Polls

Lies, Damn Lies and Exit Polls

Some reporters live for numbers and calculate the horse race. Literally, that seems to be their job at newspapers. One is Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post. Part of his directive (meaning I blame not him but his editors) is to declare “winners and losers” and to provide interpretation on numbers.

This story is one where his interpretations are, for the most part, over-hyped. A more precise way of saying it is that he’s wrong and provides conclusions that cannot be supported, though to his credit, he warns that drawing conclusions based on a small sample set is dicey. Which makes one ask, then why do it? To wit, (Numerals track the issues Cillizza raised.)

  1. Cillizza says that Reagan and Romney won the white vote by 20 points. Then he breathlessly adds that Trump’s margin was a “record”: “On Tuesday, Trump one-upped them both — literally. He won the white vote 58 percent to 37 percent.” That’s 21%, well within the margin of error (4%), meaning that Trump may have gotten a few percentage points less than the R&R boys. Why couldn’t Cillizza say, Trump matched those previous margins?
  1. Then Cillizza points out that there wasn’t an increase in women voters.

Women made up 52 percent of the overall electorate in 2016 — down from 53 percent in 2012. And Hillary Clinton’s 12-point margin over Trump among women was pretty darn close to the 11-point win among women that Obama claimed over Romney four years ago.

So it was a “record” when Trump won maybe one percent more of white voters, but when Clinton won one percent more of the women’s vote, it was “darn close.” Again, margin of error for both surveys (I’m assuming 2012 had the same margin of error) was 4%.

  1. Cillizza tells us there was no surge of Latino votes. “In 2012, Hispanics made up 10 percent of the overall electorate. That bumped up, marginally, to 11 percent in 2016.” That one percent increase is now “marginal.”
  1. Later in the piece we learn that Trump outperformed Romney with evangelicals, 81% to 78%. Four percent margin of error means Romney could have had 82% and Trump 77%.
  1. Cillizza argues that Trump didn’t bring new voters to the table.

Just 10 percent of voters said that the 2016 election was their first time voting. Of that group, Clinton won 56 percent to 40 percent over Trump. Of course, new voters often overlap with younger voters who are eligible to vote for the first time; Clinton won among 18- to 24-year-olds by 21 points.

What we don’t know: How many new voters were first time eligible voters? Maybe only 2%. Of the other 8%, how many voted for Trump vs. Clinton? We don’t know, so this is metric is meaningless.

  1. Cillizza thinks “wanting change” trumped “right experience.”

Provided with four candidate qualities and asked which mattered most to their vote, almost 4 in 10 (39 percent) said a candidate who “can bring needed change.” (A candidate who “has the right experience” was the second most important character trait.)

What’s wrong with this? One thing is we don’t know is where he got the 39% figure. It is not in the poll data he cites, which is here. Secondly, he doesn’t tell us the figure for “right experience.” Was it 38% and therefore well within the margin of error?

  1. Perhaps this startles Cillizza most: Voters didn’t think Clinton won all three debates as clearly as Cillizza did. Count me among them.

Finally, I must remind you: These are exit polls. Which are not very reliable.

Some foolish journalists might write entire posts that assume that the black share of the electorate was 15 percent in Ohio. In reality, the exit polls just aren’t precise enough to justify making distinctions between an electorate that’s 15 percent black and, say, 13 percent black.

Let’s say, as the talking heads often do, we’ll just leave it there.

Does Larry Sabato Just Make It Up?

I just received the latest Larry Sabato newsletter assessing Obama’s reelection chances.  I didn’t get but a few sentences into it when I came across this:

Yet presidents riding high—such as Ronald Reagan in 1984, Bill Clinton in 1996 and George W. Bush in 2004—often find themselves surrounded by good fortune.

Yet when you look back at the polls in the months leading up to the 2004 election, Bush’s favorability ratings were often under 50%.  That’s riding high?

Strong Support for Healthcare Reform

My headline is not one you’re likely to see in mainstream media headlines.  Not because it’s false; actually, it’s true. But the mainstream media wants a couple of things:

  1. Continued access to Republican sources; ergo,
  2. MSM will continue to report GOP talking points, even when they know they are not true.

A recent poll by The Washington Post and its reporting makes the case. Here’s the headline: More Americans oppose health-care law, but few want a total repeal.

More than what, you ask?  More than ever? More than the last poll? More than support it?

Actually, the simple answer is the third option. Simple, but incorrect, as interpreted by most people. And no where in the article does it explain what the headline means.

Republicans are forever saying that “the American people don’t support this healthcare bill,” or words to that effect.  They then say that’s why they want to repeal it.

As The Post reports, few really want repeal, but you will forever see the GOP make that false claim, false but duly noted by the press.

But to the question of support for the healthcare bill, The Post’s Jon Cohen buries the lede in the penultimate paragraph.

Another factor in the debate is that a quarter of those who oppose the health-care law say the legislation is faulty because it did not go far enough, not because it pushed change too far.

So if you add the number together from The Post’s poll, 45% support the bill, and about 2513% of those who opposed it (13% overall) wish it went further, meaning 58%, a sizable majority (a landslide in electoral politics), either like the current healthcare overhaul or wish it would go further, and in all likelihood that means arguably not in the direction the GOP would take it.

Yesterday’s poll by The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press confirms this interpretation.

The public continues to be divided over what it wants to see done with the health care law – 37% favor its repeal, while nearly as many (35%) want the law expanded, and 20% would leave it as it is.

Which again gives us 55% of Americans wanting the law as is or expanded.

Complicating my view are the results from two other polls this week.  A CNN poll doesn’t ask the question about whether opposition is because the law doesn’t go far enough, and its topline support/oppose is the same as the other polls, a slight plurality opposed.  But when forced to choose to either keep it all or repeal it all, 50% say repeal it all with 42% say keep it all.  One would think that if a majority liked the law or wanted it to go further, the “don’t repeal” group would be closer to 55%, not 42%.

But I think another question, asked in this week’s  CBS/New York Times poll, puts the entire debate into perspective. When asked if any of the provisions that have already taken effect (keep children on policy until age 26 or that children can not be rejected for insurance if they have a preexisting condition), apply to the respondent, we learn only 13% have benefited from the law yet. Once people start seeing the benefits to themselves, support could grow.

Another key issue is this from the CNN/NY Times poll:

Those who support repeal were asked whether they would continue to do so if it meant that insurance companies were no longer required to cover people with pre-existing medical conditions; 52% said they would, but 35% said in that case, the law should not be repealed.

Someone (the Press? the Dems? Both?) have not done a good job of explaining the bill.

A critical question is this” Should it be the media’s responsibility to explain the bill. That depends on what one think the media’s role should be. If it is to simply report what is happening or whether it is to find the truth. I believe it is the latter and cite the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists, an organization to which, admittedly, not all journalists belong.

Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues.

…Journalists should:

Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible. [emphasis added]

Healthcare Bill Repeal: Good, Bad, DK?

There have been a number of polls about Obama’s healthcare bill that suggest when you ask people their opinion of the bill, a sizable slice of the “don’t like it” crowd actually don’t like it because it doesn’t go far enough, meaning that a solid majority of Americans want healthcare reform along the lines of the current law or more “liberal,” according to the most recent CNN poll.

Then we have the latest Gallup Poll: 46% favor repealing the bill; 40% oppose repeal. So where are the other 12%? They don’t know—by now, after nearly two years of wrangling over the issue? That doesn’t reflect well on the media, of course. It means journalists haven’t done a good job of explaining the bill. Do those 12% reflect the number who not only oppose repeal but want it replaced by a stronger law?

But, looking at the big picture, here’s the good news:

In the poll, a majority of men endorse repeal while women are inclined to want the law to stand.

You never want to bet against women getting their way, especially when it comes to the health of their children.

And speaking of those children:

One of the most dramatic divides is by age. By 50%-30%, young adults under 30 support the law. But their middle-aged parents, those 50-64 years old, favor repeal by an almost equally wide margin.

Can we put those 50-64 year olds in front of a death panel and, in a class action suit, ahem, eliminate them? Wait, that includes me.

In any case, like “don’t ask, don’t tell,” gay marriage and marijuana, it’s just a matter of time.

Post Neglects to Fact Check Right-Wing Screed

At first, I thought this article was indicative of the right’s bending the truth to fit its ideology, but on further reflection, it is more a damning indictment of Outlook editors at The Washington Post.

I’ve written a few opinion columns for The Post and have been challenged for assertions I made in them.  But that scrutiny apparently doesn’t hold when the newspaper is trying to refute charges of liberal bias.  To do that, it seems to allow conservatives to draw any conclusion they want.

The article is provocatively titled “America’s new culture war:  Free enterprise vs. government control” by Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute.  Its thesis is that most Americans want free enterprise capitalism while the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress want “European-style statism grounded in expanding bureaucracies, a managed economy and large-scale income redistribution.”

The entire article is intellectually dishonest, and Post editors should be ashamed for not challenging Brooks’ assertions.  He cites a Gallup Poll that

…found that 86 percent of Americans have a positive image of "free enterprise," with only 10 percent viewing it negatively. Similarly, in March 2009, the Pew Research Center asked individuals from a broad range of demographic groups: "Generally, do you think people are better off in a free-market economy, even though there may be severe ups and downs from time to time, or don’t you think so?" Almost 70 percent of respondents agreed that they are better off in a free-market economy, while only 20 percent disagreed.

I support stricter financial industry regulation, more environmental controls, a safety net for the poor, more federally financed infrastructure projects and a few other Obama administration policies.  I also have a “positive image of ‘free enterprise’” and I generally think people are better off in a “free-market economy.”  That doesn’t mean I oppose sensible controls or support libertarian concepts of the wild west in our economic system.

To suggest these poll results support Brooks’ contention that Obama and company are out of the mainstream is ludicrous, particularly if you look at that same March 2009 poll at the time of the stock market’s nadir.

  • People were split 50-50 on wanting “smaller government and fewer services or bigger government and more services”
  • 54% said it was a “good idea for the government to exert more control over the economy than it has in
    recent years.”
  • 56% thought Obama’s stimulus plan was a “good idea.”

The poll was wide-ranging, and if anything, doesn’t merely not support Brooks’ contention that Obama is out of sync with the American people; the poll actually refutes Brooks’ thesis.

Moreover, there is no evidence that Obama and company want to dissolve free markets or abandon capitalism for socialism as Brook argues.  Why does The Post let him draw such fallacious and dishonest conclusions?

The article, given precious center-front page placement in Outlook, is replete with disingenuous, erroneous or duplicitous conclusions.

If we reject the administration’s narrative, the 70-30 nation will remain strong. If we accept it, and base our nation’s policies on it, we will be well on our way to a European-style social democracy. Punitive taxes and regulations will make it harder to be an entrepreneur, and the rewards of success will be expropriated for the sake of greater income equality.

Brooks also argues that unfettered permission to maximize profits without regard to societal good is not only preferable but a convenient measure of success.

Earned success involves the ability to create value honestly — not by inheriting a fortune, not by picking up a welfare check. It doesn’t mean making money in and of itself. Earned success is the creation of value in our lives or in the lives of others. Earned success is the stuff of entrepreneurs who seek value through innovation, hard work and passion. Earned success is what parents feel when their children do wonderful things, what social innovators feel when they change lives, what artists feel when they create something of beauty.

Money is not the same as earned success but is rather a symbol, important not for what it can buy but for what it says about how people are contributing and what kind of difference they are making. Money corresponds to happiness only through earned success.

What Brooks seems to miss is that for many Americans, it is becoming impossible to earn success by creating “value honestly.”  The widening gulf between rich and poor is not because the poor are working any less hard.  They simply are pawns of those who want a greater share of the fruits of others’ labor.

Ironically, he concludes by citing Sen. Scott Brown’s victory as a symbol of the revolt of the “70% coalition.”

Scott Brown won the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat from Massachusetts in January by declaring himself not an apparatchik Republican but a moral enthusiast for markets. "What made America great?" he asked. "Free markets, free enterprise, manufacturing, job creation. That’s how we’re gonna do it, not by enlarging government." His cultural pitch for free enterprise hit just the right chord, even in liberal Massachusetts. It struck at the heart of the 30 percent coalition’s agenda for America.

Scott Brown is one of four Republican senators who just voted for the administration’s financial regulatory reform bill.

I guess The Post’s Outlook editors didn’t notice either.

Obama Smacks Media Again

For this I give him credit:

Obama took a shot at his media coverage, saying that “pundits in Washington kept saying, ‘What’s he doing? …. Doesn’t he know it will make him vulnerable?’

“Well, yes. Turns out I’ve got pollsters, too. We usually know what’s going to be unpopular before the newspapers do. But I also knew that if you govern by pundits and polls, then you lose sight of why you got into public service in the first place.”

Returning to the theme later, he said: “There are stories right now, ‘We polled Obama in 2012!’ I’m not joking. People writing entire columns …”

Measuring Healthcare

As I reported last week, the level of displeasure over the recently passed healthcare reform legislation is often overstated.  The impetus for that post was the CNN/Opinion Research poll of last week.

There’s another CNN/OR poll this week.  Here again is a key data point.

"Thinking about the health care bill that Congress passed this week, which of the following statements best describes your view of what Congress should do in the future? Congress should leave the bill as it is. Congress should make additional changes to increase the government’s involvement in the nation’s health care system. Congress should repeal most of the major provisions in that bill and replace them with a completely different set of proposals." Options rotated

Leave as is……………………………….23%

Increase govt. involvement…..27%

Repeal and replace………………..47%

Unsure……………………………………..3%

So 50% like it or want more govt. involvement.

Another question:

"Which of the following statements best describes your views about the health care bill that Congress passed this week? You approve of the bill becoming law and have no reservations about it. You approve of the bill becoming law but you think it did not go far enough. You disapprove of the bill becoming law but you support a few of its proposals. You disapprove of the bill becoming law and oppose all of its proposals."

Approve, no reservations………………….15%

Didn’t go far enough………………………….27%

Disapprove, but support some of it….31%

Oppose all of it……………………………………25%

Unsure………………………………………………….1%

So 74% like at least some of the reform.

Here’s the way the CNN’s polling director interprets the poll.

The 47 percent who favor "repeal and replace" is significantly lower than the 56 percent who say they disapprove of the bill’s passage last week.

"That’s because opposition to the new law comes in many different forms and not all of them benefit the GOP," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "Some Americans continue to say that they disapprove of the bill because they want even more government involvement in health care than the bill created. Only a quarter are against the entire bill; one in three support at least a few proposals in the new law. [Emphasis added] And a handful of Americans appear to dislike the bill but don’t want Congress to spend any more time on health care."

When will the press get it?

Cross posted on News Commonsense.

Measuring Healthcare

As I reported last week, the level of displeasure over the recently passed healthcare reform legislation is often overstated.  The impetus for that post was the CNN/Opinion Research poll of last week.

There’s another CNN/OR poll this week.  Here again is a key data point.

"Thinking about the health care bill that Congress passed this week, which of the following statements best describes your view of what Congress should do in the future? Congress should leave the bill as it is. Congress should make additional changes to increase the government’s involvement in the nation’s health care system. Congress should repeal most of the major provisions in that bill and replace them with a completely different set of proposals." Options rotated

Leave as is……………………………….23%

Increase govt. involvement…..27%

Repeal and replace………………..47%

Unsure……………………………………..3%

So 50% like it or want more govt. involvement.

Another question:

"Which of the following statements best describes your views about the health care bill that Congress passed this week? You approve of the bill becoming law and have no reservations about it. You approve of the bill becoming law but you think it did not go far enough. You disapprove of the bill becoming law but you support a few of its proposals. You disapprove of the bill becoming law and oppose all of its proposals."

Approve, no reservations………………….15%

Didn’t go far enough………………………….27%

Disapprove, but support some of it….31%

Oppose all of it……………………………………25%

Unsure………………………………………………….1%

So 74% like at least some of the reform.

Here’s the way the CNN’s polling director interprets the poll.

The 47 percent who favor "repeal and replace" is significantly lower than the 56 percent who say they disapprove of the bill’s passage last week.

"That’s because opposition to the new law comes in many different forms and not all of them benefit the GOP," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "Some Americans continue to say that they disapprove of the bill because they want even more government involvement in health care than the bill created. Only a quarter are against the entire bill; one in three support at least a few proposals in the new law. [Emphasis added] And a handful of Americans appear to dislike the bill but don’t want Congress to spend any more time on health care."

When will the press get it?

Cross posted on Commonwealth Commonsense.

Support for Healthcare Downplayed by Media

As I reported yesterday, the press is tending to underplay the actual support for healthcare reform.  If I were asked in a poll if I support the bill that was passed, I would have said no because it doesn’t go far enough.  The CNN/Opinion Research poll conducted during the weekend showed that when you combine those who supported the legislation signed by the president yesterday and those who opposed it because it did not go far enough, 52% of Americans support the bill and/or even greater reform.

Today in The Washington Post, reporter Scott Wilson again mischaracterizes the level of support for reform.

In staging such a high-profile event, the Obama administration was helping to make health-care reform something for Democrats to run on in the midterm elections this fall, despite the fact that a majority of the electorate opposes it, according to opinion polls conducted before the vote. Rarely, if ever, have such events been as raucous as the ceremony-turned-political rally that rocked the ornate East Room for just over half an hour.

Looking at the healthcare polls on PollingReport.com, few of them ask whether opposition is based on the idea that the current bill or general principles about reform don’t go far enough.  But I found two that did.

A Ipsos/McClatchy poll in late February found that overall 41% supported “health care reform proposals presently being discussed" and 47% opposed them.  The poll then asked those who “opposed” the proposals, “Is that because you favor health care reform overall but think the current proposals don’t go far enough to reform health care; OR you oppose health care reform overall and think the current proposals go too far in reforming health care?"  The result:  37% said they favored reform but that the current proposal didn’t go far enough, meaning another 17% actually support greater reform.  The overall support for reform, then, is 58%. 

In a CBS poll in early January, 57% of respondents said the “changes to the healthcare system under consideration in Congress” either were about right or “don’t go far enough.”  When asked about the proposals to “regulate the health insurance industry,” 61% said they were about right or didn’t go far enough.

Electorally, I can’t imagine that those who are disappointed that reform hasn’t gone “far enough” or isn’t “liberal enough” would vote for Republicans in 2010 based on their opposition to reform.  They may stay home because they are disappointed with Democrats, but they won’t be GOP voters.

If you like, write Post reporter Wilson (wilsons@washpost.com) and ask that he not mischaracterize the public’s opinion of healthcare reform.

Cross posted on News Commonsense.

Support for Healthcare Downplayed by Media

As I reported yesterday, the press is tending to underplay the actual support for healthcare reform.  If I were asked in a poll if I support the bill that was passed, I would have said no because it doesn’t go far enough.  The CNN/Opinion Research poll conducted during the weekend showed that when you combine those who supported the legislation signed by the president yesterday and those who opposed it because it did not go far enough, 52% of Americans support the bill and/or even greater reform.

Today in The Washington Post, reporter Scott Wilson again mischaracterizes the level of support for reform.

In staging such a high-profile event, the Obama administration was helping to make health-care reform something for Democrats to run on in the midterm elections this fall, despite the fact that a majority of the electorate opposes it, according to opinion polls conducted before the vote. Rarely, if ever, have such events been as raucous as the ceremony-turned-political rally that rocked the ornate East Room for just over half an hour.

Looking at the healthcare polls on PollingReport.com, few of them ask whether opposition is based on the idea that the current bill or general principles about reform don’t go far enough.  But I found two that did.

A Ipsos/McClatchy poll in late February found that overall 41% supported “health care reform proposals presently being discussed" and 47% opposed them.  The poll then asked those who “opposed” the proposals, “Is that because you favor health care reform overall but think the current proposals don’t go far enough to reform health care; OR you oppose health care reform overall and think the current proposals go too far in reforming health care?"  The result:  37% said they favored reform but that the current proposal didn’t go far enough, meaning another 17% actually support greater reform.  The overall support for reform, then, is 58%. 

In a CBS poll in early January, 57% of respondents said the “changes to the healthcare system under consideration in Congress” either were about right or “don’t go far enough.”  When asked about the proposals to “regulate the health insurance industry,” 61% said they were about right or didn’t go far enough.

Electorally, I can’t imagine that those who are disappointed that reform hasn’t gone “far enough” or isn’t “liberal enough” would vote for Republicans in 2010 based on their opposition to reform.  They may stay home because they are disappointed with Democrats, but they won’t be GOP voters.

If you like, write Post reporter Wilson (wilsons@washpost.com) and ask that he not mischaracterize the public’s opinion of healthcare reform.

Cross posted on Commonwealth Commonsense.