On Trying To Figure Out Where the Campaign Stands

Over the last two weeks, I have spent most of my blogging energies on poll analysis in the 2008 Democratic Presidential primary. The goal has been to develop a clear picture of where national Democratic opinion on the nomination currently stands, which has proven surprisingly difficult. Given the eight and a half months between now and the Iowa caucuses, the highly contradictory results produced by different firms, the sample composition arguments that led to the Inflated Clinton Poll Theory, the widely varying degree to which different pollsters push undecideds, and the different candidates and potential candidates included in the questions of different pollsters, this has been a real struggle.

The result of this analysis has been two charts of polling averages--a high-end estimate and a low-end estimate--and extended discussion of the Inflated Clinton Poll Theory both on MyDD and in many other places. I like the charts, and I prefer the high-end estimate to the low-end estimate because it is more distinct and more in line with my general polling philosophy on 2008 national polls. Both actually posit nearly identical margins between Clinton and Obama, 35.7%--28.4% in the high end estimate, and 34.3%--25.9% in the low end estimate, for a very narrow current range of 7.3%--8.4%. Also, I think the Inflated Clinton Poll Theory has generated enough buzz that I expect a test of the theory at some point in May. If the theory is correct, then the campaign is somewhat closer than the 7.3%--8.4% range. If not, then 7.3%--8.4% stands. Either way, trendlines are showing a slow Obama and Edwards rise, accompanied with a slow drain on Clinton and others / unsure. Long-term, the indications are of a three-way race developing, although Obama and Clinton are both noticeably ahead of Edwards.

As for the Inflated Clinton Poll Theory itself, our discussion has led to two important findings. First, the largest source of Clinton's advantage is indeed from those participants in national polls who are not paying close attention to the campaign. We now have data on this both from NBC, which shows Obama ahead among those who are paying close attention, and from Pew, as shown by the pic on the right, which shows which shows both Clinton and Gore performing better relative to Edwards and Obama among those who have not given much thought to the election. As Mystery Pollster notes, how much thought someone has given to the election is "a question generally considered predictive of voter turnout." The same can be said of how much attention someone is paying to the election, which is a slightly different question than "how much thought" someone has given to the election. However, the results are not as clear-cut as the Inflated Clinton Poll Theory assumed:
So what do these results say about Chris Bowers' theory that national polls are overstating Hillary Clinton's lead? The evidence here is mixed, at best. Obama certainly does better among more attentive voters, although that finding is not particularly surprising given his rapidly growing name recognition in recent months. However, Clinton also does better among the most attentive Democrats. Thus, her margin over Obama among those who pay "a lot" of attention (11 points in the combined March/April data) is actually a few statistically insignificant points higher than her margin among all Democrats (9 points in March, 10 points in April).

Now, some cautions about the above. First, those who say they pay a lot of attention to the candidates are more likely to vote than those who do not, but this measure is far from a perfect turnout predictor. Pollsters that use attentiveness to select likely voters usually do so in combination with other measures, such as reports of past voting or future likelihood to vote.
When this is all combined with the fact that Obama does relatively better among Democratic-leaning independents who largely will not be able to vote in "closed" primaries on February 5th, 2008, than he does among self-identified Democrats who are more likely to also be registered Democrats, the existing evidence no longer provides any clear support to the Inflated Clinton Poll Theory. Simply put, there are conflicting indications as to whether Clinton or Obama would benefit more from a tighter poll sample that focused only on Democrats who are likely to make up the caucus and primary electorate, rather than all Democratic self-identifiers and leaners who are registered to vote.

Given all of this, I think it is time that I move on and start blogging about other subjects again. Through the charts that I will regularly update, we now have very good estimates of where public opinion on the national campaign stands. While the Inflated Clinton Poll Theory is certainly a legitimate enough area of inquiry to deserve a real test, until that test takes place, existing data is inconclusive to the point where it can no longer be assumed the current polling averages are skewed one way or the other. At this point in time, I have to at least tentatively conclude that Hillary Clinton is ahead nationally by around 7-9 points.

I hope you enjoyed this analysis these past two weeks. The only motive I ever had in this process was to try and figure out where the campaign currently stands, and develop a method to monitor its progress over the next nine months. Quite frankly, I think it is sad that accusing people of hidden agendas has become so commonplace and reflexive in America that data-driven discussions of this sort are simply dismissed as "bias" or "wishful thinking" by many. As you may have noticed, I no longer have any tolerance for such accusations, which threaten to suck out both all of the fun and insightful research that these discussions potentially hold. I have done my best to try and figure out where the race stands, and I will continue to do so as long as I am interested in politics.

Tags: Barack Obama, Democrats, Hillary Clinton, inflated Clinton poll theory, polls, President 2008, Primary Elections (all tags)

Comments

29 Comments

Chris, Question about Polling

Chris, I find I am fascinated with Polls but a question comes to mind, that I would appreciate if you could address.  I may seem like a neophyte with this.  However, why does a campaign pay for polling.  In this last quarter, Edwards spent no money on polling, Clinton spent over $100,000.  What information do they get that is really useful rather than just interesting?  I understand that newspapers do polling - it makes an interesting story.

I guess right now should Edwards be doing more polling?  Are the others getting answers they need?  Your thoughts would be appreciated.  I asked this question some time ago but it was late in the thread.

I thoroughly enjoy your analyses and am learning a lot.  Thank you for sharing your passion.

by pioneer111 2007-04-27 12:53PM | 0 recs
Re: Chris, Question about Polling
It is probably mainly used to determine what messages, issues, and demographics will be important, useful or a problem for the campaign as it goes forward.
by Chris Bowers 2007-04-27 12:55PM | 0 recs
Re: Chris, Question about Polling

I can only imagine Romney using a big chunk of his small fortune to poll-test the hell out of the Mormon issue.

by LandStander 2007-04-27 01:44PM | 0 recs
...among those who are paying attention

Really enjoyed your recent polling posts! Thanks for sharing your insight to the nuances of polling.

by MethuenProgressive 2007-04-27 01:00PM | 0 recs
Re: On Trying To Figure Out Where the Campaign Sta

I appreciate the effort your going to here to ensure objective data-driven analysis and not let bias get in the way. I for one have confidence in your analysis.

by MNPundit 2007-04-27 01:24PM | 0 recs
Re: On Trying To Figure Out Where the Campaign Sta

Hillary is clearly the most intelligent and thoughtful candidate of the bunch.  I say this out of no love for Hillary.  But it's the truth.

She deserves to win.

I also point out that she is one hell of a formidable candidate.  Those who attempt to pass off her success in NY as the result of a Liberal-Jewish conspiracy are destined to repeat history.  She is completely unstoppable in a state with a truly diverse electorate.  And, with all the money in the world and all the hate and all the foaming-at-the-mouth anti-Hillary loonies out in force, she trounced the competition.

Hillary for President.

by Ethelred 2007-04-27 01:37PM | 0 recs
ah New York

is one of the most democratic states in the country, why is she currently losing in trial heats to McCain and Guliani? Why do half of american pledge to definately not vote for her?

by nevadadem 2007-04-27 01:44PM | 0 recs
Re: ah New York

The same reason 37% pledge not to vote for Obama and half of the nation will not vote for Gore. Because those are voters who will vote GOP.

by robliberal 2007-04-27 01:45PM | 0 recs
Bad outcome

Well, why would we want to nominate a candidate we know would cause half the voters to vote GOP?

by eskimo 2007-04-27 02:29PM | 0 recs
Re: Bad outcome

Any nominee will have numbers that high. Kerry did by election day.

by robliberal 2007-04-27 03:46PM | 0 recs
Re: Bad outcome

Particularly with partisan polarisation at such a high level. It seems to me that it would take something singularly appalling, like one of the candidates being caught having sex with a horse just before the election, for a 60%-40% victory to be even possible (even in that case, it'd probably more likely be 55%-45%).

by Englishlefty 2007-04-28 12:51PM | 0 recs
Re: ah New York

Her negatives are way higher then theirs. And her performance tends to be within 3 percent of Obama's and Edwards.

Anybody who'll win the nomination will end up with simular negatives.

No worries, because the McCain and Guliani numbers be even worse.

by Ernst 2007-04-28 11:28AM | 0 recs
Re: On Trying To Figure Out Where the Campaign Sta

I wouldn't call the previously presumptive nominee with universal name recognition fighting off a 1/2 term Senator a 'trouncing'.

More like a desperate clinging.

by LandStander 2007-04-27 01:46PM | 0 recs
Don't fret about the hidden agenda charges ...

... the people making them have a hidden agenda.

by BruceMcF 2007-04-27 01:42PM | 0 recs
Re: On Trying To Figure Out Where the

Chris, I enjoyed your series.  

I am not sure I am seeing the "high info" voter issue the way you do, however.  The Pew graphic you linked to shows that Clinton's support is strongest with the "A lot of thought given to the election" group at 38%. She does not bring in those types of numbers in either of the other two categories.   Then there is a dip amongst folks who pay "some" attention, and her numbers are relatively strong again in the "pays little attention" group, although not quite as high as the group with the highest attention group.   Would her relatively strong showing in the "thinks about the election a lot" group when compared to the two other groups not suggest that she gains as people pay closer attention to the campaigns?   After all, the graphic reveals that Clinton beats her own averages by a particularly large differential in that group.

I found the same alignment in the latest  California poll conducted by The Mellman Group.  It suggested to me that the closer people are paying attention, the more likely they are to choose Clinton over the other candidates.  

http://www.mydd.com/story/2007/4/27/1481 4/8694

by georgep 2007-04-27 01:49PM | 0 recs
Goerge

NBC 38-31 most interested voters prefer Obama

36-31 overall Hillary leads

combine the first 3 primary states where the race figures to be drawing the most media and voter attention Hillary runs 8 points behind her national average....spin that.

by nevadadem 2007-04-27 01:57PM | 0 recs
Where are those three individual races?

...when averaged?

by dpANDREWS 2007-04-27 02:28PM | 0 recs
Re: Where are those three individual races?

IA, NH and SC,

IA Clinton DEFICIT 3 PTS
NH Clinton lead 6 pts
SC CLINTON LEAD 2-3 PTS

by BDM 2007-04-27 03:44PM | 0 recs
While still early

Right now it seems that anyone that thinks Clinton is going to get shut out in the first 4 contests is simply not thinking with their head.

THINK people.

by dpANDREWS 2007-04-30 06:14AM | 0 recs
17 year olds

So far as I've seen, all pollsters are hitting 18 and ups. Misses the 17 year olds who'l be eligible by the time the actual elections roll around.

by benmasel 2007-04-27 02:54PM | 0 recs
Re: 17 year olds
Sure, but is there any evidence that
  1. these 17 year olds will make up a particularly large part of the electorate - there's a lot of hope about younger voters from Obama supporters, but past experience tends to suggest that it's the older voters who are most likely to turn out
  2. 17 year olds have vastly different political opinions as a group than 18 year olds?
by Englishlefty 2007-04-28 12:54PM | 0 recs
Re: 17 year olds

1. Much more in States with at the polls registration. Who and what referenda are on the ballot makes a big difference.

2. We won't know without polling. Even if there's little difference, the weighting given the 18 year olds' responses should be adjusted accordingly.

by benmasel 2007-04-28 01:26PM | 0 recs
Re: 17 year olds

"Much more in States with at the polls registration. Who and what referenda are on the ballot makes a relative big difference."

The number of "just turned 18" who vote is atrocious. They are the smallest demographic group of all, and combine that with the worst participation rate of all.

Any thing that will move them to the polls will move everybody to the polls in equal or even better numbers.

The lack of polling of 17 years old who'll be 18 during election time is weighted in the MoE anyway.

So you'll maybe get an tenth of a percentage point difference at best while the cost skyrocket to poll enough "17 that will be 18 during election time" year olds and introduce a huge variable to the result as every indicator used to see how likely it they will vote is less reliable the younger the participant.

So instead of a more reliable poll you'll get less reliable one that costs more.

by Ernst 2007-04-29 03:49AM | 0 recs
Good point

That is a great point.   But I wouldn't count on some 18 voter making it to vote in a primary.

Furthermore, I think college support may not be a big boost in the primary.  How many kids will make arrangements to vote, or return to caucus?

by dpANDREWS 2007-04-30 06:16AM | 0 recs
Re: On Trying To Figure Out

There's so much time left for Clinton to lose her lead, and she's not really up all that much especially in early primary states. The Dean experience of peaking early then losing the early primaries has got to be scaring the Clinton team. Although I can't imagine Hillary having a Dean "screetch" moment, she could get Swift Boated.

On Edwards, I can tell he's not polling because he's been riding that "two Americas" theme since forever. Talking about poverty and working people is his shtick, and that stuff never tops the polls...

by riseupeconomics 2007-04-27 06:58PM | 0 recs
Thanks Chris - Geat Work

I've thoroughly enjoyed this series, and especially the open way in which you have shared your thoughts and your data.

This is going to be a watershed primary and election,  with intense early interest, a tremendous field of Democratic candidates, and a Washington establishment of insiders that are losing their stranglehold.

by Aeolus 2007-04-27 07:05PM | 0 recs
You need a better dichotomy

I think the Clinton is attracting both low-info Dems and high-identity Dems. For example, the woman on my local Democratic committee who shows up to every meeting but doesn't read anything except the local paper and the Washington Post -- she loves Hillary and doesn't want a reason not to.

Obama, on the other hand, is attracting new people to the process, people who are paying attention now, but maybe weren't in the past, and don't have a history of Democratic self-identification.

Though you disagreed with my sloppy characterizations in the last discussion thread, I think I've articulated both trends in a way that fits all the data, and both show a capability to be show overestimated support in large polling samples -- Obama's unregistered Dems can't vote, and Hillary's high-identity/low-info Dems may just think that wanting her to win is as good as voting.

Edwards's support looks pretty freaking solid to me. Look at his numbers -- they don't stutter. Maybe I'm projecting my pro-labor, pro-blog mentality onto the rest of Edwards's support base, resulting in the impression that his base is so solid, but (just like your theory) we'd need a good test to know.

When you boil it all down, my claim is simple: Star-power does not translate into votes as well as the polls say it does, and both Clinton and Obama's rely heavily on star-power, unlike Edwards, whose supporters have sought out information about him, or made up their own minds about him.

Of course, there could be pieces of Edwards's base that are similarly unlikely to vote in primaries. If you name them I will consider them, but I haven't been able to think of any that would produce the kind of soft polling numbers like I think we've been seeing out of both Obama and Clinton.

P.S. Chris, I hope you don't feel too much like I'm nipping at your heels here. I don't disagree too much with what you're saying, but my thoughts come from a pretty different place. I very much appreciate your responses to my recent comments, challenging my operative assumptions and helping me refine my thoughts.

by msnook 2007-04-28 12:03AM | 0 recs
Keep It Up

I agree. I love the polling data. I find it helpful, good or bad. Hell, we're not George Bush ya know?

;p

by ObamaEdwards2008 2007-04-28 09:56AM | 0 recs
Re: On Trying To Figure Out Where the Campaign Sta

Chris, the sole reason I began reading MyDD were your poll analyses. And the quality of your analysis is reflected by how serious pollster and other analysis took your Clinton theory.

The people who thought they saw bias are idiots A nice number might feel better for some people, but it doesn't change that facts on the ground. Polls are only useful as long as they describe the facts on the grounds. If there is some doubt the accuracy it should be investigated. If not, polls are no better then throwing dice.

And if other Clinton supporters here gave you trouble or doubted your integrity they are twice the idiots. Because they should be familiar with the trouble of faulty polls. Bill lost his first re-election bid to complacency due to overly positive polls. If your theory is correct you're actually helping the Clinton team by preventing just that.

I hope aren't deterred by all the bad reactions, I highly enjoyed the whole series of posts and I hope you won't hesitate to do similar series if you find other anomalies.

by Ernst 2007-04-29 03:32AM | 0 recs

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