Presidential Race Maps Writing on the Wall

What's Going On With The 538 Website?

Posted Nov 06, 2016 at 9:40 AM by Maurice Berger

Why are Nate Silver's numbers more bullish for Trump over at 538, in contrast to virtually all other polling analysis sites (including this one)? Here's an interesting take on why 538's election model differs from all other polling analysis websites.

Ultimately, there is something strange about Nate Silver's methodology in this cycle, as he goes into each poll and "adjusts" it's numbers, mostly in favor of Trump. Is he hedging his bets: remember, he loudly pontificated that Trump could not get the GOP nomination. (We, at PollTrack.com, began to predict a sharp trend towards Trump in August 2015.) Silver did so not based on numbers but his personal opinion, as a pundit reading the GOP electorate. (He also confidently claimed that the Cubs would not win the World Series.)

So now he appears to be bending over backwards not to underestimate Trump. (despite the fact that the general electorate is FAR more diverse and complex than the Republican base). He's adjusting the internals of each poll, thus possibly skewing the Electoral College to show a closer race than other analysis sites (including PollTrack). This doesn't mean that Silver is necessarily wrong, but these adjustments are not explained. How does a poll from an organization with an A+ accuracy rating (according to Silver himself) go from +1 Clinton in Florida to +3 Trump after 538's adjustment of it. No explanation. And frankly, illogical given the quality of the polling of the organization in question.

PollTrack never goes inside polls to adjust their results. If we detect a clearly faulty methodology, we drop the survey from our polling average. This is standard practice. To do otherwise is extremely unorthodox. Maybe Silver is on to something, but without explaining these "adjustments," his conclusions run counter to virtually all of the other polling analysis websites

Will Nate Silver's Predictions Influence Elections

Posted Feb 26, 2013 at 8:36 AM by Maurice Berger

In an interview withStudent Life, Nate Silver suggests that he might end his election forecasting after the 2014 or 2016 elections should his projections "actually influence the elections' outcome." Silver continues: "The polls can certainly affect elections at times. I hope people don't take the forecasts too seriously. You'd rather have an experiment where you record it off from the actual voters, in a sense, but we'll see. If it gets really weird in 2014, in 2016, then maybe I'll stop doing it. I don't want to influence the democratic process in a negative way."

How Did Obama Capaign Gauge The Mood Of The Electorate?

Posted Nov 29, 2012 at 9:24 AM by Maurice Berger

Here is a fascinating analysis of how the Obama campaign gauged its relative strengths and weakness through internal polls. Mark Blumenthal focuses on the Obama campaign polling operation and notes they their view of the state of the race was local rather than national. Rather than taking nation-wide polls, the campaign
limited its surveys to 11 battleground states (Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin), conducting them at regular intervals throughout the campaign. Campaign manager Jim Messina says this gave him a deeper understanding of "how we were doing, where we were doing it, where we were moving -- which is why I knew that most of the public polls you were seeing were completely ridiculous."

Are Traditional Polling Methodologies Doomed?

Posted Aug 20, 2009 at 1:37 AM by Maurice Berger

At a recent statistical convention, the polling director of SurveyUSA, Jay Leve--one of the most accurate pollsters in recent cycles--had some shocking news for his peers: traditional polling methodologies, as we know them, may soon be doomed. Specifically, he was referring to the standard methodology of reaching potential voters--through landlines (and more recently, cell phones). Concluding his presentation, reports the National Journal Online, Leve summed up the problem:  All phone polling, he said, depends on a set of assumptions: "You're at home; you have a [home] phone; your phone has a hard-coded area code and exchange which means I know where you are; ... you're waiting for your phone to ring; when it rings you'll answer it; it's OK for me to interrupt you; you're happy to talk to me; whatever you're doing is less important than talking to me; and I won't take no for an answer -- I'm going to keep calling back until you talk to me."

Yet, as it now stands, the current reality for pollsters is often much different:

"In fact, you don't have a home phone; your number can ring anywhere in the world; you're not waiting for your phone to ring; nobody calls you on the phone anyway they text you or IM you; when your phone rings you don't answer it -- your time is precious, you have competing interests, you resent calls from strangers, you're on one or more do-not-call lists, and 20 minutes [the length of many pollsters' interviews] is an eternity." Leve then concluded: "If you look at where we are here in 2009 [with phone polling]," he said, "it's over... this is the end. Something else has got to come along."

The Question Of Gay Marriage

Posted Jun 03, 2009 at 2:22 AM by Maurice Berger

A reader, Derek Fields, writes the following to PollTrack's political director:

I haven't seen the specific wording of the Gallup poll, but I wonder whether they ask any questions that separate the issue of legal protections for "united" gays versus the religious overtones of the term "marriage"  My understanding is that when a pollster asks a question that addresses the civil protections without introducing the term marriage, support for gay unions jumps substantially. 

Given the strong support generational divide in the poll numbers, I would speculate that the days when a majority opposes gay marriage in this country are severely limited.

Given the descrepany in recent polling, Derek is undoutedly correct. The very wording of a question within a survey--especially a controversial one--can dramatically alter the overall result. As for the second point, fresh polling absolutely backs up Derek's assumption about future attitudes about gay marriage. The recent Gallup survey, for example, reports that a "majority of 18- to 29-year-olds think gay or lesbian couples should be allowed to legally marry, while support reaches only as high as 40% among the three older age groups." The overall numbers for support of gay marriage amomng younger voters hovers around the 60% mark--a clear harbinger of future trends in the United States.

ABC News: Obama's Approval High, But Also Average For A New President

Posted Feb 25, 2009 at 1:20 AM by Maurice Berger

According to ABC News, President Obama's relatively high approval rating--on average now around 62%--is impressive but not unusual for a new administration: "There are a couple of data points worth keeping in mind as we await President Obama’s address to the nation tonight - and as we digest an aide's claim today, as Jake Tapper reports, that his strong approval rating is earned." One, while his rating is high, it’s also dead average for a new president. The other is the impressive partisanship beneath it. We have approval ratings for each of the last nine elected presidents after their first month in office, back to Dwight Eisenhower. (We’re leaving Johnson and Ford aside.) There’s been a healthy range, from a low of 55 percent for George W. Bush after the disputed election of 2000 to a high of 76 percent for his father 12 years earlier. (I’m using ABC/Post polls since Reagan, Gallup previously). But the average? Sixty-seven percent. And Obama’s? Sixty-eight percent, as we reported in our new poll yesterday. His initial rating, then, is strong – but it’s also generally typical for a new guy." PollTrack cuations that any poll--even the most accurate--is just a snapshot in term. Events on the ground can change public perceptions about a political leader in an instant (George W. Bush's gargantuan jump in public approval after 9/11 is a case in point).

Election 2008: A Political Realignment or A Cry For Change

Posted Nov 25, 2008 at 1:08 AM by Maurice Berger

Was Election 2008 a sign of a radical political realignment or just an election driven by a desire for change and discontent with the party in power. This debate is now underway, as pollsters attempt to grasp the bigger picture. As the Washington Post reports, "conservative analysts have insisted that although the Democrats achieved a sweeping victory, it does not indicate a fundamental change. "America is still a center-right country," as Rep. John A. Boehner (R-OH), the House Republican leader, insisted soon after the votes were counted. Liberals call that argument nonsense. The election, wrote John B. Judis in the New Republic, heralds the arrival of "America the liberal," provided that the Democrats play their strong new hand effectively. This election was "the culmination of a Democratic realignment that began in the 1990s, was delayed by September 11, and resumed with the 2006 election." PollTrack thinks the answer will not be apparent for a while, given the dramatic imperative for change at the heart of many voter's decision making process. Indeed, as Andrew Kohut, one of the deans of American pollsters notes, "There's no indication that ideology drove this election. It was driven by discontent with the status quo" -- a pollster's formulation of the venerable slogan 'Throw the bums out.'"

How Accurate Were The Pollsters?

Posted Nov 07, 2008 at 12:34 AM by Maurice Berger

How close did polling organizations come in predicting the outcome of Election 2008? A few were right on the money. A few, such as CBS News/NY Times, Zogby, and Newsweek--each showing Obama with a double digit lead--were way off. Dr. Costas Panagopoulos, Ph.D, of Fordham University's Department of Political Science, undertook a detailed analysis of the results of the top polling organizations. His findings indicate that not all surveys were good at analyzing and reporting the relative strength of the candidates. Professor Panagopoulos writes: "I analyze poll estimates from 23 polling organizations. Four of these polls appear to have overestimated McCain support (indicated with a * below), while most polls (17) overestimated Obama strength. Pre-election projections for two organizations’ final polls—Rasmussen and Pew—were perfectly in agreement with the actual election result (**)." (The list follows below.) One problem with this analysis, though, is that it was completed before final results were in. According to the Associated Press, Obama's final number has inched upward slightly, to nearly 53%, bringing the final total to 52.7% to 46.0%. In this case two other pollsters actually tied for first place: Ipsos/McClathcy and CNN/Opinion Research (both tied at 6th place in the Panagopoulos analysis). The more important conclusion from the Fordham survey, however, is not its top numbers but the idea that most pollsters overestimated the Democrat's support. In the past five cycles, this skewing towards blue has tended to be the case. Why? Perhaps because voters who "refuse" to be interviewed fall into demographic categories that favor Republicans--older, male, white, and rural. In this cycle, one other factor may also be at play: Democrats were FAR more enthusiastic than Republicans and thus were less equivocal, tended to have decided early, and were more willing to share their views with pollsters. Given the tendency of the least accurate pollsters to overestimate Obama support, the so-called "Bradley Effect" may have been operative as well.  For Dr. Panagopoulos's analysis click here.

1. Rasmussen (11/1-3)**
1. Pew (10/29-11/1)**

2. YouGov/Polimetrix (10/18-11/1)
3. Harris Interactive (10/20-27)
4. GWU (Lake/Tarrance) (11/2-3)*
5. Diageo/Hotline (10/31-11/2)*
5. ARG (10/25-27)*
6. CNN (10/30-11/1)
6. Ipsos/McClatchy (10/30-11/1)

7. DailyKos.com (D)/Research 2000 (11/1-3)
8. AP/Yahoo/KN (10/17-27)
9. Democracy Corps (D) (10/30-11/2)
10. FOX (11/1-2)
11. Economist/YouGov (10/25-27)
12. IBD/TIPP (11/1-3)
13. NBC/WSJ (11/1-2)
14. ABC/Post (10/30-11/2)
15. Marist College (11/3)
16. CBS (10/31-11/2)
17. Gallup (10/31-11/2)
18. Reuters/ C-SPAN/ Zogby (10/31-11/3)
19. CBS/Times (10/25-29)
20. Newsweek (10/22-23)

Variable #1: Party Weighting

Posted Nov 03, 2008 at 3:22 AM by Maurice Berger

Throughout the day, PollTrack will be providing analysis about the three hidden variables that could effect both turn out in and outcome of tomorrow's election: [1] Party weighting in polls. [2] The youth vote. [3] The so-called "Bradley Effect." Factor #1: One Thing to keep in mind about the today's final numbers--especially is VERY close races--most public opinion surveys in this cycle have tended to weight the party affiliation of likely voters in a way that skews to the Democrats by an historical degree. NBC/WSJ this morning gives the Democrats a +10% advantage in its national numbers this morning. Such figures suggests an historical realignment of the electorate that is virtually unprecedented over the past fifty years. If the Republican turnout should be greater than these polls suggest--and as a few surveys believe--the race could actually draw closer, especially in states that are already very close at this point, including Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, and Ohio. Will Obama benefit from a record turnout of Democratic voters? If so, he could win an electoral landslide, if not, things could get a bit closer.

The Erratic West Virginia Polls

Posted Oct 16, 2008 at 1:02 AM by Maurice Berger

With one poll showing a slight Obama advantage in the state--and others indicating a McCain lead--West Virginia is turning out to be difficult to read. PollTrack continues to rate the state "Leaning Republican" on Today's Map. The Public Policy Polling organization thinks it has the answer: the difficultly of securing accurate and representative polling samples in the state. PPP writes:  "If someone can get me a random sample of people who voted in the 2004 general election, 2006 general election, or 2008 primary in West Virginia then we will poll it. Concern about being able to get a sample of sufficient quality there is what makes us, and I'm guessing other companies that do registration based sampling, hesitant to poll there. That's not a problem with most other states."

Another Reason Why The National Polls Are All Over The Place

Posted Oct 15, 2008 at 2:08 AM by Maurice Berger

Another reason for the broad variations in polling results (beyond differences in polling models and methodology) is the unusually dramatic, indeed traumatic, news cycles of late. The economic meltdown has injected a big dose of uncertainty and fear into the emotional lives of voters. And nervous voters tend to make impulsive or tentative political decisions. As John McCain's pollster Bill McInturff observes: ""The financial tsunami has produced one of the most difficult and volatile times to conduct polling in modern times. During these uniquely volatile last few weeks, I have seen as much day-to-day movement as I have witnessed in my 20 plus year career as a pollster." The erratic polling engendered by the "financial tsunami" may persist as long as the economic crisis in first and foremost on the minds of voters.

Contradictory Polls

Posted Oct 07, 2008 at 5:13 AM by Maurice Berger

With today's Gallup and Rasmussen daily tracking polls showing Obama up +9% and +8 respectively and Hotline/FD and CBS News reporting a Democratic advantage of only +2% or +3%, it's clear that national polling is contradictory. The discrepancy might be due to party affiliation weighting or variations in likely voter models. It could be that some polls are picking up a trend others are missing. Whatever the reason, PollTrack will be watching these numbers very carefully.

Is The Race Narrowing Again?

Posted Oct 07, 2008 at 2:33 AM by Maurice Berger

While several tracking and periodic national polls continue to report a healthy lead for Obama (Rasmussen, ABC News/Washington Post, and GW/Battleground), four nationwide polls released over the past 24- hours show the race narrowing dramatically. CBS News: Obama-48%/McCain 45% (+3 DEM), Democracy Corps: Obama-49%/McCain 46% (+3 DEM), Reuters/CSPAN/Zogby: Obama-48%/McCain 45% (+3 DEM), and just released, Hotline/FD: Obama-46%/McCain 44% (+2 DEM). Are we seeing a trend back to the very close race that has held for much of the past month and a half? Significantly, Hotline/FD reports an appreciable tightening of the race in the past 24 hours. Could McCain's negative campaign be working?

Obama's Milestones: At the 50% Mark AND +7% In Daily Tracking Average

Posted Oct 04, 2008 at 12:23 PM by Maurice Berger

The week ends with two major milestones for the Obama campaign: a national lead in most surveys at or near the 50% mark and a statistically significant advantage over his Republican rival. With today's PollTrack national daily tracking poll average showing Obama up +7%, the Democrat is heading into the last month of Election 2008 in a position of strength. Obama's lead is larger than either candidate's thus far (and he is the first to hover at the 50% mark for more than a day or two). The longer Obama can remain at or near the 50% (or surge above it) and maintain a lead beyond the margin of error of most national polls, the harder it will be for McCain to remake the dynamics of the race. Yes, as this morning's post suggests, it's far from over for the Republican. The fortunes of the two candidates have swung dramatically over the past month. But the McCain campaign must act quickly or risk loosing a large bloc of independent and unaffiliated voters, who are growing increasingly comfortable with the idea of an Obama presidency, especially in light of the faltering economy. The two milestones confirmed by today's polls--and Obama's surge over the past week in a number of battleground states, including traditionally Republican ones, like Indiana and North Carolina--suggest that the Republican path to victory has grown narrower and more difficult.

Why Are The National Polls In Flux?

Posted Sep 24, 2008 at 3:52 AM by Maurice Berger

National polls are all over the pace this morning. It all depends on the polling organization you read. Battleground has McCain up 2%. ABC News/Washington Post has Obama up 9%. Some surveys show a close race (Ipsos-McClathcy: 44% to 43% Obama), others a statistically significant lead (Obama is +6% in Hotline/FD daily tracking poll). What's going on? For one, there are significant variations in the way these surveys measure party affiliation, voter intensity, and the likelihood of voting. Push the number in favor of a huge Democratic turnout and Obama leads accordingly, Draw them back to traditional levels of voter turnout and intensity and McCain leads or ties. Just as important: the nation may well be stunned and confused by last week's devastating economic news. Voter anxiety can cause swings in voter sentiment. One more factor to consider: the issue of how polling organizations pose questions to voters and in what order. Imagine an interview that begins with or emphasizes questions relating to the Wall Street crisis. This sample might skew in favor of the Democrats, given voters' inclination in recent polls to say that Obama and not McCain could best handle the economy.