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Voting myths and realities

Tuesday, Oct 14, 2008

* Something to keep in mind when you hear all this talk about “swing” or “undecided” voters…

(M)any of those who claim to be undecided are not. Some don’t want to admit their preference. In their paper, “Swing Voters? Hah!” political scientists Adam Clymer and Ken Winneg amassed substantial data suggesting that very few undecided voters are truly indecisive. Examining the 2004 election, Clymer and Winneg found that even the most hard-core of undecided voters were fairly predictable.

They asked the 4% of their sample that claimed to be undecided to rate the two candidates in early October. When they went back to the same people after the election, more than 80% had in fact voted for whichever candidate they’d rated most highly a month earlier.

What this could mean is that pollsters who push their respondents the hardest to make a choice (which is generally the automated polls like the highly successful SurveyUSA) may be the most accurate at predicting the eventual results because the vast majority of undecideds really aren’t undecided.

* Another point from the same piece…

Examining nine presidential elections, [James Campbell, a political scientist at the State University of New York at Buffalo] compared the size of the swing vote (defined here as voters with weak leanings before the heat of the campaign) with the size of the non-swing vote. Swing voters are known to be a minority of the population, but it turns out that they’re not a particularly decisive minority. “In only one of the nine elections, the 1976 race between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter,” writes Campbell, “did the swing vote majority override an opposite majority among non-swing voters.”

In other words, in eight of the last nine elections, the winner could have lost swing voters but won the race. In a second test, which examined voters who were undecided at a later point in the race, Campbell found that the last campaign in which they were decisive was 1960.

…ADDING… From Marc Ambinder

McCain advisers say they’re saving their best material for the last ten days of the race, when, the campaign hopes, three quarters of the remaining undecided voters will make up their minds, and their minds will be concentrating on Barack Obama. When the urgency of the presidential election impresses itself, the hope is that these voters will swing back to the familiar, rather than the unknown.

They’d better have enough cash and message discipline to burn that in. So far, it doesn’t look like they have either. But, whatever floats your boat, man.

* Here’s an interesting point about how the so-called “Bradley Effect” could impact the undecided vote in the current presidential race…

The hype surrounding the Bradley Effect has evolved to where some political pundits believe in 2008 that Obama must win in the national pre-election polls by 6-9 points before he can be assured a victory.

That’s absurd. There won’t be a 6-9 point Bradley Effect — there can’t be, since few national polls show a large enough amount of undecided voters and it’s in the undecided column where racism supposedly hides.

Bottom line: Since all undecideds are not racists, any “Bradley Effect” will not impact the outcome, as current polls stand.

* Also, this same author, who polled for Los Angeles mayoral candidate Tom Bradley’s Republican opponent in 1982, concludes that there really was no “Bradley Effect” in California

Even though Tom Bradley had been slightly ahead in the polls in 1982, due to sampling error, it was statistically too close to call. For example, the daily Tarrance and Associates tracking polls for the Deukmejian campaign showed the following weekly summations (N=1000 each) during the month of October:

Week of: Oct.7th Oct. 14th Oct. 21st Oct. 28 Nov. 1

Bradley 49 45 46 45 45

Deukmejian 37 41 41 42 44

It is obvious that this election was closing fast

But what about exit polls from that election day which showed Bradley far ahead?

Bradley actually won on election day turnout, but lost the absentee vote so badly that Deukmejian pulled ahead to win.

…ADDING MORE… What about Ronald Reagan’s big 1980 comeback? Not so much

A post-election summary of polls by then-CBS News pollster Warren Mitofsky shows that at no point over the final two weeks did Carter have a lead bigger than three percentage points. There is a published Gallup poll not included in that report showing Carter up six among likely voters in a poll conducted Oct. 24 to 27. Whether six or the eight points cited today, Carter’s advantage in Gallup polling was offset by similarly large Reagan leads in NBC-Associated Press or DMI (Reagan’s pollsters) polls.

The bottom line is that there was no evident momentum for either candidate as the 1980 presidential election neared its completion. That is until Reagan’s breakthrough debate performance.

* Illinois political history shows no signs of any Bradley Effect in any major political contests dating back to Harold Washington’s 1983 mayoral victory. This year, though, it’s the Rod & Todd Effect which most troubles Democrats

Rep. Tom Cross said Illinois Republicans think they can clip the coattails of Barack Obama here in his own home state. They are reminding voters that should Obama move to the White House, several other local Democrats will stay behind to run things in Springfield and Chicago.

“Not only Governor Blagojevich, Speaker Madigan and Emil Jones have done things, Todd Stroger has done an awful job at Cook County government,” Cross said. “But as you move down that ballot, you say to yourself, ‘What? Why another Democrat in the Illinois General Assembly? It makes no sense.’”

Republican polling shows Obama running strongly in suburbs around Chicago. It also shows Gov. Blagojevich and Cook County Board President Todd Stroger are extraordinarily unpopular.

But Cross appeared to admit to CBS 2 that McCain’s negative campaign against Obama wasn’t helping his efforts to hold onto GOP seats here, and advised a retooling.

* The Obama Effect is what’s keeping Illinois Republicans awake at night

Suburban folks flooded polling places in Democratic strongholds including Orland Park, South Holland and Evanston. By 5 p.m., 7,616 suburban residents had cast ballots, county election officials said. That’s nearly five times the record turnout on the first day of early voting — 1,591 early votes cast on Jan. 14 before the February primary.

In Chicago, voters cast nearly 11,735 ballots — nearly three times the record for first-day early voting. Monday’s turnout was just short of the single-day early voting record of 11,971, which came on the last day of early voting before the February primary.

“Normally, we don’t see a number like this until the last four days of early voting,” Chicago elections board spokesman James Allen said.

* Obama is running TV and radio ads on Chicago network channels to boost his Indiana effort. That will undoubtedly run up his suburban vote. Whether the down-ballot candidates can attach themselves to his coattails is the big question, however…

“I don’t think it’s going to be quite the wipeout that maybe we feared a few months ago,” said former Gov. Jim Edgar, a Republican.

Maybe, maybe not.


* Related…

* DuPage early voting busy despite holiday confusion

* Eager voters flock to the polls

* First Day Rivals Biggest Turnout Ever in Early Voting

* 2008 early voting history

* State Board’s online voters guide up — see which candidates took advantage

* Obama Is Campaigning on Xbox 360

- Posted by Rich Miller        


30 Comments
  1. - Thanks for taking my call - Tuesday, Oct 14, 08 @ 10:48 am:

    the professors for once actually are correct. It is rare not to know how an undecided voter will react. Almost always you can count on them to go 80-85% of the time with the non incumbent or against the party in office (aka Bush and the republicans). Anyone worth their salt in poll reading understands this.


  2. - tanstaafl - Tuesday, Oct 14, 08 @ 10:51 am:

    Democratic precints in the Chicago area reporting high early turn out numbers? It is just that old Chicago addage - VOTE EARLY; VOTE OFTEN.


  3. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Oct 14, 08 @ 10:59 am:

    I wouldn’t dismiss the Bradley Effect so quickly. I don’t think it’s a measure of the “Undecideds” breaking one way or the other. Rather, it’s a measure of those who, for fear of some social bias, tell pollsters they plan to vote for a black candidate then pull the lever for a white candidate on election days.

    Examples of this include: Doug Wilder, ahead by nine points in the polls and winning by half a point for Virgina governor; David Dinkins, who was 14 points ahead of Rudy in their first race for NYC mayor and won be two points.

    Even Harold was 14 points ahead of Epton in the polls, and won by four.


  4. - EmptySuitParade - Tuesday, Oct 14, 08 @ 11:00 am:

    More important than his decision to rap WhackeyJack’s campaign was the stunning rebuke contain in a highly respected political journal….”Democratic incompetence and corruption is just about all the GOPs have going for them….But Blagojevich has been the Republicans’ prime focus, which is pretty ironic since both the House and Senate Republicans trusted Blagojevich enough that they closely allied themselves with the alleged pariah….”
    WHAT WERE THEY THINKING???????
    BTW isn’t time for StateWideTom to release the MOUs they penned with the Blagoat in May. Voters ought to understand the full scope of the partnership.

    Mc


  5. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Oct 14, 08 @ 11:07 am:

    wordslinger, part of the problem with citing those races is often outliers are the ones most people remember. Also, some of those polls may have been taken long before election day, but were the last polls in the field.


  6. - bored now - Tuesday, Oct 14, 08 @ 11:20 am:

    i would be very weary of using a study from 2004 — a race that was basically locked 18 months out — for drawing conclusions about undecided voters. while those so-called swing voters may not have known much about john kerry at the time of the initial survey, they certainly knew george bush. and while i assume that you can comparing apples to apples (the 2004 presidential race to the 2008 presidential race), i’d be even more weary of using this data to talk about undecided voters in downballot races.

    while i’m agnostic about surveyusa’s methodology — i’d like to see a longer history of results first — my biggest complaint about pollsters is the screens they use to winnow their results. that’s the art of political polling, and it’s more a throw of the dice and perhaps a little intuition than anything objective or scientific. i also liked it better when pollsters used to increase the number of participants in their polls as election day got closer.

    finally, it has always been republican campaign doctrine to ramp up absentee votes in targeted races/areas. “banking the vote” before election day has always been crucial to republican electoral success. people who depend on exit polls in contested areas (dis)miss about 18% of the vote. as if those votes don’t count…


  7. - babs - Tuesday, Oct 14, 08 @ 11:20 am:

    wordslinger & Rich - add in Harvey Gantt v Jesse Helms. Polls have Gantt ahead very near the end of the campaign.


  8. - Easy - Tuesday, Oct 14, 08 @ 11:23 am:

    What was Madigan thinking when he recruited Blago fundraisers and hacks like Tuite and Austriaco…

    oh wait…

    He probably met them when he was co-chairing blago’s campaign. It’s a small world after all….


  9. - LTM - Tuesday, Oct 14, 08 @ 11:29 am:

    The Bradley effect is not in the undecideds, but in the numbers overall. It’s the fact that people won’t reveal their true preferences because there is some sort of shame or response bias in where the respondent answers the question in the way the questioner wants. I say shame because the number of people willing to admit they are not voting for Barack Obama because he’s black (or a Muslim, or a foreigner, etc.) is small. However when folks get into the voting booth, alone and free to do as they please, you have the possibility of a Bradley Effect.

    With the innovation of touch-tone polling there is probably less response bias. So I bet those numbers may actually be more accurate that those from Bradley’s election. It’s also possible that in more recent elections (Tennessee Senate 2006 - Ford vs. Corker) There has been little or no “Bradley Effect”.


  10. - Greg - Tuesday, Oct 14, 08 @ 11:34 am:

    Rich, good observation about seletivity bias. I don’t think stats back up a Bradley effect. If I presented an analysis based on one datapoint (exit polls versus results in one election) I would be laughed away. There are other problems with the theory, but those are the simplest.


  11. - Greg - Tuesday, Oct 14, 08 @ 11:40 am:

    Adding: I love that media and pundits are pounding away about the Bradley Effect, as if it were a proven, statistically-significant phenomenon, but dismiss so many other reports–political or not–as within the “margin of error,” “inconclusive,” etc, when they often aren’t.


  12. - Team Sleep - Tuesday, Oct 14, 08 @ 1:42 pm:

    Rich, this was an excellent post. The economic situation we currently find our collective selves in will go a long was to quashing a good deal of election day bias. After all, Bush and McCain are the same person - right?! Snicker. But that is a serious caveat that we cannot take lightly.

    My prediction three weeks out: Obama widens his margins enough in Ohio and Virginia that McCain’s people will close up shop in both states, this leaving Obama with 35-40 “gift” electoral college votes.

    I still think Obama will give a cabinet post.


  13. - archpundit - Tuesday, Oct 14, 08 @ 1:59 pm:

    The Bradley effect petered out in the mid-1990s. The research is pretty strong on this, and that the press keeps talking about it as a current phenomenon only demonstrates people don’t care much about an idea once they’ve heard about it.

    One minor quibble with Greg–there was a well demonstrated effect as late as the early 1990s. Why it disappeared is a bit less clear, but the most important thing is it is not current.

    Also, as mentioned above, the Bradley effect wasn’t about undecideds, it was about people who said they were decided for a black candidate and then voted contrary to their response. Given we are dealing with aggregate results, that could mean lots of different things about how things changed, but the key point of the Bradley effect is that a lower percentage vote for the black candidate than in the last polling.


  14. - Captain America - Tuesday, Oct 14, 08 @ 2:04 pm:

    When all is said and done, Obama has bested McCain on every measure of what it takes to win a presidential election - pretty much the same thing he did to Hillary Clinton in the primaries. Hillary Clinton was a more formidable opponent than John McCain has proven to be.

    Based upon the margins that are emerging in the battleground states and the undeniable fact that Obama has many alternative paths to electoral college victory, this election is over - it’s shaping up as a landslide victory for Obama.I can say that I am no longer worried about the Bradley effect simply because of the organizational, financial, and issues-edge that Obama has achieved.

    Palin and the economy have been the final nails in the coffin of John McCain’s career as a Presidential candidate. Moderate Republicans, independents, and even some bona fide, thinking conservatives like William Buckley’s son are supporting Obama.

    I think the Bradley effect is the only thing that kept McCain in the ballgame, but it isn’t going to be sufficient to carry the inferior candidate to victory.


  15. - Pat Collins - Tuesday, Oct 14, 08 @ 2:34 pm:

    Palin and the economy have been the final nails in the coffin of John McCain’s career as a Presidential candidate.

    Palin is the only reason he was in contention as long as he was. If it were Bradley effect then why did we see a Mccain charge for a month or so after he selected her?

    The economy has not helped, and worse, the way he tried to handle it backfired.

    No thinking conservative supports Obama, unless he doesn’t care about conservative policies. One can only hope Obama’s support of judicial filibusters and voting against qualified court selections comes back to haunt him.


  16. - Pat Collins - Tuesday, Oct 14, 08 @ 2:36 pm:

    pretty much the same thing he did to Hillary Clinton in the primaries.

    Actually, he ran up big numbers in caucus states, Hillary closed ground when people voted.

    But McCain will do things his way, for good or for ill.


  17. - VanillaMan - Tuesday, Oct 14, 08 @ 2:48 pm:

    Jeez, let’s get back on track after that one from the Captain. Sheesh!

    Look at that stuff!

    You want to know why polls are so off? It is because if you don’t vote the way Hollywood, People magazine, the popular media, Newsweek, Time, the New York Times tell you to, they have a long list of labels to apply to your forehead.

    Jesusland, Red States, Fundamentalists, Racists, Closet-Racists, Homophobes, narrow-minded, Alaskan Hillbillies, Fly-Over Land…which label do you want to wear?

    People don’t like confrontation. So when a pollster asked someone in 2004 who they voted for, they answered Kerry so that they wouldn’t have to hear emotional rants against their decision for the rest of their lives.

    This year, they know the routine; “We are suppose to tell people we are voting for Obama”, or we will be considered pond scum by society and those within our society who dictate what we see on TV, in the movies, and read in the news.

    Honestly, we have gotten to a point where people who do not vote Democratic have to hide in the polling stations and lie.

    Cars are being vandalized that have McCain bumper stickers on them. The governor of Missouri had to step in and threaten the Obama campaign to stop it’s attacks against those who are not supporting Obama. It is frankly nuts out there, and getting worse.

    Bradley effect? So, even those who say they are Obama voters are still suspect of being closet-what? It isn’t good enough to claim you are for Obama, what’s next? Blood tests?

    You read through what the Captain posted and there isn’t anything respectful regarding those people who haven’t already decided to support The One.

    If a pollster contacted me. I’d tell them I’m voting for Obama, so that I won’t find my pet dead on my doorstep.


  18. - Captain Flume - Tuesday, Oct 14, 08 @ 2:48 pm:

    McCain may be the inferior candidate, but I seriously doubt he would be the inferior president. I long for an presidential election with better choices than the two with which we are faced. I am getting too old to have my comfort zone stretched this far.


  19. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Oct 14, 08 @ 2:55 pm:

    ===You want to know why polls are so off? It is because if you don’t vote the way Hollywood, People magazine, the popular media, Newsweek, Time, the New York Times tell you to, they have a long list of labels to apply to your forehead.===

    LOL


  20. - VanillaMan - Tuesday, Oct 14, 08 @ 3:26 pm:

    I especially liked my, ” I’d tell them I’m voting for Obama, so that I won’t find my pet dead on my doorstep.” line!


  21. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Oct 14, 08 @ 3:53 pm:

    Sometimes, I swear you are so right on the money, and other times you seem to go completely off your meds. lol


  22. - Carl Nyberg - Tuesday, Oct 14, 08 @ 4:29 pm:

    Do any Republicans find it distasteful that their party is hanging its hopes on the idea that there is more racism in the United States?

    “I know the polling shows McCain/Palin and the Republican Party are down in the polls, but I’m pretty sure there are enough racist ‘Whites’ who won’t vote for Obama (and are lying to pollsters) that the McCain ticket still has a chance.”

    Does it seem sorta pathetic, or maybe immoral, to be hoping that there’s more racism in the country?

    But I like that the Republicans are projecting some confidence. I can’t wait to see some of these Republicans get interviewed on election night.

    Hey, Vanilla Man & company, maybe your team should have governed better. Accountability for crappy results sucks, eh?


  23. - VanillaMan - Tuesday, Oct 14, 08 @ 4:43 pm:

    I’m back on so I feel better.
    But I am very freaked out over the idea of an Obama presidency, a Pelosi House and a Reid Senate, filibuster-proof.

    Thank God we are too broke for them to find any money to fund ACORN’s drive to register pets as voters.


  24. - VanillaMan - Tuesday, Oct 14, 08 @ 4:45 pm:

    And I’ve been seeing Bill’s bald head rising up over the horizon with an evil grin with only Sarah Palin to stop him…


  25. - Been There - Tuesday, Oct 14, 08 @ 5:03 pm:

    ===In other words, in eight of the last nine elections, the winner could have lost swing voters but won the race.====
    How can this be? I thought if Gore only picked up a thousand or so votes in Florida he would have won. Are they saying there were less than a few truly undecided swing voters in all of Florida?


  26. - Ken in Aurora - Tuesday, Oct 14, 08 @ 5:55 pm:

    “- Rich Miller - Tuesday, Oct 14, 08 @ 3:53 pm: Sometimes, I swear you are so right on the money, and other times you seem to go completely off your meds. lol”

    So, Rich - which one was this? :)


  27. - Leatherneck - Tuesday, Oct 14, 08 @ 8:54 pm:

    Rich,

    Also don’t forget the 1982 gubernatorial race here in Illinois–Governor Thompson’s first contest against Adlai III. I have read accounts that the immediate pre-election polls had Thompson winning by a landslide–but of course we ended up with a Florida 2000-style recount and “Big Jim” winning his 3rd term by only 5,074 votes.


  28. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Oct 14, 08 @ 9:02 pm:

    I have my doubts. Maybe I just do business and socialize too much with white men, who I’m sure it is no surprise to anyone, are solidly in the McCain camp (they’ve voted GOP since 64).

    Greg and his whiz kids can get out their slide rules, protractors and dance to the logarithms all night long, but I’m quite certain that there is, for a lack of a better term, a Bradley Effect.

    That just comes from paying attention, a lifetime of experience, and the stone-cold knowledge that a black man has never come close to winning the big job.

    If the Dow can punch 10,000 before election day, every point gain will tilt to McCain.


  29. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Oct 14, 08 @ 9:04 pm:

    ==Also don’t forget the 1982 gubernatorial race here in Illinois–Governor Thompson’s first contest against Adlai III. I have read accounts that the immediate pre-election polls had Thompson winning by a landslide–but of course we ended up with a Florida 2000-style recount and “Big Jim” winning his 3rd term by only 5,074 votes.==

    Brother Big Jim?


  30. - Holdingontomywallet - Tuesday, Oct 14, 08 @ 9:47 pm:

    Hey, maybe Blagojevich can donate some of his war chest to Acorn and make a big run in 2010. There are a lot of Illinois voters out there to register and we can celebrate the effort to get them to the polls.


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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        * GOP newcomers say lack of experience is an asset


        * Koplinski: On the movies
        * Carbondale interim chief is taking things one step at a time
        * New school year: New buildings, uniform codes, principals ... the list goes on
        * Coaches' corner: Tim Salem
        * A look at the Illini middle linebackers
        * Truck rollover closes ramp to I-74 in Danville
        * Aug. 22 football/recruiting chat
        * Who cares about the QB?
        * Daily Digest 8/20/14
        * Rove-backed group spends big attacking Enyart


        * Florida firm acquires Golf Mill property for $60 million
        * Protesters plant Ukraine flag on Moscow skyscraper
        * Fighting in eastern Ukraine kills 43 in 24 hours
        * Last 4 hostages freed in Harvey standoff
        * Liberian security forces seal slum to halt Ebola

        * Statement by Representative Jan Schakowsky...
        * Farm Antibiotic Restrictions Proposed - Al...
        * Jan Schakowsky: Tom Marino's Response to '...
        * Telling Nancy Pelosi to do research is sex...
        * Schakowsky blasts Marino for 'sexist' atta...
        * Schakowsky: Marino's attack on Pelosi was ...
        * Dem: Attack on Pelosi was 'sexist' - The H...
        * How I failed to live on the minimum wage -...
        * Proposed law would mandate minimum direct ...
        * Representative Schakowsky Statement on Fin...

        * Kirk, Durbin, Kelly Applaud Opportunity to......
        * Kirk, Durbin, Kelly Applaud Opportunity to......
        * Kirk, Durbin, Kelly Applaud Opportunity to......
        * Kirk, Durbin, Kelly Applaud Opportunity to......
        * Kirk, Durbin, Kelly Applaud Opportunity to......

        * Pat Quinn Could be Drag on Illinois Democrats...

        * I’m retired. Not dead.
        * TMD. Randi’s trust problem.
        * NYTimes Reporter: Obama ‘Greatest Enemy To Press Freedom In A Generation’
        * EPA Head Admits New CO2 Restrictions Not About Climate
        * Internet domains & hosting
        * Progress Illinois EIC Takes ALS Ice Bucket Challenge (VIDEO)
        * Karen Lewis At 19th Ward Discussion
        * Beachwood Photo Booth: Found Love
        * The [Wednesday] Papers
        * 10 Things you didn't know about Chicago's Heartland Institute


        * ICYMI: Rauner ratchets up pressure on term limits question
        * Department on Aging Hosts Financial Summit to Strengthen Financial Abuse Protections of Seniors - Summit held during annual Adult Protective Services Conference
        * ICYMI: Rauner urges quick decision on term limits measure
        * Top Obama Adviser Joins Uber – What Will Quinn Do?
        * Rauner Statement on Quinn Celebrating Thousands Giving Up on Work




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