Another great lesson about the art and science of interpreting public opinion surveys

Yesterday, the Hartford Courant’s Rick Green posted an article entitled, “Malloy Approval Ratings Up, Support For Re-Election Still Tepid.”  Green wrote, “A new poll by the Yankee Institute finds that Mayor Dannel P. Malloy has his highest approval rating ever among voters…And while it looks like he faces a tough re-election fight, the governor is no longer trailing an un-named Republican opponent.”

The observation is not necessarily wrong, but it hardly provides the whole picture.

The “election question” was, “If Governor Malloy runs for re-election in the year 2014, will you probably vote for Governor Malloy or probably vote for the Republican candidate?”

According to the survey results;

42% said they will probably vote for Governor Malloy
39% said they will probably vote for the Republican candidate
19% said they are not sure they will vote for.

First off, the number saying that they will vote for Governor Malloy is only up from 39% (in June 2011).  That number is within what is called the statistical margin of error – meaning that it would be factually incorrect to say that he is definitely doing better.  The change could simply be the consequence of a different sample.

Of even more concern for Malloy is the probable vote by party;

Vote Party
Republican Democrat Other
Malloy 15% 74% 25%
Republican 73% 11% 44%
Don’t know 11% 14% 31%


To be blunt, having spent decades studying Connecticut’s elections results, a statewide Democratic candidate cannot win with 11% (1 in 10 Democrats voting for the Republican) and another 14% unsure if they will support the Democratic candidate

Second, while Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than a 2 to 1 margin, it is simply impossible to win a statewide election with the support of only 25% of unaffiliated voters.

That is not to say that things can’t change – but losing at least 10 percent of Democrats only getting the support of 25% of unaffiliated voters will mean certain defeat for Malloy.

Second, this early in the campaign cycle, many pollsters look to job approval ratings as a better indicator of future electoral outcome than questions about imaginary head to head campaigns.

 According to the new Yankee Institute Poll, 54% of Connecticut voters approve of the job Governor Malloy has been doing, 45% disapprove of Malloy’s performance and 2% are unsure.

The key is two-fold.  The first is looking at the number of voters who disapprove of an elected official’s performance because that provides the basis for opponents and the second is to particularly watch what is happening with Democrats and unaffiliated voters.

According to surveys produced by the Yankee Institute the percent disapproving of Malloy’s job performance has been as follows:

February 2011         46% disapprove
June 2011                   56% disapprove
February 2012         46% disapprove
February 2013         45% disapprove

 Except for the bounce after the 2011 legislative session, the percent of voters most receptive to anti-Malloy messages has remained virtually unchanged since he took office.

Finally, Malloy’s job performance rating by party provides the most worrisome information at all;

Malloy Job Performance Party
Republican Democrat Other
Strongly Approve 16% 34% 15%
Somewhat Approve 16% 43% 30%
Somewhat Disapprove 17% 13% 24%
Strongly Disapprove 48% 9% 31%
Don’t know 3% 2% 1%


Remembers, to win, a Democratic statewide candidate needs virtually unanimous support from Democrats and needs significant support, although not a majority, from unaffiliated voters.

As the job performance by party reveals, a stunning 22% of Democrats disapprove of Malloy’s performance and 55% of unaffiliated voters disapprove of the Governor’s performance.

The Democrat has consistently sought strategies to alienate important Democratic constituencies and this poll reiterates, again, the impact of that effort.  It is fair to say that as long as nearly 1 in 4 Democrats disapprove of Malloy’s job performance, he cannot win.

And strengthening that assessment is the fact that with such weak support among unaffiliated it would be virtually impossible to make up for the lost Democrats by increasing the percentage of support from unaffiliated.

Again, this doesn’t mean the election is “over,” but as we’ve learned, public opinion polling is an art and a science.  Three important factors are how the questions are worded, who is interviewed and whether the assessment of the data is put in context.

The results from the Yankee Institute survey are hardly good news for Team Malloy.

  • msavage

    “To be blunt, having spent decades studying Connecticut’s elections
    results, a statewide Democratic candidate cannot win with 11% (1 in 10
    Democrats voting for the Republican) and another 14% unsure if they will
    support the Democratic candidate.”

    I’m confused by the above. Isn’t the 11% referring to R voters, or am I misunderstanding? But if the results of this poll are an accurate reflection of the way that Dems are feeling about the performance of this governor, this suggests several things to me:

    1. There are way more corrupt Dems in this state than I thought.
    2. There are way more really stupid Dems in this state than I thought.
    3. There are way more totally oblivious Dems in this state–who simply vote along party lines–than I thought.

    Probably a combination of the three. Or the poll is simply inaccurate–whether inadvertently or by design.

    • JMC

      I believe your 3 points are close to the truth, M. For me the watershed was when the Dem legislature voted in June to surpress news of the huge budget deficit until a week after November 6th. All Dems who voted for that postponement are complicit. Nobody seems to think it’s a big deal, to judge from the silence.Truth and honor are now absent from Blue politics. This state is thoroughly corrupt.

      • msavage

        I agree with the corruption part. But I think it is a mistake to assign blame to one party or the other. Because Conn. is a “blue” state, there is plenty of corruption being perpetrated by Dems here. But if you look outside the state, you see plenty of corruption being perpetrated by the Republicans, as well. I think the problem is that the SYSTEM is entirely corrupt, no longer working for the average American, and in need of some drastic changes to get us back on track. This system nurtures and grows the greed and potential for corruption that is inherent in, sadly, the majority of humanity. This is just an opinion, of course, but I’d say that the majority of people tend to be very self-centered and open to being corrupted by power and money. Not all, of course, but the majority. The current system, rather than discouraging people against this kind of behavior, actually encourages and nurtures it–rewards people for being self-centered, short-sighted and greedy. We need to make changes so that this type of behavior is, rather, discouraged and punished. And I don’t believe that the changes we need have anything to do with one party or the other. The party “platforms” just distract us from the changes that we REALLY need to make.

        • jschmidt2

          There could be corruption by the Republicans but in this state it’s the Democrats that are corrupt and it will continue as long as voters continue to blindly vote Democrat. No doubt Republicans need to prevent viable alternatives, but our primary process makes it hard to present the best candidate instead of the most conservative candidate, which won’t necessarily fly in CT. On the national level, the Democrats are the ones that are wasting the taxpayer money.

          Intelligence of politicians: quote from article about National Science Foundation waste-
          U.S. Congressman John Salazar related this disturbing anecdote: “You know when I was debating what became the 2008 Farm Bill, I had a member of the Ag[riculture] Committee actually ask me if chocolate milk really comes from brown cows. I asked if he was joking and he assured me he wasn’t.” In a September 2012 speech, Representative Paul Broun called Darwinian evolution “lies from the pit of hell” and argued that the Earth is 9,000 years old. Scientists have a somewhat different estimate: Based on evidence from meteorites and molecular decay rates, they believe the Earth is on the order of4.5 billion years old. And Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee during a visit to Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Lab asked a nasa scientist whether the Mars Pathfinder probe had photographed the flag that astronaut Neil Armstrong had left behind in 1969. Armstrong had, of course, left the flag on the moon, not Mars. Nor is a manned mission to Mars planned.

          These are the people running the country.- sorry for the length but I had to share it.

    • jonpelto

      I believe that chart means 74% of democrats say they will vote for Malloy, 11% will vote for the Republican and 14% are undecided. A democrat should be getting more than 3 in 4 Democrats voting for him or her.

      Combine that with his particularly poor vote amount unaffiliated and his poor job performance numbers and you have a candidate who picks up 42% of the vote at this point – an incumbent should be much higher.

  • jschmidt2

    Well the voters might actually have to think this time instead of just voting Democrat, so I’;m not hopeful. Maybe Obama will fly in again and rally all the takers to vote for Malloy or perhaps Bridgeport will find more bags of pre-filled ballots. But union members won;t feel they can get a far deal from a Republican, so I think they’ll have no choice.

    • JMC