Category Archives: Most Recent Insights

2016: Is It Already Over?

ASSESSING THE INEVITABILITY MYTH …

To hear the pollsters and pundits tell it, the 2016 election is over.  Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is going to defeat GOP nominee Donald Trump in a popular and electoral landslide – and that’s that.

It’s a done deal, they say.   You can “take it to the bank,” “stick a fork in it,” “cue the fat lady” or use any other turn of phrase you wish.

How inevitable is a Clinton victory?  According to the website FiveThirtyEight.com,  Clinton currently has an 85.8 percent likelihood of winning the White House on November 8.  Trump, on the other hand, has a 14.2 percent chance of victory.

Take a look …

Continue reading 2016: Is It Already Over?

End Of The “Meet And Greet” Era?

LET’S LOOK AT THE DATA …

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.

Continue reading End Of The “Meet And Greet” Era?

Big Brexit Miss

BUT WHY?

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.

Continue reading Big Brexit Miss

Economic Jitters

FEAR OF ANOTHER RECESSION IS MANIFESTING ITSELF ACROSS THE COUNTRY

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.

Continue reading Economic Jitters

Has Trade Policy Become A Voting Issue?

YES …

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.

Continue reading Has Trade Policy Become A Voting Issue?

What Is A “Likely Voter” Anyway?

CAN WE STILL TRUST MAINSTREAM POLLING?

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?

MRF Board Meeting: Innovating Connections

ANNUAL GATHERING DRAWS BIG DATA’S BEST …

Market Research Foundation’s annual board of directors meeting was held in Leesburg, Virginia this month. The daylong gathering attracted a diverse group of participants including top data scientists, pollsters, corporate technology executives, political CIOs, journalists, grassroots activists, elected officials and other interested parties.

Graduates of the MRF program were also on hand – soaking up invaluable insights and networking with attendees and speakers.

Among those giving presentations? Erin Norman – who provided a detailed review of new swing state data related to lapsed and non-registered voters.

Obviously these particular universes are solid gold real estate for anti-establishment candidates who are looking to tap into the pervasive distrust of politicians of both parties in the upcoming election cycle.

As for effective methods of engaging these (and other) universes, Tommy Swanson gave a far-ranging presentation addressing the constantly evolving world of social media – while expert panelists Jim Hamilton, Steve Hillion and Bob Ellsworth offered their insights on how to build a winning tech structure.

Sasha Issenberg, author of the critically acclaimed book “Victory Lab,” delivered the keynote address at the board meeting – urging attendees to be skeptical of the promises made by data purveyors and rigorous in their itemization and evaluation of the cost and effectiveness of specific data-driven initiatives.

Aside from the fruitful discussions generated by this year’s conference, the event was an unqualified success in terms of its primary objective: Facilitating new connections between individuals of wide-ranging skill sets from all over the country.

Stay tuned for more from this year’s event.  In the meantime, here are some photos from the gathering …

The Revolution Will Be Televised

CAN “SAFE” STATE TV DATA DETERMINE “SWING” STATE WINNERS?

You don’t have to be a political scientist to understand the importance of “swing” states in national elections.  As any newscaster or penny-ante pundit can tell you, they pick our presidents.  But can data from “safe” states – or states in which electoral outcomes are assumed – be used to model which candidate swing state voters choose?

Yes – according to a new study that could impact how billions of dollars in advertising are spent during the 2016 election.

The study – entitled “Does Television Viewership Predict Presidential Election Outcomes?” – was conducted by Arash Barfar and Balaji Padmanabhan of the University of South Florida, Tampa.  It was published in Big Data, a peer-reviewed journal from Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.

Using television viewership data in “safe” states in the four weeks leading up to the 2012 election, Barfar and Padmanabhan found that “models may be trained with the television viewership data in the ‘safe’ states … to potentially forecast the outcomes in the swing states.”

In other words by tracking which television programs viewers in safe states were watching, the winners (and losers) of swing states could be identified ahead of time.

“In addition to their potential to forecast, these models could also help campaigns target programs for advertisements,” Barfar and Padmanabhan added. “Nearly two billion dollars were spent on television advertising in the 2012 presidential race, suggesting potential for big data–driven optimization of campaign spending.”

And while Barfar and Padmanabhan were quick to point out their research “did not imply causality,” the strong correlations they uncovered have the potential to reshape future elections.

“The models are robust with respect to the battleground states and the counties with narrow victory margins,” they wrote.

Such data is obviously a potential gold mine for political campaigns – which can use the information to make more efficient use of their advertising budgets as well as better informed messaging decisions.

“Campaigns can use such programs for messaging, sometimes at potentially lower costs since these programs may be relatively less known for their political signal correlation,” Barfar and Padmanabhan wrote.

The findings could also dramatically impact the way presidential elections are covered.  Using these predictive analytics, “it may even be possible to forecast outcomes in real time.”

“This very interesting research demonstrates the prediction of election outcomes at the state and county levels based on an analysis of television viewership across the country,” said Big Data Editor-in-Chief Vasant Dhar, professor at the Stern School of Business, New York University. “The results from the predictive model provide useful insights into some of the major drivers that drove 2012 election results. It will be very interesting to see the model applied to the 2016 elections.”

Indeed.  It will also be interesting to see how the model might be expanded to incorporate internet data (site visits and searches) to help solidify the predictive strength of the television viewership data.

***

Should Incumbents Root For The Home Team?

DO FOOTBALL GAMES REALLY HELP SWAY ELECTIONS?

Electoral science is a constantly evolving discipline, but the ultimate objective behind its increasingly technical, exponentially more sophisticated methodologies remains unchanged: Get the most votes.

To that end, campaigns leave no stone unturned – whether it involves the data-driven micro-targeting of voters, the meticulous researching of opponents’ financial disclosures or the placement of media across multiple platforms in the final days of a campaign.  And as close races come down to the wire, campaigns look for any and every advantage that could push their candidate or issue across the finish line.

Which leads us to an interesting question: As they dissect polls, launch or react to last-minute surprises and prepare their final GOTV efforts – should they also be keeping an eye on college football scoreboards?  And no, this is not a discussion of the famous “Washington Redskins presidential conspiracy” – a since-debunked notion which posited that a Redskins win on the Sunday before the election meant victory for the incumbent party.

It’s long been believed that a “win” by the home team on the weekend before an election puts voters in a better mood when Tuesday rolls around – and that their resulting good humor translates into a small advantage for the incumbent party.

In fact a widely cited 2010 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) found that a win by the home team “causes the incumbent to receive an additional 1.61 percentage points of the vote in Senate, gubernatorial, and presidential elections, with the effect being larger for teams with stronger fan support.”

Is it true though?

“Not so fast,” as ESPN’s College Gameday host Lee Corso is fond of saying.  According to political scientist Anthony Fowler of the University of Chicago and Pablo Montagnes of Emory University in Atlanta, there is no correlation between football outcomes and political campaigns.

“We reassess the evidence and conclude that there is likely no such effect,” Fowler and Montagnes wrote in PNAS this week.  “Multiple independent sources of evidence suggest that the original finding was spurious – reflecting bad luck for researchers rather than a shortcoming of American voters.”

The two pored through more than five decades of electoral and gridiron results – and added National Football League (NFL) games to the mix in addition to college contests in their effort to spot the trend.

“We fail to estimate the same effect when we leverage situations where multiple elections with differing incumbent parties occur in the same county and year,” Fowler and Montagnes added.  “We also find that the purported effect of college football games is stronger in counties where people are less interested in college football, just as strong when the incumbent candidate does not run for reelection, and just as strong in other parts of the state outside the home county of the team. Lastly, we detect no effect of National Football League games on elections, despite their greater popularity. We conclude with recommendations for evaluating surprising research findings and avoiding similar false-positive results.”

Of interest?  The researchers who conducted the 2010 report stood by their original conclusions, saying the new study only shows that the football effect “is not something that happens all the time, in every circumstance.”

In other words, we should probably expect candidates and political operatives to continue giving this theory its due – irrespective of whether it has any basis in reality.

***

Rise Of The Outsiders

TAPPING INTO SOMETHING BIGGER THAN THE “TRUMP SURGE” 

Another poll was released this week showing billionaire businessman Donald Trump well ahead of his Republican rivals in early-voting South Carolina. In fact the pollsters – from New Jersey’s Monmouth University – expressed little surprise in assessing the outcome of their Palmetto State survey.

“We’ve become accustomed to Donald Trump leading in every poll, as the candidate himself likes to remind us,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

That’s true.  Market Research Foundation (MRF) has previously examined Trump’s rise (and the rise of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders) within the context of rampant voter disaffection and dissatisfaction with Washington, D.C.  In fact we’ve done extensive research on what’s motivating this disaffection in several states – including South Carolina.

But within the latest South Carolina data is affirmation of a direct corollary to this trend – namely that it’s driving anti-establishment electoral preferences far beyond the Trump phenomenon.  For example, polling in second place in South Carolina (behind Trump’s 30 percent showing) is retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who received the support of 15 percent of likely GOP primary voters.  Tied for fourth place in the latest South Carolina survey?  Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who was backed by six percent of likely Republican voters.

Add it up and you’ve got 51 percent of the Palmetto State’s GOP electorate backing a candidate who has never held elected office before.  With 11 percent of the state’s primary voters undecided, that leaves the remaining fourteen candidates – all of whom have held elected office – fighting for 38 percent of the vote.  In fact if you throw out U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (who is receiving four percent support in his home state), that “establishment candidate” universe dwindles further, to 34 percent.

“Political experience is not a particularly valuable commodity this primary season,” Monmouth’s pollsters noted.

That’s quite an understatement.

Monmouth’s survey noted that 61 percent of respondents want “a president from outside of government who can bring a new approach to Washington” as opposed to only 28 percent who prefer “someone with government experience who knows how to get things done.”

Carson and Fiorina are performing comparably at the national level, too, with the latest data showing them drawing 9.7 percent and 6.3 percent support, respectively.  Add that to Trump’s 22 percent and we’re looking at a huge chunk of the GOP electorate that’s firmly in the camp of outsider candidates.

As global economic headwinds intensify – further straining America’s already less-than-robust consumer “recovery” – will the outsiders reap additional electoral benefits?  Or can any of the conventional candidates find a way to tap into the prevailing angst?

Count on MRF to keep you posted …

***