Michael Barone in the recent polling and the state of the presidential race
HH: As a young kid in Michigan, I’ll be you Michael Barone listened to Andy Williams in his heyday. Hello, Michael, welcome back from the Washington Examiner
MB: Hey, it’s good to be with you.
HH: Michael, the reason I called is the latest round of Quinnipiac polls for the New York Times shows Barack Obama with big leads in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida. But it also shows a sample of plus nine Democrats in a turnout model for Ohio and Florida, and plus eleven Democrats in Pennsylvania. How do you assess the predictive validity of these polls?
MB: Well, I think, you know, I think there’s some serious questions about them. You know, we have to put this in context, Hugh. There’s some real problems with public opinion polling as an instrument. First of all, it’s inherently inexact. You know, random selection theory tells you that there’s an error margin, and that one out of twenty polls is outside that error margin. So let’s always keep that in mind. Second, there are low response rates now, which are a real problem. The PewResearchCenter reports that only 9% of the people that it calls are responding to polls. That’s way down from historic levels, and it raises the question are those people representative of the population as a whole that they’re trying to sample? You know, one thing that polls can’t tell you is the characteristics of people who won’t be polled. So that raises some serious questions. Are we getting skewed samples? We know from the exit poll phenomenon over the last many cycles that the exit poll results tend to come in more Democratic than the actual vote does, and measured at the same precincts. So there’s a question there. And third, we have an increasing population of cell phone only individuals, or households, who are probably tend to be younger, and probably in this election more Democratic than the population as a whole. Pollsters cannot use robocalls to call these people. They have to make expensive calls to cell phone exchanges, hand dialed, and this poses a real problem for public opinion pollsters. It’s more expensive. How many cell phone only people do you call? If those, if that population is, as the pollsters believe, significantly more Democratic, the decision on how many you call is going to affect the outcome of your poll. So and the fact is that we don’t know, because we’ve had an increase in the cell phone only population, what percentage of the voters they will turn out to be. So those are three problems that the pollsters face. Having said all that, looking at, for example, these Quinnipiac results, as you note, we see that they are more Democratic now than went Democratic in the 2010 electorate, which nationally was 35% Democratic, 35% Republican in party identification, but more Democratic than the 2008 electorate, which was 39% Democratic, 32% Republican by party ID. That’s out of line with what most political observers would have expected the outcome to be this year. Up until the Democratic convention, polling showed a consistently higher degree of enthusiasm, significantly higher, among people identifying as Republicans than among people identifying as Democrats. That gap has diminished, and I think I’ve seen one Gallup poll that said that self-identified Democrats actually expressing more enthusiasm after the Democratic convention. So it’s possible that we, you know, that Democrats are more likely to pass through the screens as likely voters or registered voters, or people interested in voting through the pollsters’ screens than they were prior to the Democratic convention. But we’ve seen these kind of polls all along, and they’re, you know, I think that you want to look at them with an asterisk in mind.
HH: Now Michael, I want to remind myself of something I asked, or you told me the last time we talked, which is that no presidential candidate has polled grater than 3% of the turnout for his party in the previous off year election. Am I recalling that correctly?
MB: I’m not sure if that’s exactly what I said, or the point that I addressed. Oh, yeah, I know what you’re saying. Basically, in the last three presidential elections, what we’ve seen is that the percentage for the winning candidate has been equal to or within one percent of the percentage for his party’s vote, share of the popular vote two years before.
HH: Okay, one percent. Wow.
MB: One percent. Now that’s not an in an electable rule. It did not turn out to be true in 1994 and 1996, where Bill Clinton outpolled his party two years before, and of course, he shifted policy. And if you look at the data before 1994, it doesn’t work until you go back years and years, because basically, there were a lot more split ticket voting. White southerners were typically voting Democratic for president, Republican for president, Democratic for Congress, and there were other anomalies in a countervailing direction. So the rule only applies to the last three presidential elections. But I think it’s, you know, looking at that, it suggests some peril for the Obama candidacy.
HH: Jay Cost…
HH: …who I have tremendous esteem for, said look, what he cares about most in all of these polls is not what they suggest the prediction is, but how the independents are breaking. And he keeps looking at Quinnipiac, at Marist, at all of them, and the independents are breaking for Romney. In some cases, it’s a little bit just above a tie, but Romney is winning the middle and the independents. And he finds this to be the most significant factor in the polls. Do you agree with his assessment on that?
MB: I think that that’s one good way to look at it. And it’s just another way of saying that those polls are showing a significant Democratic party ID edge among those who were polled, and one that in many cases is greater than Democrats enjoyed in the 2008 results.
HH: Now when I come back from break, Michael, I want to ask you about Virginia and Florida. But before we go to break, how do you see Ohio, we’ve got a minute to the break, shaping up?
MB: Well, Ohio is a state which the Obama campaign has pumped a lot of money, a lot of negative Romney ads in, and I think key Romney people are genuinely concerned and puzzled exactly how they’re going to take it. They’ve got the bus tour going now. They need, I think, to show Ohioans how they can produce a better economy than the Obama policies have done, and are likely to do.
HH: I think the answer is going to be energy and fracking. I talked to Paul Ryan about that at the top of the hour, and that this resonates. But is that too far down in particularity, Michael Barone, in your opinion, to resonate with average voters?
MB: I think that in Northeast Ohio, where you’ve had a real potential fracking boom, and you know, you’ve seen steel mills open because of it, I think that people are aware of that, and I think that’s a good policy, that’s a good point to make. Obama’s EPA wants to stop fracking.
HH: As does his Department of the Interior.
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HH: Michael Barone, we talked about Ohio. The other big three – Colorado, Florida and Virginia. I think those are all in better shape for Romney/Ryan than Ohio, but what do you think?
MB: Yeah, I think Florida is very close. And when you’re getting Obama results off a plus 9 Democratic party identification, I think that’s inherently fishy, and that was the case with the CBS/New York Times/Quinnipiac poll that we cited in the previous hour. I think that Florida, and remember, Florida is also the big one. It’s the biggest target state with 29 electoral votes, that old rule about the Republicans not winning the presidency without winning Ohio was formulated on the basis of most cases where Ohio had a whole lot more electoral votes than Florida, which it doesn’t anymore.
HH: And Virginia and Colorado?
MB: Virginia, I think that you know, Romney has to break through, I think, better than he has with the affluent voters in Northern Virginia. You know, again, there’s some reason to be suspicious of the polling results there so far. But I had thought on the basis of the primaries that Romney would score better among affluent voters in the affluent suburbs than previous Republican nominees going back the last 20 years, and so far, I haven’t seen evidence of that happening, or at least not great evidence.
HH: And what’s interesting, Romney was in Colorado two days ago. Paul Ryan, I caught up with him today in Colorado. They’re pouring a lot of time into the RockyMountainState. It might be their firewall in the West. What do you think?
MB: I think they’ve got a good chance for Colorado for a couple of reasons. You know the people talk about the big Latino vote in Colorado. The Latino vote in Colorado is less heavily Democratic than it is in states like New Mexico and Nevada and California. So I think that Obama won that state basically off white voters last time. The Republicans, even though they got beaten by blunders at the top of the ticket in 2010, did well in that state otherwise.
HH: Michael Barone, always a pleasure, from the Washington Examiner. Thank you. We will be reading the Almanac Of American Politics almost every day between now and the election. And if you don’t have one, you ought to go to Amazon.com and get one. That way, you’ll know what’s going on in every single electoral district.
End of interview.