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February 27, 2006

Rasmussen: Dubai Ports Deal

The Rasmussen Reports automated poll was the first out of the blocks late last week with results on the Dubai ports deal.  Although unmentioned in most of the "mainstream" media, the results did get references over the weekend in the New York tabloids (Daily News and the Post) as well as a host of prominent (Kaus, Sullivan, RealClearPolitics, The Corner, The Plank).   We will, no doubt, hear much more about the ports deal in the next round of conventional public polls, but for now, Rasmussen's results are the only available.  The question is, how seriously should we take them? 

Reasons for Skepticism:  First, Rasmussen himself is skeptical.  I exchanged email with Scott Rasmussen over the weekend, and he cautioned that they conducted their survey on Wednesday and Thursday nights last week, "at the height of furor" as he put it. Rasmussen said they plan to track their Dubai ports questions again in a week or so. 

Second, many Americans are probably not following the issue closely.  Nineteen percent (19%) of those surveyed were unable to answer Rasmussen's question on the Dubai Ports deal. Compare that to his presidential job approval question, which normally produces a "don't know" of about 1% (much lower than other conventional surveys).  Moreover, as the Rasmussen summary notes, on a subsequent question, less than half of those surveyed know that foreign firms currently operate U.S. ports:

Just 39% of Americans know that the operating rights are currently owned by a foreign firm. Fifteen percent (15%) believe the operating rights are U.S. owned while 46% are not sure.

For all of these reasons, the conventional pollsters will probably ask questions that -- like those asked about the NSA wiretapping -- explain the issue to respondents in some detail.  The wording they choose may produce results different results from what Rasmussen obtained. 

Finally, there is the conventional wisdom that Rasmussen's polls "need to be taken with a bucket-full of salt," as Andrew Sullivan put it last week.  This is a bigger can of worms than MP has time for this morning, but it does reflect a deep skepticism about Rasmussen among conventional survey practitioners.  That skepticism is not helped by the paucity of disclosure on Rasmussen's website about his methods for sample selection, weighting and question wording.  To be fair, Scott Rasmussen has been responsive to my requests for more information and MP hopes to look more closely at Rasmussen's methods in the comings months.   

Reasons to take these results seriously:  First, the initial result -- in which 17% believe the "Dubai Ports World should be allowed to purchase operating rights to several U.S. ports" and 64% disagree and say the sale should not be allowed -- is not close.  Yes, this one-sided reaction may change over time.  It may look different when measured by a more rigorous sampling methodology.   Different wording may get a different result.  But it is hard to imagine a complete reversal.    

Second, the results that drew the most attention from bloggers -- those noting Bush's surprisingly low rating on "national security issues" -- came from a question asked before any mention of the ports sale issue:

For the first time ever, Americans have a slight preference for Democrats in Congress over the President on national security issues. Forty-three percent (43%) say they trust the Democrats more on this issue today while 41% prefer the President.

It is important to note that the question about trust on national security issues was asked first, before any mention was made of the Dubai Ports issue [Emphasis in original].

I emailed to ask Rasmussen how this results compares to those from previous surveys.  His answer: 

We asked the specific question frequently in 2003 and early 2004. Occasionally in early 2005. Bush always on top by high single digits to low double digits.

Third, Rasmussen's party weighting procedure makes his samples a few points more Republican than other national surveys of adults.  In an email exchange in early January, Rasmussen explained that since 2004, he has weighted his adult samples to match the partisanship of voters on Election Day 2004 as measured by the final adjusted NEP exit polls (37% Republican, 37% Democrat, 26% independent).  While an odd choice to weight samples of adults (as opposed to "likely voters"), the effect is to make Rasmussen's samples consistently more Republican than most other public polls of adults.  We can debate the wisdom of this procedure, but in this case it argues for taking negative reaction to the Dubai ports sale a bit more seriously. 

[And yes, MP has been procrastinating about explaining Rasmussen's weighting scheme in full.  Apologies, but I'll get there soon]. 

We should be patient, as the conventional surveys on this issue will begin appearing over the next week or so.  However, Rasmussen's early results suggest that the initial public reaction has been sharply negative.  Stay tuned. 

Related Entries - IVR Polls

Posted by Mark Blumenthal on February 27, 2006 at 01:10 PM in IVR Polls | Permalink


Well, in addition to reaction to the ports deal, I'd expect one of the majors to report a job approval as low as 35 percent in the next week or two (pushed down of course also by the violence in Iraq).

Posted by: Ike | Feb 27, 2006 7:18:28 PM

Note how much the gas tax poll answer shifted with just a slight change in wording. So it doesn't seem unreasonable that for something like this there might also be such a large shift.

Posted by: Kenny Easwaran | Mar 2, 2006 4:12:42 AM

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