POLLSTER UPDATE: Little Consensus, Less Interest In NYC's Mayoral Primary

Polling on the New York City Mayor's race offers more reasons to expect the unexpected. Quants debate the finer points of public opinion on same sex marriage. And is there an “ethical hole in Big Data's bucket"? This is the HuffPost Pollster update for Friday, June 28, 2013.

NYC MAYORAL: THE 'EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED' PRIMARY - The Guardian's Harry Enten reviews this week's two new polls on the New York City Democratic primary for Mayor and finds the standings unusually close: "I went through the polling that I could find since 1989, and I can't find a single poll this late in the mayoral primary campaign when the leading candidate had less than 26% and certainly not less than 20%. There simply is no precedence for this in the past 30 years. Indeed, the only race I can ever remember that shares the slightest resemblance to this one is 1977, [in which Ed] Koch 'surged' forward to win the first round with less than 20% with [Mario] Cuomo close behind, while none of the six earned less than 10%. The lesson from that campaign that should be applied to this one is that when the candidates are polling so poorly and close to each other anything can happen. I wouldn't even count out Bill de Blasio who is lurking with 10%. If you buy the Quinnipiac poll, he's less than 10pt back. With two months to go and most voters not tuned into the race yet, it could be 1977 with someone we wouldn't think of coming from behind. I don't expect it, but in this race expect the unexpected." [Guardian]

Few are watching...yet - One largely overlooked finding from the Marist Poll: Just 8 percent of the city's registered Democrats say they are following the mayoral campaign "very closely," while another 35 percent say they are following it "closely." More than half say they are following "not very closely" (46 percent) or "not at all" (11 percent). Keep in mind that just 18 percent of New York City's registered Democrats voted in the last competitive primary in September 2009, and 28 percent turned out for a competitive primary in October 2001 (when many thought the Democratic primary would choose a new mayor). So the real challenge for pollsters in 2013 will be modeling the true likely turnout as true primary voters begin to engage in the race -- another reason to "expect the unexpected."

Quinnipiac interviews in Spanish too - Yesterday's update noted that the Marist poll conducts some interviews in Spanish. Quinnipiac University Poll director Doug Schwartz emailed HuffPollster to note that they too offer the option of a Spanish language interview to Spanish-speaking respondents.

WILL GOP & EVANGELICAL RESISTANCE TO SAME SEX MARRIAGE FADE? In a column we linked to yesterday, the New Republic's Nate Cohn says no: "Evangelical and Republican opposition to same sex marriage hasn't budged. According to Pew Research, Republican support for gay marriage has only crept up by a net--7 points since 2003, from 22--71 to 25--67. White evangelicals have moved a little quicker, but they still oppose by a 75--19 margin—a net--15 point improvement from 2003. In comparison, the public as a whole has shifted 30 points toward gay marriage—despite being held back by Republicans and evangelicals. Generational change isn't helping very much, either. Just 30 percent of 18--34 year old evangelicals support gay marriage, which isn't a huge improvement from the 25 percent who supported it in 2003. Young Republicans are a little more supportive of gay marriage than young evangelicals, but they still oppose gay marriage by 15 points, 39--54." [TNR]

Alex Lundry sees shifts with younger Republicans - Taking to Twitter, Republican pollster Alex Lundry took issue with Cohn's argument, citing a Washington Post/ABC News poll showing support for same-sex marriage at 64 percent among "Millennial Evangelicals" and 52 percent among Republicans age 50 or lower. He also cited a Public Religion survey showing 58 support for same-sex marriage among Millennial Republicans. Lundry agreed that Republicans and evangelicals "will be biggest holdouts," but argued that "this is fundamentally a generational thing but every group has shown signs of movement. Some more than others, but all moving." They then argued about whether the subgroups yielded sufficient sample sizes: Cohn: "[T]hese polls have big sample size issues....Sorry, but the subsamples on the polls you cited are like 50 people, right?" Lundry: "Low, but not that low." Cohn: "I mean, how? 18--29 yo white evang are like 3 or 4% of the electorate!!!!" [@AlexLundry & @Nate_Cohn compiled on Storify]

Egan sees "emerging marriage majority" - Separately, political scientist Patrick Egan examines the same issue: "We can of course never be absolutely sure about the future trajectory of public opinion. But without getting too technical, one indication that aggregate American attitudes are permanently changing in, say, a liberal direction is when (1) younger generations hold significantly more liberal attitudes than their older counterparts and (2) people's attitudes do not become more conservative as they age. In the absence of any other stimuli, these two phenomena lead to a gradual change in overall opinion toward a level equal to the attitudes held by the youngest cohort." Examining past survey data, Egan finds more dramatic generational differences for interracial marriage than for abortion in the early 70s, and similar to the generational differences seen now for same-sex marriage. Support for interracial marriage continued to climb, while views on abortion have remained static "All told," he concludes, "our best bet is that attitudes on gay marriage are likely to continue to parallel those on interracial marriage," with a national consensus heading toward "more than 7 out of 10 Americans favoring marriage equality, which is the level of support currently found among the youngest generation." [The Monkey Cage]

POLLING, 'BIG DATA' AND POLLSTER ETHICS - Earlier this week, Republican pollster David Hill used his weekly column to share a concern that "campaign polling is over into dangerous territory as it meets 'Big Data.'" He recounted the efforts of the Obama campaign to develop "an unprecedented enormous list of voters they considered persuadable — in terms of candidate choice and turnout— and set out to develop other data that would help them communicate with those persuadable voters." Hill's concern: "[W]here did the original list of persuadable voters come from? My guess is that it was from an amalgam of poll and phone bank data. This is the ethical hole in Big Data's bucket. Unless poll and phone bank respondents were explicitly told that their information would be used in such a manner, and the respondents granted their permission, use of such data is illicit. When a pollster calls a household, there is an implicit understanding, or at least there has been and should be, that the call is confidential, that the answers an individual provides will only be reported and used in the aggregate, combined with responses of all others polled." [The Hill]

Hill is right about traditional "voter ID" calls... - Campaigns have traditionally employed "phone banks" that would "pose as pollsters to collect data like candidate preference, ideology, likelihood of voting and issue preference." He is also right that these "faux polls" collected data typically used to "target individual voters" and that such use, if employed by a pollster, would violate the pledges of respondent confidentiality included in the ethical codes of the American Association for Public Opinion Research and other professional survey organizations. [see AAPOR Code of Ethics]

...But not about what the Obama campaign did - As we reported in November 2012: "The call centers that completed these analytics surveys typically specialize in 'voter identification,' the process of contacting most or all individual voters in a state to identify supporters who can then be targeted in subsequent 'get out the vote' efforts. But the Obama campaign's approach to voter targeting was different. It called very large random samples of voters to develop statistical models that generated scores applied to all voters, which were then used for get-out-the-vote and persuasion targeting. The Obama campaign preferred such modeling over traditional brute-force voter ID calling, according to a member of the analytics staff, "because our support models more efficiently (and quite accurately) told us who supported us and who opposed us." A former member of the Obama campaign confirmed to HuffPollster on Friday that their persuasion and turnout scores for individual voters were calculated solely with these models, in effect aggregating the collected data before linking the data back to the larger list of individual voters. [HuffPost]

STATISTICIANS EXPLAIN HOW THE CENSUS PROTECTS PRIVACY - David Morganstein, Tom Krenzke, and Sylvia Dohrmann: “Government surveys get a bad rap. Detractors cry that the surveys "pry into our daily lives." The Founding Fathers, however, recognized the important role information can provide in tracking the development of our country. So much so, they penned a requirement for a decennial census into the first Article of the U.S. Constitution....Critics of government surveys bark [a] flawed argument: that, once collected, personal information is at risk. These people have, obviously, never met a statistician. Statisticians take data very seriously. We are data-control fanatics. We make sure your personal identifiers are deleted and the other data remains just that: a bunch of codes and numbers that don't identify you or connect you to the information you've provided." [HuffPost]

FRIDAY'S 'OUTLIERS' - Links to more news at the intersection of polling, politics and political data:

--84 percent of Americans say they know they're aware they must purchase health insurance or pay a fine under the Affordable Care Act. [Gallup]

-Rand Paul is Montana Republicans' top choice for the 2016 presidential primary (and you'll never guess who the clear frontrunner is among Democrats). [PPP]

-Half of Americans have heard someone who is not black "use the n-word" to refer to someone who is in the past five years. [YouGov]

-In Part III of a series, Sean Trende quarrels with the argument that Republicans must embrace immigration reform or face electoral doom. [RCP]

-Frank Newport ponders the conflicting appeal of compromise and standing up for principle. [Gallup]

-Democratic pollsters find strong support for background checks in five states represented by senators who voted against the gun bill. [Greenberg Quinlan Rosner]

-Erik Voeten explores Justice Kennedy's rationale for following public opinion in the Supreme Court's recent opinions on same-sex marriage. [The Monkey Cage]

-21 jokes only nerds will understand. [Buzzfeed]