the President is running away with the election. It isn't that simple. If you're one of those Obama supporters who thinks early voting is going to singlehandedly crush Romney, McDonald's data is going to disappoint you. But, there is a lot of good news in what McDonald has to say.

His work is worth a full, careful read. But, the summary is this:
Everyone wants to know who is winning. In my commentary below I explain why I conclude Obama has narrow leads in Iowa and Nevada, Romney has a narrow lead in North Carolina, and in the remainder the early vote is not providing a clear direction yet. There is still ample time for conditions to change, but it will be increasingly difficult to do so as more votes pour in.

There are instructive patterns other than the horse race. The patterns of early voting in Florida and Ohio suggest that Obama supporters are successfully overcoming limitations in early voting enacted by those states' Republican governments.
To translate that, there just isn't any clear evidence yet that early voting is helping the Obama campaign in Ohio. BUT, there is clear evidence that the early voting is really hurting Romney in Iowa and Nevada. It is frankly very hard for me to see how Romney wins Nevada at this point and Iowa is looking like a very difficult state for him.

What that means is that, while Romney CANNOT win without Ohio, there are paths to victory for Obama that don't include Ohio. Wisconsin is likely going for the President if the polls are to be believed. On cue, the Romney campaign is trying to make a play in Wisconsin ... which is brilliant because, ya know, Mike Dukakis won Wisconsin so why couldn't another Massachusetts Governor do it? Adding Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nevada to the President's "solid" 237 electoral votes means he's at 259 with Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, and New Hampshire still in play (we'll assume North Carolina is going for Romney for simplicity's sake). At that point, Obama would only need Florida OR Ohio OR Virginia OR the combination of Colorado and New Hampshire. The only state in that list where Obama is not currently ahead in the average is Florida.

Polls can be wrong. But, as we get closer to the election, the Romney campaign's hopes are increasingly pinned on that thin thread - hoping the state polls are wrong.

Take us home Michael McDonald ...

Charlie Cook is Kinda Wrong

I like Charlie Cook. He's a very smart guy knows as much about congressional elections as just about anybody. But he's just kinda sorta wrong in his read of what the debates did to the race. Here's part of his analysis:
A strong performance in that first debate would have probably closed the sale for Obama. Instead, his lackluster showing shifted a bunch of voters who had seemed to be drifting gradually in his direction back into neutral, with some reversing course and moving into Romney’s column. ... But this is a horse race, a very close one that can still go either way, and that was not the case before the first debate. The debates—and I would say all three of them—hit a reset button for Romney and put him back into this contest.
The notion that Obama could have "closed the sale" with a strong performance in the first debate is pure nonsense. Similiarly, the notion that "this is a horse race, a very close one that can still go either way, and that was not the case before the first debate" is also nonsense.

Step back and think about the logic of this. The idea Cook is selling is that Obama had a nice lead before the first debate (this is true but it was already starting to recede) and that he could have just held that lead and coasted if he had "a strong performance." This is just fantasy.

The race was already starting to tighten before the first debate. Contrary to what Cook and others think, Obama did not have a disastrous debate performance. If he did, that would be reflected in the polls with his job approval sinking. It isn't. In fact, his job approval has gone steadily up in October. What happened in the first debate is that Romney looked credible after several months of being bashed by Bain Capital ads, discussion of Romney's tax returns, the conventions, and Romney's 47% comments. In the wake of all that, by the end of September, a certain number of voters (a small number but enough to make a difference) who do not care for President Obama were unsure they could support Governor Romney. When these voters saw Romney in the first debate, where he seemed, in a word, presidential, they simply went where they were likely to go in the first place. Polling says they were moving in that direction already. The first debate accelerated that. But it was underway. Some of you may remember that this is exactly the logic I outlined way back in early March when I asked whether Romney would be a credible alternative.

Importantly, there was no possibility that a "strong performance" by the President in that first debate was going to "close the sale." That's just utterly silly.

And let me add just one point to this. You might ask, why does it matter if Charlie Cook has it wrong? What's at stake in this? For starters, Andrew Sullivan, who spent more than a week on the ledge with some insane ideas about what happened in the debate is going to open that window up again and will start threatening to jump. This is sad because I enjoy reading Sullivan's blog and now I'll have to avoid it for another week or so. Second, and more importantly, this nonsensical meme has now infected some of the smarter, more reasonable minds in the journalist class, like Charlie Cook. Whether Obama wins or loses (though it will be worse if he loses), we'll hear this nonsense about how the President looked down too much during the first debate and that's why Romney caught up. It just isn't true.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

That's ... Good?

Today was one of those mixed, weird days in the polling. Obama had a very good day yesterday (Wednesday) and I said then that it would interesting to see if he could build on that with another good day on Thursday indicating a nice, little bounce out of the 3rd debate.

It didn't happen ... kinda.

What happened Thursday was sort of confusing. A few of the national tracking polls seemed to move slightly in Romney's direction. ABC/WP was the worst of it (since I think they generally know what they are doing) and that tracker now has Romney ahead 50-47. Rasmussen also has Romney up 50-47. Reuters/Ipsos now has Romney up by 1, 47-46. PPP has moved back to a tie after having Obama up by 1. I could go on. But you get the picture. It seems like Romney had a good polling day in these national tracking polls.

So, Obama getting a nice little bounce out of the 3rd debate is bunk, right? Well maybe. If you look at the state polling numbers today, they are largely good for Obama. PPP released a bunch of polls today and all were good for Obama. They've got Obama up by 4 in Colorado, up by 6 in Wisconsin, up by 2 in Iowa, up by 5 in Virginia, and they've got Obama tied in North Carolina. Those are all good numbers for the President. But that's just one pollster. What else?

NBC/WSJ has a tie in Colorado (which is not a bad result) and Obama up by 3 in Nevada. Fox has Obama down by 2 in Virginia but JZ Analytics has Obama up by 2 there. Grove Insight has Obama up by 2 in Florida and up by 3 in Colorado.

So, these state polls are pretty good overall for Obama ... and the national polls are pretty good overall for Romney. What do we make of it.

I don't know either.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Grab Your Magnifying Glass and Take a Look

It was a very solid polling day for Obama and I think I see little green shoots of a tiny Obama bounce coming off of the 3rd debate. The evidence is limited but it is in enough places that it seems real.

PPP's tracker put Obama ahead 49-48 and PPP's Tom Jensen pointed out:

Four polls came out looking at likely voters in Ohio today. Rasmussen had it tied at 48. The other three had Obama up by 2, 3, and 5 points respectively. The poll that had Obama up by 5 (Time) was conducted on the 22nd and 23rd, the night of the debate and the night after.

Two polls were released today looking at Virginia and both had Obama leading (though both are questionable for different reasons). Two polls were released today looking at Nevada and Obama was leading in both. One was Rasmussen and one was PPP. Obama is leading in Nevada folks.

Finally, the Gallup tracker lurched back towards Obama today. I discussed (and largely dismissed) this earlier. But, in the context of these other polls, it may be a sign of a little bit of movement.

Were there any counter indicators today? To put that another way, what were the worst numbers for Obama in any polls released today? There was a Rasmussen poll that had Obama down 2 in New Hampshire (though there was another poll that had Obama up by 3 there). ABC/WP didn't budge today and Romney leads by 1 nationally in their poll ... and that's about it. Those are the good numbers for Romney today.

Put all that together and mix until you see a "sticky" consistency and what do you get?

It is one day. And it isn't a big move towards Obama. It is very small actually. Most importantly, everything I describe above could VERY easily be statistical noise. We'll know more tomorrow. But it was about as good a day of polling as Obama has had since before the first debate.

Gallup: Is it a Dessert Topping or a Floor Wax?

Is today's Gallup release good news for Obama or just utterly crazy nonsense ... or could it be both???

It's a dessert topping AND a floor wax!!!

All of Gallup's metrics moved in Obama's direction today. He narrowed the gap from 5 to 3 among likely voters. He moved from a 1-point deficit to a 1-point lead among registered voters. And Obama's net job approval went from +6 to a staggering +11. What a day!

There's certainly no bad news in there. But how good is the news? We first have to remember that Gallup's trial heat tracking poll is a 7-day rolling sample while their job approval poll is a 3-day rolling sample. This means that every day, a previous day is dropping out of the sample but in the trial heat numbers it is from 8 days ago while in the job approval numbers, it is from 4 days ago. I mention this because the uptick can easily be explained by a really good day for Romney rolling out of the sample OR by a really good day for Obama on Tuesday (the 23rd). How do we know which it is? We don't know for sure but the fact that both sets of numbers got better suggests that Obama had a good day in Gallup's sample yesterday rather than just 2 different bad days for Obama dropping out of the sample. But the truth is we really don't know in the absence of additional information.

But, hey, this release from Gallup could also be a floor wax! Gallup is so off-the-rails insane with their numbers, it is impossible to say what is going on. For example, let's start with Gallup's numbers on the surface. They've got Romney ahead by 3 among likely voters but Obama has a net job approval rating of +11. Sorry, but no. If Obama's job approval is 53% on Election Day, he wins ... and it isn't close. Part of the problem here is that Gallup has a 7-day rolling sample for their trial heat in the first place. This is fairly absurd. Then, there's the problems with Gallup's likely voter model which has a very, very bad recent history. But forget the likely voter screen. Until today, Gallup had the President trailing among registered voters by as much as 3 points. Virtually every pollster has Obama ahead among registered voters.

So, is Gallup a dessert topping or a floor wax? Is it good news or just insane rantings? It's both!!!

Post-Debate Interviews Trickling In ... Nothing

We do not yet see any effect in post-debate interviews that are trickling into polls.

PPP's latest tracker includes one day (out of three) that are post-debate interviews. Obama and Romney were tied on that one day but the tracker ticked in Obama's favor as a recent strong day (Saturday) for Romney dropped out of the tracker.

Rasmussen's tracker also showed no change from yesterday as a full day of post-debate interviews rolled into their poll. Obama is still down by 4 there.

Rasmussen also released a new Ohio poll which is either good or bad news depending on what you believe about Rasmussen. They have Ohio tied at 48. If you take that poll at face value, it is not good news for Obama. If you believe Rasmussen has a Republican lean (Simon Jackman has some data on this out today), then Obama is right where we figured he is ... ahead by 2 or 3 points in Ohio.

Put all that together and you've got ... nothing. For those joining us late ...

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Has Obama Given Up in North Carolina?

Paul Begala more than suggested last night that the President is not going to win in North Carolina and that he is giving up there:

But this is not borne out by the Obama campaign's spending. The Obama campaign ran more than 3,000 ads in North Carolina last week according to data reported by John Sides. Indeed, David Axelrod and company pushed back hard against the idea that they've given up in North Carolina this morning.

As I've pointed out many times, North Carolina is not central to the President's path to 270. It is also clear he's behind there by a little bit, probably 2-3 points.

So should the President give up on North Carolina? I don't think so.

Even though North Carolina is not likely to be the state that puts the President over the top, it is absolutely critical for Mitt Romney to win it. There is a law of diminishing returns in running ads everywhere else. Running more ads than you currently are in Ohio is not going to get you very much. So why not run ads in North Carolina and run an active campaign there if only to put some pressure on Mitt Romney? It is not so far out of reach that the Romney campaign can afford to pull resources from there and put them somewhere else. That's the reason to keep the pressure on in North Carolina.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Post-Debate Reaction

It was pretty clear to me that Obama got the better of the debate. Whether it will make any difference is a different question. I do think the debate performance (and, more importantly, the spin about it) has the potential to get the Democratic base a little more fired up. What does that translate into? I don't know. Probably not much.

One person whose stock rose unambiguously though is Seth Masket's. He gets the award for tweet of the night:

The Last Debate

It sounds so final.

I am of two minds about tonight's debate. I can make a plausible argument as to why tonight is more of an opportunity for Romney or Obama.

Why Romney is going to gain ground after tonight's debate: ABC/WP has a poll out this afternoon suggesting Romney is just about as trusted on the issue of terrorism as the President. Romney has made gains on just about every characteristic across the board in recent weeks. Unlike most, I do not think Obama's poor performance was the cause of the change in the race after the first debate. Rather, I think it was that Romney looked credible. And, given the bad electoral environment for the President (right/track, wrong/track, economy, etc.), some voters who didn't support the President but couldn't get behind Romney before ... did. So what does this mean for tonight? Foreign policy is Romney's big weakness. If he appears credible and looks like a President, he can gather more support by dealing with a key weakness.

Why that's wrong: There's nobody left for Romney to win over. There's almost no undecideds left and Romney's base is at its enthusiasm peak. I don't see it getting better for him. So, even if Romney performs really well tonight and even if he's judged to have "won" the debate (whatever the heck that means), there's no potential for a bounce there.

Why Obama is going to gain ground after tonight's debate: Because he's the President. I know this sounds a bit trite but it has real meaning. He ended the war in Iraq, he's drawing Afghanistan to a close, and he got bin Laden. These are all things voters strongly approve of. He has a record to run on here that is actually quite good and he simply needs to remind voters of it. Moreover, Romney has stumbled multiple times on foreign policy including as recently as the last debate. His performance on the world stage has not been good and, on top of that, he's selling some positions that are tough to sell. Romney will talk tough on Iran and, to the extent that that sounds like pushing for another war, it will not resonate with a lot of voters.

Why that's wrong: The first two debates have proven Romney to be a very adept debater. And I don't mean that in the "spin room" sense to set him up for high expectations. I simply mean that he comes to every debate prepared with a game plan and he executes well. The concerns I've raised above are not news to him as his team has raised them I'm sure. They have a plan for everything I've outlined and Romney will be prepared. Finally, there also aren't a lot of undecideds ready to jump to the President's side. There is an enthusiasm gap the President can make up by energizing Democratic voters ... but foreign policy isn't what they're interested in. Indeed, we may see fewer Democratic voters tuning in tonight than in the previous two debates (just a theory).

So what will happen? I think the effect of the debate is going to depend much more on what Romney does and says than what the President does and says. If he makes a big mistake like his mistake on Libya, that could hurt him. If he shines and stands toe-to-toe with the President on the President's turf (foreign policy), I think this debate could help Romney. If I were betting on these outcomes, I'd say Romney having a good night is the 2:1 favorite. And that has me a bit nervous tonight.

One Poll Makes you Happy ...

... and one poll makes you sad. That's where we are this morning. Let's start with the poll that makes me sad.

NBC/WSJ released a national poll yesterday that has Obama and Romney tied at 47. This poll worries me a bit for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, NBC/WSJ is a good poll (Peter Hart and Bill McInturff), they do live-interviews, and they call cellphones. Second, it worries me because Obama's number is 47. As Chuck Todd points out, if it was 49-49, that wouldn't be so bad for the President. But 47 is not really the topline number you're looking for as an incumbent. Now, all of that said, this is the first national NBC/WSJ poll since late September (before the first debate). That poll had Obama ahead by 3 (49-46) so this is not a massive shift by any means and is technically in a range that could simply be statistical noise.

So what poll makes me happy this morning? Quinnipiac has a poll out this morning that has Obama ahead in Ohio 50-45. Quinnipiac is also a good pollster and they also do live interviews and this poll had a very large sample (over 1,500 likely voters). Like the NBC/WSJ national poll, Obama's 5-point lead here is down from where it was in a Quinnipiac poll of Ohio in late September (it was 53-43 then) but Obama still leads by a healthy margin. Perhaps more important than any of that, if you go back through all the polls of Ohio, the last time Romney led in any poll there was in a Gravis Marketing poll (they've got a strong Republican lean from what I can tell) conducted just after the first debate and Romney led by just 1 point in that poll. The bottom line is that Ohio looks good for the President.

What if both of these polls are perfectly accurate? If so, I think it would be likely that Obama would win the Electoral College and lose the popular vote by just a hair.

But there's still two weeks to go and tonight's debate may yet move the needle in one direction or another.

UPDATE: As if on cue, ABC/WP unveiled their new tracking poll today and they have Obama up 49-48. This is not a great result for Obama. But it is better than the NBC/WSJ poll. Obama doesn't need to get to 51. He needs to get to 50. And getting there is easier when it is 49-48 than when it is 47-47. Am I reading too much into one poll? You bet I am. That's what happens this time every 4 years. Now back to your regularly scheduled program.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Nevada, Wisconsin, Ohio ... Oh My

There's a lot of good articles floating around in the last couple of days about how close the national polls are and how President Obama has an advantage in the state level polling in swing states. A particularly good piece was posted on Huffington Post by Simon Jackman of Stanford outlining a statistical model of both the present national vote/EV split and the history of this split (statistically-speaking).

It got me to thinking about how to express Obama's advantage in the simplest terms, so here it is: Wisconsin, Nevada, and Ohio.

Now let me flesh that out a bit. Take a look at the map below. It shows what I believe to be the state of the race in the most general terms.

Every red state and blue state on the map is highly likely to go to Romney (red) or Obama (blue). Put another way, I don't think there is a single red or blue state on that map that any reasonable person would dispute.

Obama has 237 electoral votes effectively "in the bank" and Romney has 191. There are 9 "battleground" states totalling 110 electoral votes. I've ranked these 9 battleground states below in order of their probability of going for Obama according to Nate Silver's blog:

WI - 79.0%
NV - 73.1%
OH - 70.3%
IA - 65.9%
NH - 62.6%
CO - 52.9%
VA - 46.9%
FL - 32.6%
NC - 15.0%

Notice the three at the top of the list; Wisconsin, Nevada, and Ohio. By the way, Drew Linzer also estimates that Obama would win these three states today predicting the President would get 51.7%, 52.0%, and 51.1% respectively in Nevada, Wisconsin, and Ohio.

Now you can see why I've been saying since ... forever ... that Ohio is the whole ballgame. Let's assume Obama wins the three of those battlegrounds he's most likely to win; Wisconsin, Nevada, and Ohio. Here's the new map:

Obama is now at 271, 1 more than what he needs to win. It isn't just that he needs 3 states out of 9. It is that he needs the 3 states that he's most likely to win. Unless Romney can pick off at least one of these states, he can't win.

Gallup's Likely Voter Screen

I wrote the other day about Gallup's tracking poll and how it is out of step with every other pollster. This morning, Gallup's tracking poll release has Romney ahead by 7 (not a typo) among likely voters and ahead by 3 among registered voters.

Whatever is going on with Gallup, this is not just a problem with their likely voter screen. They've got Romney up by 3 among registered voters! Compare that with the latest NBC/WSJ poll just out this morning. They've got Obama and Romney tied at 47 among likely voters but Obama is up by 5 among registered voters (I will have more to say about this poll later in the day).

So, what is going on with Gallup? Given that they have such a different result among registered voters, it means there is something different in their sampling. They are simply reaching a different mix of respondents.

Alan Abramowitz (whose work is really great) has a good theory. Gallup does not release information on the racial composition of its samples but it appears they are over-representing white voters:
Although Gallup does not report the racial composition of its likely voter sample (or any of its other samples), based on the results presented in their October 16 report on the standing of the presidential candidates among whites and non-whites, one can use interpolation to estimate the racial composition of the likely voter sample. The results show that about 80 percent of Gallup's likely voter sample consisted of non-Hispanic whites while about 20 percent consisted of non-whites.

Gallup's estimate that only 20 percent of this year's likely voters are non-white is far lower than the 26 percent non-white share of voters found in the 2008 exit poll or even the 23 percent share found in the 2004 exit poll. It is actually very close to the 19 percent share found in the 2000 exit poll. So according to the Gallup tracking poll, the racial composition of the 2012 electorate will be similar to that of the 2000 electorate despite the dramatic increase in the nonwhite share of the voting age population that has occurred in the past 12 years.
It is probably the case that the non-white portion of the electorate is likely to be much closer to the 2008 number than the 2000 number. Indeed, there is every possibility there will be fewer whites in the electorate in 2012 when one thinks about where growth in the electorate is occurring. For now, it is probably best to simply ignore Gallup's numbers as they are radically out of step with every other pollster's numbers.

UPDATE: By the way, IBD/TIPP has their new tracker out this afternoon and they have Obama ahead by 6 points among likely voters. This seems equally odd and I don't know exactly what's up there. It is a bit less relevant because they don't have the reputation that Gallup does and therefore, they affect the conversation far less. The one thing I do see in their poll that is very different is their numbers on male voters (Obama leading by 1). That's not right, I can assure you but how they got there is anybody's guess.

Rasmussen's Weighting

As it happens, Mark Blumenthal wrote about Rasmussen's weighting yesterday just around the same time I was writing my blog post. It was a piece about the national polls generally and Blumenthal noted Rasmussen's importance as the one firm that has done state-level snapshots before and after the second debate and the fact that they show slight gains for Romney. But Blumenthal explains these gains are related to the "dynamic" party weighting Rasmussen is using:
Rasmussen is one of the few pollsters to routinely weight its samples so they match predetermined targets for the percentage of likely voters that identify as Democrats or Republicans. The catch, as Rasmussen Reports confirms to The Huffington Post, is that its weighting targets are now adjusting on a weekly basis to match the average party identification for likely voters measured on their last six weeks of calling (after weighting for demographics, but not for party). So the party weights for the past recent week may be slightly different than the party weights the week before.

More important, the weight targets for Rasmussen's national samples grew slightly more Republican in mid-October. Although the data are published on pages available to paid subscribers only, Rasmussen indicates that the national interviews for the week of Oct. 8 to 14 gave Democrats a 1-point edge over Republicans (38 to 37 percent). The party balance for the two prior weeks, Oct. 1 to 7 and Sept. 24 to 30, was a 3-point Democratic advantage (39 to 36 percent).

In the past, Scott Rasmussen has explained that the state-level party weighting targets are derived, in part, from national numbers and the "national shifts appear to provide a good indicator" of mid-year changes at the state level.

A 3-point shift toward a more Republican identification would more than explain the one-point shift to Romney in the five states Rasmussen surveyed this week.
Now, here's the thing. IF you're going to weight by party, the shift that Rasmussen appears to have made does make some sense. There was reason to believe, in the wake of the first debate, that a poll should have a few more Republicans in it and a few less Democrats than before. But then, this is why weighting by party ID is a bad idea in the first place.

Anyway, what this tells us is that Rasmussen is shifting their party ID weights slightly over time but they are always doing so in response to last week's polling. And that's problematic. If you are looking for a snapshot of where the public is today (the point of a poll), using their mood from last week as a determinant is really problematic.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Let's Say Rasmussen is Right

Rasmussen is not a terrible pollster but you have to understand what Rasmussen is doing in order to interpret their results.

First, Rasmussen is a robo-pollster. They don't do live-interviewer polls and this means they also don't call cell phones. This is one reason why Rasmussen has a bit of a Republican lean. In general, Nate Silver has argued Rasmussen has about a 2-point Republican lean. Their national tracking poll currently has Romney ahead by 1 point (49/48). So, a 2-point lean would put Rasmussen right about where some other national polls are.

Second, Rasmussen weights by party ID. This has two implications for how we read their polls. First, Rasmussen's polls are going to be less volatile than other polls. When something happens that changes public attitudes about the race, poll respondents don't just change their response on which candidate they support. They also sometimes change their response on their party identification. If you have a fixed number of Republicans and Democrats you're looking for in your poll, you are not going to pick up that shift even though it is real.

How does this play out? Since late September, most pollsters have shown a shift towards Romney in the national polls and, more recently, a tiny shift back towards Obama. Rasmussen's national tracking poll has remained within a very narrow range between Obama ahead by 2 and Romney ahead by 2. For the last couple of weeks, Rasmussen's tracker has been within an even more narrow range between a tied race and Romney ahead by 2. These same things are true at the state level as well: Rasmussen polling is very stable and has a slight Republican lean.

So, let's say all of Rasmussen's polls are right. Who wins? It looks like Obama wins.

Rasmussen's "Electoral College Scoreboard" has Obama ahead in states totalling 237 electoral votes and Romney ahead in states totalling 235 electoral votes. 7 states are listed as tossups. But Rasmussen has done polling in these tossup states (very recently in most of them). Here's what those numbers show:

CO - Obama +1
IA - Obama +2
NH - Obama +1
NV - Obama +3
OH - Obama +1
VA - Romney +3
WI - Obama +2

All of these polls are very close but Obama is winning in more than enough of them that if Rasmussen is right, Obama wins. If Nate Silver's arguments about Rasmussen's lean is right, Obama wins a bit more handily.

Again, we come to the same place: Is it close? Yeah. Is Obama winning right now? Yeah.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Romney's Binder Is Full of Women

At least it is according to Chris Cillizza. I saw Cillizza's article yesterday and meant to write about it but didn't get the chance. I like Chris Cillizza and I think he generally has some smart and interesting things to say about electoral and legislative politics. But not this time.

He reviews data from the ABC/Washington Post poll and finds that Mitt Romney "doesn't have a woman problem." Cillizza finds that over the last 3 polls (a fair measure) Romney has been trailing the President among likely female voters by 7 points on average. Cillizza asks us to assume Romney loses among women by 7 ...
That would be a better showing among women than John McCain made in 2008 (lost women by 13), George Bush made in 2000 (lost women by 11) and Bob Dole made in 1996 (lost women by 16). It would be roughly equal to the eight-point margin that George H.W. Bush lost women to Bill Clinton in 1992.

So, for all of the chatter about Romney’s women problems, he is currently positioned to do as well or better than every Republican presidential candidate among female voters save one: George W. Bush in 2004 who lost among women by just three points to Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.
Cillizza is arguing that Romney "doesn't have a woman problem" because he's doing as well or better than ... the last 4 Republican nominees to lose the national popular vote. This is the literal equivalent of arguing that the Cubs are doing just fine this year because they're on pace to win more games than the Houston Astros ... who also had a miserable season.

There's another problem with this insane logic. Cillizza points out that McCain lost women by 13 and Romney's doing better than that so he "doesn't have a woman problem." But here's the problem. McCain lost nationally by 6.5. Romney is doing 6 points better among women by this metric so let's say he's doing 6 points better nationally. That leaves Obama ahead by 0.5 points. And given Obama's advantage in key swing states, a national popular vote win almost definitely means a win for Obama in the Electoral College.

But wait, there's more. Here's a different way to calculate what a 7-point deficit among women means. In 2008, the gender gap was 12 points. Barack Obama won by 13 among women and by 1 among men. If you assume a 7-point deficit among women and hold the gender gap constant, then Romney wins by 5 among men ... and loses the election by about 1 point. But the most recent ABC/Washington Post poll has Romney losing by 7 among women and winning by just 1 among men. In other words, Romney seems to have a "man problem" too! He's losing by 3 overall in that poll and it is because he's underperforming among men.

Here's the bottom line. There are slightly more female voters than male (Thank God!). Romney doesn't want to be in a situation where he's losing in the high single digits among the larger group AND there is a smaller gender gap.

Cillizza is right about one thing. Romney is not in a worse position than the four most recent Republican nominees to lose the national popular vote. Like the Cubs, he will not come in last. But he ain't on track to make the playoffs either.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

State-Level Polling

More evidence of trouble with that Gallup poll comes in the form of state-level polling that is WAY out of whack with Gallup's national numbers. This afternoon, NBC/WSJ/Marist released two state-level polls that are VERY bad for Romney. The President leads in Iowa by 8 and in Wisconsin by 6. Folks, there are two possibilities on these numbers:

1) They're wrong
2) Romney is in very deep trouble

It is entirely possible they're wrong. I would actually be surprised if Obama was ahead by 8 in Iowa right now. I do think he's ahead in both of these states but my guess would have been something more like 4-5 points in Wisconsin and perhaps a little less in Iowa.

If these polls are accurate, here's why Romney's in trouble:

1) States don't usually move by themselves. They reflect national trends a lot of the time. If Obama is ahead by 8 in Wisconsin, he's winning by something like 4-6 points in Ohio and he's winning in Virginia and so on.

2) If the Obama campaign knows they have leads like that in those states, they can move at least some of their resources from those states towards Florida and Ohio and Virginia, etc.

3) Obama's lead is the same in Iowa as it was a month ago. There has been no movement or whatever movement there has been has cancelled itself out. Obama was winning in September and this would mean he's winning now.

4) Early voting appears to be as big a disaster for Romney in Iowa and Wisconsin as it is in Ohio. 34% of likely voters in Iowa say they've already voted and Obama is winning among these voters 67-32. The poll reports that Romney is winning among likely voters planning to vote on Election Day but not by nearly enough. Similarly, 156% of likely voters in Wisconsin say they've already voted and Obama is winning there 64-35. But the race is about even there among those planning to vote on Election Day. So, Obama appears to be winning right now in these states and locking in large numbers of votes right now.

Anyway, coming back to that Gallup Poll, the situation is simple: The two sets of numbers (Gallup and NBC/WSJ) are not consistent or the result of statistical noise. Nate Silver agrees and advises that people "be careful" with the Gallup numbers.

There is something very different going on in the sampling and one of them (Gallup or NBC/WSJ) is just dead wrong. I don't think Gallup is right.

Gallup Getting Freaky

I've mentioned in the past that Gallup is not the gold standard in polling it once was. One reason is that Gallup's tracking poll has played a bigger role in defining their brand than before and there are problems with any tracking poll.

One problem is that Gallup's tracking poll includes 7 days of data while some of their other numbers (like their approval rating data) includes just 3 days of data. So, there is very often an asymmetry.

But there's other problems. As of this moment, Gallup has Mitt Romney ahead among registered voters by 1 point and they have Romney ahead among likely voters by 7 points. Both of these sets of numbers are outliers among other polls but so is the gap between the two. Romney will surely do better among likely voters than among all registered voters but a net 6-point difference between likely voter numbers and registered voter numbers is a bit on the high side.

PPP just released their tracking poll and they have the race 48-48 among likely voters (didn't see registered voters numbers but surely they have Obama slightly ahead among registered voters) and Tom Jensen indicated that Obama did a tiny bit better on the last night of the tracker (the one night that was fully after the second debate).

All of that "feels" about right to me and is more in line with where most other polls are at this point. I wouldn't get too freaked out by Gallup's tracker.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

If Women Are Going to Work ...

... then we've gotta make some changes. That's totally what Mitt Romney said last night ... which was also in 2012.

The more I've thought about this, the more staggering it is. Everyone is focusing in on the "binders full of women" line. That was awkward. But what followed was painfully backward and ignorant. Romney said:
I recognized that if you're going to have women in the workforce that sometimes you need to be more flexible. My chief of staff, for instance, had two kids that were still in school.

She said, I can't be here until 7 or 8 o'clock at night. I need to be able to get home at 5 o'clock so I can be there for making dinner for my kids and being with them when they get home from school. So we said fine. Let's have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you.

We're going to have to have employers in the new economy, in the economy I'm going to bring to play, that are going to be so anxious to get good workers they're going to be anxious to hire women.
"IF" you're going to have women in the workforce??? We do! I think there might be several! And, apparently employers are only hiring them because they're desperate. You know, because we've run out of men to hire. I'm not making this up. He said, in the "new economy," employers "are going to be so anxious to get good workers they're going to be anxious to hire women." Good God! Not that!

Wait a second Mr. 1950s caricature ... who will take care of the children (the job women are supposed to be doing)? Mitt responds it'll be okay. We'll just need to be more flexible. Women working! What's next?

I must say I'm a bit perplexed why this is not a bigger deal.

Will the Second Debate Affect the Polls?

It depends on how you understand how the first debate affected the polls. I argued here that the effect of the first debate was to energize Republican voters and to depress Democratic voters. As post-debate polls rolled in, like the Pew poll that had Romney ahead by 4, we saw more Republicans and fewer Democrats identified as likely voters.

One thing that is not happening as a result of last night's debate is some big swing among "undecided" voters. There just aren't very many undecided voters and, if you're undecided at this point, you're a low-information voter who is not paying any attention at all to these debates.

So, what did last night's debate do for Republican and Democratic voters? Republicans who were already energized about Romney will remain so. Romney made mistakes last night but he does a very good job of delivering Republican talking points related to the question asked. Republican viewers came away satisfied with that. The question is whether the debate and, more importantly, the day-after media discussion will energize previously-depressed Democrats/Obama supporters.

My sense is that the debate will do that at least to some extent. The President was feisty, was hitting the key themes Democrats want to hear about, and hit Romney in three ways that Democrats had been worried about:

1) The President reminded everyone of his commander-in-chiefyness with the Libya exchange
2) The President helped fire up women on a number of answers (Ledbetter Act, contraception/abortion, Romney's silly binders answer)
3) The President emphasized over and over that Romney is going to cut taxes for the most wealthy, will favor the most wealthy, and finished the debate by finally raising the 47% issue and, because it was the last response, Romney couldn't bat it down.

How much will this move the polls? Very, very little in my view. But, to the extent it has an effect, Obama will gain a little ground.

Second Debate - Two Key Moments

There were two key moments in the second presidential debate in my view. One was the exchange on Libya and the other was Mitt Romney's response to the question on equal pay for women. First, let's take a look at the key part of the Libya exchange:

There is a lot of focus on the instant fact check done by Candy Crowley there. But I think the key moment is actually what precedes the fact check moment. Crowley asked the President about where the buck stops on the Libya issue. Obama's response here was simply his best moment in either debate because in that moment, he demonstrated what a President looks like and made Romney look small. That Romney went on to challenge it further and actually get his facts wrong and had to be fact-checked by Crowley only emphasized it. That was a TERRIBLE moment for Romney.

The other key moment in the second presidential debate was Romney's response to the question on equal pay for women. Romney's response was very strange and awkward and the twitterverse exploded with messages about binders like this one.

But the focus on binders misses the bigger problems with Romney's response. Here's the whole answer:

Notice Romney's language here: "I recognized that if you're going to have women in the workforce, that sometimes, they need to be more flexible." He goes on to explain that flexibility means those women might need certain hours home with the kids. This was just not good at all. "'IF' you're going to have women in the workforce???" Not good.

Remember that the effect of the first debate had to do with key moments in the debate being replayed and reinterpreted as we moved along. The same will be true here and I would argue these clips are going to be playing over and over in the next 24 hours. And that will make those bad moment worse.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Mark Halperin ...

... is not advancing the state of knowledge.

Here's his scoop this morning:
Here’s why some Democrats are worried tonight. If Romney wins the three Southern battlegrounds (FL, NC, and VA) and OH, he is at 266 electoral votes. Leaving the other five battlegrounds unallocated, that means Obama would be at 237 and Romney would only need to win one of the remaining five states to get to 270+.

Halperin is right. Alternatively, if Romney wins CA, NY, and IL, he will similarly have a shot of winning. Or he could win CA, FL, and VA! There are LOTS of combinations!

I am dumber for having read this article.

This Is Bad News

It is one poll so I'm not freaking out about it but PPP has a poll out this morning that has Obama down by 4 nationally.

Below the topline, PPP says they found the following sub-samples on the 3 days of the poll:

Friday (38%) Obama 47, Romney 49
Saturday (39%) Obama 49, Romney 47
Sunday (24%) Obama 43, Romney 55

So, obviously, Romney's lead comes entirely from the last day of polling and that could well be just random noise. Also, 44% of respondents in the poll identified as conservative and 16 percent identified as liberal. That can be either evidence of a bad sample or just the way real Romney voters and real Obama voters are identifying themselves. There's no way of knowing for sure.

I'm not going to get all upset about one poll but I do think PPP is generally a good pollster.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sullivan Unhinged II

Holy moly has this guy gone off the deep end!

I really don't think his post is worthy of a rebuttal except for the fact that it is so widely read. For that reason, I sent him a lengthy email pointing out the various ways he's just dead wrong. I won't re-print the whole thing here but this is the most important, concluding part:
The President had a bad night and he’s taken a hit in the polls. But it just isn’t nearly what you’ve painted it to be in its effect. Go ahead and show me the path to 270 electoral votes that Mitt Romney has today. We’re now at 12 days since that first debate and the results are pretty cooked into the state polls. Show me Romney winning Ohio. Show me his path without Ohio. Is Romney winning Wisconsin? Sorry. Is Romney winning Nevada? Sorry. If he doesn't win those places, he doesn't win.

Obama is winning today. It’s closer than I wish it would be. The debate made it closer than it could have been. But it wouldn’t have been over without that debate performance. And Romney does not have “the momentum” or the mojo or, most importantly, the lead.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Debate Bounce Receding?

I asked the other day, where are the good pollsters? There have not been any national polls from pollsters I think are good that included a purely post-10/4 sample.

Tonight, the ABC/Washington Post poll came out and it has Obama ahead of Romney 49-46 among likely voters and ahead 50-43 among registered voters. There is still a larger-than-usual gap between registered voters and likely voters so I think the President has room to grow here. But, the bottom line is Obama is ahead by 3 among likely voters and was ahead by 2 among likely voters before the debate in this same poll. As far as this poll is concerned, the first debate bounce is effectively gone.

Meanwhile, Ipsos (not a pollster I consider so great) reports that the President leads among early voters nationwide by a wide margin (59/31). There is more and more evidence pouring in to substantiate the early voting edge Obama seems to have in Ohio. Ipsos also has the President ahead (by just one point) for the first time since just after the first debate.

This is the best polling day Obama's had since the first debate.

Watching Likely Voters

I've argued that the first debate did not so much convince any voters to vote differently as it charged up Republican voters and depressed Democratic voters. This shift has been reflected in the polling as the composition of likely voters has changed just slightly. Of course, slight changes in the composition of likely voters are huge. So, I don't mean to downplay the shift. But I do want to point out that there are two things that potentially work in the President's favor if Romney is banking on a favorable likely voter pool to put him over the top:

1) The difference between likely voters and registered voters is unusually large right now and I think it is likely to shrink. It won't be zero. Romney will get a boost mainly because of demographics. Older people support Romney and younger people support Obama. Older people are more likely to vote. This is the biggest reason for Romney's advantage among likely voters but there are others. But likely voter numbers are a prediction that can change, especially if the President is able to un-do some of the damage done by the first debate. I think Democrats are a bit more enthused after the VP debate. If the President has a better night on Tuesday night, there is every chance the media narrative will be about how Obama "came back," etc. That will fire up the Democratic base and those likely voter numbers might get better.

2) The Obama campaign has been banking on their GOTV operation and they argue it will translate into a real advantage in a close race on Election Night. Nobody knows for sure whether this is real. But we're starting to see some very limited evidence consistent with the Obama narrative. Michael McDonald, who is the authoritative word on early voting, breaks down some of the early voting numbers here. The short version is that it does appear the Obama campaign is outperforming the Romney campaign on early voting, at least in some battleground states. This evidence is supplemented, of course, by the early voting numbers in a couple of polls in Ohio. NBC/WSJ and PPP have both polled Ohio in recent days and both break out early voting numbers. As of yesterday, PPP found that 19% of respondents said they had already voted and these respondents reported going for Obama by a staggering 76/24 margin. Just a few days earlier, NBC/WSJ found that 18% of respondents in Ohio said they had already voted and this group broke for the President 63/37.

Nate Silver finds this mix of early voting data and likely voter findings in polls to be difficult to reconcile and I agree. Silver tweeted this out yesterday:

There's too little data at this point to tell whether the early voting data or the likely voter polling data paints more of an accurate picture of the two campaigns' GOTV efforts. But, as Silver points out, if the gap between likely voters and registered voters closes some, Obama will win.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Speaking of Pollsters ...

... this looks fishy. The Behavior Research Center has Obama ahead of Romney in Arizona 44-42. There are lots of fishy things in this poll and so perhaps it serves as a good jumping off point to discuss what kinds of things jump out at me as not quite right when I'm looking at a poll:

1) Is the poll an outlier (especially compared with pollsters I think are good)? Yeah, to say the least. PPP did a poll in Arizona BEFORE the first debate and had Romney up by 9.

2) Have I ever heard of the pollster? No, I haven't. Every pollster gets some media attention the first time sometime but when there's no track record to say this poll should be believed, it should be read with a skeptical eye.

3) Are there numbers below that topline that seem counterintuitive? Yes. The gender gap is very narrow here for one and the poll has Obama and Romney tied among men. The poll also has Obama ahead 77-10 among Latinos. There's other things that don't feel right but those are the biggest ones.

4) Are the campaigns behaving in a way that is consistent with the polls? You can figure out that Ohio is close in both campaigns' internal polls by the way the two campaigns are behaving (running a million commercials and campaigning there). We don't see the two campaigns behaving as if Arizona is in play.

5) Is it a live-interviewer poll with cell phones or is it a robo-poll or is it an online poll? The order in which I listed them is in descending order of quality and this is an online poll.

So, this poll has all the hallmarks of a poll that I would not tend to believe. It doesn't mean it can't be right. It just means ... it probably isn't right.

Now, compare all that with this PPP poll in Ohio that was just released that has Obama up by 5:

1) Is the poll an outlier? Not too much of an outlier. CNN had Obama ahead by 4 a few days ago and NBC/WSJ had Obama up by 6. Others have it closer and PPP does have a slight Democratic lean in their polls. But this is not a shocking number.

2) Have I heard of PPP? Yeah, and they have a generally good track record.

3) Are there numbers below the topline that seem counterintuitive? Mostly no. For instance, Romney has a 46/51 fav/unfav. That sounds about right, especially in Ohio. Gender gap? Yeah. Obama leads 54-42 among women and trails 50-48 among men. I'd guess the Obama might be a tad more behind in Ohio but this is not a crazy number.

4) Are the campaigns behaving in a way that is consistent with the poll? Oh yeah, to say the least.

5) Live-interviewer or robo-poll or online poll? Robo-poll. Not ideal but at least it isn't online.

This poll mostly passes the smell test. There are a few things I scratch my head on. PPP says 19% of voters have already voted and those voters went 76-24 for Obama. That's hard to believe. If it is true, Romney is in a DEEP hole in Ohio and NBC/WST had a similar finding in their poll though not quite as big a margin. But look, I think it is clear that Obama leads by a little in Ohio (even Rasmussen has Obama ahead by 1 there) and this poll is not far off if it is off.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Where are the Good Pollsters?

The national polling numbers are not matching some of my predictions about Romney's bounce from the first debate and I've been trying to think about why that is. I had predicted that Romney's bounce would ultimately boil down to 1-2 points after fading but it should have faded by now. The various polling averages do not bear that out. Some possible explanations are:

1) My predictions were wrong / based on faulty assumptions, etc. or
2) The national polling numbers are not right

I'm generally skeptical when I hear other people making argument #2. It is not so much that pollsters are never wrong. Of course, there are bad polls and there are bad pollsters. But when all the pollsters are moving in one direction, there's only one way to argue they're all wrong and that is if they are all doing something systematically incorrect. That's possible but not very likely.

That said, there is one thing that jumps out at me when I look at the national polling numbers and the arguments I've made: I don't think many pollsters are good. This occurred to me as I was looking at the recent national polls. I've listed below all of the national polls recorded by in which either most or all of the sample has been since the first debate:

The pattern here is pretty clear and Obama's not doing well in these polls. If you average them, Romney is ahead by 0.8 points overall. I've said elsewhere though that pollsters who interviewed on 10/4 (the day after the first debate) showed huge bounces for Romney. If we include only polls that were in the field from 10/5 and after, Romney still leads though it is a slightly smaller average lead of 0.4 points overall.

So, what's going on? Am I wrong? Is Romney's bounce really this big and this lasting? Maybe. The one thing that jumps out at me when I look at that list of pollsters above is that there are only two pollsters there that I think do a good job. One of the pollsters I think is good is PPP though PPP generally has a bit of a Democratic lean. Their poll giving Romney a 2-point lean seems like really bad news then, right? True, except it does include some respondents from 10/4 and the poll is getting a little long in the tooth now. The other pollster I think is good is Pew. They have Obama down by 4 points ... but the same problems are there as with the PPP poll.

What's most striking about this list when we look at it this way is that I don't think any good pollsters have been releasing national polls this week. Who are the good pollsters in my view? Aside from PPP and Pew, I think NBC/WSJ, ABC/WP, CBS/NYT/Quinnipiac, and CNN are pretty good pollsters. None of them has any national poll that has been in the field since at least last Sunday. That's very strange to me.

Maybe my predictions are wrong. But I really want to see a national poll from one of those outlets before I apologize.

Stuff (It's Irish for Malarkey)

Andrew Sullivan grabs a good photo from Uppity Minx to describe last night's debate:

Perhaps the most important thing to find on Sullivan's blog this morning is that he's been talked down from the ledge ... by Joe Biden.

Biden did a good job last night and he accomplished two things for Democrats. First, he changed the subject from Romney's "momentum," which no longer existed in fact, but stopping the media from discussing it further is helpful. Second, he re-energized some Democrats who were dispirited by the first debate and its aftermath. As you know, I have been arguing that Romney's gain in the polls has been due to greater energy among Republicans and less enthusiasm among Democrats since the first debate. If I'm right that that's what's going on and that Democrats are energized to some degree now, we'll start to see just the slightest narrowing between registered voter numbers and likely voter numbers by Monday or so.

Ryan performed just fine, especially given the difficult position he was in. It isn't easy trying to pretend your numbers add up when they don't. I think Republicans will feel he did just fine and they'll be happy with his performance. But Democrats are very happy with Biden's aggressiveness and his message ... which boils down to one thing: "They're lying." That's it. Republicans won't be affected by it and there are so few undecided voters that their reaction is almost irrelevant. Democrats desperately wanted someone to say "malarkey" loudly and over and over again. And Biden did that.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


Mitt Romney was asked by the Columbus Dispatch about how people who don't have health insurance will get health care and Romney had this to say:
Romney minimized the harm for Americans left without health insurance. “We don’t have a setting across this country where if you don’t have insurance, we just say to you, ‘Tough luck, you’re going to die when you have your heart attack,’  ” he said as he offered more hints as to what he would put in place of “Obamacare,” which he has pledged to repeal. “No, you go to the hospital, you get treated, you get care, and it’s paid for, either by charity, the government or by the hospital. We don’t have people that become ill, who die in their apartment because they don’t have insurance.”
Now, look, that's not a good answer for all kinds of reasons that interesting policy wonks like Ezra Klein can explain better than I can.

But what I'd like to focus on is the last phrase there. " ... who die in their apartments ..." Romney used this same word, "apartments" when he was on Jay Leno a few weeks back making exactly the same point.

I would submit to you that this tells you everything you need to know about how Mitt Romney views people who are without insurance, people who are lower middle class or poor, etc. They live in apartments. Not homes, not houses. Apartments. In Romney's world, it is still 1952 ... and he's talking about Ralph Kramden. Ralph lives in his apartment and is perfectly fine with that and has a heart attack and gets health care in the Emergency Room.

That's how health care works in Romney's view. And that's how the Ralph Kramdens of the world live in Mitt Romney's view.

Romney's Swing State Problem

I'm going to sound like a broken record but here are the "swing-state" poll numbers released in the last 12 hours according to Taegan Goddard:

Colorado: Romney 48%, Obama 47% (CBS/NYT/Quinnipiac)
Florida: Obama 47%, Romney 46% (NBC/WSJ/Marist)
Michigan: Obama 49%, Romney 42% (Detroit News)
Michigan: Obama 46%, Romney 44% (Gravis)
Nevada: Obama 47%, Romney 45% (Suffolk)
Ohio: Obama 51%, Romney 45% (NBC/WSJ/Marist)
Ohio: Obama 47%, Romney 46% (Pulse Opinion Research)
Pennsylvania: Obama 47%, Romney 45% (Pulse Opinion Research)
Virginia: Romney 48%, Obama 47% (NBC/WSJ/Marist)
Virginia: Obama 51%, Romney 46% (CBS/NYT/Quinnipiac)
Virginia: Obama 48%, Romney 48% (Pulse Opinion Research)
Wisconsin: Obama 50%, Romney 47% (CBS/NYT/Quinnipiac)
Wisconsin: Obama 50%, Romney 46% (Pulse Opinion Research)

I put "swing-state" in air quotes because Michigan and Pennsylvania are not swing states but I won't get started on that rant again. These are just the states that Goddard lists.

Some of these pollsters are better than others and I won't bother with that discussion right now other than to say, look at where Obama is in polls that call cell-phones. For purposes of our discussion here, let's assume these polls are all equally valid.

Who is likely to win the election today if these polls are accurate? Mitt Romney is ahead in exactly 2 of these 13 polls and he's tied in one more. If we average the polls in states where there is more than one poll, Obama wins every state listed here except Colorado. Now, many of these states (like Florida) would be close. But guess what? Florida has always been close. And guess what else? Let's give Florida to Romney along with Colorado. Now who wins? The President.

Everyone is talking about how the first debate "wiped out" everything that happened between the convention and the debates when Obama built a bit of a cushion. I don't believe that's exactly correct but let's say it is. Now who wins? The President.

Yesterday, the President said, "What’s important is the fundamentals of what this race is about haven’t changed." He's absolutely right.

UPDATE: Greg Sargent snagged an interview with Geoff Garin, arguably the top Democratic pollster in the country and got Garin to outline why Obama is doing so much better in swing states like Ohio than he's doing nationally:
Geoff Garin, the pollster for the Obama-allied Priorities USA, tells me that his polling shows that views of Romney are more fixed in the battlegrounds than nationally. “In the swing states, voters are much more apt and able to quote back the main case against Romney,” he tells me.

Garin adds that his polling has tested voter reaction to various arguments against Romney, such as the idea that his economic policies would favor the wealthy or burden the middle class. He says voter agreement with those suggestions is “higher where the advertising has occurred,” and adds: “All the swing state advertising has had a measurable and lasting impact.”

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Tonic for Democrats: Romney and Ohio

The new NBC/Marist/WSJ polls are out for Ohio, Florida, and Virginia. In Florida, Obama is up 1. In Virginia, Romney is up 1. But Ohio. Oh, Ohio.

Obama leads Romney by 6 in Ohio. That is just a terrible, terrible number for Romney. And there's actually quite a bit more good news below the top line for the President. First, Romney has gained 2 points since last week's NBC/Marist/WSJ poll. That's it ... at least in Ohio. The debate bounce is not getting worse. It just is what it is at this point. And if it is 2 points, that's not changing the fundamental trajectory of the campaign.

Second, 40 percent in the poll described themselves as Democrats and 29 described themselves as Republicans. Now lots of Republicans might cry foul and say there's no way there's an 11-point party ID edge for Obama in Ohio. But that argument doesn't work any more than the Democratic complaints about the national Pew poll worked a few days ago. As I said this morning, party ID is a fluid thing and is more a reflection of where the electorate is than pollster hijinks. But, in Ohio, there's something else interesting driving those numbers. 18 percent of respondents said they have already voted and 63 percent of these voters said they voted for Obama. This has been a big part of the Obama campaign's efforts in the state and this poll suggests it may be pulling the party ID of the electorate in their direction.

But wait, there's more bad news for Romney. Among those who have not yet voted but were identified as likely voters, Obama still leads by 2, 48-46.

Want more bad news for Romney? His favorable/unfavorable is still under water in Ohio (44/50).

I continue to believe that Romney is hitting his electoral ceiling in this post-debate period. And, if his electoral ceiling is a 6-point deficit in Ohio (not to mention a 1-point deficit in Florida), I don't see him winning.

I hope Biden does well Thursday night and changes the story. And I hope the President performs better in the next two debates and this thing goes back to where it was before the first debate. But I also think the President would win Ohio if the election were today. And I still don't see Romney's path to victory without Ohio.

Have Voters Changed Their Minds About Obama?

No. That's the short answer.

Much of the criticism of the Pew Poll leveled from despairing Democrats has centered on the partisan makeup of the poll. 36% of likely voters in the poll self-identified as Republicans while 33% self-identified as Democrats. Democrats charge that in 2008 exit polls, 39% of voters self-identified as Democrats compared to 32% who self-identified as Republicans and in 2004 (when Democrats lost a close race), Democrats and Republicans each made up 37% of the electorate. So what gives Pew?

The fact is that the Pew poll is a really well-run poll and there is probably nothing significant wrong with their sampling. As Nate Silver has pointed out many times, party identification is a fluid thing and is more a reflection of where the electorate is at any point than a determinant of where the electorate is. And this brings me to my point.

Romney's post-debate surge is driven by enthusiasm among Republicans (and despair among Democrats) rather than voters changing their minds about the President. More Republicans say they're definitely voting now than before and more voters are willing to say they're Republicans than before. These "new" Republicans have been with Romney all along but were less sure about voting and were less willing to call themselves Republicans. Romney's debate performance energized them and reinvigorated their Republican-ness.

We can see this is the case by looking at some other polls. Gallup has started to release likely voter poll numbers in addition to their registered voter numbers. There is a 5-point swing towards Romney when we move from registered voters to likely voters. That's a BIG swing and it is explained by greater enthusiasm among Republicans. But, what's interesting is that when Gallup breaks out their polling over the last seven days, we see this:

Among registered voters, Obama's standing appears not to have eroded at all. Indeed, Gallup has Obama at a 53% job approval rating, slightly higher than it was before the debate.

We see something similar (from a different angle) looking at the Rasmussen poll. Rasmussen weights their sample by party ID. This means their poll has a consistent number of Democrats and Republicans across time. Not surprisingly, Rasmussen's poll has hardly moved since the debate. It has ranged from Obama ahead 49-47 to Romney ahead 49-47 over the last 10 days. This could be seen as mere statistical noise rather than the effect of a "devastating" (Sullivan's words) debate performance by Obama.

Now, I'm not trying to say that all of this increased enthusiasm among Republicans and depression among Democrats is not a problem for the President. But I am saying that people (I'm looking at you Sullivan) need to be careful about interpreting what's happening as a bunch of undecided voters or a bunch of Obama voters suddenly deciding to vote for Mitt Romney.

The lesson of what I'm saying is that the Obama campaign needs to rally its base. That can be done and the best place to start is with better debate performances from the President and the Vice President that re-energizes Democratic voters. I expect that's going to happen starting with Thursday night.