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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Is the New Washington Post Poll "Out of Whack?"

Update - According to Blair Lee with the Gazette of Business and Politics the Washington Post weights it polls according to Census data and not actual turnout - as a result the poll is overstating turnout among key constituent groups and heavily Democratic Baltimore City.

Original Post with revised analysis based on material provided by the Washington Post:

Much news has been made in the past few days since the Washington Post released a new poll in the Maryland governors race that showed incumbent Democrat Martin O'Malley opening a huge 11 point lead over former governor Bob Ehrlich. No other poll has found this race to be anything but a dead heat and news that the O'Malley campaign is bringing President Obama to the state certainly suggests that this is a close race.

When asked about the new poll, Ehrlich described it as "out of whack." In a story about Ehrlich's comments, Washington Post reporter John Wagner noted that Ehrlich did not identify any problems with the polls methodology. Having read through the data made available by the Post I can see no obvious methodological problems, but I am left wondering about the Post's turnout assumptions, like some recent polls in California I think the Post may be overstating likely Democratic turnout.

The Post does not provide a breakdown of party ID among likely voters, but polling director Jon Cohen provided that data to me today. Party ID was 50% Dem, 26% Rep, and 23% Ind. The Post data also lacks cross tabs showing the level of support for each candidate by party ID among likely voters, Cohen provided that as well - O'Malley is winning 87% of Dems, 5% of Reps, and 31% of Inds, Ehrlich wins 10% of Dems, 93% of Reps, and 54% of Inds.

This is crucial information and suggests that the Washington Post is overstating Democratic turnout and understating Republican turnout in 2010.  Consider - the 2004 Maryland turnout (a decent Republican year)was 48% Democrat, 30% Republican, and 22% Independent; the 2008 turnout numbers (an incredible Democratic year) were 51% Democrat, 28% Republican and 21% Independent.

So the Post sees a 2010 electorate that every bit as Democrat as was 2008 and less Republican than either the bad year of 2008 or the good year of 2004. In other words, in a year marked by a tremendous enthusiasm gap between Democrats and Republicans the Post thinks that Democrats will rival their 2008 turnout and Republicans will not even be able to reach their's - this is just not a reasonable assumption.

Those differences may seem slight, but based on the cross tab data provided by Jon Cohen it is possible to model the Post's data based on a turnout dynamic like 2004 and 2008. I've done this in Tables One through Four below.




If 2004 turnout numbers are applied to the Post poll (Table One) the results become 50% O'Malley to 45% Ehrlich - a statistical tie in line with all other polls.
Using the 2008 turnout assumptions (Table Four) the results of the poll become 54% O'Malley to 44% Ehrlich - essentially the margin reported by the Post. This leads me to believe that the Post is assuming/modeling a turnout dynamic similar to 2008 - and that seems highly unlikely in the current political environment. This primary season has been marked by historic levels of GOP voter turnout and in key races in VA, NJ, and MA Democratic turnout was well off of the 2008 levels while GOP turnout was steady.

For these reasons I would argue that 2004 is a much more likely scenario - and that would make this a 4 point race and within the margin of error.

The Post poll also found that Ehrlich is winning just 10% of Democrats. That seems low, in the Democratic primary just two weeks ago fully 14% of Democrats voted against O'Malley and for two unknown candidates.  If one assumes that Ehrlich wins 14% of Democrats (a number well below the roughly 22% he won in 2002 and the 15% he won in 2006) the poll results become 51% to 49% (Table Three).

Of course, if Ehrlich did receive 20% of the Democratic vote and the turnout is like 2004 then he's ahead 52% to 48% (Table Five). Even using a 2008 dynamic the race would be tied at 50% to 50% (Table Six).

In short, I suspect that the Washington Post poll actually confirms that the race between Martin O'Malley and Bob Ehrlich is a toss-up. I don't think that the poll is "out of whack" I just think that their turnout assumptions are wrong. Jon Cohen explained to me that the post weights "our adult sample to information we have good reason to believe is true, not an estimate about what a future population (voters might look like." That is of course their right, but it makes far more sense to base turn-out on actual past turnout numbers and not on a simple breakdown of the adult population - in other words a model should be based on actual voters not just all people.

I'd like to thank John Wagner and Jon Cohen for being so willing to speak with me about the poll and for being so accessible.

Stay tuned....

Friday, September 24, 2010

For Democrats, No Relief in Sight

Though the Realclearpolitics average of Generic Ballot questions has shown a decided narrowing between Republicans and Democrats a slew of recent stories suggests that the playing field has far from improved for Democrats. Consider these three tidbits from the last 12 hours:

  • The Voter Confidence Index, created by NBC News, is a combination of three questions commonly asked in national polls: the president's job approval rating, the direction of the country, and the generic congressional ballot. A positive VCI is good for the president's party; a negative one is bad. Currently, the VCI shows Obama and the Democratic Party in negative territory, with a -38 VCI average for the month of September. That’s eight points worse than where President Clinton and the Democrats stood in 1994, when Democrats lost 54 seats in the House and eight in the Senate.

  • A new Pew poll finds "For the third national election in a row, independent voters may be poised to vote out the party in power. The Republican Party holds a significant edge in preferences for the upcoming congressional election among likely voters, in large part because political independents now favor Republican candidates by about as large a margin as they backed Barack Obama in 2008 and congressional Democratic candidates four years ago.The survey finds that 50% of likely voters say they will vote for the Republican in their district, while 43% favor the Democratic candidate. The GOP’s advantage comes as a result of their 49% to 36% lead among independent and other non-partisan voters.

  • In a new poll, GOP pollster Glen Bolger finds Republicans leading the generic congressional ballot, 44% to 39%.  "We looked at the sample in the 66 Democratic INCUMBENT districts that Charlie Cook lists as either toss-up or leaning Democratic at the time of the survey. In that key crosstab of Swing Democratic Incumbent Seats, the Republican lead grows to 49%-31% on the generic ballot. That is a very powerful crosstab that says the wave is coming... Regionally, the Republican wins 47%-39% in the South, 47%-35% in the Midwest, and 46%-36% in the West, while trailing 36%-47% in the Northeast. The Midwest is going to be a killing field for Democrats this year — from western PA through to the Plains, Republicans are going to sweep a LOT of Democrats right out of office."
So collectively,  Democrats are in worse shape on the VCI than in 1994, Independents have shifted to the GOP with the same intensity that they shifted to Democrats in 2006 and 2008, and the GOP enjoys a tremendous lead in the 66 most vulnerable Democratic districts - AND, contrary to claims that the GOP is becoming a regional party the Glen Bolger poll finds the GOP leading everywhere except the Northeast.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

In Maryland, O'Malley Hits the the Big 5-0

Democratic turnout on primary day may not have held much good news for Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, but the latest survey from Rasmussen Reports finds O'Malley in new territory - at the 50% mark. This marks the first time since former Governor Robert Ehrlich entered the race that O'Malley has seen his reelect number reach 50%. Since February, O'Malley's level of support has ranged from 49% to 45% and now to 50%. Ehrlich's support has ranged from a low of 43% to it's present high watermark of 47%.

The poll also finds O'Malley with a 51% approval rating - one of the few polls to find a positive approval rating for the Governor. In all, the poll offers considerable good news for O'Malley. His reelect number and his approval rating are each hovering at the 50% mark and very few Marylanders describe themselves as being "undecided."

The poll results offer further evidence that the race will be close, but Ehrlich needs to win over the few remaining undecideds and hope for better turn-out to win this race and last week's primary clearly indicated an enthusiasm gap in Maryland.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ehrlich Beats Back Tea Party, O'Malley Gets the "Fustero Treatment"

The big news in Maryland so far has got to be the size of Bob Ehrlich's victory over Tea Party and Sarah Palin favorite Brian Murphy. On a night when conservative insurgents scored a dramatic victory in Delaware and battled to a near tie in New Hampshire Bob Ehrlich defeated Brian Murphy 76% to 24%.

On the other side of the ballot, Martin O'Malley has to deal with the unexpected embarassment of losing 14% of the vote to two unknowns with 10% going to J.P. Cusick, a candidate whose entire campaign is based on reforming child support and custody laws. This is like Kathleen Kennedy Townsend losing 20% of the vote to grocery store clerk Robert Fustero in 2002.

Winning 76% to 24% against a known and financed candidate in a year of upsets is far more impressive than winning 86% to 14% over two unknowns with no campaign organization of which to speak.

Worse, the ratio of Democratic turnout compared to Republican turnout is lower than in any recent election and thus far O'Malley is on track to underperform compared to his own performance of 500,000 votes in 2006 and to finish roughly on par with Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's 400,000 in 2002. Though Ehrlich received only 76% of the GOP vote he is on track to receive roughly that same number of votes as 2002 and 2006.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Interesting Turnout Dynamics in Maryland

In 2002, when neither Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend nor Republican Bob Ehrlich faced serious primary threats Townsend received roughly 400,000 votes to Ehrlich's 200,000 - a 2 to 1 margin that closely matched the Democrats' registration advantage. Roughly 100,000 Democrats opted to vote against Townsend in the primary. So there was a 2.5 to 1 turnout advantage among Democrats, but 20% lodged a protest vote against Townsend and she went on to lose the general election.

In 2006, neither Ehrlich or Democratic challenger Martin O'Malley faced any primary challenge. O'Malley received 500,000 votes to Ehrlich's 200,000 - essentially the same 2.5 to 1 turnout in 2002, but the Democratic vote was unified.

In 2010, O'Malley faced no serious challenge and Ehrlich did. So far, there have been 411,000 Democratic votes cast and 255,000 Republican votes. Ehrlich has claimed 76% or 195,000. O'Malley has received 86% or 354,000. Three things stands out - 1) Democratic turnout is barely 1.6 to 1 over Republican, an incredibly low ratio, 2) O'Malley's advantage over Ehrlich is thus less than Townsend's over Ehrlich in 2002, and 3) 14% of Democratic voters have lodged a protest vote against O'Malley.

If these ratios hold then tonight will be a bad night for Martin O'Malley and perhaps indicative of a rough general election to come.

In the 5th Congressional District, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's district, Republicans have nominated newcomer Charles Lollar. In 2008 there were 110,000 Democratic votes cast in the primary and only 28,000 Republican votes - 3.5 to one in a district that is 2 to 1 Democrat. Hoyer won in 2008 75% to 25%. Tonight, there have been 53,000 Democratic votes so far to 25,000 Republican votes - about 2 to 1.  This suggests that even Hoyer may have a race on his hands - though odds are still very much in his favor.

For Republicans, has the Senate Moved out of Reach?

The unexpected loss by moderate Republican Mike Castle in Delaware to the conservative newcomer Christine O'Donnell has just made it less likely that Republicans can retake the Senate in 2010.  Heading into November the GOP holds 41 seats and none appear to be at risk. The GOP is expected to pickup AR, ND, and IN as well as CO and PA for 5 new seats. Delaware was expected to be number 6 with the GOP reaching 57 seats and need only 4 more - IL, CA, NV, WA, and WI are all possibilities with CT and WV as long shots. The GOP would have needed 4 of those 7 a tall but possible order. Now, the GOP needs to win 5 of the 7. I can still happen, but it will tougher after tonight.

In Maryland the Only Surprise is the Lack of Surprises

With early returns in the AP has called the gubernatorial races for Martin O'Malley and Robert Ehrlich. In the end, insurgent Republican Brian Murphy fizzled. Ehrlich carried 78% of vote in early returns - simply trouncing Murphy. Any suggestions that the result indicates a weakness for Ehrlich are simply wrong. Murphy was a reasonably well financed candidate with a strong organization, and Tea Party backing - Murphy should have cracked 25% or more. Look across the border in Delaware where Christine O'Donnell toppled establishment Republican Mike Castle in that state's Senate primary and you see how well insurgent Republicans are doing this year. Murphy underperformed...

In other news - Republican Andy Harris easily won the nomination for a rematch against Frank Kratovil in the 1st Congressional District and political newcomer Charles Lollar appears destined to challenge Majority Leader Steny Hoyer in Maryland's 5th Congressional District.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Is it Really All about Trust or is the Party Over?

In Why Trust Matters: Declining Political Trust and the Demise of American Liberalism, Marc Hetherington argues that a decline in  political trust has undermined progressive policy enactment in America since the 1960s. He writes that America has not become more conservative, rather that Republicans have been able to exploit declining levels of trust to gain power.

In chapter 8, under the heading What the Left Should Learn he argues that liberals can reenergize public trust and reinvigorate progressive policy making if they only stopped the reflexive criticisms of the system and started to talk positively about government and the effect of policy. From page 146 and 147 "If progressives provide and alternative vision of government as one that takes care of older Americans, protects the environment, builds highways, and the like, Americans will trust that version of government... Recent Democrats have been too frightened to tell this story."

I cannot help but think that Democrats have been engaged in that exercise since 2006 and certainly since 2008. Democratic leaders like Speaker Pelosi and President Obama have an incredibly positive view of what government can do. President Obama spent his campaign and first 18 months in office trying to change public perception about government - yet the result thus far has been the opposite of what Hetherington predicted. Trust in government has fallen further, expressions of conservativism have risen, preferences for less government and fewer services are at recorded highs.

It seems that we are currently putting Hetherington's theories in Why Trust Matters to the test and thus far they are falling short.

The caveat may be that Democrats attained power by attacking government as helmed by Republicans - so they had to undermine confidence in Republicans to achieve victory, but may well have undermined confidence in government as well. This is a challenge for liberals, how do you simultaneously try to bolster confidence in government while criticizing government as led by Republicans. Can one expect the public to discern the difference between criticizing Republican governance specifically as opposed to American government in general?

This is of course the reality of governing and campaigning in an era of weak party attachment among the mass public. Since the 1960s the electorate has become much less attached to either political party. Data from the American National Election Study show that there has been a marked increase in the share of the electorate that is either Independent or Leaning Independent.

At the same time, the share of the electorate identifying as Strong Partisans has fallen from its highs in the 1950s and early1960s.


Why does the decline in partisanship matter? Because it effects how parties must campaign for office. In an era when partisanship was strong and very few Americans considered themselves to be Independent candidates for office could campaign based on voters positive attachment to their party. Voters were being asked to vote for the Democratic party, for the party's agenda. As relatively few Americans identified as Independent such partisan appeals worked. In the present era, however, neither the Democrats nor Republicans have a sufficient foundation of electoral support to campaign merely based on party attachment. Instead, they must campaign on a platform of rejection of the opposing party and its administration of government. To accomplish this it becomes necessary to undermine public confidence in opposition's governance and this typically, inevitably undermines public confidence in government.

Evidence of these efforts were seen in the Democratic criticisms of President Bush’s handling of the War in Iraq, in calls for a 9/11 Commission, and in response to the government’s response to hurricane Katrina. More recently, Republican criticisms of President Obama’s handling of the gulf oil spill serve the purpose of undermining confidence. Though these efforts at undermining confidence in the other party may offer short-term political gain, they also serve further to erode public confidence in government. Solutions to big problems, such as budget deficits, often seem too risky for either side in this “confidence game” to pursue.

Hetherington treated trust as an independent variable that undermined progressive policy making - in reality trust is a dependent variable resulting from a dramatic decline in mass partisan attachment since the 1960s. Trust is unlikely to rebound unless the American party system rebounds - at present there is little indication that such a rebound is likely to take place in the near future. Though Hetherington, in subsequent research, and other scholars like Alan Abramowitz (see his just released The Disappearing Center) argue that the public has become more partisan in recent years and more attached to party what these scholars have actually found is increased partisanship and polarization among political elites and they have mistakenly attributed that polarization to the mass electorate.

Rather more than one-third of the electorate operates as non-partisan free agents. So each party seeks immediate strategic advantage, but neither can undertake substantial policy reforms as they lack mass-based support. We entered an era that political scientist Walter Dean Burnham defines as the “politics of collision, coalition, and the permanent campaign.” This has created a system of government incapable of addressing the significant challenges before us, which then reinforces distrust and likely further undermines partisan attachment.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

So Much Bad Advice... (but not from me)

Greg Sargent at the Washington Post repeats an oft made argument among Liberals that Barack Obama's woes are not the result of Democratic overreach and the pursuit of a left of center political agenda outside of the American mainstream. Sargent writes:
Dem losses this fall will be largely due to the economy and unemployment, which would have been far worse today without the stimulus. What's more, Obama didn't govern from the far left: Health care reform and even Wall Street reform were arguably moderate solutions to serious crises that demanded urgent attention. And regardless of the politics, Dems campaigned on a promise to do these things -- and they were substantively the right things to do.
Sargent, like others, argues that the President has not pursued a far left agenda, so any suggestions that he should move to the center, scale back his agenda, or view the upcoming midterm elections as a repudiation of his policies are based on a faulty premise.

The faulty premise, of course, is that offered by Sargent and others - that President Obama's troubles are not the result of the public's rejection of his liberal agenda. That is exactly the source of the President's troubles. The crucial error that Sargent and other defenders of the faith have made is to measure liberalism by their standards as opposed to those of most Americans. The fact that far left Liberals do not believe that the president has pursued a far left agenda tells us precious little about anything other than the policy preferences of far left Liberals.

According to nearly every survey, including the most recent from Democracy Corps, roughly 20% of Americans identify themselves as Liberal, 30% as Moderate, and 45% as Conservative. Given that only 20% of the electorate is Liberal it matters far more what the other 80% of voters think about the President's policies. According to Gallup, the President enjoys a 77% approval rating among Liberals (so though folks like Sargent may contend that the President's policies have been "moderate solutions" Liberals have been quite satisfied with those solutions). Among Moderates, President Obama's approval rating stands at 53% and Among Conservatives (the largest ideological group in America) the President's approval rating rests at a dismal 22%.

With regard to perceptions of the President's politics and ideology an ABC News/Washington Post survey found that 45% of registered voters consider the President to be "Too Liberal." An equal share consider his views to be "About Right." It may seem ok for those two numbers to be equal, but the trend is telling - in January of 2009 only 29% described the President as "Too Liberal" and 65% described him as "About Right." Since his inauguration, there has been a 50% increase in the perception that the President is "Too Liberal."

Obama and the Democrats have not lost the support of Democratic voters. Obama's approval rating among Democrats is 79% - nearly the same as it was one year ago. The problem for Democrats is the loss of Independent voters; 50% approved of Obama's job last November, but today that number stands at 39%. With regard to Congress, 90% of Democrats intend to vote for a Democrat in 2010, but Independents prefer the GOP by a margin of 45% to 33%. In November of 2006, Independents favored Democrats 51% to 26%. Democrats have lost the middle.

Consider as well what has happened with regard to the public's preferences - a Pew survey released last April asked in people preferred bigger government and more services or smaller government and less services - since President Obama assumed office the share opting for smaller government and fewer services has grown dramatically. Regardless of how "moderate" some may consider health reform or financial regulatory reform, or the stimulus bill - the simple fact is that each did expand the size and scope of the federal government during an time when the public was increasingly opposed to such expansion.



Sargent laments "... I really hope that Dems in positions of power will not succumb entirely to this pre-ordained Beltway interpretation..." that a midterm fiasco for Democrats means a rejection of liberal policies and a need to move to the center.

In fact, the President and Democrats need to resist the urge to give in to Sargent's meme. The President may not have pursued an agenda as far left as the Far Left would prefer (compared to most European Democracies his agenda has been anything but liberal), but he has pursued an agenda to the left of the American mainstream and his present unpopularity and the difficult election season awaiting Democrats speak to that simple truth.

America is a center right country, it was when it elected a Democratic Congress in 2006 and President Obama in 2008, and it remains one today. Walter Shapiro summed it up quite well when he wrote "the president's fatal error was that he saw the 2008 election as a mandate for far-reaching change when, in truth, it was a narrower political rejection of Bush-administration economic and military policies". Given that reality, the President's best course of action would be a course correction and a shift to the middle - only time will tell if he makes the right choice.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Just How Bad Might 2010 Be for Democrats?

A little historical perspective courtesy of Jim Geraghty and Charlie Cook:

Cook Political Report from September 1, 2006: 35 GOP House seats rated as Lean or Toss Up; 9 Democrat House seats rated Lean or Toss Up.

Actual swing in November: 31 Democrat challengers beat GOP incumbents or won open seat races; no GOP challengers beat any Democrat incumbents.

Cook Political Report from September 2, 2010: 73 Democrat-held seats are rated as Lean or Toss Up; 8 GOP House seats are rated Lean or Toss Up.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Candidates for 5th Congressional District Seat Will Answer your Questions Sept. 7

(St. Mary’s City, MD) August 26, 2010—A public forum for candidates seeking party nominations in Maryland’s 5th Congressional District will be held 6:30-8:30 p.m. Tuesday, September 7, at Auerbach Auditorium in St. Mary’s Hall at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. The 5th Congressional District seat is currently represented by Democrat Steny Hoyer, the House Majority Leader. Three Democrats, including Hoyer, Sylvanus Bent, and Andrew Gall, and four Republicans, Collins Bailey, Chris Chaffee, Charles Lollar, and Chris Robins, will appear on the September 14th primary ballot; all have been invited to attend.

Voters may submit questions to candidates either during the evening's program or in advance by e-mailing questions to arlyons@smcm.edu with Candidate Question in the subject line. Though the forum will be limited to 5th Congressional District candidates, which covers Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s as well as portions of Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties, all local candidates are invited to "meet and greet" the public and to offer campaign literature on the grounds of St. Mary’s Hall prior to the forum.

The forum is sponsored by the college’s Center for the Study of Democracy and the St. Mary’s County branch of the NAACP.

The Center for the Study of Democracy was founded as a joint initiative of St. Mary's College of Maryland and its partner institution, Historic St. Mary's City, the site of Maryland's first capital. The Center provides a forum for presentations by government officials, journalists, and scholars, and encourages and supports public participation in political processes. You can learn more about the Center by visiting www.smcm.edu/democracy/ or by following the Center on Facebook www.facebook.com/SMCMDemocracy.

The mission of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination. The St. Mary's County Branch was chartered in January of 1946. You can learn more about the St. Mary’s County branch by visiting http://www.stmarysnaacp.org/.

For forum information, contact arlyons@smcm.edu or 240-895-6432.