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Social Desirability and Response Validity in Current Polling

[ 22 ] September 28, 2012 |

Several days ago in these very pages, discussion ensued regarding the latest conservative attempt to rewrite reality through re-weighting polls to one guy’s liking.  Of course, polling is not an exact science, but it is a science, and the latest wingnut delusion has no grounding in theory or empirical evidence.  Like any science, survey research continuously attempts to improve upon the validity and reliability of its measures and findings.  While I’m not at all concerned about some nefarious (and successful) attempt by the MSM and that paragon of power, the Democratic Party, to turn otherwise professional and reputable polling houses into duplicitous shills.

However, I have been somewhat interested (note, not concerned) if there might be something else going on that causes the polls to over estimate support for Obama.  Social desirability bias is something I’ve published on in the past (direct link to the paper here).  While that article suggests a contextual effect that causes variance in social desirability across countries (regarding accurately reported turnout in survey research), relevant here is what is colloquially known as the Bradley Effect.  It’s possible (though I consider it unlikely in the specific context of the 2012 Presidential election) that this helps explain Obama’s consistent polling advantage in an election where many if not most structural conditions suggest an incumbent defeat.

It’s difficult with the data I have available to examine this hypothesis to any satisfaction, but that’s not going to stop me from trying.

To begin with, we have the current state of the polls.

Obama Romney Advantage
RCP 28 Sep. 48.6 44.6 4.0
538 28 Sep. 52.2 46.5 5.7
538 6 Nov. 51.5 47.4 4.1

 

RCP’s running average has Obama up 4 points, Nate Silver’s “nowcast” model up 5.7, and his current prediction for election day 4.1 points.

If social desirability is at work here, a poll respondent will state that she or he supports the President because internally, our not entirely sincere respondent is seeking the socially desirable response, and not supporting the black guy might be racist.  However, this is done knowing that they will ultimately support the white guy.  Practically, this would mean that Obama’s support in these polls is inflated.

I’m approaching this from several directions.  First, I’ve averaged the final month of polls for Presidential elections going back to 1976 (an arbitrary cut off) to examine how accurate the polls were in predicting the final outcome between two white men, with 2008 to serve as a benchmark for 2012.  Shift represents how wide of the mark the final polls were, to the benefit or detriment of the incumbent party.

Poll Result Shift
2008 D 7.6 D 7.3 0.3
2004 R 1.5 R 2.4 0.9
2000 R 3.0 D 0.5 3.5
1996 D 11.0 D 8.0 -3.0
1992 D 12.0 D 6.0 -6.0
1988 R 12.0 R 7.0 -5.0
1984 R 18.5 R 18.0 -0.5
1980 R 4.0 R +10.0 -6.0
1976 D 2.0 D 2.0 0.0

 

Social desirability response bias in an election can take on many forms, not just race.  To wit, the 1992 general election in the United Kingdom is a good case study (one I lectured on here at Plymouth about six or seven years ago, shame I have no clue where those lecture notes now reside) as the polls largely predicted a narrow Labour outright victory or a hung parliament with Labour having the plurality of seats, yet the Conservatives under John Major easily won by 7.5%.  This is called the Shy Tory Factor on this island, which is simply another manifestation of social desirability.  But in 2012, I’m primarily considering race, and comparing 2008 to past elections does not support the hypothesis that this might be a problem for Obama’s numbers in 2012.

I also considered several of the primary elections in January, 2008.  This was the beginning of a primary where Obama was a somewhat unknown junior senator only four years into his Congressional career, going up against the assumed nominee.  For these data, I average all polls from the last week of the campaign in the given state (there were 20 in New Hampshire alone).

Poll Result Shift
NH Obama 35 37 2
NH Clinton 30 39 9
NV Obama 33.25 45 11.75
NV Clinton 37 51 14
SC Obama 41 55 14
SC Clinton 26 27 1

 

This evidence is more ambiguous than the examination of previous general elections.  Both Clinton and Obama received shifts in their favor, which isn’t surprising considering the undecideds presumably made a decision of some sort once voting.  However, in both New Hampshire and Nevada, the shift was stronger towards Clinton than Obama: a 7 and 2.25 point advantage respectively.  Both are dwarfed by Obama’s advantage in South Carolina.

These are the wrong data to be analysing this with, of course; ideally we’d have individual level data.  While not individual level data, the following figure, by Greenwald and Albertson, offers a more holistic view of the 2008 primaries.

The above shows that among 32 states where data were available, the “Bradley effect” was only evident in three states, yet 12 states demonstrated what has been termed (erroneously, in my opinion) the “reverse Bradley effect”: states where Obama’s support in the primaries was under, not over, estimated (see South Carolina above).  I consider this an erroneous classification because where the theoretical explanation for the Bradley effect hinges on social desirability, the reverse has been hypothesized as a function of systematic sample bias, through either the under-representation of African Americans in polling samples, or the cell-phone effect.  However, some have hypothesized that “black voters might have been reluctant to declare to pollsters their support for Obama”, and the link above does discuss that

After the Super Tuesday elections of February 5, 2008, political science researchers from the University of Washington found trends suggesting the possibility that with regard to Obama, the effect’s presence or absence may be dependent on the percentage of the electorate that is black. The researchers noted that to that point in the election season, opinion polls taken just prior to an election tended to overestimate Obama in states with a black population below eight percent, to track him within the polls’ margins of error in states with a black population between ten and twenty percent, and to underestimate him in states with a black population exceeding twenty-five percent. The first finding suggested the possibility of the Bradley effect, while the last finding suggested the possibility of a “reverse” Bradley effect in which black voters might have been reluctant to declare to pollsters their support for Obama or are under polled.

There are numerous possible explanations for the “reverse” effect, including faulty likely voter models, under sampling of blacks, sampling bias due to cell phones, to name a few.  There might be some sort of contextual effect at work here, but to ascribe it to behavioural motivations (rather than factors exogenous to the individual, such as sampling bias) such as blacks being shy to state their support for Obama fails the face validity test to me.

Ultimately, given the wide array of mediocre data presented here, I am not concerned about social desirability biasing the estimates of support for Obama in any significant, substantive manner.  However, much as I’d like to, I wouldn’t say that the Republican conspiracy is more likely, if only because that is so creatively ludicrous I initially thought it was an Onion piece.

Push Polling!

[ 0 ] March 20, 2010 |

Ten minutes ago, the wife received a call Family Research Council. The first question: “Do you have a favorable opinion of President Obama’s government run health care proposal?”

After she answered “Yes,” there were no further questions. I suspect that there would have been more than a few additional queries if the answer had been “No.”

UPDATE: IPE@UNC marshaled the mighty power of empirical science to determine the truth of my last statement:

They called the wife’s phone about 10 minutes later and she let me answer. This time when asked if I supported the Marxist take over of everything great about America I said “No”. Were there follow-ups? Why….. yes! Of course there were. The next question was some variant of “Do you support abortion?” I said “No” and then the robot lit into a 30 second rant about how Obama pledged to Planned Parenthood during the campaign that he’d do everything in his power to eliminate all restrictions on abortion (which I think is untrue, but maybe not) and strongly implied, without directly saying so, that passage of the health care bill would lead to just that outcome. Then the robot asked if I’d be willing to contact my congressman about this issue and I said “Yes”. The robot then helpfully gave me my representatives’ information.

More on British Polling and Margins of Error

[ 0 ] March 2, 2010 |

I promise that this will not be a daily habit of mine, but the Tory +2% lead poll did generate the predictable breathless excitement on these islands.

YouGov’s daily tracker indeed moved back towards +6, as anticipated, at Conservative +7. Additionally, a ComRes poll was released yesterday for The Independent which places the Tory lead at +5 (37/32/19). I want to emphasize that the +2 poll released on Sunday, while at the fringes assuming a true value of +6, is still within the margin of error. It was not an outlier in a pedantic understanding of the word, which is a case three standard deviations removed from the mean.
In other words, the findings reported in the Sunday poll were not “wrong”. 95% of samples will yield the true value within the error band of +/- 3%, as this was. This is why we have margins of error in the first place.

What we should focus on is not the point estimate itself, but the trend – and the consistent trend is clearly away from the Tories and towards Labour.

Speaking of which, the +5% Tory lead reflected in The Independent’s poll still yields a distribution of seats as Labour 287, Conservative 272, Liberal Democrat 59 — assuming a uniform national swing.

UPDATE ( 3/3/10): Again as expected, Wednesday’s YouGov tracker is rather consistent, at Conservative +5 (C 38 L 33 LD 16). Given the last seven to ten days of polling, this suggests a true value of support around + 6%, and if not precisely 6 (and it isn’t) it’s slightly below 6%.

Preliminary Colorado exit polling data

[ 0 ] November 4, 2008 |

This is weighted by affiliation but doesn’t attempt to incorporate early voting:

Obama 52

McCain 47

Senate Polling

[ 0 ] October 31, 2006 |

Some new CNN data. It still looks like 50-49-1 to me, with Tennessee looking like a write-off. The one ray of hope is Virginia–the polls are still even, and given the D.C. suburbs I can see Virginia going Democratic in a toss up race the way I can’t see Tennessee. On the other hand, MO is also still a toss-up, although I’m inclined to think the Dems will take it.

Polling Data

[ 0 ] September 17, 2004 |

Via Kos, John Zogby makes a compelling argument that telephone polling, as we know it, is obsolete:

Zogby points out that you don’t know in which area code the cell phone user lives. Nor do you know what they do. Beyond that, you miss younger people who live on cell phones. If you do a political poll on land-line phones, you miss those from 18 to 25, and there are figures all over the place that show there are 40 million between the ages of 18 and 29, one in five eligible voters.

This is pretty interesting, and does not admit an obvious solution. Zogby had moved to internet polling, which may or may not give a more accurate account. We’ll have to wait for November to clear some of this up. In any case, the huge spread of current polls is probably due to something more than the difference in likely voter methodology.

I’m not current with the legalities of polling via cell phone, although I have noted that I tend to receive very few unsolicited calls on my cell (very few solicited ones, either; I’m one hell of a loser). Myself and my roommate have gone the cellular/cable modem route, and no longer have a landline at all, meaning that we are apparently politically invisible. How will the invisibile people sort themselves out in November? Well, we’re young, which may help the Dems, and we’re probably a touch more affluent than normal (correcting for the fact that we’re young) which favors the Republicans.

The Vote Fraud Fraud, Exposed

[ 102 ] April 3, 2014 |

Bouie has been killing it at his new gig, and this is no exception:

Voting rights advocates have attacked these laws as blatant attempts to suppress the votes of low-income and minority voters, but Republicans defend their actions as justified to protect “voter integrity” and ensure “fairness” and “uniformity” in the system. Here’s Wisconsin state Sen. Glenn Grothman on a bill—signed last week by Gov. Scott Walker—to end early voting on weekends. “Every city on election day has voting from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. The idea that some communities should have weekend or night voting is obviously unfair,” he said. “It’s a matter of uniformity. I don’t know what all the hoopla is over,” he told Reuters.

The fact that some communities have a greater demand for voting than others reduces Grothman’s logic to obvious nonsense. To wit, under the constraints established by the new law, voters in the cities and large suburbs of Wisconsin are at a disadvantage compared to their rural counterparts. For example, Republicans have limited total early voting time to 45 hours during the week. In order to accommodate the number of early voters in 2012 under that time limit, explained Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, you’d have to have a voter cast a ballot every nine seconds. Areas with fewer voters, of course, would have an easier time.

The “uniformity” argument doesn’t make sense, either—but then, neither does the focus on in-person voter fraud, which doesn’t exist. Nonetheless, North Carolina Republicans cited fraud last year when—empowered by the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Voting Rights Act, which struck down the “pre-clearence” requirement—they passed a sweeping package of restrictions that cut early voting, ended same-day registration, introduced a strict photo identification requirement, and empowered independent “election integrity” groups to monitor polling stations and challenge voter credentials.

La majestueuse égalité des lois, qui assure le même nombre de cabines voitng dans quartiers urbaines denses et dans petites villes rurales!

The other thing to note about the transparently bad faith “uniformity” argument is that the American voting system is strikingly non-uniform, not only between states but generally within states, with pernicious consequences. But as we know, the Republicans who generally support this state of affairs are perfectly willing to pretend to care about uniformity to get results they like, so long as we understand that the question of uniformity presents many complexities and will not apply to any case where it doesn’t benefit Republicans.

The Majoritarian Difficulty: Same-Sex Marriage Edition

[ 152 ] March 5, 2014 |

Good news all around:

Half of all Americans believe that gay men and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll in which a large majority also said businesses should not be able to deny serving gays for religious reasons.

Fifty percent say the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection gives gays the right to marry, while 41 percent say it does not.

Beyond the constitutional questions, a record-high 59 percent say they support same-sex marriage, while 34 percent are opposed, the widest margin tracked in Post-ABC polling.

The boldfaced part is particularly encouraging; Damon Linker’s concern trolling notwithstanding, using embarrassingly specious “religious freedom” arguments as a pretext to continue the longstanding conservative war on civil rights doesn’t appear to be fooling anybody. But here’s one reason they’re riding this dead Thurmond so hard:

According to a new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, only 41 percent of Americans oppose allowing same-sex couples to marry. But that same 41 percent has a highly skewed perception of where the rest of the country stands: nearly two-thirds of same-sex marriage opponents erroneously think most Americans agree with them. And only two in 10 same-sex marriage opponents realize that the majority of Americans support marriage equality.

Schiavo II: Electric Boogaloo. Only in 2004, I think the media was much more likely to take conservative overestimation of their own support at

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Everything Is Like Slavery, Except Slavery

[ 111 ] January 14, 2014 |

How’s that Republican outreach to racial minorities going these days?

North Carolina Republican Senate candidate Greg Brannon has an interesting argument for eliminating food stamps: “slavery.” In a videotaped interview with the North Carolina Tea Party in October, Brannon, a Rand Paul-endorsed doctor who is top contender for the GOP nomination to take on Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, cited James Madison in making the case for abolishing the Department of Agriculture—and with it, the $76 billion-a-year Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps. Brannon has a real chance of winning: A December poll from Public Policy Polling found the GOP primary field split but showed him leading Hagan, 45-43.

“We’re taking our plunder, that’s taken from us as individuals, [giving] it to the government, and the government is now keeping itself in power by giving these goodies away,” Brannon said in the interview. “The answer is the Department of Agriculture should go away at the federal level. And now 80 percent of the Farm Bill was food stamps. That enslaves people. What you want to do, it’s crazy but it’s true, teach people to fish instead of giving them fish. When you’re at the behest of somebody else, you are actually a slavery to them [sic]. That kind of charity does not make people freer.”

Also, Medicaid is like the Gulag, and unemployment benefits are like concentration camps. Subsidies to tobacco farmers are like the Emancipation Proclamation. Surely, we can all come together to agree on these points.

And now, to Serwer with the punchline:

The UK, the EU, Romania, and Bulgaria

[ 150 ] November 29, 2013 |

A few days ago the Prime Minister published an op-ed in the Financial Times (paywall) on the back of Government musings about placing restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants to the UK once the partial ban on these two most recent EU members expires on January 1.  I don’t subscribe to the FT, so what I know of it I’ve read about second hand or heard on Radio 4 that morning.

The FT piece offers the more fundamental proposals (as quoted in this Guardian piece):

“Cameron also called for a wider settlement on the free movement of workers, an issue that is bound to feature in any Conservative renegotiation of British EU membership.

In an article for the Financial Times, Cameron writes: “We need to face the fact that free movement has become a trigger for vast population movements caused by huge disparities in income. That is extracting talent out of countries that need to retain their best people and placing pressure on communities.

“It is time for a new settlement which recognises that free movement is a central principle of the EU, but it cannot be a completely unqualified one.

This suggests that the free movement of labor in the European Union needs to be restricted, which undermines one of the cardinal principles of the EU itself. Fundamentally, it likewise affords capital a greater advantage over labor. Capital is free to move within (and beyond) the EU, but labor, on the other hand, must be further constrained.

While it’s easy to fall into the trap of that simplistic cynical analysis (and I do to a degree), taken together, the benefits restrictions proposed for Romanians and Bulgarians combined with the proposal to restrict and re-negotiate British membership in the EU is more about domestic politics. The Tories are wary of the electoral threat posed by UKIP to their right. I think these fears are overstated for a variety of reasons which I don’t have the time to get into (but hope to soon), but while this poll of a seat UKIP covets does not make good reading for the Conservatives, the general election is still about a year and a half away, and responding to a poll that far in advance declaring support for a marginal party with no history of winning seats in Parliament is different than maintaining that view a month prior to the election, or actually making that decision on election day.

The Liberal Democrats equivocate on the policy, Labour suggests the Government is panicking, and it’s quite possibly illegal under European law regardless. Not surprisingly, the British are more concerned about the tsunami of immigration from Romania and Bulgaria than peer states, and the Adam Smith Institute (with such a name one has a pretty good idea about their inclinations) argues that for a pile of reasons we shouldn’t fear immigration from these member states, most tellingly that immigrants from EU members states are less likely to claim benefits from the government, including NHS services, than native Britons.

Of course, the humorous bit in this story is how Cameron argues that the EU needs to restrict the free movement of labor within the EU because of the drain on talent in the Bulgarias of the world, suggesting these are the best, brightest, most enterprising and skilled, yet stokes the fears that these talented go-getters are coming here simply to live off of our generous welfare state.

If you’re going to make a bad argument berift of empirical support, at least make sure your bad argument is internally consistent.

More here.

Freepers Nearly As Butthurt As I Am

[ 99 ] November 11, 2013 |

The front-pagers here are all filling different niches. If you want scathing reviews of condiments, I’m not your gal…so look elsewhere for that sort of thing. Similarly, if you’re looking for someone who has a glass-half-full view of the state of politics, I’d look elsewhere. I’m still upset that John McCain got as many votes as he did. I mean, really–that scares me.

So it’s always nice to know that wingnuts are nearly as despairing as I am. And, ya know, while I’m glad that Terry McAuliffe won, I still think the race was scarily close, especially considering he was running against someone who puts his crazy right out on the front porch where everyone can see it.

Did I just link you to a blogger who went Freeper-nugget-mining? Oh yes I did. Let’s see what kind of turds he found, shall we?

 

Turnout looked steady and strong for an off-year election.
Those who were voting, seemed to be Republicans and Conservatives — well-groomed and cheerful people.

OK, sure. They were well-groomed and cheerful. But were they articulate?

Comments like this always make me wonder: is this the sort of thing where wingnuts are just saying disgusting things to each other because they’re in the safe confines of wingnuttia or are the comments meant for a wider audience? Do they know libs are watching? Are they just trolling? I always get the feeling the feeling posts like this meant to needle.

WalMart should just offer a 52″ LED TV for 500 bucks, the you’d see a stampede of black faces out of the polling lines. “Chantelle yuz see, theyz offa a TV for 500, let’s blow this joint, gona git me sum”

Then again, maybe it’s more sinister than that, because comments like this make me want to kill myself.*

*Not really. Being hyperbolic…but geeeeez.

A Halloween Message From Mitt Romney

[ 44 ] November 3, 2013 |

As longtime readers know, failed Republican presidential candidate and reprehensible sneering bully* Mitt Romney has occasionally seen fit to use this forum to place media stories in the proper context. Perhaps to celebrate my wearing a costume for the first time since the Reagan administration, Governor Mittens — who also blogs here under the handle dwd — has seen fit to share his insights again:

Gosh, my friends, what a fantastic morning “Ann” and I were having here in one of our various domiciles around this once-great nation, until I heard that someone has been writing scandalous things about my presidential campaign. You’ll recall my son (I believe it was Tagg, although it could have been Crom, or Hork, I’m not sure) pointed out was undertaken not because I wanted to be president (because I didn’t believe you me), but only for the good of the country. I simply felt that it was time to bring, um, light back to America, to pull it from the shade, if you will, of the darkness that had…well, I’m sure you get the idea.

Anyway, there “Ann” and I were, about to enjoy her delicious breakfast specialty (plain Cream of Wheat; I like to add just a touch of salt to mine to “kick that thing up a notch or two” as Chef Elmo likes to say), when I learned about this scurrilous piece and I immediately came here to rebut these allegations:

1. First, I want to be clear that I have the utmost respect for Governor Christie. How anyone of that inhuman girth is able to roll himself out of bed each day, let alone muster up enough energy to govern an entire state, is beyond me. He’s to be commended, really.

2. I did not simply pick Paul as my running mate because he reminded me of the upstanding young men I had mentored at Bain, but also because his views on the proper distribution of wealth in this country so closely mirrored my own, and those of the upstanding young men I had mentored at Bain.

3. We briefly considered Howard Baker, but then he let us know quite emphatically that he would not want to be posthumously baptized into the Mormon faith, which was a non-starter for us. Still, I have great respect for Senator Baker and look forward to posthumously baptizing him into the Mormon faith.

4. I’m not sure who these people are. We did lose a VP options binder somewhere in the sub-basement of a Ramada Inn near Des Moines, Iowa, so it’s possible that they were in there and, if so, I apologize to their families for their disappearance.

5. Again, I have the deepest admiration for Governor Christie. I feel like I should send him something to express my respect, but I can’t seem to find a pizza establishment in Trenton that can deliver a thousand pizzas to Drumthwacket in time for dinner tonight.

6. If Barack Obama is so smart, my friends, why were Paul and I leading in the unskewed polling all the way through Election Day?

I hope this has helped to clarify these scurrilous tales and put them in their proper context. Thank you for reading and God Bless Amercia!

Your friend,

“Mitt”

*It’s obviously not the reason why his election would have been a disaster. But still — ““Oh, there’s your date for tonight,” he would say to male members of his traveling crew when they spied a chunky lady on the street.” This guy is running for president? Of the United States of America, not a frathouse?

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