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August 31, 2005

Bush Job Rating and 2006 Turnout

While MP and his family were enjoying time off at their undisclosed location, Mickey Kaus raised several questions about the Bush job rating, particularly as measured by the Rasmussen Reports automated tracking survey.  The most intriguing was this one:

According to the Rasmussen robo-poll, 43% of Americans approve of how Bush is doing his job, while 55% disapprove. But what's really striking is that the disapprovers disapprove much more vehemently than the approvers approve--41% of those surveyed "strongly disapproved" of Bush, while only 21% "strongly approve." Doesn't this imbalance of fervor mean something in low-turnout elections, such as the upcoming 2006 mid-terms? Specifically, doesn't it mean the anti-Bush forces should do very well in 2006, in a mirror-reversal of the 1994 mid-terms?

[Note: as of 8/31, Rasmussen shows 34% strongly disapproving Bush's performance and 25% strongly approving].

The answer is a bit murky.  The Democrats may ultimately gain a turnout advantage in 2006, but MP is not sure this result supports that argument. 

There are two issues here.  The first is the long term decline in President Bush's overall job rating since January, evident in surveys conducted by every public pollster except, ironically, Rasmussen.**  MP commented on this trend earlier in the month.  Since then, Gallup, Harris, ARG and now ABC/Washington Post have reported their lowest ever job ratings for the president (links via RCP). 

This trend is certainly not welcome news for the Republicans, as it represents a significant decline in support for the president since the election.  Obviously, a shift of that magnitude in vote preference last November would have put John Kerry in the White House.  If this trend persists, it does not portend well for the Republicans. 

The issue Kaus raises is a bit different but more intriguing:  Does the Rasmussen result, which continues to show more strong disapproval of the president than strong approval, suggest a potential turnout advantage for Democrats in 2006? 

The answer, unfortunately, is cloudy.  To get it, we need to check two things: 

First, do other surveys confirm the Rasmussen result?  The answer appears to be yes, but the answer was not as easy to find as MP assumed.  While pollsters typically use follow-up probes to measure intensity of opinion ("do you feel strongly about that?"), very few probe intensity on the standard presidential job approval rating question.  Most simply ask whether respondents "approve" or "disapprove" and leave it at that. 

There are a few exceptions.  Other than Rasmussen, the exceptions that MP can find include the Westhill/Hotline poll, Harris and Zogby:

  • The Westhill/Hotline poll asks a question similar to Rasmussen's.  In July, they found 23% strong approval and 34% strong disapproval of the President Bush.
  • Zogby asks the job approval question with different answer categories:  excellent, good, fair or poor.  In survey conducted at the end of July, they reported 19% who gave President Bush an "excellent" rating vs. 28% who rated the president's rating as "poor." 
  • Harris also uses the excellent, good, fair or poor scale.  In their most recent August telephone survey sponsored by the Wall Street Journal, they reported 13% of Americans rating the president's performance as excellent, 34% rating it poor.  Their June survey showed similar results.

Thus, at least two other surveys confirm the Rasmussen finding that more Americans express a strongly negative view of his job performance than a strongly positive view.

The second issue: Were these results different just before the elections last year?  That one is harder to answer.  While Bush's ratings are certainly lower, the strongly negative opinions appear to have been more frequent than strongly positive opinions even in the midst of the 2004 elections: 

  • Rasmussen's free website provides only the current result for the four-category job rating.  I have requested pre-election results from Rasmussen directly but have not yet received a response. 

  • According to a recent release, Zogby found 18% of "likely voters" giving Bush an excellent job rating in September 2004, while 32% gave Bush a rating of "poor."  In mid November, 24% rated Bush excellent, 31% poor.

  • The Westhill/Hotline poll was started in January 2005, although at that time they reported that 29% strongly approving Bush's performance and 34% strongly disapproving. 

These suggest that even back in October 2004, more Americans strongly disapproved of Bush's job performance than strongly approved.   How can that be?  Didn't George Bush do a better job turning out his supporters than John Kerry? 

The problem is that perceptions of George Bush alone do not tell the full story.  The vote was not just a referendum on Bush (despite the predictions of a certain officious blogger), it was a choice between Bush and Kerry.  Questions that measured intensity of support in the Bush-Kerry showed something different.  Consider:

  • On a survey fielded October 28-30, 2004, the CBS/New York Times poll showed 67% of Bush voters saying their "strongly favored" their candidate compared to 49% of Kerry supporters.   Thus, roughly 34% strongly favored Bush, 23% strongly favored Kerry.
  • On a survey fielded October 27-30, 2004, the Pew Research center showed 34% supporting Bush "strongly" vs 29% supporting Kerry strongly.
  • On a survey fielded October 16-18, 2004, the Hart/McInturff NBC/WSJ poll ($) showed that 91% of Bush voters would "definitely support" their candidate compared to 84% of Kerry voters.   Thus, roughly 44% were "definitely" supporting Bush, 39% were "definitely" supporting Kerry.

The point here is relatively simple.  One may have some reservations about Bush's job performance -- enough to give him a "good" rating rather than "excellent" rating or "somewhat" approve rather than "strongly" approve -- but still strongly prefer Bush to Kerry.  This point is related to the observation made recently by a kausfiles reader:

Alert kf reader G.S. suggests leaderless Democrats take another look at that Amazing Dr. Pollkatz Polling Graphic. The only time Bush's steady polling decline stopped was in 2004, when he actually had some identifiable Democratic champions (Dean, then Kerry) to be set off against.

So what does all this tell us about the potential for turnout and the political landscape in the 2006 elections?

1) Again, obviously, Bush's falling job rating -- should it remain low -- is bad news for Republican candidates in 2006.  Anecdotal evidence from the recent special elections suggests that the Democratic base is now more energized than Republicans. 

2) However, neither Bush nor Kerry will be on the ballot in 2006, so the ultimate impact of the Bush rating on turnout in the 2006 results is unclear and debatable. 

3) If we really want to check intensity of opinion regarding the Senate and Congressional elections, we need to measure it directly.  The best gauge on a national survey is the so-called "generic" Congressional vote with a follow-up question about strength of support.  In other words, we need to ask respondents whether they "plan to vote for the Republican candidate or the Democratic candidate in your district" and then whether they support that candidate "strongly" or not.   

Unfortunately, MP has not seen a strength of support follow-up yet regarding the 2006 congressional elections, but they will be coming soon. 

**On August 17, when Kaus posted these numbers, the Rasmussen survey had shown a sudden decline in the Bush job rating. However, over the last two weeks, Bush's numbers on the Rasmussen survey have risen steadily. The result posted this morning -- 49% approve, 50% disapprove -- is roughly the same as Rasmussen has been reporting all year.   

Posted by Mark Blumenthal on August 31, 2005 at 05:35 PM in The 2006 Race | Permalink | Comments (11)

August 12, 2005

The Mystery Vacation

Tomorrow, MP heads off on his annual family vacation.  This will be MP's first real vacation since starting this humble blog almost a year ago, and oh my, do we need it!   

Thanks to all who continue to check in to this space regularly and email with thoughts and comments.  I'll be back on August 29...or perhaps earlier with a photo or  two from the Mystery Vacation..

See you in two weeks! 

Posted by Mark Blumenthal on August 12, 2005 at 05:07 PM in MP Housekeeping | Permalink | Comments (14)

2008 Presidential Polling in 2005: a REALLY Big Grain of Salt

The folks at National Journal's Hotline raised an interesting question yesterday.  How useful are the head-to-head preference polls being released now on the White House 2008 primary races?  Not very, they concluded.  MP concurs, only more so.

Since the Hotline links will be of little use unless you're lucky enough to have one of those coveted, pricey subscriptions, here's the gist:

We took a look back at previous WH elections to see what polls look like three years out. Looking at the same point in the '04 and '00 cycles, we averaged the poll results for the first eight months of the year, meaning January through August in '97 for the '00 cycle, and January through August in '01 for the '04 cycle. For the '96 election, there were only two polls for the year, one from 9/93 and the other from 10/93.

Their produced the following averages. Three years before the 2000 election, the head-to-head primary polls on the Democratic side correctly identified Al Gore as the front runner, but had George W. Bush running behind Colin Powell, who never ran:

WH '00 Dem Primary Averages
46%  Al Gore
10% Jesse Jackson
9% Bill Bradley
7% Dick Gephardt
4% Bob Kerrey
3% John Kerry

WH '00 GOP Primary Averages
29% Colin Powell
17% George W. Bush
13% Jack Kemp
11% Elizabeth Dole
10% Dan Quayle

The polls for the 2004 Democratic primary provided "the best example of tainted primary polls."  Three candidates who did not run (Gore, Clinton & Bradley) dominated the early trial heats, while the ultimate "frontrunners" (Kerry, Edwards & Dean) barely registered:

WH '04 Dem Primary Averages
41% Al Gore
19% Hilary Clinton
9% Joe Lieberman
8% Bill Bradley
7% Dick Gephardt
4% John Kerry
2% John Edwards
2% Bob Kerrey

The 1996 polls had Bob Dole, the ultimate winner, ahead but once again suggested a competitive race between Dole and two candidates who did run (Powell and Kemp):

WH '96 GOP Primary Averages
31% Bob Dole
24% Colin Powell
16% Jack Kemp

"Why," the Hotline asks,

do people spend time and money polling a race that may never happen? On the off chance it does, these numbers suddenly become very important. Of the candidates that were in the lead of their respective primary polls three years before the election, among those who actually ran (not Powell -- either time) no one failed to get their party's nod in the years we looked at -- Dole in '96 and Gore in '00. (And at some point Bush in '00 once Powell was not included in the primary matchups.) Although the "among those who a actually ran" is a large caveat. With no one on either side fessing-up to a WH bid yet, the primary polls become a Choose Your Own Adventure for politicos.

True enough.  But MP hastens to add a bigger problem.  The population of voters typically sampled by these early trial heat questions (the sample "frame") bears little resemblance to the relatively small slice of actual primary voters that will ultimately decide the 2008 nominations. 

Consider the recent Gallup poll that created the "buzz" noted by the Hotline.   Gallup started with a random sample of 1004 adults and used their standard party identification question to select two samples of self-reported registered voters:  406 "Republicans and Republican leaners" and 424 "Democrats and Democratic leaners."  Thus, the two samples amounted to 40% and 42% of the adult population respectively.  [MP does not mean to single out Gallup; other pollsters conduct these early trial heats in essentially the same way.  For example, a recent Marist poll provided results for Democrats and Republicans, groups that were 37% and 35% of adults respectively]. 

Now consider how many Americans actually vote in the primaries that decide the nomination.  Curtis Gans  of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate (CSAE) regularly releases estimates of voter turnout.   His estimates of presidential primary turnout as a percentage of eligible adults** are as follows for the most recent contested presidential primaries:

2004 Democratic 11.4% (estimated)
2000 Democratic 10.1%
2000 Republican 14.9%
1996 Republican 11.2%
1992 Democratic 12.7%
1992 Republican 10.1%
1988 Democratic 15.8%
1988 Republican 10.0%

In other words, the horse race questions you are seeing on the 2008 race for the White House are sampling segments of the population that are three to four times larger than the electorates that will actually decide each nomination.  And keep in mind, we do not conduct a national primary, but a series of statewide primaries.   In recent years, the nominations have been decided after the first few primary states.  Do these primary polls have  some entertainment value?  Yes.  Do they have influence over early donors and endorsers?  Unfortunately, yes.   Are they useful is this in determining what will happen in three years?  Sometimes yes, sometimes not at all. 

It may be helpful to consider that private campaign pollsters -- the people hired by the presidential candidates -- do not bother with this sort of national primary horserace poll.  When they begin to do their internal surveys for presidential candidates, campaign pollsters will focus more on sampling individual states that come early in the process (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, etc) rather than looking at a national sample.  And even then, they pay far less attention to horse-race questions at this stage in the race than to favorable ratings that tell us how well each potential candidate is known.

Which brings us to the horse race numbers for 2008.  You can look at each result over at the Polling Report, or check these averages computed by the Hotline:

WH '08 Dem Primary Average
40% Hilary Clinton
19% John Kerry
14% John Edwards
6% Joe Biden
3% Wesley Clark

WH '08 GOP Primary Average
31% Rudy Guliani
27% John McCain
16% Condoleezza Rice*
10% Jeb Bush*
7% Newt Gingrich
*Rice & Bush included on only two polls

Speculate away if you wish, but MP recommends as big a grain of salt as you can find. 

**MP reminds readers that political scientists disagree about the most appropriate definition of eligible voters to use in calculating turnout.  Gans and the CSAE have historically used the "voting age population" (VAP) as estimated by the Census.  Prof. Michael McDonald of George Mason University has identified shortcomings and proposed an alternative statistic.  For more discussion, see McDonald's web page, the CSAE Report and my own discussion back in October. 

Posted by Mark Blumenthal on August 12, 2005 at 04:51 PM in Polls in the News | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 10, 2005

Self-Aggrandizing Wannabe Update

For those that just can't get enough Mystery Pollster, two notes:

First, the Hotline Blogometer published its scintillating email "interview" with MP yesterday.    A "must read" for those who must know the answers to such questions as, "what is your favorite non-political blog?"

Second,  this post earned a certain blogger a mentioned (and a screen shot!) on the "Inside the Blogs" segment on the very last broadcast of the CNN program Inside Politics last Friday.  MP won't be putting up the streaming video, but I know at least one reader will want to check the transcript (Control-F to and search on "mysterypollster.com").   Enjoy it Mom. 

Posted by Mark Blumenthal on August 10, 2005 at 11:28 AM in Polling & the Blogosphere | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 09, 2005

Bush Slide?

The must-read for today is the NY Times op-ed piece, by Pew's Andrew Kohut and Peter Hoey, that compares public opinion and major events during the first half-year of the second term for Presidents Nixon, Reagan Clinton and Bush.  It's worth the click for the graphic alone (click on the link for the "op-ed chart).  Their bottom line:

President Bush's report card from the public for the first half-year of his second term is not a good one compared with how the public graded Presidents Reagan and Clinton at a similar point in time. Only President Nixon, who had by then begun to tumble into the abyss of Watergate, had a lower presidential approval rating.

MP has received several emails from readers questioning recent surveys that show declining approval ratings for the President.  The ratings listed for President Bush (50% in January and 44% in July) in the Kohut/Hoey graphic are from surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center, however, a quick scan of the various Bush job ratings compiled by the Polling Report (or the amazing Professor Pollkatz graphic) shows that the same modest slide is captured by almost every public national public poll. 


The Pollkatz graphic displays the Bush presidential job approval rating for nearly every national public poll released during his presidency.  By looking at all the poll results, we can distinguish real trends from statistical noise:  Bush's rating jumped dramatically after the 9/11 attacks and then gradually receded in a straight line trend for the 18 months that followed.  It rose again (roughly 15 points) at the outset of the Iraq war before receding again.  The capture of Saddam Hussain produced a brief uptick in December 2003 which again faded as a result of the news of the spring of 2004.   Bush's ratings rose 5-10 points during the fall campaign in 2004 and -- confirming the numbers in the Kohut/Hoey piece -- has fallen roughly 5-6 percentage points since January. 

Another way to consider the same numbers is to consider trends among individual pollsters, where methodologies and questions are fixed from survey to survey.  One can see the same trends in the numbers at the polling report.  To simplify this even further, I gathered job rating data released by thirteen public pollsters (using data RealClearPolitics and the PollingReport) and calculated average approval ratings for each for three periods: January through February, March through May and June through August.  The results are clear -- 12 of 13 pollsters show declines in the Bush job rating during 2005.


As always, some caveats are in order for this sort of averaging:  Some of the differences between organizations may result from the timing and frequency of their surveys.  For example, Gallup released 25 surveys with a Bush job rating in 2005, Newsweek released three.  The ABC/Washington Post did two surveys in June but none since, so if there has been further erosion of the Bush rating since early July this average would not show it.  Similarly, the Westhill-Hotline survey conducted only one survey since May which happened to fall in the immediate aftermath of the first London bombings, which may make their "June-Aug" number higher than other pollsters.

The Rasmussen surveys are the one exception to the overall trend, showing a slight (2 percentage point) increase in the Spring and no change since.** MP notes two important differences in the Rasumussen methodology:  First, they are the only "automated" pollster on this list to use a recorded voice rather than a live interviewer.  Second, they routinely weight their surveys by party ID, a practice shared only by Zogby.

MP cannot say for certain why Rasumussen numbers cited above do not show the same trends as other pollsters, but MP suspects that part weighting played a role.  Of course MP must admit that Zogby -- who also weights by party -- shows the same trends as other pollsters.

The danger of weighting by party is that it can mask real trends when partisan attitudes shift, and data from the Gallup organization suggests we may be in just such a period (unfortunately, the linked articles are available to paid subscribers only).   On their last five surveys, they have shown an average five point Democratic advantage on party identification (35% to 30%).  They showed an even party split on their surveys conducted during 2004 (34% to 34%) and a one point Republican advantage on surveys conducted during between January and mid-June 2005 (34% to 33%).   MP reminds readers that Gallup uses a slightly different wording for party identification ("in politics, as of today..") that may produce more short term variation in party ID.

**MP based averages for Rasmussen on periodic day results posted here by RealClearPolitics.  Rasumussen conducts a daily, rolling average tracking poll, but provides non-subscribers with results for the last eight days only.  If any MP readers or anyone from RassmussenReports can share a spreadsheet with complete daily or weekly results for 2005, MP would be pleased to update the averages in the above table.

Posted by Mark Blumenthal on August 9, 2005 at 11:03 AM in Polls in the News | Permalink | Comments (5)

August 04, 2005

Off-Topic: Novak and Inside Politics

OK, totally off-topic for the Mystery Pollster, but in all the hullabaloo about Robert Novak storming off the set of Inside Politics earlier today, I’m surprised no one noticed that big brown volume sitting on the desk in front of Ed Henry. As I emailed Mickey Kaus, it sure looks to me like a copy of Who’s Who in America.

Compare this screen-shot (via Wonkette via C&L)…


To this (via Marquis Who's Who)...



P.S.  For those who find this reference mysterious, Mickey explains it all, here and here.

P.P.S.  Apologies for the slack posting this week.  The dog days and the day job got the best of MP...will be back to posting on polling tomorrow

Posted by Mark Blumenthal on August 4, 2005 at 10:57 PM in Miscellanous | Permalink | Comments (2)