End Of The “Meet And Greet” Era?


All politics is local … or is it?

Market Research Foundation has studied this issue in the past – and determined that local issues matter a great deal in statewide and national races.

But what about candidate visits?  Do these “meet-and-greets” – which offer candidates a chance to weigh in on local issues – really provide an advantage?

New data from Ohio State political scientist Thomas Wood suggests they do not.  According to Wood – who examined data from the 2012 election cycle – the era of the “meet-and-greet” is over.

“Campaign events probably don’t influence voters,” Wood told The (U.K.) Guardian.

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MRF And The Lincoln Initiative


Last week in San Francisco, Market Research Foundation (MRF) was a sponsor of the Lincoln Initiative‘s annual “Reboot” conference.

Billed as a gathering of “top influencers from diverse industries – civic tech founders, engineers and designers, politicos, corporate tech, foundation executives, angel investors and serial entrepreneurs,” this year’s event did not disappoint.

Title sponsor i360 – a top data analytics firm – was well-represented, as were co-sponsors ComScore, Google Elections, Microsoft and Facebook.

MRF’s chief operating officer Ray Wotring was a speaker at the event.

“After the 2012 election, a group of donors asked our Chairman Bill Wilson, and myself, to complete an assessment on the state of data and technology on the right,” Wotring told attendees. “As most can expect, the assessment was bleak. Some tools did exist; however the emphasis was placed on the paint. Little to not thought was placed into data architecture; or how to effectively manipulate data; especially in down ballot races.”

The result?

“Most candidates were shooting in the dark,” Wotring said.

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Big Brexit Miss


Britain’s decision to leave the European Union – the “Brexit” – is a seismic development.  A stunning rebuke of the global corporate and bureaucratic elite, the vote has already yielded regime change in London – and shaken the EU to its core as other nations mull departures of their own.

Putting politics aside for a moment, though, the “Brexit” offers a fascinating case study for pollsters – nearly all of whom missed the outcome of the election.

Two polls released just ahead of the big vote showed “Remain” prevailing.  According to an Ipsos MORI survey released one day before the voting, 54 percent of Brits were supposed to vote “Remain” compared to only 46 percent voting “Leave” – an eight-point margin of victory.  Meanwhile a YouGov poll released on the day of the vote had “Remain” prevailing by a 52-48 percent margin – identical to a follow-up Ipsos MORI survey released on the same day.

“The results are close and it’s too early to call it definitively,” YouGov’s pollsters noted.  “But these results, along with the recent trends and historical precedent, suggest a Remain victory is the more likely outcome.” 

In fact the outcome was so certain the leader of the “Leave” faction – Nigel Farage – actually conceded the outcome on the day of the vote.

“Looks like Remain will edge it,” he said.

When all the votes were counted, though, “Leave” prevailed 52-48 – meaning Ipsos MORI and YouGov’s final polls missed the mark by eight points.

What happened?  Well, when survey results fail to project electoral outcomes any number of factors could be involved.

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Analyzing “First In The South” Voter Turnout Programs


This year’s “First in the South” presidential primary in early-voting South Carolina saw a massive 23 percent increase in turnout from 2012.  It also saw 215,082 first-time voters – comprising nearly 30 percent of the GOP electorate.

Prior to the election, various efforts were undertaken to identify potential first-time voters who would support presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump – and to target these potential voters with multiple communications aimed at increasing their turnout.  Market Research Foundation was asked to verify the efficacy of this first-time, pro-Trump model – and provide back-end analysis of its impact.

Did the model work?  Absolutely.

Of the 122,000 modeled voters who received seven communications from the pro-Trump Super PAC during the final twelve days of the race – 25,063 voted for an impressive 20.5 percent turnout rate.  Among the control group of 20,000 voters, only 1,760 (or 8.8 percent) cast ballots.  The 188,259 remaining first time-voters represented 8.3 percent of the 2.2 million eligible voters in the state (minus repeat GOP voters).

Here’s the breakdown:

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Economic Jitters


Is America’s economy getting better or worse?  Or is it simply stuck in neutral?

According to Bloomberg’s latest Consumer Comfort Index (CCI) – published weekly by Langer Research Associates – only 26 percent of Americans believe the U.S. economy is improving.  Meanwhile 37 percent believe it is getting worse, and another 37 percent say it is holding steady.  Over at Gallup, 38 percent said the economy was “getting better” while a whopping 57 percent indicated it was getting worse.

Those are hardly ringing endorsements of an economy that many believe may have already slipped back into recession.

Are these concerns impacting the 2016 election?  Yes – all over the map.

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Has Trade Policy Become A Voting Issue?


In an election year dominated by the illegal immigration issue, are there any other hot-button topics capable of moving the needle among America’s angry electorate?   Yes, according to a new survey from veteran pollster Pat Caddell.

Conducted on behalf of Americans for Limited Government (ALG), Caddell’s latest survey explored public sentiment regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – a massive global trade deal currently being pursued by U.S. president Barack Obama and certain Republican members of Congress.  At first blush, a majority of respondents (51 percent) said they “didn’t know enough” about TPP to form an opinion of it – hardly qualifying the issue for “hot button” status.  Meanwhile 22 percent oppose the agreement (9 percent strongly) compared to 15 percent who support it (3 percent strongly).  Another 11 percent were undecided.

Informed of the deal’s potential to “open the door for more foreign workers to enter the American job market without any restraints” and to “benefit entrenched global corporations but hurt working Americans, small businesses and startups,” public perception on the agreement changes dramatically.  Even when coupled with positive statements about the TPP – including the claim that it will “lead to improved wages, economic growth, and access to other markets” – the informed vote on the trade deal becomes decidedly negative.

After hearing both positive and negative information on TPP, opposition to the deal more than doubles from 22 to 45 percent – including 17 percent who strongly oppose it.  Meanwhile the percentage of respondents who support the bill peaks at 32 percent – including just 5 percent who strongly support it.

That’s a big intensity gap – one that continues expanding the more people learn about the controversial pact.

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Immigration Exit Polling


Electoral science is all about digging deep – uncovering elusive wisdom from within reams of seemingly divergent data.  In fact those who succeed in this business do so precisely because they know how to dig – and more importantly, where to dig.

Sometimes, though, we don’t have to get our hands dirty to find the answer.

Sometimes the answer is sitting right there on the surface – staring us in the face.

Take the big victories registered by Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump in New Hampshire and South Carolina – which held the first two GOP primary elections of the 2016 cycle this month.  Granite State voters have traditionally been viewed as more centrist – i.e. more friendly to GOP candidates residing on the left end of the party’s ideological spectrum. Meanwhile voters in the Palmetto State are viewed as far more conservative – especially on social issues – and far more eager to support candidates who appeal to their evangelical beliefs.

Neither of those electoral universes would seem to be especially receptive to a candidate like Trump – yet he won convincing victories in both states.

In New Hampshire, Trump won 35.3 percent of the vote – easily outdistancing centrist Oho governor John Kasich.  In South Carolina, Trump captured 32.5 percent of the vote – giving him a ten-point edge over both Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, a pair of candidates who made overt appeals to socially conservative voters (and attacked Trump for his social liberalism).

What gives?  Immigration, that’s what.

According to exit polling in New Hampshire, 65 percent of GOP primary voters supported Trump’s proposal to temporarily suspend Muslim immigration into the United States.  In South Carolina, exit polling showed 73 percent supported Trump’s plan.  Those are compelling majorities.

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Health Care Debate Evolving In Advance Of 2016 Elections


It’s no secret a majority of Americans have consistently opposed the 2010 health care law championed by U.S. president Barack Obama. In fact, over six years of polling this legislation has never once enjoyed the popular support of a majority of Americans.  But with independent socialist U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders pushing the national debate further to the left on health care – is Obama’s law still the issue we should be following?

In 2013, Sanders introduced his “American Health Security Act,” arguing at the time that “we must move toward a single-payer system” – or one in which the government is responsible for collecting all medical fees and disbursing payment for all medical services.

“A large-scale single-payer system already exists in the United States,” Sanders wrote.  “It’s called Medicare. People enrolled in the system give it high marks. More importantly, it has succeeded in providing near-universal coverage to Americans over the age of 65.”

Today, Sanders is campaigning on a $1.38 trillion-a-year plan to expand “Medicare to all.”  And he’s making no bones about how he intends to pay for it.

“We will raise taxes,” Sanders told a crowd at a Democratic town hall this week. “Yes we will.”

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What Is A “Likely Voter” Anyway?


Fresh off of our glimpse into the explosive turnout potential of the untapped conservative electorate, along comes a new report from The Pew Center which in its own way raises a similar question: Are “likely voter” models for the 2016 election cycle way off-base?

In other words, are we looking at another election in which mainstream polling completely misses the mark?

According to the Pew report, this polling “has missed the mark in several high-profile elections, drawing particular attention to the difficulties inherent in using surveys to predict election outcomes.”

“Election polls face a unique problem in survey research: They are asked to produce a model of a population that does not yet exist at the time the poll is conducted, the future electorate,” the report continued.

Indeed.  But that’s what survey work is all about – accurately modeling a voter universe that’s consistent with the electorate to come, not the electorate of years gone by.  To that end, Pew’s researchers surveyed verified voters from 2014 – uncovering a 51-45 percent advantage for Republicans (which mirrored the 2014 results, not surprisingly).

Continue reading What Is A “Likely Voter” Anyway?

Inside The Disenfranchised Conservative Electorate


It’s no secret conservative voters have felt disenfranchised in recent election cycles – especially in dark red states like South Carolina.  Previous surveys conducted for Market Research Foundation (MRF) in the Palmetto State have shown the strain this disenfranchisement has had on party loyalty – while national polling has highlighted the need to appeal to voters on ideological as opposed to partisan grounds.

But is something more fundamental undercutting these established perceptions?

As the 2016 cycle ramps up, there is a major push underway across the country to identify disenfranchised voters, assess their motivations (or lack thereof) and determine which candidates might be able to get them to the polls (using what combination of messages).  Numerous presidential campaigns are vying for these voters all over the country – nowhere more fiercely than in early-voting South Carolina, which has successfully predicted the eventual Republican nominee in all but one of the last seven contested GOP primary elections.

According to a new Palmetto State survey conducted for MRF by Norman Analytics and Research, disenfranchised conservative “leaners” are actively eschewing the pervasive national political correctness and gravitating toward unvarnished candidates who are using non-traditional, “politically incorrect’ conservative messaging.

The survey focused on two niche audiences.  The first audience included voters who were modeled to be Republicans yet didn’t vote in either the 2008 or 2012 presidential primary race.  These GOP non-voters were filtered according to their general election history – with pollsters taking the top half of those deemed most likely to vote in 2016 and including them in the survey’s “high propensity” universe.

Obviously this universe is solid gold real estate in the upcoming “First in the South” presidential primary election – scheduled for February 20.

The second audience consisted of voters who cast ballots in either the 2008 or 2012 GOP presidential primary (but not both).  This group of past primary voters wasn’t modeled by party affiliation – but was filtered by general election history and reduced to a group deemed less likely to vote in 2016.

Not surprisingly, campaigns best able to target the first universe – while identifying common themes running across both universes – stand the best chance of not only winning this important primary bellwether, but also of turning out similarly modeled voters in crucial swing states in the 2016 general election.

Who is currently doing both of those jobs better than any other GOP candidate?  Donald Trump.

Trump is backed by 34 percent of likely Palmetto State GOP primary voters in these two groups – positioning him well ahead of U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (13 percent), retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson (12 percent), former Florida governor Jeb Bush (10 percent) and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (6 percent).  Including unlikely voters among these demographics, Trump is backed by 20 percent – putting him ahead of Carson (13 percent), Bush and Rubio (9 percent each) and Cruz (7 percent).

“Among both segments identified for this research, Trump is the clear GOP presidential primary frontrunner,” researcher Erin Norman said.  “His support intensifies when the audience is narrowed to likely primary voters and those who say they intensely support their chosen candidate.”

Driving Trump’s support is a strongly held belief that he is willing to speak truths avoided by other politicians.  In fact this perception of Trump cuts across the support of other top GOP candidates – with 62 percent of Marco Rubio supporters and 55 percent of Ben Carson supporters saying they believe Trump is “willing to speak the truth other politicians avoid.”  Only a majority of Jeb Bush supporters feel differently – with 60 percent of them describing Trump as a “loose cannon and not a serious contender.”

Among all respondents, sixty percent of men – and 72 percent of white men with no college degree – embraced Trump as “willing to speak the truth” compared to just 36 percent and 21 percent, respectively, who described him as a “loose cannon.”

Is this perception likely to move voters to the polls, though?  In a word, “yes.”

Telling the truth was the top turnout driver of this universe of South Carolina voters, garnering 73 percent of all mentions and 38 percent of top mentions when voters were asked what was “most likely” to make them “go out on Election Day and support a candidate.”  Next up was foreign affairs (58 percent and 19 percent, respectively) and immigration (47 percent and 10 percent, respectively).

“Having candidates who are willing to speaking in a direct, forthright manner is the best way to drive turnout at the polls,” Norman concluded.  “Sharing views with candidates on foreign policy is also important – and sharing views on immigration is especially important to Trump supporters.”

But voters’ affinity for a candidate who will shoot straight to them cuts across campaign lines.  Big majorities of Rubio supporters (79 percent) and Carson supporters (78 percent) in South Carolina also mentioned truth-telling most frequently when they were asked what would get them to the polls – with 39 percent of Carson backers and 29 percent of Rubio backers listing it as their top mention.

That’s worth watching over the next few weeks as the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire primary could conceivably further winnow the presidential field heading into South Carolina.   It’s also worth watching as campaigns look to the general election and targeting both of these universes in swing states.

Norman Analytics and Research surveyed 400 registered voters in South Carolina via telephone using live operators from December 4-7.  The survey’s margin of error is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.