Saturday, November 01, 2008

Funky Gallup

Now that the election is entering its final days, I had expected the polls to start tightening the race in order to reflect actual demonstrated conditions. For several days this has been happening in a number of major polls, but today Gallup posted a surprising number; they show Obama leading McCain by double-digit margins in all three models of their polling.

I will admit that when I first saw this, I was shocked and a bit dismayed. For all the criticism I have thrown at them, Gallup has always appeared to me to be the most professional of the polling outfits, and it they showed such a strong and consistent Obama surge at the end, then maybe I was wrong and we should expect a rout to conclude on Tuesday.

Then my brain kicked in and said , ‘hold on there, wait just a minute’. You see, there are some weird things going on here with Gallup, and yes they are important. First off, Gallup used to be simple enough; they took a poll and announced the results and internals, just as they have for decades. But this year, Gallup is running three different models, one in which they have admitted punching in inflated youth and minority race participation at unprecedented levels (their ‘expanded voter’ model). They stepped back from that when it became obvious that this model was giving numbers which did not jibe with any reasonable judgment, and tossed out a ‘traditional’ model which played the numbers with a more nominal weighting. So, for some time now we have seen three models, which have tossed out a range of support in which the ‘expanded’ model favors Obama more than the ‘traditional’ model. Yet today we see Gallup claiming 52-41 Obama in its Daily Tracking of all registered voters, 52-42 in the ‘expanded voter’ model, and 52-42 in the ‘traditional voter’ model.

Now, stop and think about why that almost has to be bogus. First, Gallup is saying that McCain lost 5 points of support and Obama gained 3 points of support in just 5 days. Does that heavy swing of support make sense? And if it does, why does Fox say McCain gained six points in the last week?

And why does Zogby show that McCain led Obama in Friday’s one-day polling, yet claim that in three-day tracking he’s still down by 5 points?

You get the idea; the volatility of the polls is a warning sign that they are not to be trusted. The trends are going different directions, and they do not even always agree with their own headlines.


But Gallup is getting a trip to the woodshed for today’s stunt. You see, they’re not being honest with you and I think I can prove it.

Gallup has been using three different models for their reports. The first one just takes registered voters and only weights it for Census norms. The second is the ‘expanded’ model which weights the results to show heavy participation by blacks and young voters. The third model is what they are calling the ‘traditional’ model, but in fact this is not the same as past years, but is just the ‘expanded’ model with the extra black and youth votes reweighted back to historical norms, but which fails to adjust for assumptions made in the polling process and respondent pool construction.

Now think about this. Gallup claims to be using three models, yet is claiming they are producing identical results, as well as showing volatile changes in both candidates’ support levels going into the weekend. How is this possible? The only way this can be possible, is that Gallup is claiming that youths and black voters are voting the exact same way as voters overall. There’s no real way that the math works out, otherwise.

And what does Gallup say about youths and the black vote? Well, starting with the youth vote, there is not much to say. Gallup has admitted that the youth vote is not doing anything special this year.

So we should be seeing the ‘expanded’ model recede a bit, not show Obama’s lead growing, at least not because of the kids. What about the black vote? Gallup is all kinds of geeked about the black vote this year, saying they expect about a three percent increase from 2004 participation. OK, I can agree with that, but since Gallup has said they were already weighting blacks more heavily in their ‘expanded’ model, how do they explain that model surging this week, and why would the other models change as well? Frankly, the most likely possibility is that Gallup has recognized that their polling methodology used this year was in line with the ‘expanded’ model they made so much of earlier this year, and they are simply reinforcing the oversamples in anticipation of a rout which may not in fact exist.

Gallup is also getting goofy on another count: Early Voting. We’ve been hearing three things all this season about turnout – first, that we should expect around 130 million voters this year, that early voting will top 30% of all voting, and that the youth and black vote will break records this year. Gallup is reporting that as of October 31, 27% of their respondents say they have already voted and another 8% say they will vote early. Got those numbers? OK, with them in mind, let’s go visit Dr. McDonald again.

Dr. Michael McDonald at George Mason University has been tracking the early voting results. Now, we are not going to see exit polling data before the polls close on November 4, much less the actual election results, but we are getting some interesting details. Once again, I recommend everyone spend some time at his site to see the numbers for yourself.

OK, so looking at the numbers as of Saturday at 5:54 PM Texas time, we see that a total of 22,498,237 votes have been cast in early voting, known absentee and in-person votes combined. Now, if Gallup is right and 27% of the voters have done it already, that projects a total national vote of 83,326,804 voters, or a drop of 33% from 2004’s voting tallies. Dr. McDonald’s numbers come from the states’ official offices, so they’re as reliable as you will find. So, you have a choice of believing that only 83 million people are going to vote this year, or Gallup is wrong to claim that 27% of the voters voted early. If the actual tally is 130 million, then the early voters only made up about 17% of the total voters, and November 4 is going to be a madhouse.

And about that 8% who have not yet voted but plan to vote early? If we’re going to get to 130 million, then the 17% who have voted early did so over about a two-week period so far, or just about 8.5% a week. With that pace, three days of potential ‘early’ votes would project about another 3.6% of eligible voters will actually vote early, assuming the same early voting conditions exist.

So, Gallup’s assumptions about early voting may not be as big as they expected. Before I discuss what that means for November 4 conditions, let’s consider the black vote and the early voting so far.

Dr. McDonald shows that nine states are reporting voting by party affiliation, and three by racial demographic (only North Carolina is reporting results by age group, and as was reported earlier, the kids are not showing up this year either) . Among black voters, turnout where reported is indeed healthy.

Georgia is reporting that 35.1% of its early voters are black (versus 29.9% of the population and 25.7% of all registered voters), Louisiana is reporting that 36.3% of its early voters are black (versus 31.7% of its population and 31.2% of all registered voters), and North Carolina is reporting that 26.3% of its early voters are black (versus 21.7% of its population and 20.7% of all registered voters). So for those three states, early voting is averaging 4.8% ahead of population levels and 6.7% ahead of registration totals. Given the 11% representation of blacks relative to the total voter participation in 2004, an increase of 6.7% to that demographic would raise their portion of the total voter poll to 12%. Therefore, the demonstrated performance by blacks in early voting this year does not justify the heavy weighting used by Gallup.

Now, let’s look at that early voting number. Nine states are reporting participation by party affiliation. Here’s how that turns out so far:

Colorado: D 37.7%, R 35.9% (registration 32.8% D, 33.1% R)
Florida: D 45.6%, R 37.8% (registration 42.0% D, 36.1% R)
Iowa: D 47.3%, R 28.8% (registration 32.4% D, 27.8% R)
Louisiana: D 58.5%, R 28.4% (registration 52.5% D, 25.3% R)
Maine: D 42.9%, R 28.2% (registration 31.1% D, 28.1% R)
Nevada: D 49.6%, R 33.0% (registration 44.0% D, 35.6% R)
New Mexico: D 53.4%, R 32.9% (registration 50.1% D, 31.7% R)
North Carolina: D 51.8%, R 30.0% (registration 44.8% D, 34.3% R)
West Virginia: D 59.4%, R 31.5% (registration 55.7% D, 29.2% R)

For these nine states on average, the democrats are early voting at a rate 2.6 points higher than their registration, while republicans are early voting at a rate 3.4 points lower than their registration. Since the early voting currently represents 17% of the anticipated turnout this year, this works out to a total voting advantage by party of 1.02 points. Obviously, if the democrats enjoy a similar +2.6 to -3.4 turnout advantage in actual voting on November 4th, this would inflate their party advantage (assuming democrats support Obama in equal degree that republicans support McCain) by six points, which appears to explain Gallup’s sudden shift: Gallup has decided that the trend in early voting will be reflected in the November 4th turnout, which is a dangerous assumption, for the following reasons:

1. The 6-point advantage for democrats is reported in just 9 states out of 34 which have early voting; there is no clear information on party participation on the other 25 states which have early voting, and these numbers may be significantly different.

2. The record on early voting is too short to establish a statistically valid trend, but even the last two elections have shown significantly different levels of participation in voter turnout by party between early and election-day voting. There is no basis for presuming that early voting turnout will be reflected the same way on November 4.

3. Obama has urged his supporters all year long to vote early, while McCain has not made the same push. A slightly higher percentage of republicans this year than democrats have stated an intention to vote on November 4 rather than early.

4. Voters who participate in early voting will not also be participating in election-day voting. This datum is significant with regard to black voters. Black voters have been shown to be participating in the three states which release that detail, at a rate 6.7 points ahead of registration proportions. While increased participation overall by blacks may produce a modest increase (roughly 1 percent) to Obama’s support, the ceiling level of the black voter demographic necessarily means that black voter participation will decline significantly on November 4. Consequently, even if all other conditions are the same, republican participation on November 4 should be expected to improve measurably.

In conclusion, Gallup is assuming that because some democrats in some states are showing up strong in early voting, that this means a blow-out is coming. In truth the lower-than-expected totals of actual voting, combined with reports that no state so far is reporting blow-out numbers, demonstrates that the election is highly volatile and far from over, and depends as it has all along on the three key components of voter turnout, who wins the independent voter support, and which way the undecideds break. Don’t be fooled, this race is still red hot.


Anonymous said...

Wow. This is interesting.
I personally believe that the media is helping McCain by their so-obvious pro-Obama agenda. I don't know why the McCain campaign isn't wrapping CNN and MSNBC around Obama's neck. People are really upset at the media this year.
Besides, a lot of white people are saying they're going to vote for Obama, but are going to cast their votes for McCain. The streets are going to be fun to watch Tuesday nights (from inside my locked home, with my double-barrel shotgun in my lap, of course!) LOL

kittiewan said...

I mentioned this in a comment to yesterday's article, but it is more appropriate here:

Something really stinks with today's Gallop poll (Sat, Nov 1). Both the Traditional and Expanded likely voter models are even. What is more, while they interviewed 2847 registered voters, they say they ended up with 2516 interviews that qualified as traditional likely voters, and only 2480 that qualified as expanded likely voters! That means there are more people who say they are going to vote and who have voted in the past than there are people who say they are going to vote. Seems counterintuitive to me. Makes me wonder if they computed their percentages using the wrong numbers.

Anonymous said...

DJ, you'll first realize you were wrong when Virginia is called quickly for Obama and Georgia is too close to call.

by jingo said...

Obama may have an election-day trick up his sleeve. What if a million of his early-voted supporters show up at the polls on election day, and these invalid voters bring the process to a standstill, so legions of voters wait in line for hours before giving up, so there is mass disenfranchisement caused by these stalling tactics. It would explain why Obama wants his people to vote early, if he is planning election day anarchy.

Anonymous said...

Last week on the Sean Hannity radio show a woman called in to say that Gallup had called her. She agreed to answer some questions. After answering two questions that indicated she was most likely a conservative, the poll taker excused herself, but then she never returned. After hearing that, why should anyone believe anything Gallup has to report.

OBloodyHell said...

> Obama may have an election-day trick up his sleeve. What if a million of his early-voted supporters show up at the polls on election day, and these invalid voters bring the process to a standstill, so legions of voters wait in line for hours before giving up, so there is mass disenfranchisement caused by these stalling tactics.

If that happens, I think people are going to be SO ROYALLY F*ING PISSED that they make CERTAIN they get the chance to vote... including people who were legitimately planning to vote for Obama.

Deep Throat II said...

Anonymous, when 2 + 2 does not equal four
in election polling you either have fraud or bad numbers.

I work for a company that has more than 60,000
employees across 50 states and along all demographics. We have our own salaried polling staff for a variety of reasons--customer relations, union issues, etc; .

Personally, I think our guy is better than any of the
organizations found on Real Clear Politics. He is beholden to know one--by the CEO's order--and is under orders to just discover the facts when and if he can with integrity and without bias because the financial welfare of hundreds of thousands of people depend on the truth to make informed

He is very puzzled by the wide discrepancy in the published polls because, as D.J. has suggested, the numbers are not spontaneously falling along assumed projected lines.

As D.J. has pointed out he has the biggest problem with Gallup needing three polls this year. He respects pollsters like Gallup, Zogby, and Rasmussen but finds the wild swings in their polls
inconsistent with voting behavior even during periods as short as 24 hours.

Also as D.J. suggested he is very troubled that. Gallup's new poll suddenly and unpredictably produced the same numbers as its traditional polls.

Models, whether to predict the weather, the activitiy of tumors, or voters just don't work that way.

Zogby has been among the most disingenuous. Friday he was shouting about a McCain "move", Today he is wagging his fingers at voters uttering some opposite nonsense about trends. I think this is the third time he's done this in the last four weeks.

By Party, IBD still has 26% of voters undecided and in the head-to-head which was at 8% yesterday, is 8.7% today. That seems insignificant,right? Yet it represents an 8% movement of voters from likely or certain to uncertain in 24 hours as the election draws closer.

That is absurd. The number of undecided voters should be falling.

Similarly, the number of undecideds based on religious affiliation now is at 50% up from 42%--that's 8 points again but this reflects that 20% more voters if looked at by religious affiliation have moved from likely or certain to uncertain.


No reasonable person would give any credit to a pollster who needs three polls to gauge voter behavior, who would have the number of undecideds increasing as election day draws closer,
or who does not produce internals.

rickl said...

by jingo said...
Obama may have an election-day trick up his sleeve. What if a million of his early-voted supporters show up at the polls on election day, and these invalid voters bring the process to a standstill, so legions of voters wait in line for hours before giving up, so there is mass disenfranchisement caused by these stalling tactics. It would explain why Obama wants his people to vote early, if he is planning election day anarchy.

I think you nailed it. That is exactly the kind of thing that worries me about early voting. Look up "Cloward-Piven strategy."

rickl said...

anonymous said...
Last week on the Sean Hannity radio show a woman called in to say that Gallup had called her. She agreed to answer some questions. After answering two questions that indicated she was most likely a conservative, the poll taker excused herself, but then she never returned. After hearing that, why should anyone believe anything Gallup has to report.

I didn't hear the radio broadcast, but is the woman absolutely certain it was Gallup who called her? It sounds more like a GOTV call by the Obama campaign. If she had indicated that she supported Obama, the caller would have told her to be sure and vote on Tuesday.

Both campaigns do exactly the same thing. The purpose is to identify their supporters and encourage/remind them (and only them) to vote.

Anonymous said...

Ricki, I can't say she was absolutely certain, but I believe I recall the lady saying that she looked at her caller ID and it said Gallup. By the poll taker identifying herself as from Gallup, it certainly reflects badly on Gallup. By following this blog, I'm certainly less inclined to believe any of the polls. Tuesday will tell.

DJ Drummond said...

Sneers from someone who can't bother to leave a screen name?

I know spam when I see it.

Deep Thorat II said...


Anonymous is just winging it on emotion.He's too lazy
to look for the ghost in the machine (if there is one).
He's definitely not a guy I would want as my wingman
when the shit the fan.

For what it's worth,TIPP/IBD is suggesting some definite trends in key demographics.

Keep in mind that I'm not completely sold on any pollster's methodology but IBD has been the only
group that has not been all over the board AND who reveals their internals on a daily basis.

Four trends are striking:

1.McCain has gone from 21 points down to nine in Urban areas since October 31st. This has been offset to some degree by Obama making headway in rural areas, closing five points the past three

2. McCain has likewise closed six points in the midwest in the last two days and is now in a dead heat with Obama 44%-44%.

3. The Catholic vote (20% of the electorate) has really kicked in for McCain and he's opened up by 19 points since October 31st to lead with that demographic 55%-36%.The candidate who has won the majority of the catholic vote has won the last nine presidential elections.

4. More remarkable still, Mccain has turned a 10-point deficit among independents into a two-point advantage--again since October 31st.

As it turns out, IBD came the closest in the 2004
election, coming within 4/10th's of a point of the final vote.

Are they on target today? One would not think so but there is no empirical reason to dismiss their polling.

Harvey said...

This is great stuff and so consistent with the scientific statistical analyses I do in my work. As I recall the polls were always off, and sometimes dramatically so, during the Hillary-Obama Primary races. As we know too well, selection bias in sampling is SO hard to eliminate. Can you imagine the finger pointing if the "One" doesn't carry the day?

Dr. Bonnette said...

We all know by now that the key races are in FL, OH, VA, and PA -- especially the last two which could be decisive for a McCain victory. Can you use your analysis on these states in any meaningful way?

Anonymous said...

Election day mischief probably in urban areas. They will only suppress O's support. GOP strength is in the suburbs and rural areas. I doubt their hooptys have enuff gas to venture out there.

Anonymous said...

If you were wondering why Gallup has been delivering the number they have for weeks now. Check this out. They base all their numbers on surveys they took to find out how many people think they are democrats or republicans. They think that dems will out perform republicans by 10 points. I think they are getting these trends from the early voting which is totally crazy. Gallup is nothing more then an other Obama propaganda tool.

Democratic Advantage in Party Identification Difficult to Overcome

Obama was able to match McCain in maintaining party loyalty toward his candidacy: 91% of Democrats say they will vote for Obama, the same as the 91% of Republicans voting for McCain.

In the final poll, 38% of U.S. adults identified as Democrats,
34% as independents
and 26% as Republicans.
Among likely voters, the figures are 39%, 31% and 29%, respectively.

Deep Throat II said...

Re: Swing states:

For years most of the best physicists in America thought the atomic bomb
was a laughable fiction.

"There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will."

-- Albert Einstein, 1932.

"The bomb will never go off. I speak as an expert in explosives."

-- Admiral William Leahy, U.S. Atomic Bomb Project.

The great political fiction is sweating out swing states and the electoral college count.

Generally speaking, the candidate who wins the electoral college but loses the popular vote has about a .03 probability of winning the election.

Don't obsess about the four or five
states the media and campaigns are fixated on. Voters don't. Just
watch the popular vote. That will tell you everything.

The worse case scenario is that Obama wins but this may not be a
bad thing. Try to take the long view:

A man who lived on the northern frontier of China was skilled in interpreting events. One day, for no reason, his horse ran away to the nomads across the border.

Everyone tried to console him, but his father said,

"What makes you so sure this isn't a blessing?"

Some months later his horse returned, bringing a splendid nomad stallion. Everyone congratulated him, but his father said, "What makes you so sure this isn't a disaster?"

Their household was richer by a fine horse, which his son loved to ride. One day he fell and broke his hip. Everyone tried to console him, but his father said,

"What makes you so sure this isn't a blessing?"

A year later the nomads came in force across the border, and every able-bodied man took his bow and went into battle. The Chinese frontiersmen lost nine of every ten men. Only because the son was lame did the father and son survive to take care of each other.

Truly, blessing turns to disaster, and disaster to blessing: the changes have no end, nor can the mystery be fathomed.

--The Lost Horse,
Chinese Folktale.

It all looks good for Obama now but without Jimmy Carter, America wouldn't have swung for Ronald Reagan.

If nothing else Obama's candidacy and if he is elected, his historically impotent presidency will show how deep the republican bench will be in four years with bright, young
Republican leaders like Bobby Jendil, Sarah Palin, and Charlie Crist who will right the ship after Obama puts it what appears to be impossibly off course. Americans will flinch the next time a two-bit carny sideshow huckster tries to seduce with vapid rhetoric and empty promises.

What looks today like the golden dawn of a new liberalism will be the sunset of an idealogy that has eventually failed everywhere it has been tried. And Erica Jong was right to an extent: the streets might run with blood after this election--but not from violence but from heartbreak after they see they've been played.

On balance, conservatives could not have asked for a better guy than Obama to rush where angels dare to tread.

Four years from now history will rewrite the story of Jimmy Carter and say, "You know, he wasn't so bad."

And George Bush? He's going to seem like Lincoln compared to Obama.

Yeah, I said it... said...

Obama winning might be a blessing, except for the fact the Democrats want to change the rules afterwards (see Fairness Doctrine, Secret Union Ballots, etc...).

tigrefan98 said...

Um, is it just me, or is it really foolish to assume that all the Democrats are voting for Obama? What about the huge PUMA movement and the polling that said as many as 30-40% of Hillary supporters weren't planning to vote for Obama? I believe all the D-R breakdown tells us is who voted, it doesn't tell us HOW they voted, and my educated guess is more Dems will vote McCain than Reps will vote Obama.

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