The Iowa caucuses “almost always yield surprises,” according to a leading pollster. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton might face problems in a general election. And the American Association for Public Opinion Research releases a set of election polling explainers. This is HuffPollster for Friday, January 29, 2016.
WATCH OUT FOR SURPRISES IN IOWA - Leonid Bershidsky: “J. Ann Selzer, who has conducted polling on the Iowa caucuses since 1988, says the contests almost always yield surprises….Iowa governor Terry Branstad predicts that this time, 150,000 Republicans are likely to turn out, energized by [Donald] Trump's candidacy….On the other hand, if the commitment of these political neophytes doesn't extend to actually journeying out in the cold night and spending several hours caucusing in a classroom or barn, it will be [Ted] Cruz who will get a boost. [Bernie] Sanders' ability to beat [Hillary] Clinton also hinges on how organized and civic-minded his young supporters turn out to be….That, however, doesn't mean that Trump and Sanders will triumph….A surge of voters from the center that lifts Clinton and Marco Rubio, the front-runner among mainstream Republicans, may be the biggest surprise for the pollsters this year.” [Bloomberg]
Rubio has been rising slightly - While much of the focus has been on Trump and Cruz, the Florida senator has been picking up a little steam in the polls. The HuffPost Pollster average shows a small uptick in Rubio’s Iowa numbers in the last few weeks.
How much has he gained? - The latest NBC/WSJ/Marist poll in Iowa shows Rubio in third place with 18 percent -- a 5-percentage point improvement over the last NBC/WSJ/Marist poll in early January. The poll also shows evidence that measurements of Rubio’s support could be influenced by pollsters’ assumptions about turnout: Marist samples using random digit dial methods, but then matches the sample to a voter list. Random digit dialing involves calling randomly selected telephone numbers to reach a random sample of Americans, but some pollsters sample from lists of registered voters instead for pre-election polls. Voter lists have been found to be more accurate for polling elections, since they allow pollsters to check who's actually registered to vote, and often how they do so. Among those respondents who could be matched to the voter list in the newest NBC/WSJ/Marist poll, Rubio took second place with 22 percent. His support dropped to 14 percent among those who couldn’t be matched to the list. On the other hand, Rubio’s numbers have remained stable in the latest Monmouth University poll, which samples from a voter list. Monmouth actually reported the horserace numbers for several different levels of turnout varying from low to high, but in these calculations Rubio’s support levels are mostly unaffected turnout -- he stays around 16 percent. [Marist, Monmouth]
Sanders and Clinton remain deadlocked. - New polls from Monmouth and NBC/WSJ/Marist show Clinton with a 5-point and 3-point lead respectively, but with other polls showing mixed results, the HuffPost Pollster average has Clinton up by just a single point. [Marist, Monmouth, HuffPost]
TRUMP COULD FACE A CHALLENGING GENERAL ELECTION - Nate Cohn: "Donald Trump’s path to the Republican nomination has become a lot clearer over the last month….Mr. Trump has benefited greatly from receiving the preponderance of news media coverage since entering the race. And it has also helped that the Republican candidates have largely shied away from attacking him. But it’s an open question whether Mr. Trump could retain all of this strength in the face of concerted and coordinated attacks against him. He simply hasn’t faced anything like it." [NYT]
Little evidence Trump could win in a general election - Amy Walter: "I have no idea what is going to happen in Iowa and New Hampshire. If the polls are correct, Donald Trump is on his way to victory in both states. On the Democratic side, Iowa is a coin-toss and Bernie Sanders wins big in New Hampshire. For many Republicans, Cruz represents an obvious - and predictable - road to a loss in November: a conservative and ideologically rigid message to a shrinking base of voters. Meanwhile, Trump represents the audacity of hope, an opportunity to appeal to a crop of voters who’ve either sat on the sidelines or voted Democratic in the past. Even many Democrats worry that they don’t have the playbook to deal with Trump. But winning over GOP voters is NOT the same as winning a national election." [Cook Political]
HILLARY CLINTON HAS AN ELECTABILITY PROBLEM - HuffPollster: "Hillary Clinton may have something of an electability problem. The problem is not that Democratic voters don't think she's electable. It's that they don't care who's electable. That's too bad for Clinton, since she's made electability a cornerstone of her campaign….HuffPost teamed with YouGov to probe the views of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters. What we found is that only 8 percent say they're backing somebody who isn't their top choice, but whom they see as more electable. Sixty-two percent say they're supporting their favorite candidate regardless of that consideration, while the rest are undecided or don't plan to vote….A majority of all Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters -- 54 percent -- now say that Clinton's chief rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, is in fact electable." [HuffPost]
INACCURACIES IN POLLS ARE GREATLY EXAGGERATED - David Dutwin: "Polling is under siege. Recent failures in election polling in Britain, Israel and a few high-profile states in the U.S. midterm elections have been squarely attributed to an increased unwillingness of many Americans to take surveys (what the industry terms 'declining response rates')....Yet, with apologies to Mark Twain, the simple truth is that the death of probability-based, scientifically rigorous and highly precise polling has been greatly exaggerated. Polls serve a critical role in democracy and, contrary to noisy critics, continue to provide highly accurate estimates of public sentiment. Recent research into Pew Research Center, ABC-Washington Post and CBS-New York Times telephone polling finds little growth in inaccuracies in polls over the past 20 years, despite response rates having dropped from the 30 percent range to the single digits. Indeed, reported estimates show absolutely no increase in bias." [WashPost]
AMERICAN ASSOCIATION FOR PUBLIC RESEARCH CREATES A GUIDE TO INTERPRETING 2016 POLLS - AAPOR: "With this year’s unusually contentious presidential race comes an unusually loud chorus of criticism about the accuracy and impact of election polling. New polling techniques and unfamiliar terms...only add to the confusion of the poll-watching public and increase skepticism about the current state of the profession.AAPOR has assembled a library of objective, fact-based election briefs on the latest polling topics written by some of the foremost polling authorities. These short, reader-friendly summaries are meant to clarify and demystify critical election topics such as sample selection, identifying likely voters, the use of 'credibility intervals,' how to identify a push poll, and what is 'herding.'" [AAPOR]
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FRIDAY'S 'OUTLIERS' - Links to the best of news at the intersection of polling, politics and political data:
-Nate Cohn gives us reason to doubt a last minute voter registration surge for both Democrats and Republicans in Iowa. [NYT]
-The Iowa Secretary of State releases new voter registration numbers that reveal little increase. [Iowa Secretary of State]
-Nate Silver postulates what the GOP race would look like without Donald Trump. 
-More Americans report giving substantial thought to this election in the pre-primary period than in past elections. [Gallup]
-Democrats are tuning into the Republican debates much more than Republicans are watching the Democratic debates. [Pew]
-A Pew Report confirms that GOP primary voters were more conservative than general election voters. [Pew]
-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's approval rating plummets in a new state poll. [Freep]
-Only one-third of men call themselves feminists. [WashPost]
-Half of Americans say they are better off today than they were a year ago. [Gallup]
-Annie Petit goes over the dos and don'ts of creating pie charts. [Peanut Labs]
-Tom Hanks, Johnny Depp and Denzel Washington rank as America's favorite movie stars. [Harris]
-Football is the nation's favorite sport, but most Americans grew up playing baseball or softball. [PRRI]