Q (, comment,) and A

In response to my post on the Pew poll, Itchy writes:

So what is a swing like this supposed to mean? That Republican voters who weren’t going to vote suddenly decided to do so, and Democrats decided against voting — because of one debate?

How many people who will end up voting even watched the debate? I understand that the media reaction amplifies the consensus opinion about the results, but are there really that many people out there whose vote swings on something like this?

I don’t much believe in convention “bounces” or in these post-debate polls. I understand that, on the whole, polling is supposedly fairly accurate, and I don’t pretend to understand it in depth, but I have a hard time taking it seriously when polls swing this wildly.

Good questions, indeed.  First off, by all accounts a huge number of Americans watched the debates.  Kind of one of those makes you feel good about American democracy moments.  That said, whatever minds have been changed I strongly suspect are still more changed by the media echo chamber than by Romney’s actual performance.  (On a related note, Drum has a number of interesting posts about the fact that there’s a hack gap– had the situation been reversed Limbaugh and Hannity types would still be defending Romney, but as it was, pretty much all the liberal commenters lit into Obama).

Actually, was most intrigued by one of Drum’s commenters on a recent post about the debate.  I’m not quite an expert on likely voter models, but this strikes me as about right:

Likely voter models.  That’s the key here.

The reason we can see very large gains from what are really modest changes in the election outlook is that the answer to the likely voter question is subject to fluctuation based on very recent events.  Gallup, for instance, asks voters to say on a 1-10 scale how likely they are to vote this November.  Gallup rates those who say “10” as “likely voters” (that’s about 75% of the registered voter respondents).  Anyone who says 8 or 9 is a “Probably.”  Anyone who says 7 or less is “Less likely to vote.”

So Romney has a great debate.  Some of the disguntled Republicans who were feeling so-so about him, and would have said “7” before the debate, say “10!”  (Meaning: “Heck yeah!  I’m gonna vote!”)  This shifts the likely voter pool dramatically, and that determines whose poll responses get counted.  At the same time, you have to combine this effect with the sample-skewing effect of the fact that a few Republicans who would have hung up the phone on the pollster instead answer the call.  All this tilts the field toward the Republicans before the first undecided voter moves an inch.

Is it real?  Well, I would think it’s somewhat real.  A huge number of Americans are really not going to vote this election.  It matters a lot which 40% doesn’t vote and which 60% does.  How stable things will be between now and November, though, is trickier.  Hard to know.  My concern if I were the Obama campaign is primarily perception right now.  Polls can be self-fulfilling.  Early voting is happening, and there’s not a lot of time.

Now, to Itchy’s main point, my fallback position is that, ultimately, we really need to remember to think about polls as a snapshot in time.   If the election had been held in the past few days, I really think Romney would have done way better than if the election were held in the days before the debate.  That’s real and that’s reflected in the polls.  Of course, what I mentioned in the earlier post– there’s no way the PID numbers in the Pew poll will be true on election day reminds us that we need to keep this “snapshot” idea in mind.  It’s also why things like Nate Silver’s model is so handy, because it continues to use fundamental factors to help predict the actual outcome.

As I said before the debate, we were almost bound to see some tightening.  The debate seems to have made that tightening even more than history should have led us to expect.  That said, the fundamentals would still seem to, just barely, favor Obama.  But in a two-candidate election, just barely is enough.  For a while there, I was thinking 52-48.  Now we’re looking more like 50.5 – 49.  What the latest numbers are not cause for is the absurd Andrew Sullivan-esque panic.


Photo of the day

The title of this In Focus set is “Fall in the Air.”  It damn sure is here in Raleigh.  We went from highs in the 80’s to highs in the 50s.  Some time in the 60’s and 70’s between would’ve been nice.  Anyway, I’m just a sucker for great reflections:

Autumn colors and mountains of the Teton Range, photographed in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, on October 4, 2012.(Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)

And special bonus photo today, because I just love the use of an unusual perspective on an otherwise typical photo:

People walk on a pavement covered with leaves at the place de la Concorde in Paris, on September 22, 2012.(Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images)


The Pew Poll and PID

So, you probably saw the Pew poll that now has Romney up by four among likely voters.  A few thoughts…

1) Now, it’s possible that one single debate is responsible for a 13 point swing in the electorate, but it does not seem plausible to me.  That is, short of Obama saying he really is a foreign-born Muslim.

2) Moments like this I remember why I’m not quite an Andrew Sullivan regular.  One poll (admittedly Pew is a very solid outfit) and he’s ready to concede the election to Romney.  Absolutely histrionic.

3) Given the other polling news today, Nate Cohn urges caution in over-interpreting the Pew results.  He’s right.  Mark Blumenthal and Nate Silver as well strongly suggest we wait a few days for a better handle on things.  Let’s see where the Ohio polls stand on Friday.

4) Lot’s of talk about the PID numbers in the Pew poll.  Now, I don’t believe that pollsters should weight for PID because it is malleable, but it’s not that malleable.  The whole point of PID (and I did do a dissertation on the topic) is that it is a fairly stable, long-standing orientation towards politics.  Romney didn’t suddenly convert a bunch of people to Republicanism (or, alternatively, convince that many more Republicans to vote).

4a) Here’s Chris Cilliza with the Pew PID numbers:

That pesky party ID question: The Pew sample for this poll was 36 percent Republican, 31 percent Democratic and 30 percent independent.  That’s a major shift from the organization’s September poll which was 29 percent Republican, 39 percent Democratic and 30 percent independent.  In the 2010 election, the electorate was 36 percent Republican, 36 percent Democratic and 27 percent independent, according to exit polling. In 2008, 39 percent of the electorate identified as Democrats while 32 percent said they were Republicans and 29 percent said they were independents.

And here’s Steve: There’s absolutely no way Republicans will have a 5 percentage point on Democrats November 6.  No way.  Maybe Republicans are extra enthusiastic right now.  Maybe this was just an outlier sample.  But there’s no way the electorate will look like that on November 6.  I’ll stake my damn blogging reputation on that.  There was also no reason to believe that Democrats would outnumber Republicans by 10 points in that earlier Pew sample.  In 2004 exit polls, Democrats and Republicans were both 37%.  That was a high-water mark for Republicans.  Even in Republican victories in recent decades, Democratic identifiers have always outnumbered Republicans at the polls, but for the 2004 tie (obviously, Republican voters have been much more loyal in many elections).

Now, I’m not suggesting we “unskew” this poll, because it tells us something about the state of the electorate and party enthusiasm right now, but if you think the electorate will be 36 Rep 31 Dem in the exit polls, I’ve got a Mitt Romney $10,000 bet for you.

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