President Obama’s average ratings are in positive territory for the first time in years. Pollsters are digging into their data to see what happened in Michigan. And while strategic voting in this year’s primaries is probably overestimated, theories still abound. This is HuffPollster for Thursday, March 10, 2016.
OBAMA’S JOB APPROVAL AVERAGE CLIMBS BACK INTO POSITIVE TERRITORY - President Barack Obama is enjoying some of the highest ratings of his second term in office. The HuffPost Pollster average shows that 48.5 percent of Americans approve of the job he’s doing in office, while 48.2 percent give him negative ratings. The margin is narrow -- that’s only 0.3 percent net positive -- but it’s the first time Obama’s job approval ratings have reached positive territory in the HuffPost Pollster average since his reelection honeymoon period ended in the spring of 2013. With the “less smoothing” option on the chart, which allows individual polls to have more pull on the average, the president has an average 2.1 percent net approval rating.
Approval has trended upward since late last year - When he initially took office in 2009, Obama enjoyed over a year of positive job approval ratings, but after that the net positive status has been rare. The current upward trend began in December of 2015 as the race for his successor heated up.
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MORE INSIGHT INTO THE MICHIGAN POLLING MISS - Bernie Sanders’ win in Tuesday night’s Michigan Democratic primary came as a shock to most -- polls had shown Hillary Clinton with a clear lead. Pollsters have been looking for why their data were so far off. EPIC-MRA pollster Bernie Porn explained in an email to HuffPollster: "I anticipated that turnout for Dems would be about 800K, with about 1.2 million for the GOP, which would be a proportionally greater turnout for the GOP as it has been in several other state elections held prior to Michigan. Actually, just under 1.2 million voted in the Dem primary (400K more than expected), with only 100K more voting in the GOP primary (1.3 million), for a total of 2.5 million voters, which was a record. Based on past primary elections and what we expected as a reasonable increase for Sanders, we had about 12 percent age 18-34. We are guessing that the percentage age 18-34 was in the 18-20 percent range. When we reweighted our poll for a 20 percent level of turnout for age 18-34, we were within 3 points of where Clinton ended up as a percentage (52%)....This election shows that when you rely on traditional stratification models and only moderately adjust for the impact a candidate like Sanders may have on turning out younger voters, the polling can be way off the mark if turnout of younger voters dramatically exceeds the mark used in the model."
But polls on the Republican side -- using the same methods -- were mostly okay - Carl Bialik: “Michigan’s Democratic primary was weird in 2008 (Barack Obama wasn’t on the ballot), and the state party held caucuses in 2000 and 2004 that weren’t really competitive. So relying on voter history could lead pollsters astray….This is an outlier, a perfectly rotten combination of bad luck and bad timing. Several pollsters pointed out that they used the same methods in the Michigan Democratic primary as in other primaries — including Michigan’s Republican primary — with relative success. ‘Polls on the Republican race, including ours, were generally OK,’ said Barbara Carvalho of the Marist Poll. She added that all polls on the Democratic race had Clinton winning.” 
That makes it difficult to figure out what happened - Monmouth University's Patrick Murray via email to HuffPollster: "First off, our Republican poll which started with the same sampling frame was pretty much right on the money. If we were missing every race in similar ways, I'd be able to see a pattern. However, the majority of our primary polls have been on the mark. The misses have been in states where we nailed the other party's primary."
Polls have done well this year, but hiccups are hard to predict - Stephanie Slade: “The thing is, the amount and quality of the polling leading up to the Michigan primary is on par with or even better than the polling in a bunch of recent states that didn't see shocking upsets this year. Many of the Super Tuesday contests had barely any pre-election polls from which to make predictions, and yet the predictions people made weren't that far off. Which brings us back to the conclusion we arrived at after the New Hampshire primary: Not all polls are bad, but it's nearly impossible to predict ahead of time whether the polls in a state will end up having been wrong or right.” [Reason]
Clinton team was prepared for a possible Michigan loss - Aaron Blake: "Everyone was shocked --SHOCKED! -- that Hillary Clinton lost the Michigan primary on Tuesday. The polls, after all, showed her up an average of 20 points. The Clinton campaign itself... kind-of, sort-of called it a week ago. On March 2, a memo from Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook keyed on the campaign's strategy to maximize its delegate hauls and worry less about the momentary momentum that comes with winning the popular vote in individual states. 'Sen. Sanders’ campaign continues to pursue a strategy focused on states rather than delegates. For example, Sen. Sanders is competing very aggressively in Michigan, where he has already spent $3 million on TV,' Mook said. 'We are also competing to win in Michigan and feel good about where that race stands, but even if Sen. Sanders were able to eke out a victory there, we would still net more delegates in Mississippi, which holds its election on the same night.'" [WashPost]
IS TRUMP WINNING BECAUSE DEMOCRATS ARE VOTING FOR HIM? - Philip Bump: "The term 'strategic voting' is thrown around, almost as much as the term 'push polling,' intimating the existence of clever plots that -- in the most common iteration -- are handing Donald Trump victory after victory so that Hillary Clinton has a clear path against him in November…. Even if there were a plot to turn out Democrats to hand victories to Trump, the percentage of the vote that's Democratic is almost always smaller than the margin of victory in each state….And that's assuming that literally every single Democrat who turns out to vote is turning out to strategically vote for Trump. Put another way: Trump's average margin of victory is 12 points. The average density of the Democratic vote is 4.1 percent. Even if he were getting every Democratic vote, he usually wouldn't need them." [WashPost]
Yet the theories still abound for future contests - Jessica Wehrman: " Ohio Gov. John Kasich next week will be banking on Ohio voters — including some Democrats who have never voted for him before — to save his presidential candidacy. A movement seems to be growing among Democratic and independent Ohio voters to vote for the Republican Kasich on March 15 — not necessarily because they love the man, but because they are anxious about the prospects of a Donald Trump presidency. Voters for years have occasionally opted to weigh in on the more interesting primary contest. In some cases, their votes have been 'spoilers' — meant to pit their party’s candidate against a weaker candidate during the general election….But this year, the crossover votes seem to be more directed at stopping Trump from getting the nomination, even though many Democrats believe he is the most vulnerable candidate heading into November." [Dayton Daily News]
STILL A WAYS TO GO BEFORE ANY CANDIDATE REACHES TARGETED DELEGATE COUNT - HuffPollster, with Alissa Scheller: "If this year's presidential primaries already feel endless, here's some bad news: We're barely halfway through. Sure, more than 20 states have held caucuses or primaries. About 40 percent of the available delegates have been doled out. But no clear winner has emerged in either contest. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are still in a competitive heat. Without superdelegates taken into account, Clinton...is 32 percent of the way to a nomination. Sanders is...23 percent of the way to a nomination. Adding superdelegates more than doubles Clinton's advantage and places her halfway (51 percent) to a nomination. Superdelegates only boost Sanders to 24 percent of the way to a nomination….Professional entertainer and business mogul Donald Trump has racked up the most delegates in the Republican race. But he faces some challenges ahead, primarily from his closest rival, Texas Sen.Ted Cruz. With 458 delegates in the bag, Trump is only 37 percent of the way to obtaining enough delegates for a nomination. With 359 delegates, Cruz is about 29 percent on his way to a nomination." [HuffPost]
THURSDAY'S 'OUTLIERS' - Links to the best of news at the intersection of polling, politics and political data:
-Headlines favored Bernie Sanders after Tuesday, but prediction markets still favor Hillary Clinton. [NYT]
-Steven Shepard looks at five data points to explain what happened in Tuesday's primaries. [Politico]
-An anti-Trump GOP super PAC argues that Donald Trump's path to the nomination is more difficult than people think. [WashPost]
-Wendy Rahn and Eric Oliver argue that Trump supporters are populists, not authoritarians. [WashPost]
-Republicans are replacing "gay marriage" with "religious liberty" in their speeches.