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.

Continue reading Immigration Exit Polling

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.”

Continue reading Health Care Debate Evolving In Advance Of 2016 Elections

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.


MRF Board Meeting: Innovating Connections


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


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?


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.


MRF Featured In George Will Column


Market Research Foundation (MRF) has received a nod from nationally syndicated columnist George Will.  In assessing the 2016 presidential campaign of U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, the Pulitzer Prize winner referenced our work in discussing Cruz’s efforts to “substantially reconfigure the electorate.”

“Cruz’s plan for winning the necessary 1,236 convention delegates is an extrapolation from his strategy for winning 270 electoral votes,” Will wrote in his latest column.

Part of Cruz’s reconfiguring and extrapolating?  Targeting nonvoting whites – especially those without college experience.  These are the Americans who sat on their hands in 2012, thus denying Mitt Romney the presidency.  They are also the ones warming to the ascendency of current GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, who is credited by Will with “energizing people whose alienation from politics has made them nonvoters.”

Should he become the GOP nominee, can Cruz successfully identify and turn out these alienated voters?  Or as Will puts it, can he “leaven the electorate with people who, disappointed by economic stagnation and discouraging cultural trends for which Republican nominees seemed to have no answers, have been dormant during recent cycles.”

That’s a good question – although as we have repeatedly noted, much fertile ground is to be gained via precisely such a strategy.

Citing MRF’s research, Will notes “whites without college experience include disproportionate numbers of nonvoters.”  He then delves into efforts by Cruz’s data scientists to locate these voters and prepare “a package of three- or four-issue appeals” aimed at moving them from dormant to the polls.

It’s a fascinating column highlighting the nuts and bolts of a modern turnout operation – not to mention a broader ideological evolution that deserves heightened scrutiny as the 2016 primary is now in full swing.

To read Will’s column in its entirety, click here …


Staggering Declines In Landline Usage


In December 2013 a report from the National Center for Health Statistics revealed that roughly two out of every five Americans – 39 percent – did not use a landline telephone.  Meanwhile another 18 percent of Americans said they had a landline but rarely used it.

Not surprisingly, age, race and income are prominent factors in determining who does – and doesn’t – use a landline.  Younger, non-white, low-income Americans are far more likely to only use a cell phone – distinctions pollsters continue to monitor closely as they seek to provide their clients and the public with accurate information about upcoming elections.

Of course the shift in landline usage is moving so fast it’s becoming increasingly difficult to accurately account for these variables.  This spring, GfK MRI’s Survey of the American Consumer revealed that 44 percent of Americans did not use landline telephones last year – up from 26 percent in 2010.  That’s a seventy percent jump in just four years.

Navigating this communications evolution in pursuit of accurate data – or even better, predictive analytics – is not easy.  Nor is it without controversy.

Earlier this month, a Survey USA poll showing GOP frontrunner Donald Trump leading all Democratic comers in a hypothetical general election was pilloried from the left.

“Supposedly SurveyUSA has a good track record … but this is ridiculous,” the liberal website Daily Kos noted, claiming the poll was over-reliant on landlines.

“Among cell phone users Trump gets walloped,” the website stated.

Of course Daily Kos neglected to mention that in 2012, Democratic researchers at Public Policy Polling had one of the most accurate records – despite the fact that they did not incorporate any cell phones in their surveys.  Gallup, on the other hand, had one of the least accurate records despite its pollsters using the most cell phones in their surveys.

What gives?  Well, the broader no-landline universe – projected to soar to 55 percent of the electorate in 2016 – consistently outpaces the no-landline voting universe by more than 20 percentage points.  In fact the percentage of cell-phone only voters is likely to clock in at around 33 percent next year, if current trends hold.  That means a poll which sampled cell phones at 55 percent would dramatically overstate the impact of younger, poorer, non-white voters.

To be clear: No credible poll ignores cell phones. And the growth of America’s cell phone only population shows no sign of slackening.  But pollsters must be careful not to overcompensate as they account for the impact of this seismic shift.


Rise Of The Outsiders


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 …