Margin of Σrror

Margin of Σrror -

The Public Policy Polling controversy | Harry J Enten

Public Policy Polling’s methodology is under attack. But since PPP is prolific, cheap and accurate, criticism is unlikely to dent it

Public Policy Polling (PPP) and Nate Cohn are involved in the Nerd Fight of 2013. For those who don’t know, Cohn has pointed out that PPP hadn’t fully revealed its true weighting methodology and were potentially weighting their results towards the polling averages. I strongly suggest you read Cohn’s arguments and PPP’s Tom Jensen’s rebuttals, if you haven’t already.

I’d weigh in on the methodological debate myself, though I think Cohn’s and Jensen’s views speak for themselves. The question that I want to answer here is whether there are any long-term ramifications for PPP. The answer, as far as I can tell, is that there won’t be. Why?

1. PPP’s sponsors are sticking by them

To conduct polling, you need money. PPP’s main political world patron is the liberal blog Daily Kos. Despite harangues from Cohn and Nate Silver, Kos’ leader, Markos Moulitsas, took to Twitter to defend PPP in the aftermath of Cohn’s first article. David Nir, who runs the indispensable Daily Kos elections blog, called Cohn’s article “a bit curious”.

My own conversations with Daily Kos writers reveal that they believe that Cohn is engaged in a vendetta. They believe PPP is accurate, and they think all pollsters engage in unusual weighting techniques. PPP is only being attacked because it releases a lot more of its internal data into the public sphere, which allows people to see how it comes to the numbers it does.

2. People see PPP as accurate

Quotes put together by Mark Blumenthal are telling. Accuracy is what people care about. Most people don’t care if you only interview tourists in SoHo to figure out who will win a US election, even if that is terrible methodology. Thus, Cohn’s arguments about how PPP is accurate, which are quite clever, just don’t matter to a lot of people.

What does matter is that Mark Blumenthal’s readjustment of Nate Silver’s 2010 pollster rankings to ensure no penalty for not following AAPOR disclosure requirements found that PPP ranked sixth out of 30 major pollsters. Silver’s analysis of the 2010 election put PPP in the middle of the pack for accuracy. Steve Singiser’s 2012 pollster overview had PPP fifth out of 17 very active pollsters.

I tend to think that accuracy is overrated, as my chart on special elections over the past ten years shows. I get the feeling though that most give credit to PPP just for trying, even if they are worse than the average pollster in special elections.

3. PPP is cheap

This is an extension of points one and two to a degree. When you’re cheap, people are willing to put up with a lot of stuff they may not otherwise. PPP, which uses recorded instead of live voices in their calls, costs about 4% the amount of most polls you see television networks sponsor.

The fact that PPP is cheap allows it to produce a lot of polls. Over 18% of the polls done last cycle were PPP surveys. They can poll races that few care about. They can poll Ryan Braun’s favorability in Wisconsin. In other words, they can flood the zone. They can get their brand out, so that even if their percentage of polls that get news stories is lower than other pollsters, the absolute number is higher.

In the three days since Cohn’s first article on PPP, the news archive site News Library shows that PPP has been cited 70 times by newspapers and television stations throughout the country. That’s actually more than in the same period during August.

4. Rasmussen still gets cited

Rasmussen Reports didn’t do a very good job in 2010 or 2012. Most people don’t think their methodology is exactly top-notch. Yet, they still produce polls, and people still talk about them. They got 41 hits on News Library in the same period PPP had 70. That’s despite producing fewer state data than PPP.

If an inaccurate pollster with a methodology that some deplore continues to make the news, then I just don’t see how one that many people view as accurate, even if dubious is going away anytime soon.

5. The aggregators who used to use PPP are still going to use it

Blumenthal’s HuffPollster, Drew Linzer, Real Clear Politics, Silver, and Sam Wang produced polling aggregates that became must-reads for many political junkies in 2012. Had anyone pledged not to use PPP in 2014 or 2016, it would be big news. It turns out that none of them is eliminating PPP from their datasets.

Linzer and Wang have actually defended PPP’s methods. Silver has been harshest about PPP, though PPP is still going into his models. Blumenthal has been more even-handed, but will continue to put PPP in the HuffPollster aggregates. Real Clear hasn’t said anything; but they continue to put PPP surveys into their database.

They all seem to think that PPP adds more than it detracts from their aggregates. Indeed, therein lies the rub. No one thinks PPP’s data is phony, even if people believe it to be massaged at times. Even PPP’s most ardent critics, like my friend Republican pollster Logan Dobson, will cite PPP; especially when it shows a result they like.


Many professional pollsters have long thought that Public Policy Polling’s methods were suspect. Nate Cohn’s recent expose confirms for many their suspicions. That said, in a world in which polling data can be hard to come by, there’s no real sign that usage of PPP’s data has or will slow, as long as their polls continue to be seen as accurate. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Jeb Bush in 2016? Not as Crazy as it Seems.

A few weeks ago, I argued that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) was not well placed to win the Republican nomination (and especially the general election) in 2016. In the months (and years) to come, I plan to review the prospects for other potential candidates to win their party’s nomination and ultimately the White House.

This piece focuses on Jeb Bush’s chances of winning in 2016, following his recent announcement that he now opposes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. I take this reversal of positions for Mr. Bush to be an indication that he is seriously considering a run for the White House in 2016.

I come to this conclusion based on the following logic: If Mr. Bush is NOT considering running, what incentive is there to come out against a legal path to citizenship at this point in time, when such an announcement could negatively affect the current effort at achieving any reform? (Remember, Mr. Bush did not come out against all immigration reform, just reform that includes a path to citizenship.) Mr. Bush’s announcement could have the effect of impeding any bill from passing. Therefore, Mr. Bush must assume that their is something to be achieved by switching positions (i.e. being better positioned to run for president in 2016.) In other words, it simply does not make sense for Mr. Bush to make such an announcement unless he is considering running for president in 2016.

In this post, I compare Mr. Bush to Mr. Rubio on each of the points I emphasized in the last article, arguing that Mr. Bush is better placed to win the nomination (and the general) in 2016 than Mr. Rubio. Then, I will discuss a final caveat that relates to Mr. Bush’s prospects in 2016.


1. Too liberal (on immigration)?: With his recent announcement that he opposes citizenship for undocumented immigrants, Mr. Bush has placed himself to the right of Mr. Rubio (as well as Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan) on this issue which is of great importance in the Iowa caucuses. Yet Mr. Bush did not rule out other legal statuses for undocumented immigrants, allowing him to pivot back to the center should he win the GOP nomination. (Whether a stance that falls short of citizenship is centrist enough for a general election is debatable.) As I discuss in a later section, Mr. Bush’s ideology is one of a mainstream conservative. With this announcement on immigration, he has moved away from the one stance he held that was a deal-breaker for many conservative caucusgoers in the Hawkeye State. Indeed, making this announcement three years before the caucuses looks more like principle than opportunism than if Bush made the announcement after a (possible) failure of the current reform effort.

2. Primary schedule: While members of the Bush family have struggled in the New Hampshire primary in the past, the South Carolina primary gave George W. Bush a needed victory over Senator John McCain (R-AZ) in 2000. The primary schedule is most favorable to Mr. Bush not due to the placement of specific contests, but rather due to the fact that he would have access to the funds needed to wage a long, drawn-out primary campaign. As the son and brother of former presidents, Mr. Bush could build a campaign apparatus that could compete in every state. In the last primary campaign, one of the “non-Romney” candidates’ biggest problems was raising enough money to compete in a several month long campaign.

3. Scandal/Corruption: This category is most important to Mr. Bush in that his access to financial resources would allow him to exploit the weaknesses of his opponents, including Mr. Rubio. It was the famed Republican operative Lee Atwater who ran Mr. Bush’s father’s campaign and it is hard to forget the negative messaging that John McCain faced in the 2000 South Carolina primary. In other words, the Bushes (and their supporters) know that politics ain’t beanbag.

4. It is his (Bush’s) turn: Either a Bush or a Dole was on the ballot for the Republican Party for the president or vice president in every election from 1976 to 2004. It’s Jeb’s turn because it is (almost) always a Bush’s turn. Furthermore, in every presidential election since 1964 the Republicans have nominated someone who has run for president before, with the lone exception of 2000 when the GOP nominated George W. Bush. (Indeed, there was no viable GOP candidate in 2000 that had run for president before.)

The Republican Party is like that person who always orders the same thing every time they go to a restaurant. Republicans (particularly party elders) like orderly politics because it is, well, conservative. While George W. Bush had a less-than-ideal last few years in office, the Bush name still goes a long way with GOP primary regulars.

General Election:

5. Too conservative for the general?: Unfortunately, DW-Nominate scores do not exist for governors, so we cannot make a direct ideological comparison to Mr. Rubio, Mr. Ryan, or Mr. Paul. However, Nate Silver of the New York Times has suggested a way to calculate the ideology of governors based on issue positions listed on the website While admittedly a crude metric, one can use scores on individual issues on this website to calculate a rough estimate of where each governor stands and how they compare to their fellow governors, which can then be converted to a 100 point scale (where 0 is most liberal and 100 is most conservative).

Using this method, I find that Mr. Bush scores in the mid-80s (out of 100). Compared to other current or recent Republican governors, Mr. Bush is at the middle of the pack. He is certainly not as conservative as someone like Rick Scott (also of Florida) who scores a 91, but is more conservative than (former Governor) Mitch Daniels of Indiana who scores a 74.

In many ways, a good way to think about Mr. Bush ideologically is by using his brother as a proxy. In other words, Mr. Bush is a certainly a conservative, but is not completely outside the mainstream of American politics. While the country has certainly changed since 2000 and 2004, it is likely that Mr. Bush would at least be competitive in a general election. After eight years of a Democratic President, the nation may once again turn to a Bush. At the very least, Bush stands a better chance in a general election than Marco Rubio, who is clearly to the right of even most Republican politicians on most issues (not to mention the broader electorate).


6. Is Bush too stale? If anything holds back Mr. Bush from winning in 2016, it is more likely than not a staleness of the Bush brand and the fact that Mr. Bush has passed his (political) prime. Having left the Florida Governorship in 2007, Mr. Bush would have been out of elective office for almost a decade come 2016. This is certainly a concern and may be the biggest factor preventing a Bush candidacy. Overall, Mr. Bush stands a better chance than Mr. Rubio to win the Republican nomination and also would be in a stronger position to win a general election.

Will America elect a third Bush to the White House? With Mr. Bush’s recent switch on immigration, which indicates he may actually want to run, along with his overall strength as a candidate, such an occurrence is a real possibility.

How polarisation in Washington affects a growing feeling of partisanship | Harry J Enten

Legislators may no longer feel they have reason to play to the middle making Washington seem more divided than ever

“Can a divided House stand?” is a question that Nate Silver posed in a blogpost Thursday.

The basic premise of Silver’s article is that House districts have been more polarized of late. That is to say, there are fewer swing districts. In addition, fewer districts are voting for one party for House and another for president.

The conclusion one might draw is that many legislators have little reason to play to the middle, and that’s why Washington seems more partisan than it used to be.

A further analysis of statewide results reflects a similar trend.

Back in 1976, there were near 25 states that came within three points of the nationwide margin and well over 30 that were within five points of the nationwide vote. In , it was eight states within three points of the nationwide margin and 10 within five points.

Both of these totals are lower than 2008 and indeed the lowest in the past 50 years. Heck, there were only 14 states out of 50 where the statewide margin came within 10 points of the nationwide margin! Any way you slice it, there are fewer swing states than there used to be.

This increased polarization has translated to the Senate makeup. After the 1992 elections, when Republicans won 43 seats, 49% of the Democratic caucus came from states that voted more Republican than the country as a whole, while about 28% of the Republican caucus came from states where Bill Clinton won by a greater margin than he did nationwide. After the 2012 elections, in which Republicans won a slightly higher 45 seats than 1992, only 25% of the Democratic caucus comes from states where Obama underperformed his national margin, and only 16% of the Republican caucus comes from states Obama won by a greater margin than he did nationally.

The question that arises is how this increased polarization impacts on the seemingly growing partisanship of Washington. One would expect that it would, given that elected officials care most about getting re-elected and without fear of losing re-election in the general they play to the base to avoid a primary challenge.

One way we can test this hypothesis is to look at roll call votes. The DW nominate score method puts legislators on a scale from -1 for most liberal to 1 for most conservative. The folks who maintain the system at Voteview have plotted both the House and the Senate over the past 130 years.

You would think that House Democrats may have become more liberal over the past 20 years, given that they are increasingly safe districts. In 1992, only 51% of the Democratic caucus came from seats that were five points or more Democratic than the nationwide presidential vote. In 2012, 88% of Democrats came from districts won by Obama by five points or more – a 37-point increase.

Interestingly, the scores don’t indicate that House Democrats have really become any more liberal.

The average Democrat was a little north of -0.4 after the 1992 elections and right at -0.4 in the last congress. This percentage has been fairly constant for the past 20 years even when the Democrats won more swing and red districts when they won back the majority from 2007 to 2011.

There has, however, been an increase in partisanship in the house, and it truly is “asymmetrical”. The Republican House caucus has been becoming more conservative every year since 1977, whether or not House Republicans are winning or losing elections. Republicans have climbed from 0.4 on the DW nominate scales after the 1992 elections to near 0.7 in the last congress. That type of charge towards polarization is historically unusual over data that stretches back 130 years.

The fact that it is House Republicans who have become more partisan is somewhat surprising given that the party caucus is representing only slightly more Republican territory than it did 20 years ago. The percentage of Republicans representing seats that went for the Republican presidential candidate by five or more points than nationwide only increased from 74% to 90% – a 16-point increase. That is far less than the 37-point increase that House Democrats, who aren’t much more partisan than used to be, experienced during the same timeframe.

The Senate picture matches that of the House.

Senate Democrats, like their House counterparts, are hovering around that -0.4 score – as they were 20 years ago. This levelness comes despite the Democratic caucus going from being 50/50 in the percentage of Democratic senators from Democratic-leaning states versus Republican-leaning states to 75/25.

Republicans, on the other hand, have slowly and become more conservative in their roll call votes by moving from about 0.3 to 0.5 on the scale. You might expect this trend given Republicans are representing more Republican leaning states, but the magnitude is quite noticeable given that the average Democratic ideology during the same period didn’t move under polarization.

Yet, in the Senate, these roll call votes don’t tell the whole story. Much of the perception that the Senate is home to partisan gridlock is that many bills can’t get an up-or-down vote. We can measure this inability by looking at cloture votes to end debate. One must get 60 votes for cloture. When cloture attempts go up, it means that increasingly 60, not 51, votes are needed to pass a bill. Cloture doesn’t equal filibuster, but the two are correlated.

The number of cloture motions since the Democrats took over the Senate in 2007 is 391, an average of 130 per Senate. It would take the last six Senates combined before 2007, that is to say those from 1995 through 2007) to match this total. In the final Senate before the Republicans took over in 1995, there were 80 cloture motions.

It’s not just that Republicans aren’t allowing bills to be voted upon in an up-or-down vote, it’s that they are blocking bills in far greater numbers than they did 20 years ago.

When Democrats were in the minority for of the 1995 to 2007 time period, the most cloture motions that were filed in a Senate was 82. Since 2007, the fewest number of clotures in a Senate has been 115. The average number per Senate when Democrats were in the minority was 70 – some 50 less than when Republicans were in the minority the past six years.

Yes, Democrats block bills, but Republicans block many more. This is gridlock at its finest (or worst).

When you put all these statistics together, the portrait painted becomes rather clear. Polarization is definitely up on the congressional district and state level. Yet, the feeling that Democrats and Republicans are further apart than they used to be is upon inspection of the evidence more because of Republicans than Democrats. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds