Patterico's Pontifications


The poll to watch right now

Filed under: 2012 Election — Karl @ 11:05 am

[Posted by Karl]

To quote CBS News political director John Dickerson, right now there are more polls than in a Warsaw bar.  For political news junkies, Nate Silver offers helpful advice on poll-watching.  I don’t necessarily agree with every point (his attacks on forecasting models are not only misguided, but downright funny coming from Silver, who built a model that is worse than those he criticizes), but overall I recommend reading the whole thing.

The main point Silver misses — perhaps because poll analysis is his blogging bread and butter —  is that head-to-head polls at this point in election cycle explain less than 50% of eventual results.

This early in the cycle, I would prefer to follow Pres. Obama’s job approval number.  Sean Trende notes the longstanding correlation between the incumbent’s job approval rating and the vote share ultimately received on Election Day.  He also notes the close correlation in the 2012 campaign so far:

Since January of this year, the president’s share of the vote against Romney has been, on average, within .55 points of his job approval in the RCP Average on any given day (the median is .5 points). There has only been one day, back on Jan. 10, where he ran more than two points ahead of his job approval. This tendency translates to individual polls as well. ***

On average, Obama runs .93 percent ahead of his job approval. We also might note that there seems to be some systemic bias in Pew that has the president running unusually well (vis a vis other pollsters) compared to his job approval. If you assume that something in Pew’s methodology renders it an outlier, the president would run .42 percent ahead of his job approval.

Thus, this early in the cycle, rather than fret over each poll that comes in, a good number to consider would be Obama’s average job approval +.5 percent.

However, it’s also possible that number could be a ceiling at any given moment.  Harry J. Enten has a very nice piece extending Silver’s final point about the small number of elections usually studied (16) makes the notion of “rules” about elections a risky enterprise.  Read the whole thing, because there’s plenty of good stuff there beyond what he says about presidential job approval:

Approval ratings are great at predicting winners, but they are inexact. The perceived ideology of an opponent may not play the biggest role in determining the winner, but it does play some role. Also, these historic approval polls are of adults generally, not actual voters – who tend to be somewhat more Republican.

In this particular cycle, Mitt Romney’s moderate image probably helps him by a percentage point or two (which is why Team Obama is trying to paint him as the most right-wing candidate since Barry Goldwater).  And the fact that the electorate trends more GOP than the general population also helps Romney.  Sean Trende is correct in claiming Obama can win if he boosts his job approval by a couple of points, which is entirely possible.  However, Jay Cost correctly notes Obama has not managed this consistently in over two years.


37 Responses to “The poll to watch right now”

  1. Ding!

    Karl (6f7ecd)

  2. I understand forecasting at this point in the election year is a risky business. I accept that the correlation between job approval and vote share is a safer bet. And I agree that this will probably be a referendum on Obama rather than a choice between Obama and Romney. But I hit the wall when it comes to math:

    Thus, this early in the cycle, rather than fret over each poll that comes in, a good number to consider would be Obama’s average job approval +.5 percent.

    Why isn’t that “job approval x .5 percent”? And if it is “job approval + .5 percent,” can you give me some numerical examples?

    DRJ (a83b8b)

  3. i keep remembering that even though I’m constitutionally constructed so as to despise your statist mandate-loving pandering whore Mitt Romney types, after awhile even amidst a vicious primary he seemed like the closest thing to a genuinely nice person in the whole admittedly lackluster bunch

    happyfeet (3c92a1)

  4. The four-week moving average of initial claims for jobless benefits is far more of a useful election indicator than media polling. If new jobless claims continue creeping up towards 400,000 per week, and then remain at that highly-elevated level into November, it’ll be extraordinarily unlikely that Obama will be reelected, regardless of how many irrational conservatives stay home and don’t vote and regardless of what the likes of Gallup say about the state of the contest.

    Tsar Nicholas II (89a442)

  5. ‘lies, damn lies and statistics’ polls that rejigger
    the sample to an 11 point DEm advantage, don’t matter, and worse yet they skew the RCP average.

    narciso (8d0f34)

  6. I saw something interesting in a Reuters piece the other day… they were doing a sort of overview of stock market volatility and whatnot and just sort of casually dropped this idea in:

    The early 2011 market rally faded after a massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan, which has the world’s third-largest economy. And after a large drop triggered by the downgrade of the U.S. credit rating, the S&P rallied to close the year flat.


    Was it a mistake? Did they forget that they’re supposed to blame the malaise of that period on “the debt-ceiling debate“?

    Or is this just a rare case of historical revisionism where the result is more accurate?

    It’s very confuzzling for me when the propaganda whores go off-narrative. I just don’t know what to believe.

    happyfeet (3c92a1)

  7. well aware of teh
    U-turn that must be taken
    voters shun malaise

    Colonel Haiku (f4b1c2)

  8. Tax the rich so government can create jobs? I thought we tried that.

    AZ Bob (1c9631)

  9. DRJ,

    The RCP average for Obama’s job approval today is 47.4%. Thus, based on Trende’s math (because I have thought there’s something off about the Pew numbers for months) I would expect that if the election were today, Obama would net about 48% of the vote. At max, maybe 48.4% (47.4 + .93).

    Karl (6f7ecd)

  10. narciso,

    The nice thing about my suggestion is that job approval polling is so nicely binary that you can simply shave off a couple of tenths of a point when a poll like that WaPo poll is in the average.

    Another way to look at it is that if job approval is the best number to look at now, and Obama only gets to 50 with a D+11 sample, he’s in some trouble.

    Karl (6f7ecd)

  11. Tsar Nicholas II,

    The rate of decline or increase in jobless claims would be a good number to look at… if the Admin hadn’t understated them by 100K since November.

    Karl (6f7ecd)

  12. Thanks, Karl. It’s so simple and obvious when you put it like that!

    DRJ (a83b8b)

  13. These polls are not very predictive this far in advance of the election. If Obama is down in late September, after he GOP convention, I expect we can look for some event to change the dynamics. An attack on Iran would be the most extreme. I wouldn’t put it past Obama to do something like this. Re-election trumps all. After all, his model FDR, did some manipulation of war activity to avoid elections. Johnson did the same, for example intervening in the Congo in 1964. Of course, the Tonkin Gulf trumped that but he couldn’t know in advance.

    Mike K (326cba)

  14. Thanks, Karl what is more significant, is that Gallup, the old mainstay, has him below Carter at this time.

    narciso (8d0f34)

  15. I should clarify that the Congo was a big issue until Tonkin Gulf. Goldwater suggested we “change sides” in the Congo and Johnson delayed intervention until after the election. Nobody remembers that now but it could have been a big deal if Vietnam hadn’t intervened.

    Mike K (326cba)

  16. Here is the trend in initial jobless claim. Check out that slope:

    Jeremy Wolcott (4228f0)

  17. what does it look like if you graph initial jobless claims against food stamp applications I wonder

    happyfeet (3c92a1)

  18. my dead son bought me a big screen telly

    a big screen telly

    I put it on my wall!

    my dead son bought me a big screen telly

    you should come over and watch CSI with us laters we have sandwich cookies and dr. pepper but if you want to bring something that would be fine too

    happyfeet (3c92a1)

  19. hmm. wrong thread.

    you’ll just have to wonder I guess

    happyfeet (3c92a1)

  20. HF, quite the non sequitur, even for you.

    Gazzer (130c87)

  21. yes that was exceedingly random wasn’t it Mr. Gazzer

    happy Erf Day have you seen google’s logo yet?

    happyfeet (3c92a1)

  22. Jeremy Ocelot is a clown.

    JD (9e6048)

  23. Goldwater was probably a supporter of Tsombe, I knew
    Buchanan certainly was, although Johnson supported Mobutu, which in retrospect was a bad move,

    narciso (8d0f34)

  24. Just checked it out HF. Funny enough, yesterday me and Mrs Gazzer planted two cape plumbagos and a snail vine.

    Gazzer (130c87)

  25. Take this poll it has a 41/32 advantage for Obama,

    narciso (8d0f34)

  26. I’m not planting anything this year gonna wait til next year I think… except I might start a pencil cactus or something… my mint doesn’t look like it’s coming back this year, and if that’s the case then I’ll do a pencil cactus in that pot and ass some colanchos later

    but that’s the extent of my erfy ambitions

    happyfeet (3c92a1)

  27. *add* some colanchos later I mean

    happyfeet (3c92a1)

  28. Planted asparagus, artichokes and fed my worms.

    sickofrinos (44de53)

  29. And cut down five pine trees

    sickofrinos (44de53)

  30. Romney thinks all he has to do is mention the economy. He doesn’t have to use logic or anything.

    Meanwhile Obama thinks he can this election, not into Truman vs Dewey, but Johnson v Goldwater!

    Sammy Finkelman (75d53e)

  31. * Obama thinks he can turn this election…

    The Goldwater comparison has come up twice already.

    This doesn’t make any sense, unless he’s hoping to crush Romney on the illegal immigration issue. If so, he’s so far holding it back.

    Sammy Finkelman (75d53e)

  32. Election update:

    There are Presidential primaries tomorrow in New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Delaware. In New York, this is only a Presidential primary – in some other states, like Pennsylvania there will be other races. In New York, also it is only on the Republican side – only people who have been registered Republicans since before November 8, 2011, or who are newly registered in New York state since that time, and registered as a Republican, can vote in this primary. No documents or ID than your signature, and knowledge of where to go, are needed except for newly registered voters. Pennsylvania passed some kind of ID law but it doesn’t take effect until later.

    From information in the New York Times:

    If Romney wins all five primaries, as he was expected to do even before Santorum stopped campaigning because of lack of money, he may get officially recognized as the likely nominee by the Republican National Committee. Some press conferences may be called as early as Wednesday.

    Romney also thinks that would make it easier for him to raise money from small donors. He may also get a bunch of endorsements on Wednesday. He will also try to win over conservatives with things like giving a speech at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. Romney will also change his speeches. They are already no longer focused on the other candidates for the Republican nomination for president.

    Sammy Finkelman (75d53e)

  33. Local election update:

    The March 20 election for the New York State Senate in Brooklyn, to succeed Carl Krugar, who resigned on December 21, 2011 before pleading guilty, is still unsettled.

    On Election night, Republican David Storobin was leading Democrat City Councilman Lew Fidler by 120 votes out of 22,000 cast. Now, after opening the absentee ballots his lead is down to 3 votes (yesterday’s New York PostBrooklyn Weekly section) or 2 votes. And there wil be a hand recount. The winner may never get to cast a vote as the State Senate plans to adjourn by June 30 and the seats is being eliminated through redistricting The Senate Republicans actually added 1 seat making the total now 63, but the boundaries are all different in Brooklyn)

    The Board of Elections counted half of the 700 bsentee and affidavit ballots. Both sides contested some 300 ballots. Court referees determined that more than 2/3 were valid, but that left 119 ballots that Fiedler was claiming Storobin obtained illegally, for Supreme Court (the lowest, not the highest, court in New York State) Judge Larry Martin to review.

    Martin will schedule a hearing. This was scheduled on April 4 to take place at the end of April. If, at the end of the proceedings, neither candidate is leading by at least 110 votes (1/2 of 1% of all votes cast) there will be a hand recount.

    Kruger will be sentenced on Thursday. He basically laundered bribe money through members of a family he was living with. Nothing was in his name.

    Kruger’s district was drawn for him by the Republicans and they even made him Chairman of the Finance Committee while they were in control. He was one of the 4 amigos to put the State Senate into turmoil in the spring of 2009, when it became deadlocked as to party control. His mail to constituents never said a word about that, nor gave a hint about his legal troubles later and his last mailing was sent just a few days before the end.

    The Senate Republicans, like the Assembly Democrats violated their pledges to Ed Koch to have a non-partisan redistricting panel do the actual work. The Senate enlarged the Senate to 63 members because a plan they had would work with it. There were two ways of interpreting the state constitution — they could have 62, like now, or 64 butthose chose some reasoning to get 63, and were taken into court but the lawsuit lost because it was 100% clear they were wrong. The districts are not actually of equal population size. They deviate as much as Baker v Carr will let them. About 4% I think.

    In Brooklyn, they created a so-called “super-Jewish” district which Democratic politicians opposed. City Councilman David Greenfield said nobody needs a district with 70% Jewish voters. (he may have been arguing theoretically) That gets you one State Senator. Best is about 40% which could carry influence on several Senate seats on any kind of special issues.

    But the idea, of course, was that maybe this way they could elect a Republican, or a Democrat who would help them out if control of the Senate was close.I read it may have been intended for former City Concilman Simcha Felder. Simcha Felder had resigned to become deputy controller to John Liu, possibly intending to run for Controller when Liu ran for Mayor in 2013, but John Liu is in disgrace and his candidacy for Mayor is going nowhere but he might attempt to run for re-election as controller although I think he indicated he didn’t want to. John Liu is in a lot of trouble over his campaign financing and maybe somebody in some way affiliated with or supporting him also ran Operation Weiner Schnitzel.

    Simcha Felder has now arranged a non-leave of absence. He will campaign night and weekends (which means only Sunday, except maybe for informal appearances near where he lives or possibly just regular attendance at his synagogue)

    The city has rules that say someone who runs for city office cannot collect a city salary at the same time, but – hey, that’s city office, and this is a State Senate seat.

    Storobin is a problem for some people, as he might try running in the new district too. It has far fewer Jews who came from Russian (actually more Ukraine) but still some.

    There will be 3 different primary elections in New York State this year. First April 24, the presidential primary. Then, June 26, for the U.S. House of Representatives and The United States Senate for the seat Kirsten Gillebrand has nwand has now. That is a separate primary because a federal law says military ballots must be mailed out no later than 45 days before the election, and if they hold the election on the usual date the second Tuesday in September, September 11th let alone on September 18,they won’t be able to certify the results by September 21 or 22nd.

    But that law only applies to federal offices. Members of the state legislature did not want to push the primary back to August, because then it is in the late summer, and many of their constituents (or campaign workers?) are on vacation, and they didn’t want to push it back to June, like it was up to about 1974, and coincided with the presidential primaries and was held 3 weeks after California , because in June they would still be in session and couldn’t campaign without being accused of derelict in their duties, so they let a judge schedule a primary only for federal offices for June 26 (the 4th Tuesday in June) and have their own primaries in September.

    Sammy Finkelman (75d53e)

  34. I should add that Simcha Felder may take a week’s vacation at the end.

    About the argument that a split of a constituency among several districts with no district having more than 40% is best:

    This kind of thinking is good for blacks too, or any minority group, but in the case of blacks the policy is really intended to help black incumbents. Well mostly. Actualy it is intended to keep numbers of seats occupied by black politicians up.

    Influence on issues in the legislature doesn’t count, which is why in many states, Republicans like this kind of gerrymandering.

    Congressman Ed Towns decided to retire because his district was substantially redrawn and now they’ve got black racist, Charles Barron ,and a not quite so bad person running for the seat.

    And Charlie Rangel’s district now takes up a lot of territory in the Bronx and is 55% Hispanic. Of course few people really think of themselves as “Hispanic” or “Latino” but rather, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Cuban, Mexican and so on so it is not as difficult for him as it might appear. His main opponent is Dominican.

    Sammy Finkelman (75d53e)

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