HUFFPOLLSTER: Texas Gubernatorial Poll Finds Few Decided Voters

FILE -  In this July 25, 2013 file photo, Texas State Senator Wendy Davis, famous for her 12-hour filibuster attempt against
FILE - In this July 25, 2013 file photo, Texas State Senator Wendy Davis, famous for her 12-hour filibuster attempt against an anti-abortion rights bill, speaks at a fundraiser in Washington. Davis began the slow rollout of her campaign for Texas governor on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013 with an email asking supporters to spread the word and donate money ahead of a "what's next" announcement. (AP Photo/Nick Wass. File)

A new poll in Texas inspires us to revisit a classic lesson in how to measure vote preference. CNN finds majority support for increasing the debt ceiling And data journalists come to grips with the shutdown of government data. This is HuffPollster for Wednesday, October 2, 2013.

TEXAS GUBERNATORIAL POLL FINDS LITTLE CERTAINTY - As Wendy Davis seemingly gears up to announce her run for Texas governor in 2014, a new poll from the Texas Lyceum finds a majority of voters still undecided. Press release: “A recent poll...shows Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott ahead of State Senator Wendy Davis by eight percentage points, should she decide to run for governor. Among registered voters, Abbott comes in at 29 percent to 21 percent for Davis. However, at this very early stage ‘don’t know’ comes out way ahead of both with 50 percent of the registered voters polled between September 6 – September 20.” [Lyceum]

A prompt for 'undecided' - The Texas Lyceum survey did something unusual. Its vote question on the governor's race prompted respondents with the option to say they are undecided: "If the 2014 election for Texas governor were held today and the candidates were the Republican Greg Abbott and the Democrat Wendy Davis, would you vote for Gregg Abbott, Wendy Davis, or haven’t you though enough about it to have a preference?" (emphasis added). Pollsters usually do just the opposite: They offer a choice between candidates and only designate a respondent as "undecided" if they volunteer it and follow-up to ask the uncertain how they "lean." That difference is the reason the Lyceum survey reports 50 percent of the registered voters as "undecided." It prompted howls on Twitter:

-TNR's Nate Cohn - "Why take the time/$ to poll a 1000 people and then... not push undecided voters... [@Nate_Cohn]

-David Kanevsky (R) - "The TX poll gave undecided as a read option which is why it's so ridiculously high." [Twitter]

-Logan Dobson (R) - "Of course, if I could say one thing from this TX poll, it's that dudes, when someone says they're undecided, you need to PROD THEM TO PICK." [@LoganDobson]

What's wrong with prompting for "undecided?" - In and of itself, not much, especially given that the election is more than a year away, and most of those who say the "really haven't though[t] about it yet" are probably telling the truth. But poll respondents are often reluctant to share their vote preference with a stranger on the phone. The Lyceum pollsters could have offered the undecided option and still included the standard follow-up: "If you had to choose, would you say you are leaning to Greg Abbott, the Republican, or Wendy Davis, the Democrat?" Pollsters have long reported "leaners" combined with those who report an initial preference. Asking the follow-up question allows for a measure of uncertainty and a push for for underlying preferences.

MOST SUPPORT RAISING DEBT CEILING - HuffPost: “A majority of Americans want to see the debt ceiling raised, but Republicans and tea party supporters feel otherwise, according to a CNN/ORC poll released Wednesday….Fifty-six percent said they would consider failing to raise the debt ceiling a bad thing for the country, while 38 percent said it would be a good thing. Republicans were the most likely to say a failure to raise the debt ceiling would be positive, with 52 percent calling it a good thing. That tilt was even more pronounced among tea party supporters, 64 percent of whom saw no benefit to hiking the ceiling. Independents were nearly evenly split, while just 18 percent of Democrats thought not raising the debt ceiling would be a good thing….polling on the debt ceiling can be difficult because most Americans pay little attention to the issue. In 2011, polling by NBC and The Wall Street Journal found that support for raising the debt ceiling rose dramatically after the deep consequences of defaulting reached the public's attention.” [HuffPost]

NO CHANGE IN GUN CONTROL SUPPORT - Quinnipiac: “American voters support background checks for all gun-buyers 89 - 9 percent, basically unchanged from the results of several Quinnipiac University polls conducted in the months after the Sandy Hook massacre. Voters in households where there is a gun support background checks 88 - 11 percent, with no group falling below 80 percent on this measure. Voters support stricter gun control laws generally 54 - 41 percent, with voters in gun households opposed 56 - 40 percent. But voters say 61 - 32 percent that stricter gun laws would not have prevented the Washington Navy Yard massacre last month. “[Quinnipiac]

MORE ON THE GOVERNMENT 'DATA CASUALTIES'- Pew Research blogger Drew DeSilver has more on how the government shutdown will slow "the flow of facts and figures" from federal statistical agencies that economic analysts, social scientists and pollsters have come to rely on: "The Bureau of Labor Statistics has ceased almost all operations...The Census Bureau has gone dark for the duration, along with the rest of the Commerce Department...Also part of Commerce, the Bureau of Economic Analysis also has shut down...With the Agriculture Department closed, don’t expect any reports from its Economic Research Service or the National Agricultural Statistics Service. The Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics also has gone dark...Neither the Centers for Disease Control or its National Center for Health Statistics will be issuing any updates during the shutdown." DeSilver also has a list of reports that will be issued despite the shutdown. [Pew Research]

Impact on data journalism - Poynter's Anna Li examined how the data shutdown affects journalists who deal with government data: "On Investigative Reporters and Editors’ NICAR Listserv, where data journalists often seek help from their peers, many scratched their heads about why the government shut down its websites and tried to come up with ways to circumvent the blocks. Matt Stiles, a data journalist at NPR, wrote in an email to Poynter that he needed diversity index scores for each Census tract in the country when he discovered the Census Bureau closed up shop for the day: 'It’s not the end of the world, but frustrating nonetheless,' he wrote." Li also quotes Hartford Courant investigative reporter Matt Kauffman who questioned the necessity of shutting down the government web sites: "Am I the only one who finds that incredibly lame? Pretty sure the websites still operate, say, nights, weekends and holidays when the staff’s away. This is the equivalent of not merely locking the Smithsonian museums, but going the extra step to paper the windows so no one can peer inside while they’re closed." [Poynter]

IRE is crowdsourcing what data are available and where - The non-profit Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. has set up a spreadsheet to track the availability of government data: "We're keeping track of what's available, what's not, and what alternative sources exist...We're crowdsourcing this effort: We'll be adding what we know to the Google Spreadsheet we've started below, linked here. If you have some information on what's available and where, please add it to the list. Also, if you know of other information we should be tracking, or other fields we should add to this spreadsheet, let us know." [IRE]

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

-PPP asks about conspiracy theories. [PPP]

-Harry Enten examines the confusion that leads some Americans to like the Affordable Care Act more than Obamacare. [Guardain]

-Allison Kopicki examines polls showing doubts about Obamacare come from different directions. [NY Times]

-Public Opinion Strategies (R) kicks off a five day series of blog posts on a political survey conducted entirely on mobile phones and tablets. [POS]

-WNYC maps what low voter turnout looks like in New York. [Tumblr]

-Pew finds dueling views about the shutdown and Obamacare on Twitter. [Pew Research]

CLARIFICATION:Wendy Davis has not officially announced her run for governor, although she has scheduled such an announcment and is widely expected to run.