Monthly Archives: December 2011

Last Minute Polling

Busy day today, but I wanted to send one quick Iowa polling update.

In Iowa, the most recent poll (by American Research Group) shows very little change, with Paul (21%), Romney (20%) and Gingrich (19%) essentially tied for the lead. (The poll’s margin of error is +/- 4 points).   No other candidate reaches double figures, but 12% remain undecided.  Once again, Paul does better among independents. who constitute 22% of the poll.  Although the race remains very fluid, with a week to go it appears to be a toss-up among these three.  Perhaps the most interesting takeaway is how steady Romney’s support is – he never gains, but doesn’t lose either.

If I can, I’ll post a more extended discussion later tonight.


Who Doesn’t Love A Newt? Why Gingrich Should Win the Presidency

With friends like these, who needs enemies?  While Newt Gingrich has been touting the virtues of the 11th commandment (Thou Shall Not Speak Ill of a Fellow Republican), and reminding everyone how much he respects his competitors for the party nomination, they have unleashed a barrage of negative advertising  in Iowa designed to blunt his momentum there.  As this New York Times graphic indicates, much of the negative advertising has been paid for by so-called SuperPacs who, in theory, cannot coordinate their expenditures with any candidate.  But this does not prevent them from spending money on a candidate’s behalf. The L.A. Times reports: “According to the Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets website, which tracks political spending, the pro-Romney group Restore Our Future has spent $2.5 million attacking Gingrich, $1.4 million of it in the last week. That makes Gingrich by far the most besieged candidate of the 2012 presidential cycle. Even President Obama has generated only $1.28 million in spending on negative ads, though far more will come in the general election. One ad analysis company, Kantar Media, said that Iowa airwaves had been clogged with more than 1,200 anti-Gingrich messages in the last several weeks.”

So far the ads appear to have hit their target; Newt’s polling numbers in Iowa have dropped, although his decline has not yet been matched by a corresponding polling climb by either Paul or Romney; the three are now in a scrum at the top with each drawing between 15-25% depending on the poll.  While he waits for his own shadow SuperPac-backed advertising to make an impact in Iowa through media buys, Gingrich has been forced to rely on free media to fight back against the paid advertising onslaught. Critics, however, are suggesting that Newt has already waited too long in responding in kind to the negative attacks.

Meanwhile, the Republican establishment has made it as clear as can be that they would rather eat chicken with their fingers  alongside the hired help than see Newt become president.  Yesterday George “Poppy” Bush unofficially endorsed Mitt Romney for Club President while taking a thinly veiled shot at the Newtster. ( As Jack Goodman points out, the photos from this endorsement session may not play as well as Romney would hope outside the country club set.  Here Poppy and the Silver Fox doze while Mitt regales them with tales from his days “roughing it” in Paris. “So that’s when I realized Chub had short-sheeted me – goldarn that rascal!”)

Poppy’s endorsement came on the heels of George Will’s blistering editorial  characterizing Newt as the anti-conservative candidate. Will’s is but the latest salvo from pundits and party leaders essentially saying that Newt is unelectable.  At this point  it seems as if those sentiments are fueled as much by fear that Newt might win the nomination than by any rational reading of the polls, but no matter – they are sticking by their claim.

Is there anyone who would like to see Newt win this thing (besides those Tea Party crazies who appear ready to vote for him)?   Why yes – the nation’s artists!  Cartoonists are salivating at the prospect of replacing the relatively bland Obama with their dream caricature.  And songwriters can dust off all those old Newt protest songs that were in vogue two decades ago! (Hat tip to Sally…) .


So, in the spirit of giving, let’s all raise up our tails and give Newt a holiday salute!

Does Iowa Even Matter? The Latest Polls Results

Will the results of the January 3 Iowa caucus even matter to the outcome of the 2012 Republican presidential nomination? My colleague Bert Johnson and I have discussed this matter here.  Bert’s basic point is that the Iowa caucus helps voters solve what he calls a coordination problem, in which those who share a similar ideology and policy preference must decide which candidate to coalesce behind.  In so doing, they give that candidate “momentum” going into later contests.  Bert’s claim is consistent with conventional wisdom among political scientists which argues that Iowa’s significance lays not so much in who wins the caucus as it does in who loses. Simply put, those who fail to meet expectations drop out of the race, thus helping solve the coordination problem.

While I don’t disagree with the basic logic that says early nomination contests help winnow the field, the historical record indicates that Iowa has not played much if any role in that winnowing process. In looking at previous Iowa caucus results dating back to the start of the modern primary-centered nominating process in 1972 there has been only one year by my admittedly back-of-the-envelope calculation where the results in Iowa have served to directly winnow the field in significant numbers. As the table below indicates, that would be the Democratic contest in 2008, which eliminated three candidates of the six Democrats actively campaigning there: senators Joe Biden and Chris Dodd, and Governor Bill Richardson. (Note: I only included candidates who received 1% or more support in the Iowa caucuses.)

Year #Democratic Candidates # Who Withdraw After Iowa # Republican        Candidates # Who Withdraw After Iowa
1972 6 0 No Republican contest
1976 6 0 2 0
1980 2 0 7 0
1984 7 0 1(Reagan Unopposed)
1988 4 0 6 1
1992 5 0 1 (G. H. W. Bush Not Challenged in Iowa) 0
1996 1 ( B. Clinton Unopposed) 8 0
2000 2 0 6 1
2004 5 1 1 (G. W. Bush Unopposed)
2008 6 3 7 0

In most years, however, the Iowa results do not seem to precipitate a significant number of withdrawals. Indeed, in 15 contested caucuses since 1972 involving 80 candidate-races, only six candidates dropped out as a result of doing poorly in Iowa.

Now, this may underestimate Iowa’s actual impact on the nominating process. To begin, I don’t count those candidates, like Tim Pawlenty this year, who drop out before the caucuses are held because they perceive a lack of support in Iowa.  Moreover, candidates who exceed expectations in Iowa may receive a boost in support down the road, and those who fail to clear the expectation bar may see their subsequent support decline.  But strictly speaking, the vote in the Iowa caucuses rarely culls the candidate herd in large numbers by itself. Indeed, in most years it has no impact on the size of the field whatsoever.

So, what does this suggest come January 3?  Two more Iowa polls came in during the last two days.  This Rasmussen poll has Romney leading the field with 25%, followed by Paul at 20% and Gingrich at 17%.  A second poll commissioned by Iowa St. has Paul as the first choice of 27.5% of those surveyed, followed by Gingrich at 25.3% and then Romney at 17.5%.   Of greater relevance to this post, however, both polls showed Bachmann and Santorum trailing the field among active candidates.  (Perry is 4rth in both.)  These results are consistent with the latest RealClear Politics composite poll, which shows only Bachmann, at 8.3%, and Santorum, at 7% as polling in single digits in Iowa. (Santorum is black and Bachmann brown in the graph below. Huntsman, in pink-purple at the bottom, is not actively campaigning in Iowa.)

Assuming they finish as the bottom two in Iowa, will either Bachmann or Santorum drop out?  With the New Hampshire primary one week later, on January 10, my guess is both may stay in to see whether social conservatives will decided to coalesce behind one or the other of them, thus giving that candidate a boost heading into South Carolina. Unfortunately, New Hampshire is not a particularly hospitable climate for their brand of political conservatism, which means one or both might decide to continue even if they do poorly in New Hampshire.  All this assumes, of course, that they have enough money to do so.

Make no mistake about it. The Iowa caucus will be a huge media event. It is less likely, however, that it will be a significant political event that helps to winnow the field.  Indeed, if history is a reliable guide, at least six and possibly all seven Republican candidates now in the race are likely to be still in the contest after Iowa.  Is Iowa relevant? Yes. Decisive?  Probably not.

Remember that 3 A.M Phone Call? Robocalls and the Draft Hillary Movement

Remember the 3 a.m. phone call?  Now you can get one at all hours!

One of the more controversial (in terms of invoking readers’ comments) posts I’ve published was this one  (cross-posted here) arguing that from a Democrat’s perspective, there were good reasons why Hillary Clinton should challenge Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination in 2012.  The post elicited a good deal of give-and-take among readers, and I thought the issue was thoroughly vetted.

But it won’t die.  Every once in a while I’ll get a spike in readership, and it is almost always driven by a republishing of that post somewhere that attracts new viewers.

Two days ago it happened again.  This time I suspect the initial culprit was this op-ed piece by Democratic pollsters Pat Caddell and Dough Schoen advocating a nation-wide “Draft Hillary” movement, beginning in New Hampshire.  (Caddell used to be Jimmy Carter’s pollster, and Schoen worked for Hillary in 2008).  This follows an earlier piece they published in the Wall St. Journal suggesting that Obama emulate LBJ’s 1968 decision to step down for the good of the party.  In the latest publication, they argue:  “It’s clear that Obama has been unable to build consensus and, with the polarizing campaign he is now running, will be unable to govern effectively even if reelected. Only Clinton can commit the Democratic Party — and, indeed, the nation — to a unification and healing process. This could allow Washington, in a bipartisan manner, to finally address the economic and governmental crises that now grip America.”

In the following video, Caddell expands on those points:

They note that there have been previous successful write-in candidates in New Hampshire (Henry Cabot Lodge in 1964, and LBJ in 1968) which, because of its open primary, makes it easier for independents in participate.

The Schoen/Caddell opinion piece was published just as a people across several states began reporting that they were receiving automated calls urging them to support a draft Hillary movement, and directing readers to this draft Hillary site.  It is unclear who is behind the website, and who is sending out the robocalls. Here’s the audio version of the robocall, as recorded on one person’s answering machine:

As I noted in my initial post on this topic, there are (or at least were!) legitimate reasons why Democrats should support a Hillary challenge. The most important one, I said at the time, is that it would increase the likelihood that a Democrat would be in the White House in 2012.  Since I posted that argument, however, I would suggest that Obama’s reelection chances have improved, at least slightly.  This is mostly because there are indicators that the economy is stabilizing, and perhaps even beginning to grow.  Unemployment has dropped (and yes, I realize this partly reflects seasonal hiring and the fact that many have stopped looking for jobs), Obama’s approval ratings, while not good, may be inching up and he’s at least settled on a campaign theme that might have some bite.  All this is not to say his reelection is assured; right now the forecast models put it at about 50/50.  It is to suggest, however, that the “Draft Hillary” movement may be mistimed – if it was to have any traction, it probably should have been put in place a few months back.

A final note to those of you who have already emailed me asking that you be taken off my robocall list – believe it or not, I’m not running the draft Hillary campaign.  Nor do I have any idea who is.  But whoever is organizing the movement –  at some point you should probably check with the candidate herself.  She may have other plans.

The Perils of Polling Paul: Are the Iowa Results Correct?

Can Ron Paul win Iowa?  Shortly after posting my assessment of this PPP Iowa poll yesterday that showed Ron Paul leading in Iowa, Insider Advantage released a second Iowa poll that also showed Paul ahead in Iowa with 24% support.  As in the PPP poll, Romney was second (18%), but Gingrich had dropped to 4th in the IA poll at 13%, behind Rick Perry’s 15.5%.  The two polls immediately fueled debate regarding whether Paul could win in Iowa. Without discounting that possibility, I want to inject a note of caution regarding the mini-Paul media boomlet that we will undoubtedly experience in the next two days.

The major issue is whether these two polls are inflating Paul’s support.  I have noted on previous occasions how difficult it is to develop an accurate sample of likely voters in a caucus state.  Keep in mind that turnout in Iowa will likely be about 100,000 voters – not a huge number by any means in a state with over 2 million registered voters, including more than 600,000 Republicans.  Trying to anticipate who will actually turn out on Jan. 3 is as much art as science.

Iowa caucuses are in theory open to all voters since participants are allowed to change their party registration on the day of the caucus. In fact, however, they tend to be attended almost exclusively by partisans.  Thus, in the 2008 Republican caucus, entrance polls indicate that only 1% of those participating in the Republican caucus were registered Democrats, while 86% were registered Republicans and 13% declared independents.  And this is where things get dicey in projecting Paul’s support.

Both the IA and the PPP polls show that Paul does much better than his opponents among independents and moderate Democratic voters, but the race is much tighter among Republicans; Paul is running about even with Romney among Republicans in the IA survey, and about 4% ahead of both Perry and Gingrich.

So, a key question for pollsters trying to gauge Paul’s support is deciding how many of the former two voting groups to include in a survey sample.  The following table compares the IA and PPP breakdown with the actual figures from 2008.

Voting Group 2008 Actual Proportion (based on entrance polls) IA Survey PPP Survey
Independents 13% 29.9% 17%
Democrats 1% 6.4% 5%
Republicans 86% 63.7% 75%

So both the IA and PPP surveys are oversampling, in comparison to the 2008 proportions, from independents and Democrats – the two groups that are disproportionately likely to support Paul.  Now, this doesn’t mean these projections are wrong.  In fact, it is not unreasonable to think that Democrats and Independents will turn out in higher proportions than in 2008 given that there’s no real race on the Democratic side in Iowa. How much higher, however, is the crucial question. If their sample projections are overestimating independent and Democratic turnout, then both automated polls are likely too optimistic in projecting Paul’s support.

Note that we see the same potential skew when we break down the respondents by ideology.  In the 2008 entrance polls, fully 88% of respondents identified themselves as either strongly or somewhat conservative, but only 11% said they were moderate and 1% liberal.  And yet in the PPP poll we find the following:

Q32 Would you describe yourself as very liberal, somewhat liberal, moderate, somewhat conservative, or very conservative?

Very liberal ……………………………………………… 3%

Somewhat liberal …………………………………….. 6%

Moderate………………………………………………… 19%

Somewhat conservative……………………………. 36%

Very conservative ……………………………………. 36%

In short, only 72% of respondents fall into the conservative range – a full 16% lower than in 2008, while 9% are liberal – 8% higher than in 2008, and 19% are moderate – also 8% higher than four years ago. (The IA topline results do not show the ideological breakdown of their respondents.)

Note that the party and ideological proportions also affect candidate favorability ratings. Paul’s favorability rating is about 8% higher among independents than among Republicans, while Gingrich’s unfavorable margin is much higher among independents and Democrats. Similarly, Paul is viewed much favorably by independents, while Gingrich does better among conservatives.

So, are these surveys wrong?  Not necessarily. In fact, I don’t know how many independents and Democrats will turn out on January 3rd – and no one else does either.  Both PPP and IA are making perhaps very reasonable assumptions that the partisan and ideological proportions will not be the same as in 2008, and that groups favoring Paul will turn out in much higher numbers. They could be correct, but we have no way of knowing. And that is important to keep in mind when you read media coverage of these polls in the next few days. The media narrative will undoubtedly suggest that Paul is surging in Iowa.  It may even be true. In the long run, however, a candidacy that depends on independents and Democrats is not likely to capture the Republican nomination.