Man Without Qualities

Monday, November 06, 2006

A Word Of Caution

Barry Casselman from RealClearPolitics makes some good points:
A word of caution to Republicans: Even if there is a GOP surge in the closing days, most of the critical House and Senate races remain too close to call. If some candidates who were written off only a few days ago now have their races "at play," there is no guarantee that Republicans will actually win many or most of these races, or many of the "battleground" contests so important to control of each house of the Congress. In spite of the apparent surge, it might not be a good night for Republicans when the votes ar counted. ....

The Democrats have perhaps taken the greatest risk by allowing a "fellow-traveling" media and even non-partisan pundits to create the expectation of an historic Democratic victory that will restore their party to congressional power and rebuke President George W. Bush. A landslide could happen, but the only "objective evidence" of this has been a myriad of volatile political polls, few of which may have been accurate or instructive. Political polling has become a lucrative industry as we begin the 21st century, but the quality of polls has been in decline for decades.

John Podhoretz has recently said that most political polls this year are "garbage," and that the pollsters know it. The low initial response to pollsters by the public is one of the reasons why the "margin of error" is much larger than pollsters will admit. With hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, it is no wonder that most pollsters maintain a cabal of silence about the true value of their product. In virtually all of the contested major races this year, there are numerous polls which have attempted to measure voter sentiment. There are local and state polls (mostly by newspapers and universities), and national polls conducted by consultants and pollsters for cash and for media attention that promotes their polls. ...

I am convinced (and believe it can be undeniably demonstrated) that the so-called margins of error in most political polls is not the usual three to five points, but really ten points or more. If that is so, the dependence on polls by the media and politicians is not only unjustified, but is likely to misinform the public. This year the evidence is rather overwhelming in that similar polls taken at the same time with similar samples have come up with such divergent results. Who is to be believed? ....
I agree with Barry on this as far as he goes. But I think the new problems with the polls are far worse than their concealed margins of error. Many public polls appear to have acquired, perhaps fromtheir media paymasters, a new concealed bias towards the left. Barry points out that at least one poll (the Star Tribune private poll) has confessed to such a naked bias in the past. But there is lots of evidence that other pollsters-for-hire are giving the left-wing media what it wants and pays for: Left-leaning polls that support left-leaning articles in left-leaning media outlets. For example, how else does one convincingly explain a Washington Post/ABC News Poll from a polling company (Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.) in the aftermath of the Foley pseudo-scandal - a survey whose sample base included 41% more Democrats than Republicans? Of course, pollsters delivering biased results have a problem close to election day: The vote will expose the bias unless the pollster finds a "last minute surge." Gee, that seems to be happening now. Zogby has been particularly embarrassed by this kind of trickery in the past.

Hey, it's a cheap way to fill newscolumns as long as the suckers don't catch on!

I have some serious issues with another of Barry's comment from the same column
:It has been observed by some that in the closing days of this year¹s elections the Republicans appear to be surging. If this is so, it is because most of the undecided voters this year were those who usually vote Republican, and they are coming home to vote for their party on Election Day.
What does this analysis do for one's understanding? Attributing causation to some voters "coming home" to their historical party affiliation is not very useful, especially in this election where putative shifts in party affiliation in the past 2 years seem to be a highly controversial aspect of the polls themselves. Why were normally GOP voters disaffected in the first place? - have those factors changed? If they were so disaffected, why are they "coming home" now instead of not voting at all? After all, "not voting" is what many pollsters and media had emphatically predicted for these putatively disaffected voters. Why does that prediction seem to be failing? For example, some fiscally conservative voters were supposedly disaffected by a Republican Congress spending too much. Have those voters suddenly realized that Congress has not been spending so much after all? I don't think so. Were they really so disaffected in the first place? Attributing causation to historical party affiliation is accounting or history, not causation - and it certainly does nothing to help one make predictions even one day in advance.

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Sunday, November 05, 2006

A Likely Slide Towards the GOP From Now To Tuesday

I think there is a very good chance that undecided voters will break disproportionately towards the GOP in this race - especially in Congressional races. By common admission, the putative appeal of the Democrats is limited to essentially one issue: Discontent with progress in Iraq. It is worth noting that that discontent has not been enough to beach Senator Lieberman in his deep blue state, but such is supposedly the Democratic advantage.

But problems in Iraq have been absolutely pounded by the media for a long time now. The information is all out, and has been force-fed for weeks to virtually every voter. Anyone who is going to make a decision to vote one way or the other on the basis of that issue has almost certainly done so already. The rest of the major issues favor the GOP: nearly historic low unemployment, historic stock market highs, stabilized low interest rates, historic high home ownership rates, declining gas prices. Then, of course, there is Karl Rove's famous "get-out-the-vote" machine, for which the Democrats have no real counterpart.

I therefore see the race likely sliding towards the GOP in the next three days, even as the mainstream media proclaim that the Democrats are "taking new territory" and "opening new fronts." This race has some dynamics similar to those of the build-up to the 2004 Democratic Convention: The media played Kerry up prior to the Convention, just as the media have saturated the political marketplace with pro-Democratic Iraq negativism this time around. The result in 2004 was that the Democratic Convention itself could produce little or no "bounce" - in fact, Kerry may have experienced a "negative bounce" from his own Convention. Similarly, most new information and considerations entering the campaign and voters' thinking in the next 3 days will probably of necessity favor the GOP because the Iraq issue has done all it can do already.

The first signs of such a GOP slide may already be evident, as in this article from the Washington Post that purports to sound a death knell for the GOP's election prospects, but contains this overlooked pearl:

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows some narrowing in the Democratic advantage in House races. The survey gives the Democrats a six-percentage-point lead nationally among likely voters asked which party they prefer for Congress. It was 14 points two weeks ago, but this remains a larger advantage than they have had in recent midterm elections.

Omitted from the WP "analysis" is the historical fact that when the GOP trails in the generic ballot by 5% or less, the GOP tends to gain seats in the House. So can 6% easilly correspond to a likely Democratic sweep? Now we are, admittedly, well past the point in the campaign where the focus should be on the generic ballot in calling individual races. But this is a very troubling sign for what is likely to happen among late deciders. Then there is this curious development from Rhode Island:

Mason-Dixon 10/31 - 11/01 Chafee +1.0

Reuters/Zogby 10/24 - 10/31 Whitehouse +14.0

That's quite a slide towards the GOP in a few late days - at least in the smallest state.

This election may yet prove to be a GOP disaster. But I don't think that is the most likely outcome. Not at all.

MORE (from DRUDGE): PEW: Republicans Cut Democratic Lead in Campaign's Final Days... ("A nationwide Pew Research Center survey finds voting intentions shifting in the direction of Republican congressional candidates in the final days of the 2006 midterm campaign.") Pew finds the generic ballot gap to have narrowed to an almost statistically insignificant 4%.

STILL MORE: The above analysis assumes that the public polls are correct - or at least as correct as they usually are. However, I personally think the polls are skewed much more in this race by erroneous sampling and bad likely voter models than usual.

Here are some reasons why I think the polls may be seriously wrong:

Most of the public polls are assuming that GOP party affiliation dropped between 5% to 12% since 2004. Maybe that's true, but if it is its a historic first. There is also a now-hugely disproportionate GOP/conservative "hang up" reaction to pollsters, which is likely resulting in undercounted conservatives.

Then there is what to me seems the bizarre assumption that seems to be built into the pollsters' "turnout models" that Democrats are "enthusiatic." For example, I live in one of the most Democratic neighborhoods in Los Angeles. But I have seen almost no new Democratic bumper stickers or yard signs. Ditto for other pro-Dem neighborhoods, such as Beverly Hills. But in GOP neighborhoods I am told there are lots of GOP yard signs out, and personal anecdote seems to bear that out. Cars owned by Dems sprouted lots of Kerry/Edwards bumper stickers in 2004. (For a while GOP cars have had very few bumper stickers, so this is not a measure of any shift in GOP interest). Then there are the multiple reports suggesting that African Americans (a huge chunk of the Dem base) are likely to sit this one out, and that jewish Americans (a highly important part of the Dem base) are deeply conflicted. What does that leave for a generally "impassioned" Dem base? Something is deeply wrong with this assumption.

Similarly, I think assumptions that conservatives (especially Christians) are going to sit this one out are nonsense. For God's sake, the replacement GOP candidate in Foley's own district is now running dead even with the Dem. And the GOP get-out-the-vote effort is clearly way ahead of the Dems. There there is the big lead the GOP is seeing in early voting - which suggests that GOP enthusiasm and organization is better than that of the Dems.

And I think the Kerry "study hard or end up in Iraq" flap is a much bigger deal than the media want to admit. Kerry has largely derailed a main Dem approach: Try to get voters to believe that a conclusion that things are not going well in Iraq is the same as the incorrect conclusion that Dems would do better. By being such an obvious idiot and speaking his mind (even as he unconvincingly tries to argue that he "flubbed the joke"), Kerry has single handedly refocused that decision in a way highly unfavorable to the Dems - and that's the Dem's one issue in this race.

Other signs that the polls are off-base: the Michigan Senate race is suddenly competitive, but was previously thought to be a Dem certainty, NJ is competitive, all of the GOP congressional reps in CT are leading now, and this squib from Dick Morris: Among independents, the percent that plan to vote Republican has risen from 15 percent on Sept. 22 to 23 percent on Oct. 11 to 26 percent on Oct. 24. While independents are still voting for more Democrats, it’s only by 38-26 compared with 38-15 last month. "Independents are turning to the Republican Party while Republican base voters are leaving it?" That poll is way out of wack somewhere - and I don't think it's the part about the independents.

People who know more than I are not ascribing a lot of effect to the factors listed above. But they seem important to me. Tuesday will tell.

It is, in fact, quite possible to view the current polling data as much more consistent with a Democratic disaster than a Republican one.

AND STILL MORE: (E-mailed by a friend quoting an unknown source):

On the Right, Republicans can’t stand the pollsters, who are blamed for their constant push-polls on behalf of the Left. Their predictable reaction is to avoid pollsters like the bird flu that never quite met the media hype. Today you would almost have to waterboard a lot of conservatives, one by one, to get them to talk to pollsters. You can’t get a random sample if one of your target groups won’t answer. So the data will be wildly skewed.

Indeed, I wonder if a declining interest in this election among Democrats might create an illusion of an increase in Democratic likely-voter "passion" if the only Democrats who will answer pollsters' calls now are the party's wing nuts - since the wing nuts presumably will talk to the pollsters and all say they plan to vote and always have voted. Just a thought.

AND YET MORE: McIntyre and Kaus are on the scent. No surprise there. Latest USA Today/Gallup: Dems +7. That's three generic ballot polls that show dramatic slides towards the GOP. My guess is that the slide will continue and accelerate.

LOTS MORE GOOD THINGS: From Minuteman Maguire.

THE LATEST FROM DRUDGE: Rahm Emmanuel on Republican upswing in the polls: 'This is making me nervous'...'I don't know what to make of it'... Well, Rahm, do you think maybe it has something to do with having too many mainstream media friends who maybe made you peak too soon the way they stole the bounce and momentum from your 2004 convention? Just asking!

BRITISH PRECEDENT? Since june, GayPatriotWest has been expecting a late convergence of the electorate towards the incumbent Republicans based on analogies with the 1992 British election.

GayPatriotWest blogs from West Hollywood, an even more Democratic area than my own Los Feliz, and confirms by e-mail the nearly complete absence of "Angelides" yard signs in his environs.

Here in California the ballot is led by the race for governor - a race in which political insiders tell me Arnold may well be leading by more than twenty points (not the smaller numbers in the public polls). Arnold has also constructed what is said to be a get-out-the-vote machine that makes Rove's models seem obsolete and underfunded. The effects of Arnold's efforts in California could be spectacular - although that is far from guaranteed. In that regard, it's worth remembering that on Tuesday even the race for the US Senate in California will be down ballot. Nothing is impossible, but nothing has been made public that proves that Arnold's lead or machine are as big or powerful as they are rumored to be.

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