Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

Posts Tagged ‘debate’

What the Polls are Really Saying

In Election Analysis, Polling, Presidential campaign on October 24, 2012 at 11:18 am

Republican lobbyist Mike Barbera contributes a guest column today, sharing his views about the presidential election. On Friday, we will feature a piece reflecting the Democratic perspective.

By Michael Barbera

It doesn’t seem to make any sense …

The American economy is burdened with sustained unemployment at levels never before seen in American history. Gas prices are through the roof. The budget deficit and national debt are both sky-high. Household incomes are down, and the housing market is still decimated all over the country. And that’s just the news here at home. Overseas, our embassies are attacked, our diplomats assassinated and our soldiers in Afghanistan are slaughtered by our so-called “allies.”

And yet according to the polls, until his poor debate performance in the first debate, Barack Obama was winning the race for the White House. In some polls he was ahead narrowly, in others he was ahead comfortably — but he was always ahead. How can that be right?

The simple fact is, it’s not. The president may or may not be ahead, but he is not winning. In fact, anyone who looks at the numbers closely realizes that the president’s electoral standing is perilous at best.

Why is it that so many talking heads have spent much time telling us that the president was winning? Quite simply, most of them read polls in a lazy and simplistic manner. Most observers only focus on the “horse race” — who is ahead and by how much. And for most of 2012, the president was ahead. So pundits simply regurgitate the numbers and pretend they know something.

At this stage of the race, horse race reporting doesn’t tell us very much. It doesn’t matter if Pres. Barack Obama leads former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by three points in Ohio or by six in Wisconsin, or whether he is ahead by one point in the Gallup poll or by five in the latest poll by the AP.

Here is what matters: how far is Pres. Obama from getting over 50 percent of the vote? And the answer, based on any fair reading of the evidence, is that he has a lot of work to do.

Look at the Real Clear Politics averages in the key battleground states. Even before Romney’s recent surge, the president was stuck between 47.1 percent and 48.8 percent in Florida, Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina, Iowa and Colorado. Karl Rove reported in the Wall Street Journal the day before the Denver debate that in 91 recent national polls “Mr. Obama was at or above the magic number of 50 percent in just 20. His average was 47.9 percent. Mr. Romney’s was 45.5 percent.”

The polls have now shifted after Romney’s strong debate performance and the president’s weak one in the first debate. The challenger cut into the president’s lead and in some cases erased it altogether.

That brings us to another popular myth about the polls — that they are constantly shifting. In fact, the president’s numbers have remained very steady. With the exception of a slight spike after the Democratic convention, the president is where he has always been — in the mid-to-high 40s. He has a solid base of loyalists, but he has not yet closed the deal with most voters — despite dominating the airwaves. According to the National Journal, as of Oct. 1, the Obama campaign spent a total of $285 million on broadcast and cable television, in addition to radio advertising, while the Romney camp spent just $117 million — and still the president was well-below the magical 50 percent mark. An incumbent stuck below 50 percent in October is an incumbent in trouble.

What has changed throughout the course of the campaign is the level of Romney’s support. This is no surprise. Like it or not, the American people have seen Obama in action. Most voters know whether they like him and whether they think he is doing a good job. Very few voters are truly undecided about him. Until very recently, many voters were very much undecided about Mitt Romney, however. That is why the president spent so much money over the summer on a steady drumbeat of negative advertising. The American people were not convinced by those ads, many of which were powerful. They wanted to decide for themselves about Mitt Romney, and a record 67 million people watched the first debate. Mitt Romney picked a good day to have a good day — and the president picked a bad day to have a bad one. Romney’s strong performance shook up the race, and he is almost certain to win decisively among late-deciding voters.

Many polls are also overstating the president’s support. These polls are using turnout models based on the 2008 election, which means the pollsters are betting that the electorate of 2012 will look a lot like the electorate of 2008. This is likely to be a losing bet.

The 2008 election featured the following: a historically unpopular Republican president, an economic meltdown one month before the election, an incredibly motivated Democratic base, a demoralized Republican base, record turnout of young voters, blacks and Latinos, and a sizable number of Republican crossover votes for Barack Obama. Does that sound like the electorate we have today? Yet many seemingly reputable pollsters construct their polling around 2008 models. I believe the technical polling term for this is “wishful thinking.”

If we look at the polls with a trained eye — and not simply repeat the horse race numbers fed to us by lazy pundits — it is clear that Obama is not winning. And if he isn’t winning now, he’s not likely to be ahead on Nov. 6.
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Michael Barbera is a lobbyist and consultant with the American Continental Group.

Romney Strikes Back

In Election Analysis, Polling, Presidential campaign on October 10, 2012 at 10:54 am

Just before the Oct. 3 presidential debate, conventional wisdom held that the national race had effectively ended and President Obama was on the threshold of clinching re-election. He was consistently ahead in all nationwide polls, and in every key swing state. Oh, what a difference a week makes.

With his debate performance as the catalyst propelling Republican nominee Mitt Romney back into contention, a series of new polls now shows a complete race reversal.

Eight national surveys were released yesterday and, for the first time, it is Romney who leads or is tied in the preponderance of them. Gallup, the American Research Group (ARG), Public Policy Polling, and the Investors Business Daily’s TIPP poll all post Romney to a lead of one or two points. Two studies, Ipsos/Reuters and Rasmussen Reports, project a tie between the two candidates, while UPI/CVoter and Zogby Research for The Washington Times still find the President leading by a lone percentage point.

But the national data tells only part of the story. In the most important core and secondary states of North Carolina, Ohio, Colorado and Nevada, Romney has gained strong momentum and leads in several polls.

North Carolina, by all accounts a critical core conversion state, yields to a Gravis Marketing study (Oct. 6-8; 1,325 likely North Carolina voters) that projects Romney to a major 50-41 percent lead, obviously his biggest margin of the campaign in the Tar Heel State. Along with Florida, Ohio and Virginia, North Carolina is in virtual must-win status for the Romney campaign.

Ohio, another of the four core states, features trends that are mixed in declaring a leader, but all polls show significant movement for Romney. The American Research Group (Oct. 5-8; 600 likely Ohio voters) gives the challenger a one-point 48-47 percent edge. Survey USA (Oct. 5-8; 808 likely and actual Ohio voters) also finds a one point difference between the candidates, but their data still has the President in front, by a scant 45-44 percent margin. Finally, in better news for Obama, the CNN/ORC survey (Oct. 5-8; 888 likely voters) gives the president a 51-47 percent lead.

In the secondary states, the places Romney would need to win should he fail to carry all four of the core states, are also turning in favorable numbers for the GOP challenger. Colorado, a state trending blue in 2008 and electing a Democratic senator in the Republican landslide year of 2010, has been showing signs of returning to the GOP column. The latest ARG poll (Oct. 5-8; 600 likely Colorado voters) gives Romney his first Centennial State lead, 50-46 percent, after following closely behind Obama even in the days when the president was beginning to break away in other places.

Staying out west in Nevada, another state showing signs of returning to the Republican fold after four years of relatively consistent Democratic voting patterns, Rasmussen Reports (Oct. 8; 500 likely Nevada voters) projects the two candidates being tied at 47 percent.

The latest swing toward Romney is actually quite consistent with voter behavior throughout this election cycle. The electorate has often moved both quickly and wildly in responding to late-breaking events. Such is the case with the Romney debate performance. It remains to be seen if this direction holds or if voters will soon snap back toward the president.

The next two presidential debates have now assumed an aura of much greater importance in determining the final outcome of this hotly contested race. Will Romney again be dominant? Will the president rebound? Is the swing toward Romney the beginning of a trend, or a mere blip? Time will soon bring us the answers.

Romney’s Debate Win Has Legs

In Polling, Presidential campaign on October 9, 2012 at 11:14 am

Mitt Romney

The Gallup organization projects Mitt Romney to be the most decisive debate winner in the history of the presidential debates. According to a cell sample of 749 debate watchers questioned over a two-day period following the Oct. 3 forum, Romney was viewed to have won by a 72-20 percent margin, the largest-ever spread. But, does a debate win really carry over into the presidential campaign itself? At least in the short-term, apparently so. Gallup shows the race closing to 48-46 percent in favor of President Obama from the previous 50-45 percent, and the post-debate track reveals a dead even 47-47 percent result.

The Pew Research Center was also in the field during this same time period (Oct. 4-7), recording the responses of 1,112 likely voters from a polling universe of 1,511 adults. Though a few more Republicans were polled than Democrats (403-396), all the aggregate answers were weighted to bring the sampling universe in line with the actual national totals. The weighted responses gave Romney a similar 66-20 percent split in terms of perceiving the debate winner.

Pew also found Romney gaining in some other key areas. In terms of answering which of the two candidate has new ideas, it is now the Republican who is perceived to have them by a 47-40 percent margin, and he’s pulled even with Obama (47-47 percent) as to who is the stronger leader. Romney also is favored to be more successful in reducing the federal budget deficit (51-36 percent), improving the job situation (49-41 percent), and in handling tax policy (47-43 percent). The president is still perceived as the better person to handle Medicare (51-38 percent), health care (47-44 percent, though that margin swung a net 10 points in Romney’s favor since their Sept. 12-16 poll), and in making wise foreign policy decisions (47-43 percent).

The next presidential debates, scheduled for Oct. 16 and 22 will take on a whole new aura and meaning, after what happened in the first meeting. If Romney has accomplished anything, he has put national debating on center stage.

Obama-Romney, Debate I: Some Agreement

In Presidential campaign on October 4, 2012 at 10:42 am

Several points of agreement came from last night’s post-debate analysis of the presidential forum from the University of Denver.

First, commentators from both the left and right were relatively unanimous in their analysis that Republican nominee Mitt Romney was the aggressor and took better command of the debate than a more subdued Pres. Barack Obama. Liberal commentator Chris Matthews went so far as to say the President should watch his MSNBC show and other such programs to better learn how to respond to partisan Republican arguments.

Additionally, there appears to be general agreement that the President not having to directly face a political opponent in four years showed. Some said the incumbent always is at a disadvantage in these types of forums because he must defend his current record. Others echoed statements that expectations were very high for Obama and that he failed to meet them. Most said Romney probably tightened the race because of his performance.

Another area of agreement concerned a generally weak and poor performance from moderator Jim Lehrer. Ironically, his failure to manage the time properly and stop both candidates from exceeding their answer limits actually might have made for a truer debate because there was more direct interaction between the two men. As an amusing aside, Obama campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter went a bit further in her criticism of Lehrer. She said, “I sometimes wondered if we even needed a moderator because we had Mitt Romney.”

Candidate Debates Do Matter

In Presidential campaign on October 19, 2011 at 12:07 pm

The latest Republican presidential debate was held last night in Las Vegas and, at least among the candidates themselves, it appears that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry are still the top two contenders. They, with their podiums next to each other on center stage, dominated the evening’s responses and personal confrontations.

Even though retired businessman Herman Cain is surprisingly atop many current state polls, he appeared to retreat somewhat into the background of this forum as the candidates actively engaged each other more so than in previous debates. CNN host and debate moderator Anderson Cooper allowed the candidates more freedom in engaging their opponents and provided adequate time to answer the questions, leading to what became a lively evening.

Perry, coming into this debate with his back against the wall after performing poorly in two previous sessions, came on strong, particularly against Romney, over several issues. He was much more articulate and confrontational than in the past, and appeared to have a greater presence on stage. Whether this translates into positive momentum before the GOP primary voting public is yet to be determined.

Polls have already shown major ebbs and flows for Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN-6), Perry, and Cain throughout the course of the fledging campaign. Bachmann won the Iowa Straw Poll in August and then immediately began tumbling downward, landing solidly in the single-digit second tier.

Cain has experienced the opposite course. Largely due to his debate performances, he has gained considerable strength and risen to the top echelon. How long he will stay there is anyone’s guess.

Gov. Perry had a meteoric rise as soon as he entered the race, but fell quickly back after two sub-standard debate performances and a lack of taking any overt action to reverse his slide.

Therefore, the statistical data as reflected in state and national political polls, makes It apparent that the eight debates, only one of which appeared on a broadcast network, are nonetheless having a clear effect upon the early stages of this race.

So far, there is only one candidate who has appeared to rebound after falling into oblivion. And, it is only through his superior debate performances to which his rise can be traced, since the public forums are the semblance of his campaign. This man is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Driven to the 3 percent range nationally after a disastrous start that saw most of his top campaign staff bolting to the Perry campaign, Gingrich is now coming back to the low double-digit mark — right around where he started. It is doubtful, however, he will ever leap back into serious contention because of a lack of a campaign organization and a fundraising machine that is badly in need of repair (Gingrich has only $353,000 cash on hand as of the latest Sept. 30, 2011 campaign financial disclosure report). In the latest Public Policy Polling national survey (Oct. 7-10) the former Speaker has climbed into third place, behind Cain and Romney, with a surprising 15 percent of the Republican primary vote.

Can Perry follow a similar course to that of Gingrich? He needs to, and his challenge last night was to launch himself on such a trajectory.

The polls have told us two things. First, Mr. Romney, despite always placing near the top in every survey, has a ceiling in the low 20s that he can’t seem to crash through. This makes him vulnerable to a candidate who can break out of the pack and contest him in a one-on-one battle. Of all the candidates, Perry is still the only one who has the financial resources to land in such a position, particularly if he successfully portrays himself as the conservative alternative to the more moderate Romney.

The second finding is that debate performances can tangibly send a candidate spiraling — either up or down, as Gingrich, Perry, and Cain have all proven. With the Iowa Caucuses now set for Jan. 3, 2012, and New Hampshire possibly moving to December, Phase I of the election cycle has officially drawn to a close. Now, they begin playing for keeps.