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.

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.

Six Days To Go: The Fundamentals Remain Strong For Obama

Posted Oct 29, 2008 at 2:30 AM by Maurice Berger

While most tracking polls showing the race narrowing over the past few days (to within a few points according to IBD/TIPP, GWU/Battleground, Galup (traditional) over the past few days and Rasmussen this morning), the fundamentals of the election still markedly favor Barack Obama. The biggest plus for the Democrat: he now holds "Safe" level leads in states with a total of 255 electoral votes, 259 EVs with New Hampshire, which is trending "Safe." With this potential margin in the electoral college, Obama will need to pick off only one or two more states which now "Lean" to him: a combination of North Carolina, Colorado, Nevada, Virginia, or New Mexico, for example, or even just Ohio or Florida. The only hope for McCain rests on one odd factor in national polling: the large bloc of voters who say they are still persuadable. Rasmussen reports this morning, for example, that among "likely voters" Obama leads by +3%, 50% to 47%. Among voters who are absolutely certain of the decision, the Democrat leads by the same margin, but at 46% to 43%. In the latter numbers, Obama drops well below the 50% mark; just as significant, the pool of decided voters drops to 89%, leaving another 11% who are "leaning," wavering, not sure, undecided, or voting for a third party candidate. Yet, even if McCain were to make up the difference by election day--with a large swing of persuadable voters in his direction--he would still have a major structural disadvantage in the electoral college. If Obama now wins all the states that are now called "Safe Democrat" on Today's Map (a likely scenario if history is any guide), he would only need a few more states to win. With a +6% average in Ohio, +7 in Colorado, +7 in New Mexico, +6.5% in Virginia, +3 in Florida he has a much better shot at squeaking by in enough swing states to cross the finish line. Still if McCain's gains were dramatic--and other factors, such as the "Bradley Effect," which could be skewing polling results towards Obama--were operative, anything is possible. BUT, the opposite outcome may be even more likely: with "Leaners" now skewing slightly to Obama, he could benefit from a swing of persuadables in his direction, movement that could result in an electoral mandate in which true-red states, such as North Carolina, Virginia, and Indiana, and red-leaning battlegrounds, such as Missouri, Florida, and Ohio fall into the Democratic column. Stay tuned.

Daily Trackers: It's Still Only A 5% Race

Posted Oct 22, 2008 at 6:16 AM by Maurice Berger

Today's PollTrack average of the daily tracking polls shows a slight uptick for Obama: 49.1% to 43.6%, +5.5%. What is interesting about this averaging is that the distance between McCain and Obama narrows even more when the Zogby survey results--which have been extremely erratic over the past few weeks--are dropped: 48.5 % to  44%, giving Obama an aggregate lead of 4.5%. Of the six polls in our sample, five show the race stable (Rasmussen) or tightening slightly (Gallup, Hotline/FD, IBD/TIPP) and one rates it a virtual tie (GWU/Battleground), with Obama up by +2%, 49% to 47%. Combined with the high number of still persuadable voters, the race remains somewhat competitive, with the decided edge going to Obama. The periodic surveys are equally inconclusive, with Obama registering as little as a 1% lead (Associated Press/GfK) to as much as a +10% lead, NBC News/Wall Street Journal. The probable  reason for this variation: the race remains close among voters who are certain of their choice. The more polls include "leaners," the greater benefit to Obama, who now leads with persuadable voters (who say they may still change their minds).

Persuadable Voters: How Much Of A Factor?

Posted Oct 21, 2008 at 4:54 AM by Maurice Berger

With one tracking poll this morning showing the race virtually tied (GWU/Battleground: 48% to 47%, +1 DEM) and another showing the Democrat with a healthy lead of +8%--and the latter, Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby, leaping from a virtual tie on Monday--it looks like things are a bit fluid right now. What might account for these differences? For one variations in likely voter models and other statistical markers and methods. For another: persuadable voters. As PollTrack has been reporting, certain voters account for about 85% of the electorate right now, according to most polls. A small number more are undecided or are voting for third party candidates. The lion's share of those remaining, the roughly 12% of the electorate who are "persuadable," say they could change their minds. This effect is registering in some of battleground state polls as well. Here is the Concord Monitor/Research 2000 analysis of its most recent polling in New Hampshire: "Obama has solidified his support, according to the poll, with 45 percent of those polled proclaiming themselves "firm" in supporting the Illinois senator. McCain, an Arizona senator, garnered the firm backing of 40 percent of those polled. Still, 15 percent of those polled said they could change their minds, leaving the race still fluid with two weeks to go before Election Day." Indeed, the day before the New Hampshire Democratic primary, Obama had an average lead of +8.0%. What no media outlet noticed (except PollTrack, though you'll have to take our word on this): the large number of persuadable voters still in play less than 24 hours before the vote. And, of course, Hillary Clinton went on to win the state. Will persuadable voters produce an election day surprise? Or will they continue to break for Obama (leaners now favor him by a small margin), thus assuring him a solid win? Let's take a look at the persuadable numbers a few days before the election.

Daily Trackers: Is The Race Getting Tighter?

Posted Oct 17, 2008 at 7:36 AM by Maurice Berger

Today's PollTrack average of the daily trackers indicates a slight uptick for the Democrat. Obama now leads McCain by 48.8% to 43.3%, a lead of 5.5%. One survey in the lot, however, GW/Battleground appears to be an outlier, indicating a greatly expanded Obama lead, while the other trackers all show a narrowing or stable race. If the GW/Battleground is omitted from the average, Obama's lead drops to +4%--48.8% to 44.6%. Furthermore, an AP/Yahoo poll to be released today shows the race a virtual tie, with Obama leading by scant +2% (among registered voters), 42% to 40% (with an enormous block of voters still undecided or wavering; Obama's lead jumps to 5% among "Likely Voters"). Gallup's "traditional" method also calls it a two point race (Obama, 49% to 47%), while its "expanded" tally gives the Democrat a +6% advantage.

Party Weighting: The Great Unknown Of Election 2008

Posted Oct 17, 2008 at 2:13 AM by Maurice Berger

One way pollsters process raw data from samples is to filter it through party weighting models. In other words, a model that organizes voters by party and then weights the sample to reflect the percentage of likely voters from each party (as well as independents). With Democrat enthusiasm up this year, most pollsters give the party a considerable edge. In Rasmussen's weighting, for example Democrats outnumber Republicans  39.3% to 33.0%. For Zogby, it's closer: 38% to 36%. This weighting, in part (but several others factors are also at play), is responsible for the large swing in national numbers, from an Obama lead of +2% to +14%. PollTrack wonders: as national results are clearly narrowing, is Republican interest in the election gaining on Democratic? While Obama's campaign has fired up certain demographic groups --African-Americans, single women, young voters, for example--what of the traditional Republican constituencies: the over 65 set, Evangelicals, conservative Christians, and older white men? The latter groups tend to have exceptionally high turn out, literally making the difference for George W. Bush in 2004. There is anecdotal evidence that Evangelical voters, for a range of reasons--from anxiety about Obama to excitement about Sarah Palin--are growing increasingly enthusiastic about the Republican ticket. While some periodic polls (like CBS News/New York Times and Pew) show a very large lead for the Democrat, are these surveys underestimating the potential turn out of groups that--as a rule--vote in consistently and often extraordinarily numbers? Pollster John Zogby notes: "What troubles me is when I see some of my colleagues have 27% of the respondents that are Republicans. That's just not America, period. [Party affiliation fluctuates over time] it doesn't change "day-to-day, and it never fluctuates by eight points in a short time period." Will the 2008 election break the mold--resulting in an unprecedented jump in Democratic turn out--or will Republican and conservative voters also show up in significant numbers, thus drawing the race much closer (especially in battleground states that already tilt Republican, such as MO, NC, FL, NV, CO, and OH)?

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.

Likely Voter Models: Hard To Figure Out

Posted Oct 15, 2008 at 1:21 AM by Maurice Berger

It looks like polling organizations are having difficulty determining likely voters this cycle. With so many newly registered voters--as well as a significant increase in younger voters during the primary season--some pollsters worry about using classic models and questions for determining a respondent's likelihood of voting. Will younger voters, for example, show up on Election Day, or--as in virtually every presidential cycle in recent years--will they stay home? Will African-American voter participation increase or stay the same? (Georgia election officials report an enormous black turn-out in early voting; Ohio reports the opposite: a relatively modest number of African American voters at this point.) Will newly registered voters show up? The problem is so daunting, that the Gallup organization is releasing three tallies in its daily tracking poll: [1] Registered: all registered voters, [2] Traditional Likely: likely voters determined by the "traditional" Gallup methodology, "which takes into account the intention to vote in the current election as well as [respondents'] self-reported voting history," and [3] Expanded  Likely: only voters who "self-profess likelihood to vote in 2008, [without factoring in] whether respondents have voted in past elections." Given the extraordinary spread in recent surveys--from Obama +14% (CBS News/New York Times) to Obama +2% (IBD/TIPP)--variations in models used to determine likely voters and voter enthusiasm may, in part, be to blame.

Gallup: Race A Neutral Factor In This Election?

Posted Oct 10, 2008 at 1:46 AM by Maurice Berger

In what may rank as one of the odder observations by a pollster in this cycle, Gallup reports the following: "While 6% of voters say they are less likely to vote for Barack Obama because of his race, 9% say they are more likely to vote for him, making the impact of his race a neutral to slightly positive factor when all voters' self-reported attitudes are taken into account." Polltrack would like to know: since when do people "self-report" racial prejudice, something implied in an affirmative answer to Gallup's question? While race and racism may not determine the outcome of this election, Gallup's conclusion, that racial prejudice does not appear to hurt Obama, disregards the unconscious and complex nature of our attitudes about race--the anxiety, ambivalence, and confusion that inflects our view of racial difference. (Indeed, scores of studies have examined the psycho-social impulse to conceal from public view racial anxiety or animus.) This is why PollTrack continually cautions against interpreting public opinion through pure numbers or numerical formulas. What sometimes gets left out in pollster's findings is the gray area that makes public opinion fluid, nuanced, and sometimes hard to pin down.

Those Pesky Snap Polls

Posted Oct 08, 2008 at 3:39 AM by Maurice Berger

Another reason to be wary of post-debate snap polls: they are limited to voters who actually watched the debate. And that's where the trouble begins. According to Nielsen, viewers of the first two debates did not exactly reflect the voting population at large: "Both debates drew audiences made up mostly of white viewers with higher levels of income ($100,000+) and education (4+ years of college). Older viewers (age 55+) made up the largest portion of the TV audiences for both debates (42% - 46%).  However, the Biden-Palin V.P. debate (median age: 52) drew a slightly larger portion of younger viewers than the first Obama-McCain debate (median age: 54)." Thus, these flash results--already suspect, since voters are being asked to respond instantaneously to a complicated political event--represent a relatively unrepresentative sample. So even if an instant poll is correctly weighted vis-a-vis party affiliation, it may miss the complexities of race, age and class, enormous factors in the way voters are thinking about this election.

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.

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.