The ABC’S Of Polling

Tom Donelson
September 28, 2012 Posted by Tom Donelson

For those who read polls on a daily basis and see a Obama sweep coming, let me explain a few pointers about the polls you read..

First, most of the polls are skewed to Obama.  How, you may ask?  By oversampling Democrats.  Most pollsters are basing their polling data upon a model that equal or exceeds the 2008 turnout.  Democrats came out in full force in 2008 and had a seven point advantage, reflected in Obama’s margin.  The question this time is will this actually happen again?  If it doesn’t, Obama will lose.  Those pollsters argue in favor of this because of a higher minority turnout and demographics that favor Democrats.  And this is not an unreasonable argument.

However there are factors that go against this right now. In 2010, Republicans exceeded their 2008 turnout percentages.  In an economy that sucks and a Middle East that is imploding  the odds that Democrats repeat their 2008 performance is nonsense.  Jay Cost of  The Weekly Standard has made the case that the polls including those in battleground states are skewed in favor of Obama by 3 to 4 points.   While it is possible that pollsters are right that Democrats turnout will match their 2008 turnouts, the odds are against it.  Jay Cost believes that the turnout may be in between 2004 and 2008.  This would resemble the average turnout over the past four decades and points to a close race.

Secondly,  how many of these voters are willing to change their minds?  In reviewing polls from the various battleground states, I have noticed that many voters are not only undecided but are willing to change their vote if situation warrants it.  I have seen as much 20% who are either undecided or willing to change.  That is the unpredictable aspects that pollsters can’t truly measure.  Conventional wisdom has very few ready to change and undecideds shrinking.  I disagree and there is enough data to show this to be case.  Question:  Does this benefit the incumbent or challenger?

In 1980, Carter had 45 to 50% on most polls throughout the fall of 1980 and there were times his polls numbers were similar to what we are seeing now.  He ended up with 42% and Reagan significantly outperformed every poll number he had before the election.  Many of those undecided and those willing to change went for Reagan.  So can it happen again?  Yes.

Which brings me to final point, this election is close and within one or two points.  Obama, just like Carter, has the media on his side and running interference.  Let’s face it, if you read the New York Times, you would be hardly aware that Obama’s policy has collapsed in the Middle East and you read the economy is humming on all cycles.  The New York Times has done a pretty good job of hiding what is really happening and essentially the front page mimics Democratic talking points.  Reagan had the ability to go over the top of the media and in the final debate, he showed himself Presidential and hardly the crazy old coot who was just anxious to let loose the nukes on Russia.

There is the problem that all Republican must face is that Romney is not Reagan when it comes to making his case.  The questions of what is the reality of the Middle East; why are Middle Class income dropping; and why is American standing in the world dropping and a President that is out of his league pop through Media pandering for Obama?

It is up to Romney to make his case and for those of us who understand this country is in deep trouble to outwork our opponent.  This race is far from over and we are not dealing with a great Philosopher king but an overrated talent who is not as smart as he or the media thinks he is and a America that is imploding.  Where voters overlook the media message and see what is truly in front of them?  And can Romney point the way effectively?    This won’t be 2008 but it could be 1980.

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16 Responses to The ABC’S Of Polling

  1. David Burris on September 29, 2012 at 7:01 pm


    First of all, conservatives can keep saying over and over that pollsters are using 2008 turnout models, but that does not make it so. What is true is that pollsters ask respondents their party affiliation and the fact is there has been a shift of several percentage points in favor of self-identified Democratic party affiliation in the past few months, most likely in reaction to Republican extremism on social issues, Social Security and Medicare. Actually, about half of the major polls use automated calling, which means that they are prohibited by law from calling cell phones. Almost 1/3 of Americans now rely solely on cell phones and do not have landlines, and those people tend to fit Democratic demographics, so, if anything, the average of all polls may be under-reporting President Obama’s true support. Please do some additional research on the “2008 turnout model” fallacy and get back to me on it.

    Second of all, conservatives can keep saying how awful the economy is, but no matter how many times they say it, that does not make it awful. The BLS just revised total nonfarm private jobs up 453,000 in their annual revision. Do you know what that means? It means that there are now finally more nonfarm private sector jobs in August 2012 (111.9 million) than there were when Bush took office 10 1/2 years ago in January 2001 (111.0 million). It also means that there are 5.1 million more private sector nonfarm jobs than they were when the Recession hit bottom in February 2010 (I believe the Recession is Bush’s responsibility, but I think we can all at least agree it is not President Obama’s responsibility). Also, we have had 30 straight months of private sector job growth since the Recession hit bottom and the stock market (and most related 401(k)s) has doubled in value. Could be better, but certainly not awful.

    Third of all, I know conservatives are grasping for a lifeline, but comparing modern scientific polling techniques to the primitive polling that was being done 32 years ago is like comparing an iPad to a TI-99/4A.

    Finally, I know we have a “bet,” but can we also have a gentleman’s understanding that if Romney does somehow pull this one out, then imposes the “Bain Model” on America, and forces this country into a 10-year Great Economic Depression, that you won’t try to blame President Obama, or President Clinton, or President Carter, for our plight. Deal?

    Respectfully submitted,

    Dave Burris

  2. Tom Donelson on September 30, 2012 at 7:33 am

    First, polls are weighted if they don’t get the right mixture in their polling and since this is what I do for a living and I am aware of the facts of various bias. Any poll that is greater 3.5% Democratic is bias and the media should at least be honest about the flaw of their poll. But if you are looking for truth from the media, hell will freeze over.

    If minority turnout hit 2008 models, then the polls are accurate. That will be the reason that Obama wins his re-election. If he don’t then the election is up for grabs.

    Second, you are still drinking the cool-aid on the economic. As I will mention in a future article, you don’t account for those jobs Obamanomics have quit producing. And my data presented over the past months are superior to the same talking points you keep throwing up.

    :Middle income declining during a recovery and participation rate declining. Those things don’t happen in a true recovery. The job data you brag about is half of what pass recovery. No matter how many lipssticks you put on a pig, it is a pig. If you read my past pieces you will know that we will have a rough 2013 and many economists are in agreement in me. This is your great recovery that is collapsing! QE3 is a admission of the failure of Obamanomics. Even the Fed has admitted the economy is as we say in Iowa buffalo chips! If the economy was humming and as great as you bragged about or moving forward, QE3 is not needed. Repeat QE3 is an admission that economy is in trouble! Case close.

    What you liberals don’t see is that Obama has kept an recovery from happening and if he manages to get elected, you will see a real Depression. Romney economics is the solution to Obamanomics and the coming recession to keep it from a depression. Even a smart person like you can see that economy has perform subpar! Just look at California and you see our future.

    I will give you the last word, but if the economy goes up a crapper next year under President Romney, it will be because he is cleaning up the mess of Obamanomics. Just as Obama inherited a mess from Bush, Romney will inherit an economy that is worse than what you will admit.

    One thing, over the past several years, I have been critical of those mistakes Bush made and even noted those things that Clinton got right, even if he was a cad personally. I would wish those who drink Obama cool-aid would recognize the danger of what Obama is leaving future generation. Sarah Palin may see Russia from her house in Alaska but no one can see the end of the debt produced by Obama.

  3. Tom Donelson on September 30, 2012 at 7:47 am

    Sorry, I promise to give you the last word, if you read my piece I make it clear that pollsters maybe right but as of now, it is closer than most pollsters have it. I study many polls and my area of expertise is minority voter turnout. The number of voters willing to change their mind is higher than being reported and the voters are still in flux. I will tell you that there is at least 20% either undecided or willing to change their mind. And I see this among minorities. And those willing to change their mind are just as likely to stay home. I will tell you for a fact that many Democrats are worried about minority turnout. The question is how will those 20% go? Does it benefit Romney or Obama? That is the million dollar question and the fate of the election. Too many pollsters and political strategists are fighting last year election.

    There are five weeks left and who knows what disaster that this administration is keeping from exploding. Europe on the brink, Middle East imploding, the recovery slowing to a crawl and back to a recession. Will it happen before the election? Maybe we should let Obama win for he will lead us into the next great Deprssion and no Democrat will win for a generation after that. Good thing I am patriot and will not allow my long term poliical objectives get in the way of saving America.


  4. David Burris on September 30, 2012 at 9:39 am

    I get the last word again? This could be habit forming.

    My understanding is that pollsters correct for demographic factors, like race or sex, but don’t adjust for “opinion” factors, like self-identified party affiliation. To do so would invalidate the poll at its most basic level. I don’t dispute that there are some undecideds and turnout is key, but considering the four recent events: 1) the poor RNC convention; 2) the good DNC convention; 3) Romney’s poor un-presidential reaction to Libya; 4) the release of the “47%” tape that reinforced voters worst fears about Romney, it is no surprise that President Obama has taken a real lead in the polls and that it will probably take some cataclysmic positive event for Romney to get back in this race.

    I think we both are guilty of mis-characterizing the hyperbole we both engage in, but I never said the economy was “great.” What I said was, “Could be better, but certainly not awful.” That is far from great. We are digging out of the deepest of deep holes, so comparison to previous recoveries is probably not fair.

    Rather than either of us cherry picking some data that is unflattering to the President, I would really like to know what is wrong with pointing out data from the BLS that shows 5.1 million private sector nonfarm jobs created in 30 months, 5 times more than the net created in 8 years under Bush. Do you really think Romney would have done better with his “Bain model” of slashing efficiencies, outsourcing jobs, and moving investments to other countries? I just don’t see how, and I am smart :)

    I also don’t understand why the FED taking action means failure. The FED’s mission, by law, includes: “conducting the nation’s monetary policy by influencing the monetary and credit conditions in the economy in pursuit of maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates.” Are you suggesting that if the FED takes action consistent with their legal mission that means the administration has failed? Why do we have a FED, so they can do nothing?

    You have my permission to respond if you wish.

  5. Tom Donelson on September 30, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    Fed Statement makes it clear that its action is due to economic weakness and since Fed responsiblity should be to stablize monetary policy, the easy money policy for the past four years means economy sucks. Why is that so hard to understand?

    If Romney policy recomendations were followed in 2009, we would have been at job creation twice where we at. How do I know? Past economic record. If Romney ran on Obama record, you will be writing my pieces and I will be one to force to cherry pick data to defend him.

    From George Mason school economic makes my case even better:

    “balanced approach” has proven a recipe for disaster. In a 2009 paper, Harvard University’s Alberto Alesina and Silvia Ardagna looked at 107 attempts to reduce the ratio of debt to gross domestic product over 30 years in countries in the OECD. They found fiscal adjustments consisting of both tax increases and spending cuts generally failed to stabilize the debt and were also more likely to cause economic contractions. On the other hand, successful austerity packages resulted from making spending cuts without tax increases. They also found this form of austerity is more likely associated with economic expansion rather than with recession….While the “balanced approach” may give the appearance of pursuing fiscal solvency, in practice it stagnates the possibility of growth. Real fiscal reform comes from a commitment to cut spending and from structural changes to taxation and the regulatory environment.” Translation, the weak recovery that is slowing down to a crawl is a result of bad policy and when you review 40 years of data, Romney/Ryan plan is superior to Obama/Biden. Not hard to comprehend. And if Obama did it differently, we would all be better off. Or least I forget, GM since it bankruptcy has created and move more jobs OVERSEAS than it protected home. Obama loves your idea of the Bain model. Only he does it with taxpayer dollars. You are so smart and so brilliantly wrong. Nice try, you are good at defending leftist ideology. As I have stated in the past, you do it better than Obama and his team does it. Now I have made my case in enough piecs over the past several months and I have two more pieces to continue my education of Obama voters. Who knows, you will wake up and say, Yes I get it!


    • David Burris on September 30, 2012 at 8:45 pm

      Additional bet proposal: If President Obama wins re-election, in addition to the 5.1 million jobs he has created in the past 30 months, he will create an additional 5.1 million jobs by January 2016. To clarify the bet metric, BLS Table B-1 (Seasonally adjusted) will show 117.0 million private sector nonfarm jobs by then. I actually believe it will be 120.0 million, but I think my proposed bet of 117.0 million is a fair one.

      Are we on?

  6. Tom Donelson on September 30, 2012 at 10:04 pm

    I want to add one more item. Labor particpation must be over 64.5%. 50 Dollars to the winner charity of choice.


    • David Burris on October 1, 2012 at 7:11 am

      I don’t know, I am thinking of retiring for good. That, in and of itself, could lower the participation rate significantly…okay…jobs 117.0 million and LPR 64.5%. Both have to be met, or the donation to charity is void. You do understand that as the population ages, the LPR would naturally go down, right?

  7. Tom Donelson on October 1, 2012 at 8:06 am

    We’re on. I should add that I took in account that greying of America would decrease labor particpation in a piece written September 20th and the LPR that I selected gives you the advantage even with greying of America thrown. Which is us.

  8. David Burris on October 1, 2012 at 9:40 am

    I realize you were being “liberal” in your LPR, that is why I didn’t counter-offer. Deal.

    • David Burris on October 5, 2012 at 8:56 am

      Great news for the country:

      Greatest increase in total employment (873,000) in 29 years; number of unemployed persons decreased 456,000; 418,000 people returned to the labor force; LPR increased to 63.6%; previous two months revised upwards.

      At least we can all agree that these real numbers are good for America, no matter who gets credit (Obama, Obama, Obama!)

      • Frank DeMartini on October 5, 2012 at 10:10 am

        600,000 people accepted part time work and therefore are not included in the unemployment rate. U6 is still at 14.7%. The amount not participating in the Labor Force went to an all time high: .2% above last months. I thinks this is cooking the books dude.

        Wake up!

        • David Burris on October 5, 2012 at 12:55 pm

          Last week we made a bet on LPR, this week you choose a different metric. Next week? Amount of rainfall in Omaha maybe?

          Be happy for America, dude!

          • David Burris on October 5, 2012 at 6:07 pm

            BTW, isn’t U6 of 14.7% better than U6 of 16.4% one year ago? Or lower than U6 of 17.1% at the bottom of the Recession?

          • Frank DeMartini on October 6, 2012 at 11:32 am

            You didn’t make a bet with me. You made a bet with my partner, Tom. Aren’t you even looking at who you are talking to. Of course, U6 of 14.7% is better than 17.1%, but how do you explain away the simple fact that we now have the lowest participation in the labor force of all time? That would definitely bring U6 up if the participation was the same as when it was 17.1%. As your President said Wednesday night, it’s simple math.

          • David Burris on October 6, 2012 at 5:21 pm

            Frank, sorry I mistook you for Tom. You seem like such a reasonable man that it was an easy mistake to make. BTW, you know one of the reasons participation is down is because me, and my boomer buddies, are retiring.

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