Monday, October 27, 2008

Gallup In The Tank?

Back in 2004, I jumped pretty hard on John Zogby. Zogby did two things which I considered, and still do, to be unacceptable conduct for a pollster. First, was that Zogby flat-out called the election for Kerry back in May of 2004, a prediction he hung onto through the rest of the campaign. The second reason was that Zogby started mixing results from his telephone polls with his online polls, which invalidates the results from both methods. I would also point out to the reader that in 2004 and 2005, I was unhappy with political affiliation weighting at the time, and had adjusted my own expectations by reversing the bias from polls. My point is that even four years ago I was challenging poll methodology when it deviated from NCPP guidelines, and even if Zogby is publishing prettier headlines now, that does not change my wariness from past experience. I will challenge any behavior at odds with valid practices.

This year, all of the major polls show Obama ahead in the presidential campaign right now, some saying he is well ahead. I found serious problems in their fundamental assumptions, not the least being the heavy weighting of democrats in the polls (and let’s not mince words – any poll weights by party affiliation, the ones which simply accept what is called in are just accepting the raw data as demographically accurate, which is just as absurd in terms of party affiliation, as it would be if they assumed that race, gender, age, or educational demographics did not need to be reweighted). I have wondered two things as the campaign moved along – what would I say if I turned out to be completely wrong, and what would these polling groups say if I turned out to be right and they were the ones who blew it? For my case, I intend to review the election from a statistical standpoint, and if Obama wins in a landslide because the nation really did decide it was 48-25-27 DRI, then I will admit it plainly and take my lumps. I suspect the polling groups will have a harder time being forthright if my argument turns out to be correct. One reason for that is today’s polling discussion from Gallup.

Gallup has noted the strength of early voting this year. The most significant points from that article are these; early voting is stronger than expected this year, and so far republicans have been just as eager to vote early as democrats. The third point is the most important signal of all. Says Gallup; “Early voting ranges from 14% of voters 55 and older (in aggregated data from Friday through Wednesday) to 5% of those under age 35. Plus, another 22% of voters aged 55 and up say they plan to vote early, meaning that by Election Day, over a third of voters in this older age group may already have cast their ballots.”

The last two statements are very good news for McCain and bad news for Obama. This is because it demonstrates that enthusiasm to actually vote by republicans is equal to enthusiasm to vote by democrats. This runs directly against claims made in polling up to now, demonstrating that participation in polls is not directly related to voting this year. Second, the higher participation by senior voters and weaker participation by younger voters is directly in line with historical norms, again running against the poll expectations that this year would see a wave of young people voting but seniors staying at home. Gallup’s own data proves this is not happening as they predicted, and the polls are therefore invalid in those respects, in addition to obvious flaws in the party weighting. The reasonable expectation from these facts, would be for Gallup to back down and correct its weighting to match the observed behavior. As of yet, Gallup has not taken that step. They did, I note, tacitly admit that the “expanded voter” model they introduced this year is invalid, but now they are running no less than three models of polling, which makes me wonder if they are going to wait to see which one comes out the closest (or the least embarrassing) and call that one their ‘official’ call – when a major polling group throws out three guesses instead of just one judgment, you can be sure they have lost confidence in their system.


Huan said...

Gallup, Rasmussen, and Zogby today all show aa narrowing of Obama's lead over McCain. Do you believe that the polster are intentionally reducing the lead to maintain some credibility should McCain wins?

DJ Drummond said...

,,, could be, Huan. After all, what has happened in the Wednesday-Friday period (which influenced this poll set) which was any different than before, to explain such a shift?

If no cause is apparent, artificial manipulation must at least be considered.

Pam said...

DJ, I told the folks over at Red State I'd ask you what you think the undecideds will do, how will they break.

Karl Rove and Bill Schnider of CNN said that Obama is worried anytime his lead is less than the number of undecideds or within the margin of error. Does this mean that his campaign thinks undecideds will break heavily for McCain?

Anonymous said...

DJ, Great information as usual. Maybe enough Republicans are ignoring the polls and will come out in their historic numbers. If that is true, and they do vote McCain, will that be enough or does McCain have to pick up a lot of the "squishy/swing" middle to pull out a victory/?
Another thing,I heard this morning on a talk radio show here in Texas about the surfacing of an interview from 2001 where Obama talks about his desire to redistribute income. At another comment thread here I wondered if Barney Frank's comments about raising taxes and cutting defense by 25% would get around and make any difference to voters.
In your opinion will any of these "revelations" have any affect on the election given the short time till 4 Nov?

Eric said...

GReat Stuff as Usual DJ

JimMuy said...

I'm seeing a lot of talk around about early voting numbers; that party ID is near equal. However, I think that is a false hope unless we know what the early vote party ID numbers were for the past cycles. I've seen some claim that Rs have traditionally had a large advantage in early voting--but, no cites. If that is true, then having near equal numbers this time is not good at all. If, in the past, early votes split between D and R, then near equal numbers this time is a great indicator of what will happen in November.

What kind of breakdown by party ID was there in the past?

Juan Esperanza said...

My greatest fear this election is the polls become a self-fulfilling prophecy. People think it's over, our side doesn't show up, or people vote to join the bandwagon, and it ends up being a lot closer than all the polls indicated.

I've never understood people who think this way, but they're out there. I turn out no matter what, and our side needs to go full throttle until the votes are actually counted.

I always thought that if McCain can keep the poll averages within 3-4 points down, he'll probably win.

Polls always favor Democrats, and I do think there's a lot of peer pressure for people to say they're voting Obama.

You gotta love the secret ballot!

Anonymous said...

maybe younger dems don't bother to break away from the bong to go and vote, and all the hype by media actually ends up hurting obama

Anonymous said...

Nice job per usual. Interesting stats to say the least. If Rep's are going to the polls enthusiastically then that could be trouble for BHO. Also, it negates the trendy stories being run by the MSM about McCain alienating his base. According to the poll this doesn't sound try at all. All I keep seeing in my mind is McCain holding up the NY Times on Nov 5 and smiling at the headline: Obama defeats McCain. Could be very Truman-esque.

DJ Drummond said...

Jimmuy, you've hit on one thing that really bothers me regarding claims. There's a lot of information about voting that is unavailable to the public, and some of that is weird. I got curious earlier this year when I heard how the polls were basing their weights on higher democratic party registrations, but they were also doing that in states like Texas, which do not register party affiliation, so some of those claims were false on their face.

Now we hear how the balance in early voting favors democrats, but once again there is no supporting data for that claim. I would have expected a large democrat flood in the early voting, since Obama has made that a regular point in his rallies.

Michael McDonald at George Mason U has early voting data, by the way:

Trent said...


How does early voting in 2008 compare to early voting in 2004?

Cincinnatus said...

I've heard that the "hang-up" rate is much up this year, compared to 2004. This is people who refuse to talk to the pollsters and hang up the phone. Have you any statistics on that? I expect these will be McCain votes by and large, because it is they who will be fed up with the media and pollsters.

JimMuy said...

Michael McDonald stated, "the media consortium's 2004 exit poll conducted supplemental phone surveys of early voters in selected states with high proportions of early voters. These surveys found that early voters were more Republican than in-person Election Day voters in all states except Iowa."

But, then I was looking around for early voting statistics and found the Volusia County, Florida site. There, early voters went for Kerry by 60.42% to Bush's 39.58%. Final votes, however, went 50.8% Kerry to 49.2% Bush.

No party id on early votes. 2004 final party identification broke down to 41.36% Democrats; 38.29% Republicans; 17.58% no party; and 2.78% other.

This year, early votes are ahead of 2004 by an average of 1205 votes per day (3348 per day in 2004 and 4554 now). That's not good. But--the split so far is 54.64% identified as Democrats, 26.44% Republican and 18.92% Other.

No way to tell how they are voting; can't tell anything from the early vote numbers--you can spin it any way you want.

One thing is sure: the 20% advantage for Kerry in early voting was no where near his final tally of carrying the county by 1.59%.

Austin O. Jones said...

I've been hearing that spin about Republicans leading in early voting in years past. Kerry vastly outdid Bush in 2004, and outdid him in the exit polls on election day, as we all remember fondly. Obama's strength is running up a big lead (see primaries) in order to beat the drum of inevitability as an attempt to depress turnout from the other side.

Based on the results so far, with 4 days of early voting left, Obama's just not getting the numbers he needs.

BTW, thanks DJ, for providing a daily dose of well-founded and thoughtful optimism. I think you are spot on in your observations, and November 4th will cement your legend as one of the only ones who "got it".

kal said...

Great stuff, keep it up, I now read your blog all the time...cuts through the BS.

kim said...

Just ran across your blog tonight. Great stuff. Good to see factual numbers rather than emotional hype.

I'll be tuning in until election day. I do think this election is going to a squeaker regardless of how it breaks.