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

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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.

Incredible stupidity, stunning arrogance or both…

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Earlier today, the Global Strategy Group, a political consulting and public relations company released a memo about a public opinion survey that it had conducted for the “education reform” advocacy group, ConnCAN, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, Inc.

According to a Global Strategy Group memo, the poll found that, “Voters see the Governor [Malloy] as a strong advocate for education reform.  Voters give the Governor favorable ratings (54% favorable/36% unfavorable) and believe he is doing a good job when it comes to education.  A majority of voters (54%) approve of the job he is doing when it comes to Connecticut’s public schools.  Parents are especially supportive of the Governor’s efforts and rate his performance on schools favorably by a margin of nearly 2 to 1 (60% approve/31% disapprove).

The Global Strategy Group is where Roy Occhiogrosso landed after leaving the Governor’s Office six weeks ago.  After serving for two years as Governor Malloy’s chief advisor and spokesman, Roy Occhiogrosso recently returned to Global Strategies Group to serve as its Managing Director. 

Occhiogrosso had previously served as a partner at Global Strategies from 2003 to 2010.  During the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, Dan Malloy’s gubernatorial campaign, much of it funded through the State’s publicly funded campaign finance system, paid Occhiogrosso and Global Strategies a total of $669,105.87.

According to the memo, the ConnCAN opinion survey was conducted between January 23 and January 27, 2013, just a couple of weeks after Occhiogrosso rejoined Global Strategies. 

Although neither ConnCAN nor Global Strategies released the questionnaire that served as the survey instrument, it is clear from today’s memo that the poll was designed to collect valuable political information, as well as perspectives on policy issues.

When an organization conducts a survey with a larger sample size, only interviews voters and includes questions to determine the respondents’ party affiliation, their goal is generally to collect information about how key political sub-constituencies respond to potential voting issues.

It is particularly suspicious that ConnCAN and Global Strategies decided to conduct the survey at the end of January, prior to the Governor’s Budget speech, but held the results until after the speech was completed. A poll of this nature would be of tremendous political value to the Malloy Administration if they had access to the data prior to putting together his budget speech.

ConnCAN’s political support for Governor Malloy is well known.  Last Spring, within 24 hours of Malloy’s “education reform” bill becoming a Public Act, one of ConnCAN’s founders held an extremely lucrative fundraiser for a political action committee called Prosperity for Connecticut.  The PAC appears to be affiliated with Governor Malloy and the Governor has attended all, or most, of the PAC’s fundraising events, including a series of fundraising parties in Washington D.C. and New York City. 

Jonathan Sackler, who hosted the event for education reform supporters, is not only one of the original founders of ConnCAN, but he also formed ConnAD, the organization that spent record amounts lobbying for Malloy’s “education reform bill.  Furthermore, he is also the founder of 50-CAN, a national education reform advocacy group.  National officials from Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst, Teach for America and other national education reform groups donated to the Sackler fundraiser.

The May 30, 2012 fundraiser at Sackler’s $8.5 million home raised over $41,000 for the Prosperity for Connecticut PAC, making it the most successful of the 15 fundraisers the PAC has had since being formed two years ago. 

At the Sackler event, significantly more than half of the money raised came directly from members of ConnCAN’s Board of Directors, ConnCAN’s Advisory Board or family members of the individuals who serve on the two boards.

The decision to conduct this poll raises numerous serious issues. 

Did Occhiogrosso know about the poll before he left state service and did he spend any state time or resources communicating with ConnCAN or Global Strategies about the poll? 

Were any other members of Malloy’s Administration, such as OPM Secretary Barnes, Education Commissioner Pryor or Chief of Staff Ojakian aware of the poll?  Did any of these public officials offer information that impacted the questions being asked?

Equally important is whether the Malloy Administration received any information about the survey’s finding prior to the poll’s public release and most importantly, prior to the Governor’s budget speech.

Depending on what information was provided and who did the communicating, there are potential violations of Connecticut’s ethics laws, let alone the possibility that public employees used state resources to further their political agenda.

The issue is particularly relevant because leading up to the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, I filed a complaint against Governor Rell, her chief of staff and key members of her administration for using state resources to support public opinion polling that was designed to have political benefits for Rell.  The complaint eventually led to major fines for some of the individuals involved in the effort.

While in this case the poll was conducted by a private entity, was not done at state expense and Malloy has yet to form a campaign committee, ConnCAN is a registered lobbyist and that brings a whole series of ethics issues into play.  In addition, it is conceivable that if state employees were involved in the development of the survey, other laws may have been violated.

Anyone aware of Connecticut’s ethics laws and the laws prohibiting the use of state resources for political purposes would instantly recognize that a poll of this nature, especially conducted at this time, would raise a wide variety of questions.

It is for that reason that this post is entitled, “Incredible stupidity, stunning arrogance or both…”

Rest assured that this is not the last time we will hear about this incredible and stunningly stupid move by ConnCAN and Global Strategies.

News coverage of this event has been extremely limited to date.  Here is the first article on the poll.  Advocates Say Survey Shows Support For Education Reforms.

Coincidentally – here is a Wait, What? post from earlier today entitled; Malloy says: I know, let’s finish off the effectiveness of the government watchdog agencies…

Poll Finds: Connecticut to face greatest out-migration in history!

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When it comes to politics, it’s not just the politicians who like to use hyperbole.   

According to the latest Quinnipiac University Poll, one out of every ten Connecticut residents will very likely be picking up and moving out if Governor Malloy’s tax package passes and becomes law.

Think about that.

300,000+ Connecticut residents selling their homes, giving up their apartments, quitting their jobs, pulling their kids out of schools and hitting the road.

True the impact on the economy would be “bad” but there would be a lot more jobs for the rest of us and one could pick up a house cheap.

Of course, in many states, these angry people would find that they will actually be paying a higher percentage of their income in taxes but they won’t figure that out until they move.

So, if polls are accurate and voters’ responses are to be believed, a whole lot of our neighbors are headed for the border.

What is even more interesting is that there is no statistical difference in attitude due to political party, age or income.

11 percent of all voters are say there are likely to leave if Malloy’s plan becomes law

  • 13 percent of Republicans
  • 11 percent of Democrats
  • 10 percent of Unaffiliated

 The same basic pattern holds true when breaking the population down by income

  • 10 percent of those making $30,000 to $50,000 say they are likely to leave
  • 9 percent of those making $50,000 to $100,000
  • 10 percent of those making over $100,000

Now, it is important to note that Republicans do rise to the surface when one combines the two categories of those who say they are very likely to leave and those who say they are somewhat likely to leave if Malloy’s tax package passes.

Combine the two categories and it is then that 33 percent of Republicans, 23 percent of Democrats and 28 percent of unaffiliated voters say they may move out of state (But again it is interesting that there is no statistical difference based on income).  Rich or Poor they still believe greener pastures are out there.

Bottom Line:  From a political standpoint, passing Malloy’s package may be the best things the Democrats could ever do to boost their electoral endeavors. 

Today, Republicans only make up 21 percent of the electorate.  A full third of those Republicans say they may move out if the tax plan passes.  

What better way to boost the percentage of Democratic voters in Connecticut?

Hey Democrats:  Forget about fixing the tax package to make it fairer – Maybe the Republicans really will get up and go someplace where they will learn about real tax burdens – like New Jersey or New York. 

Q-Poll – Because Public Opinion Polls are a fun “snap shot” about public attitudes.

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Cross-posted from Pelto’s Point (New Haven Advocate)

Public opinion survey results are driven by three primary factors, how the pollster wrote the questions, who they asked and the depth of knowledge or understanding on the part of those who are being asked those questions.

So today’s Q-Poll is a perfect example of how difficult it is to survey voters on taxes.  Why?  Because people don’t like paying taxes and when questions are worded as a simple yes or no on any individual tax voters are always (or almost always) going to say they oppose that particular tax.

Since the news is full of budget and talk of increased taxes, Malloy is taking a big hit.  A majority, 51% percent disapprove of the way he is handling the budget and only 32 percent approve of the effort.

As Quinnipiac University Poll Director Doug Schwartz explains in his press release, voters “think he is raising taxes too much”.  Furthermore Schwartz observes that “While voters think he is raising taxes too much on the middle class, they think he could raise taxes on the wealthy more”

While the Q-poll is clear, people don’t like taxes there is a very interesting question that is completely overlooked in the press release that the pollster sent out.

While overwhelming majorities oppose every individual tax (as is often the case with surveys), a majority of Connecticut voters believe that “increases in taxes”  are necessary to balance the budget including a plurality of the all important unaffiliated voters which are the voters needed to win any competitive election. 

Asked “Do you think an increase in taxes is necessary to balance the budget or not? “ Democrats answered yes by a 63 – 32 percent margin and unaffiliated voters said yes by 49 – 46 percent margin.

Also interesting is that more affluent people are far more likely to believe a tax increase is necessary to balance the budget.  Those making over $100,000 agreed that tax increases were necessary by a 55-42% margin. 

Tax are not popular , however it is good news for the Governor and Legislative Democrats that people recognize that tax increases are necessary.

By re-balancing the proposed tax package to shift some of the burden from the middle class to the wealthy and then doing a better job explaining why they have selected these particular taxes, the Governor and Legislature can build the acceptance and support they crave as they look toward the next election.

Today’s Q-Poll can be found here:  CT Q-Poll March 9, 2011