Exit polls claim deficit a top priority; why that’s wrong

November 6, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Ben Somberg writes:

Wanted to flag this because I know you’ve written on public opinion on deficits. This got some press in the last couple days — that the official exit poll found that the deficit is a bigger priority than jobs or the economy generally. Sure enough, it’s nonsense. I [Somberg] show why the question asked was nonsense and how in fact a wave of polls just days earlier showed the usual — that deficits aren’t a top public priority.

Here are some details:

The polling has bopped around a bit here or there over the last year, but no matter how the pollsters ask the question — and no matter how much deficit hyping there is in the press — people rank the economy and jobs as higher concerns than the deficit. There was actually a new wave of polling on this just before the election, in fact, asking people for their top priorities:

* USA Today / Gallup: “passing new stimulus bill” (38%), “cutting federal spending” (24%), “repealing health care law” (23%), “extending all income tax cuts (8%)

* Reuters / Ipsos: 72% say jobs are “crucial” focus, 25% say they are “important”; 57% say the budget deficit is “crucial” focus, 38% say “important”

* CNN / Opinion Research: “economy” (58%), “the federal budget deficit” (8%), “education” (8%), “health care” (8%), the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (8%), “illegal immigration” (8%) — and other topics get smaller amounts

* Pew: “the job situation” (39%), “health care” (25%), “the deficit” (17%), and it drops off to 6% and below after that

But now in the past day and a half there’s been some attention to a stunning outlier on the question, from the national exit polling data from Tuesday. The exit poll seems to say that 39% see the deficit as the top priority for the new Congress, while only 37% said spending to create jobs is most important.

It’s gotten some attention. See, for example: Liz Sidoti of AP, Jackie Calmes and Megan Thee-Brenan of the NYT, Kyle Dropp of the Washington Post, Gerald Seid of WSJ, Elizabeth Williamson of the WSJ, ABCNews.com, Jill Lawrence of Politics Daily, Judy Woodruff on the PBS Newshour and John Dickerson of Slate.

But what did the exit poll actually ask? I mean, did public opinion on the importance of deficit vs. jobs and the economy really make a huge, historic shift in a matter of days?

The national exit polling asked two ‘priorities’ questions.

“Most Important Issue Facing Country Today” got:
Economy (62%)
Health Care (18%)
War in Afghanistan (8%)
Illegal Immigration (8%)
It appears those were the only options, which makes it not very useful.

Then there was the “Highest Priority for Next Congress” question, which got:
Reducing Deficit (39%)
Spending to Create Jobs (37%)
Cutting Taxes (19%)
This time, only three choices!

It seems the “Jobs” option was saddled with “spending to create.” Yet “Reducing Deficit” was not saddled with “by increasing taxes to raise money” or “by cutting spending on government programs.”

I see I’m not the first to note the questionable setup of this question. The WSJ’s David Wessel explains: “One inelegantly phrased exit poll Tuesday found 45% favored tax cuts or spending increases to help the economy while 39% made reducing the deficit a higher priority (which, except to some economic alchemists, means tax increases and spending cuts.)”

Also, Ed Kilgore at TNR notes the “rather limited choice” presented in the question and Andrew Sullivan of the Atlantic seems to be tweaking the setup a bit as well.

In sum, it’s rather doubtful that a massive shift — in under a week- of public opinion occurred on the importance of the deficit. But that’s what any news organization that hyped the national exit poll’s 39% figure implicitly conveys.

These news organization should go back and look at the wording of the questions, do some hard thinking about how appropriate the setup was, and tell their audiences about the findings of the four polls in the week before the election that weren’t saddled with a non-nonsensical option list.

The Monkey Cage

Reading the Exit Polls: Today’s Qs for O’s WH — 11/4/10

November 4, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

TAPPER: You have said and the president also suggested that the message of Tuesday’s elections is that the American people want the parties to work together. Where do you get that from? GIBBS: Well, again, I think if you look…

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Political Punch

Putting Those 2012 Polls In Perspective

November 4, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

MSNBC’s Carrie Dunn points out that the Presidential polls in 2006 didn’t tell us much about 2008:

Before you start filling out your GOP candidate brackets, it’s worth remembering the heady days of winter 2006, when Democrats had thundered to victory in the midterms and pundits were frenetically handicapping the upcoming contests in the race to replace President George W. Bush.

It’s safe to say the chatter in the weeks after that election was often short of terrifically informative.

In mid-November 2006, pollsters found that New York mayor Rudy Giuliani would run away with the Republican presidential nomination - especially if the second most popular GOP choice, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, decided to pass on a run.

Few polls even included the eventual winner of the Iowa caucuses, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. And in at least seven surveys that month, Mitt Romney’s support languished in single digits, behind a man who eventually passed on a run — Newt Gingrich.

On the Democratic side, a flurry of surveys in November 2006 showed Hillary Clinton leading Barack Obama by double digits. Also winning a substantial chunk of support was former Vice President Al Gore.

Huckabee didn’t start moving in the polls until December 2007, and Obama didn’t start over-taking Clinton until early 2008. As for Rudy Giuliani, he spent $ 59  million, dropped out after the Florida Primary, and won a single delegate.

Outside the Beltway

Exit Polls: Republicans set record numbers

November 4, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Washington (CNN) - The 2010 midterm elections rocked President Obama and the Democrats’ majority in the House of Representatives, but they also shook the electorate in a historic way. Exit polls conducted by CNN reveal big changes for traditional Democratic voters that may signal a shift unlike any we’ve seen before.

This November, less than half of women voters selected Democrats for Congress, 49 percent, and 48 percent broke for Republicans. This ties 2002 as the lowest ever female vote for Democrats. Conversely, the male vote for Republicans was the highest ever. Fifty-six percent of men voted for Republican candidates, setting another record for the GOP. Forty-two percent of men voted for Democrats.

Nationwide, 58 percent of voters 65 and over voted Republican while 40 percent voted Democratic. That’s a new high for Republicans, who can now boast about receiving the highest number of votes from seniors, men, and a new demographic-blue collar voters.

Traditionally, blue collar voters are thought to prefer Democrats. In 2010, this changed, with 62 percent of white non-college graduates voting for Republican candidates and 35 percent choosing Democrats. This is the highest ever blue collar vote for the GOP.

Whether this is a trend that will continue or is simply a one hit wonder for Republicans remains to be seen, but if the Democrats want to be competitive for 2012, it is something worthy of attention.

Exit polls are surveys of a small percentage of voters taken after they leave their voting place. Pollsters use this data to project how all voters or segments of voters side on a particular race or ballot measure.

CNN Political Ticker

Are Polls More Likely to be Off Where There is a Larger Latino Vote?

November 4, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Nate Silver has an interesting post that highlights some of the cases his model got wrong. In particular, his “poll of polls” approach missed Nevada and Colorado, and underestimated significantly margins of victory in California. This suggests there might have been something systematically wrong with the polling in those three states (as opposed to more general concerns about polling problems that should have been present more widely, like the cell-phone only households).

Matt Barreto, a political science professor at the University of Washington and one of the authors of the excellent Latino Decisions Blog, wrote in to Silver and offered the following explanation. In Silver’s words:

His [Barreto's] firm, which conducts interviews in both English and Spanish, had found that Latino voters — somewhat against the conventional wisdom — were relatively engaged by this election and for the most part were going to vote Democratic. Mr. Barreto also found that Latino voters who prefer to speak Spanish — about 40 percent of Latino voters in California meet this description, he told me — are particularly likely to vote Democratic. Pollsters who don’t conduct bilingual interviewing at all, or who make it cumbersome for the respondent to take the poll in Spanish, may be missing these voters.

Does anyone out there have any research on bilingual polling? Maybe someone who has worked on polling in Ukraine or Georgia? If so, please respond below in the comments section, or contact me directly if you’d like to do a guest post. A quick Google Scholar search for “bilingual polling” revealed only one relevant article, a 2001 Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences article by Kevin A. Hill and Dario V. Moreno. Here’s the abstract of their piece:

This article argues that conducting public opinion surveys in Spanish as well as English is crucial to the study of the modern Latino electorate. Unfortunately, the conventional wisdom is to survey only in English because, so the argument goes, the validity and reliability problems raised by bilingual polling and translation do not make it worthwhile to conduct surveys in two languages. The authors challenge this assertion with evidence from six political surveys in Miami-Dade County, Florida, that were conducted in both English and Spanish. It is found that, had the conventional wisdom been followed and the polls been conducted in English only, results would have been profoundly inaccurate and invalid. The authors further take advantage of bilingual survey research methodology and assess the level of difference between the survey responses of English-speaking and Spanish-speaking Latino voters, comparing the former to non-Hispanic White voters as well. It was found that, on average, English-speaking Hispanic voters gave sets of responses to different survey questions that were roughly equidistant between those of non-Hispanic Whites and Spanish-dominant Hispanics. The importance of these findings, not only for the survey research methods literature but also for assimilationist models of ethnicity, is assessed.

Full text is available here, gated.

The Monkey Cage

Tenther Senate Candidates Get Thumped At The Polls

November 3, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

For over a year, ThinkProgress has been tracking “tentherism”, the radical view that pretty much everything the federal government does is unconstitutional.  A shockingly large number of the GOP’s Senate candidates this cycle embraced tentherism, proclaiming that essential programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and the federal minimum wage are all unconstitutional.  Yet, even as Republicans as a whole rode the economic downturn to significant Congressional gains, the Party’s tenther slate massively underperformed:

To be fair, not every tenther candidate lost yesterday.  Senator-elect Rand Paul (R-KY) expressed tenther-driven opposition to the federal ban on whites-only lunch counters early in his race, although he quickly backed off this record after a disasterous interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.  Likewise, Senator-elect Mike Lee (R-UT) is also a fierce tenther, although he ran a much more low-profile race than co-ideologues such as Miller or Angle.

Nevertheless, it is significant that, in an election cycle that clearly favored Republicans, the most outspoken tenthers were unable to prevail even in the some of the reddest of red states.  It would have been a huge surprise if the GOP had not won Kentucky and Utah last night, and it is equally surprising that the GOP candidate lost very easy races in states like Alaska and Nevada. While there’s no way to spin last night’s results as a good thing for progressive policies, voters rejected the notion that Medicare, Social Security, Pell Grants, or basic labor protections should be on the chopping block.


2010 Exit Polls

November 3, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Are here.

The Monkey Cage

Exit Polls: Enough about the campaign – let’s talk about the campaign

November 3, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

(CNN) - It’s after midnight, which means the 2010 vote is over…and the 2012 race is officially underway.

In exit polls Tuesday, Republicans in three key early-voting states were asked about four of their leading presidential contenders.

In Iowa, it appears Mike Huckabee’s still got a base: the former Arkansas governor is tied with Mitt Romney at 21 percent, with Sarah Palin close behind at 18 percent, and Gingrich nabbing single-digit support.

In New Hampshire, former Massachusetts governor Romney displays his home court advantage: he draws more support, at 39 percent, than the rest of his top rivals combined. Palin once again nabs 18 percent, Huckabee drops to 11 percent, and Gingrich stays in the single digits.

And in the key early-voting state of South Carolina – where Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney both endorsed Gov.-elect Nikki Haley in the GOP primary this year – Palin, Huckabee and Romney are again neck-and-neck. The former Alaska governor has support from 25 percent in Tuesday’s exit poll, followed by Huckabee at 24 and Romney at 20. Newt Gingrich polls at 10 percent.

CNN Political Ticker

Exit Polls: Seniors break for the GOP

November 2, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

(CNN) - Midterm voters tend to be older than voters in general. But this year’s midterm voters aren’t just older than the voters who show up when the White House is up for grabs. They’re older than your typical midterm voter, period.

Seniors haven’t made up this big a share of voters since 1994. Twenty-four percent of those who cast ballots this year were over the age of 65 – and their support for Democrats has plummeted. Back in ’94, 48 percent of voters over age 65 backed Democratic candidates. In 2006 and ’08, 49 percent supported the party. This year, that number sank to 39 percent.

Seniors – who say they aren’t fans of the health care bill – have discovered a newfound fondness for the GOP: the Republican Party’s share of the senior vote soared from 48 percent last cycle to 58 percent this year.

CNN Political Ticker

The Early Exit Polls: Look, But Ignore

November 2, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

From CNN:

The economy isn’t just the most important issue to voters this year – with unemployment hovering around 9.6 percent, it’s roughly twice as important to them as the other top issues of concern combined, according to early exit polls. Sixty-two percent of voters name the economy as their most important issue this year. Health care ranks a distant second, at 19 percent. Illegal immigration and Afghanistan follow at 8 and 7 percent.


Voters may not be happy with the Democratic Party. But they aren’t too thrilled with the GOP either, according to early exit polls. Democrats have a 10-point favorability gap: 43 percent of voters have a positive opinion of the party, while 53 percent aren’t thrilled. The Republican Party also gets a thumbs-down from 53 percent of the nation’s voters, with just 41 percent saying they’re happy with the GOP.

Nate Silver, who is live-blogging, says these should be mostly ignored:

Whatever these polls say, you should mostly ignore them; early exit polls are not intended to be taken at face value and can even be rather misleading. Here are 10 other reasons to ignore them.

Ambers agrees with Nate.

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