Saturday, September 29, 2012

Can the Polls Be Believed?…Are They Biased?

A raging war has been underway between Republicans/Romney and the mainstream media (MSM)/polling organizations on the accuracy of many recently reported polls.  Both sides have stridently argued their cases in a vicious skirmish that has been decidedly unequal.  The Republicans, the Romney campaign, conservative talk radio, conservative new media and Fox News have valiantly fought the Democrats, the MSM, some polling organizations and the Obama campaign organization.  Yet given just the megaphones owned by the MSM and Obama’s bully pulpit, the battle has been the equivalent of brandishing a popgun at a howitzer…the voting public seemingly is not hearing the battle’s thunder or is still not deeply engaged in the election.   

So what are the facts…is there a battle plan, an alliance between Obama, the MSM, and polling organizations designed to destroy Romney’s candidacy?  Are the polls presenting biased and inaccurate findings?  Are polling organizations deliberately producing misleading results?  In essence are they in cahoots with Obama, the MSM, and liberal/progressive democrats?  Is there any compelling evidence that the MSM is using polling selectively to promote Barack Obama and other democrat office seekers?  And will the constant and continuous bludgeoning of Romney using biased or inaccurate polls damage his presidential chances?  

The basic argument that the polls are biased begins with the 2008 presidential election outcome.  Obama won by capturing an electorate composed of 39% Dems, 32% Reps and 29% Independents; this differential is known as a D+7 spread/party affiliation or D+7 electorate.  Barack Obama also defeated John McCain by 7 points in the popular vote.  In contrast, G.W. Bush defeated J. Kerry in 2004 with an electorate containing 37% Dems, 37% Reps and 26% Inds.  The 2008 election was unique in many respects.  Barack Obama was African American, youthful, a skilled speaker, untested, mysterious, cool and the MSM’s chosen one.  Anecdotal evidence of the excitement Obama generated was everywhere; on bumpers, on yard signs, on BHO paraphernalia in convenience stores, in conversations at the water cooler and the growing hagiographic comments in the press.  A spread of +7 was a rare event in presidential elections and the largest in decades; it followed eight difficult years, two wars, a financial crisis and an economic crisis.  

The same conditions simply do not exist today.  Yet numerous polls are not only using the party affiliations of 2008 as a basis for 2012 polling but building on that outcome.  Specifically, the national partisan breakdown has shifted from D=41.4%, R=33.8% and I=24.7% in 2008 to D=34.7%, R=36% and I=29.3% in 2010, and is currently measured at D=33.3%, R=37.6% and I=29.2%.  Clearly this is a growing trend toward self-identification as an independent or republican and a material decline in democrat identification.  Nevertheless, Rasmussen  uses a national model which favors Republicans, but to a lesser degree than the measured actual; i.e. Reps=35.97%, Dems=33.77% and Inds=30.27%.  Rasmussen polling results are often compared to polls critics believe to be biased since Rasmussen was the most accurate pollster in both the 2004 and 2008 election cycles.  Usually the statistical models of the polls that are built on the democrat experience of 2008 vary greatly from Rasmussen’s outcomes and demonstrate high partisan weightings.   

The CBS/New York Times battleground polls of last week for FL, OH and PA had some curious weighting in its internal statistics.  In Florida where history recorded a 2004 R+4 affiliation and a 2008 result of D+3 was predicated on a D+9 weight; Ohio used an astonishing D+9 against previous outcomes of R+5 in 2004 and D+8 in 2008 and Pennsylvania was founded on a D+9 advantage verses a past of D+3 in 2010 and a D+7 in 2008.  Reasonable and objective poll evaluators would be intellectually dishonest if a little sunshine wasn’t focused on this poll’s result.  Many polls have surfaced recently which have party weighting that are also premised on equally questionable internals (and turnout models) and invariably the MSM pounces on their results to bludgeon Romney and his adherents.  

So is there any rationale that might acquit polling organizations of deliberate distortion?  Two very shaky reasons are often posited.  The first centers on the idea that party affiliation is not part of their polling models.  Instead gender, race, age, income and education are used as their sample’s underpinning.  Yet a careful evaluation of polls founded on this basis does not comport with known realities i.e. declining democrat approval with the young, women, seniors and even blacks.  The second is really dubious.  Since the election is 6 weeks away and many more polls will be conducted in the interim, the client needs a poll to facilitate news…accuracy only counts just before the election to maintain a reputation.   

The evidence is overwhelming that the MSM has practiced selective use of polls and polling results.  Using the CBS/NYT polls as an example, find even a few MSM news narratives that discuss any of the above or the details supporting that poll’s result.  In contrast, a plethora of stories can be found accusing Republicans of whining, denying reality, conducting an inferior campaign and using out dated tactics and strategy when polling concerns are voiced.  The MSM conveniently chooses to ignore other important polling outcomes favorable to Romney and his party, e.g. a strong movement of independents to them which is occurring according to numerous polls in both Ohio and Florida.  Another example is the MSM’s virtual silence on democrat voter registration or absentee ballot requests; both are down appreciably.  However in the new media, on Fox and in many serious blogs, criticism of the MSM and polling is receiving heighten attention.   

Can the MSM meme insisting the polls spell Romney’s doom significantly damage the Romney campaign?  Can his chances for election be scuttled?  Will the relentless MSM hammering reduce campaign contributions, confidence and enthusiasm?..based on the historical record probably not.  This election is not a rerun of 2008…the president’s record is rickety…unemployment is egregious…the economy is in the dumpster and the Middle East is aflame.  Further, the voter understands the media is biased and even rooting for Obama.  And finally the anecdotal evidence is convincing…very few Obama bumper stickers, lawn signs, no water cooler talk and no paraphernalia.  

So in sum, (1) Are the polls producing biased and inaccurate findings? Yes, in far too many cases; (2) Are polling organizations deliberately producing misleading results? With reservation, probably no; (3) Are polling firms in cahoots with Obama, the MSM, and liberal/progressive democrats? Probably no; (4) Does the MSM use polling selectively to promote Barack Obama and other democrat office seekers? Categorically yes; and (5) Will the MSM’s bashing of Romney using polls damage his presidential chances? a No, but with reservation.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Fourteen Critical Races Could Determine Our Future

A somewhat overlooked battle is raging in 14 states which may determine the future of our country during the next 4 years.  The United States Senate’s composition will be determined on November 6th, not just the Presidency.  Simply stated if the Republicans pick up a net of 3 Senate seats and Romney wins, Ryan, as vice president will cast the deciding vote should a tie vote occur in the chamber; since each party would tenuously control 50 senate seats.  More importantly a net of 4 Republican wins is needed to capture a majority, ending the bifurcation of congress, and put the party in a strong negotiating position should Obama win or in a substantial supporting role should Romney prevail.  

On the surface a Republican majority in the 2012 election appeared likely.  Democrats had to defend 21 seats, Republicans 10, and Independents just 2.  The Independents, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, caucus with Democrats giving them a 53 to 47 majority.  Inside-the-beltway pundits have voiced in their ‘elitist’ tone that Republican victories in 4 races without a reversal elsewhere is heresy…Obama, the narratives speculate, will lead a tsunami against Romney and Senate candidates down the ticket will be anointed with his largesse.  A similar insistence, in the press, of the unraveling of the Republican Senate takeover advantage is gaining steam.  Numerous Senate race assessments have been posited purporting objectivity without presenting a basis for the analysis or conclusions (e.g. NYT-Battle for the Senate).   

Without media-like hyperventilation numerous factors can be predictive of victory…a scarcity of variables certainly doesn’t exist.  This evaluation will focus on just six, they include:  (1) The national economy & race’s state economy, (2) The political nature of the state,  i.e. Red [Republican], Blue [Democrat], and TU [Tossup], (3) The President’s approval rating, above 50% positive for a Democrat, below 50% positive for a Republican, (4) The incumbent’s current approval rating, >50% good, <50% not good, (5)  Obama’s foreign policy/defense posture, and (6) the RCP’s average Senate poll ratings.  The election will be influenced by whether an incumbent or open seat is being contested…the difference should be obvious...the incumbent has the edge.  In half of the 14 races being reviewed the contested seat is open and 9 of the states can be described as Red or TU, a slight advantage for the minority party.  Many predictors include Arizona, Indiana and Hawaii in their Senate prediction models; since an upset could impact control…this writer believes no upsets will occur.   

High confidence Republican wins: 
Nebraska-Deb Fischer (R) benefits from a solid state economy, very conservative attitudes, RCP polling at +13%, a Republican governor, and high disapproval of Obama.  This battle is a slam dunk for Republicans.
North Dakota-Rick Berg (R) is jousting with Heidi Heitkamp (D) for the open seat.  Berg has the advantages; a sizzling economy, an overwhelmingly Red state, a Republican governor, a consistent RCP lead in excess of 5%, very high disapproval of Obama, consistent personal approval above 50%…end of the discussion…Berg in a walk.  
Wisconsin-The state has garnered headlines due to deep divisions culminating in a recall election which saw Scott Walker (R) prevail.  Paul Ryan has received his share of headlines too.  The hubbub has masked the Senate contest between former governor Tommy Thompson (R) and Tammy Baldwin (D), a first time statewide candidate.  Thompson has more than a few advantages; Wisconsin’s improving economy, a decreasing unemployment rate, past success as a very popular governor, a positive rating above 50%, while Obama’s is 48%.  Thompson leads in the polls (recent declines while raising money), can call on a battle tested Republican ground organization and has never lost a statewide election.  Tommy Thompson wins going away.   

Probable Republican Wins:  
Montana-Denny Rehberg (R) has shown surprising strength against Jon Testor (D) the incumbent.  Jon Testor has leveraged his incumbency through moderation in a Red presidential and statehouse state.  Rehberg has a down-to-earth, highly energetic style.  He has consistently led Testor in the RCP polling averages by up to 5%; the state has a strong economy but a fear of regulation and the EPA.  Rehberg uses Obama’s un-favorability (41%) and Romney’s popularity (52%) effectively, and exhibits a deft touch citing foreign policy concerns.  Rehberg will win but narrowly.  
Nevada-An insurrection is brewing in the state.  The state has a party registration favorable to Democrat Shelley Berkley, yet the state’s unemployment rate leads the nation, has immigration issues, budget and deficit problems.  Dean Heller (R) has led Berkley in the RCP average polls by up to 9% and now leads 47.3% to 42.0%.  Berkley is under investigation which gives Heller the edge.  Heller wins in a pro-Obama, Democrat state.  

Horse-races with possibilities:  
Florida-The state put simply is up for grabs.  The incumbent is Senator Bill Nelson (D) whose re-election is saddled with a troubled economy, high unemployment, and foreclosures.  The challenger, Connie Mack (R), the son of a former popular Florida politician, is gaining momentum based on recent RCP average polls.  Obama’s approval rating ranges from 45-48% well below his 2008 levels.  This TU state has a TU senate contest.   
Virginia-The match pits George Allen (R), a former senator, against Tim Kaine (D), the former governor.  A victory will turn on Obama’s policies and ideology.  Unemployment is quite low due to government, gradually the state has moved toward Red, Obama’s approval is 46-49% but has not exceeded 50% since mid-2011, thus Allen’s miniscule lead in the RCP polling average of .5%.  The race is leaning marginally Republican.  Anyone’s guess…a tossup.  Republicans are betting that either Florida or Virginia adds a seat to their pickups.   

Republican long shots:  
Massachusetts-The contest is a donnybrook; Scott Brown (R), the incumbent, verses Elizabeth Warren (D).  Elizabeth Warren, a devotee of the very liberal/progressive left, has claimed Native American heritage to gain an employment preference and subscribes to the ‘you didn’t build that’ philosophy.  Nevertheless, Warren has a 4% lead in the RCP average polling…very volatile polling. Warren has a significant democrat registration majority, an Obama approval rating over 55%, a decent economy and an anti-war/defense constituency.  Scott Brown needs a second miracle…although he did it once…can lightning strike twice?  
Connecticut-Linda McMahon (R) is leading in the RCP average polling (after eliminating the outliers) by 3-4% over Chris Murphy (D).  Murphy is running his 1st statewide race with personal financial problems haunting him.  The state has a stagnant economy with high intractable unemployment, an unpopular Democrat governor and exhibits a large democrat registration edge. Murphy’s approval rating is below 50%, but Obama’s is 52%.  McMahon’s campaign, which is personally funded, has kept Murphy on the defensive, sells McMahon as a job creator & grandmother and literally knocks on doors to ask for votes.  Support to date has been steady and insiders say growing slowly.  In this writer’s judgment, Bridgeport voter shenanigans aside, this is an ‘upset’ special in a very Blue state.   
Missouri-Claire McCaskill (D), whose approval rating is less than 50%, is leading Todd Akin (R) in a leaning Red state, with a less than robust economy, an Obama approval rating hovering at 42-43%, and an unemployment rate at roughly the national average…the reason is Akin’s well documented insensitive comment.  Before the comment McCaskill’s epitaph was being written.  McCaskill wins…the Republicans give one away.  

Republican loses:  
Ohio-Sherrod Brown (D) defeats Josh Mandell (R); 
Michigan-Debbie Stabenow (D) defeats Pete Hoekstra (R);  
New Mexico-Martin Heinrich (D) defeats Heather Wilson (R); and in  
Maine-Angus King (I) defeats Charles Summers (R). 
All of these states are Blue except Ohio which is TU,  The Democrat easily leads the Republican by 7-10% in the RCP average polls, unemployment is below the national mean (Michigan excepted), the state economies have all improved slightly to moderately (except Michigan), and Obama’s approval rating is 48-51%, in every case higher than Romney’s.  

The arithmetic is straight forward; Republicans could conceivably gain 7 seats culminating in a reversal of their present disadvantage of 53 to 47 seats.  A more coherent estimate of the election’s outcome is the attainment of 4-5 net seats.  That means the congress of the United States will be controlled by Republicans.  But continue to pay attention…fluidity will be the norm over the next 40 plus days.