2014 Election

Polling and Analyses

Frederick Weil, LSU

Guide to this page

I'm putting most of the election articles on a Facebook page: Polit Soc. This will be easier for me than editing the html on this page, and it will let you click through to links that may otherwise be restricted. You can subscribe to it, "like" it, or "friend" it, and then you'll see new stories on your own Facebook newsfeed. (And if you know how to run Facebook pages, I'm always happy for advice on how to do it better!)

The present page will have mostly links to information sources (polling sites, news analysis sites, methods sites) and some links from past elections that are still informative.

(Note: Some of the sections have materials carried over from previous elections; and given how the web works, there could be dead links. If you find one, pls let me know!)

Students in my "Political Sociology" class: As you read this material, watch for 4 important factors:

  1. Which candidate do the different social groups support (age, gender, religion, race, region, party loyalists, etc., etc.)? Plus how big is each group?
  2. What percentage of each group actually votes: what's their turnout? How good is each campaign's "ground game" of getting out the vote?
  3. How do the different issues play? Which issue helps which candidate, which social groups respond to which issues, and how do the campaigns maneuver to bring "their" issues to the forefront?
  4. Are the polls giving us accurate readings of voter preferences and turnout? There are various factors that may distort their accuracy.

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Pre-Election Articles

Highlights from the Facebook page: Polit Soc.
(If some of them don't open from these links,
try the links on the Facebook page.)

  • NYT, 9/28/14. House Hopefuls in G.O.P. Seek Rightward Shift. Congressional Republicans successfully ended their primary season with minimal damage, but in at least a dozen safe or largely safe Republican House districts where more mild-mannered Republicans are exiting, their likely replacements will pull the party to the right, a move likely to increase division in an already polarized Congress.

  • Pew, 9/25/14. The GOP's Millennial problem runs deep. Wide Ideological Divide by Generation, Particularly Stark Within the GOP. The Republican Party's struggles in appealing to young people have been well documented. And even those Millennials who do identify as Republicans or lean toward the GOP are decidedly less conservative than older Republicans.
  • NYT, 9/17/14. Obama Faulted in Terror Fight, New Poll Finds. Obama's ratings are slipping further, incl now in foreign policy & terrorism, where they had been fairly good. This will help the GOP in the election, even tho they remain unpopular.
  • NYT, 9/6/14. Why Democrats Can't Win the House. Important analysis shows the importance of districts: House vs. State. Democrats have been winning states with massive majorities in just a few (urban/suburban) House districts, leaving Republicans to win the majority of (exurban/rural) House seats by smaller margins. Related to, but not the same as, gerrymandering. Democrats would have to stop gravitating to cities!
    "Today there are fewer competitive counties in presidential elections." (dark = closer races)

  • Pew, 6/12/14. Political Polarization in the American Public. American politics have become much more polarized in recent years. Important study from Pew.
  • NY Times, 8/14/14. Upshot, Changing South Is at Intersection of Demographics and Politics. The South is the fastest-growing region of the country, and Democrats are hoping that a flood of Northern expats and demographic change will allow them to turn red states to blue at a fast enough pace to counter the region’s growing share of the Electoral College. ...The Southern-born share of Southern residents has declined, but the pace of change is uneven across the region. In Florida, people born outside the South represent a majority of the population, but in low-growth and more rural states like Mississippi and Louisiana, 90 percent of the population remains Southern-born.

  • NY Times, 9/3/13. Tom Edsall, How Fragile Is the New Democratic Coalition? Democratic strength is now concentrated in fewer but more heavily populated areas. Polarization has intensified as voters in over half the nation's counties cast landslide margins for one presidential candidate or the other. These tendencies are intensifying and have spilled over to Congressional elections, leading to legislative paralysis. Self-perpetuating clusters of the like-minded lead voters and their representatives away from the center.

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Final 2014 Exit Polls and Election Maps

  • Coming

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Post-Election Analyses

Highlights from the Facebook page: Polit Soc.
(If some of them don't open from these links,
try the links on the Facebook page.)

  • Coming

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General Sources of Polling & Analysis

  • Election maps (Won't be available till after the election. 2012 maps for now.)

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Basic Press Sites

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Other Sites that Synthesize available polling
... and some of them try to predict the Electoral College Vote outcome

  • Electoral-vote.com - President, Senate, House Updated Daily
  • PredictWise - aggregates, analyzes, and creates predictions, by David M. Rothschild of Microsoft and Andrew S. Leonard.

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Problems & Debates about Polling Accuracy

  • FiveThirtyEight, August 25, 2014, Is The Polling Industry In Stasis Or In Crisis? Essay on polling accuracy by one of the top analysts, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.
  • Pew, July 28, 2014, Q/A: What the New York Times' polling decision means. The New York Times and CBS News made big news in the polling world this weekend when they announced that they will begin using online survey panels from YouGov as part of their election coverage. YouGov, a U.K.-based research firm founded in 2000, uses such panels rather than traditional telephone surveys; the panel the Times and CBS are using has more than 100,000 members. The Times, citing concerns about the dearth of high-quality, non-partisan survey data, particularly at the state level, says it plans to include YouGov results as part of "a diverse suite of surveys employing diverse methodologies." While panels have long been used by market researchers, they're relatively new in the opinion-research field, and views on them are sharply divided. We asked Scott Keeter, the Pew Research Center's director of survey research, to explain the issues at stake and give us his preliminary thoughts.
  • NY Times, August 5, 2012, Political Pollsters Struggle to Get the Right Cell Number. Analysts are tweaking methods to better include the views of voters who only have cellphones: some hang up on those who also have landlines, others turn to the Internet. For all you polling geeks (like me) ...
  • Gallup, October 4, 2010, Understanding Gallup's Likely Voter Models. Since 1950, Gallup has used likely voter models to identify Americans who are most likely to vote in a coming election. These models involve asking poll respondents a series of questions about their interest in the coming election, their past voting behavior, and their current intention to vote in the election.
  • Pollster/Mark Blumenthal, 10-5-10, 'Likely' Voters: How Pollsters Define And Choose Them. We have seen the "likely voter" polling problem rear its head several times in recent weeks, but few examples have been as vivid as three national surveys released in the last 24 hours.
  • FiveThirtyEight - Nate Silver started his meta-analysis site in 2008. The New York Times now presents it.
    • October 14, 2010, Bypassed Cellphones: Biased Polls? On Wednesday, Pew Research issued a study suggesting that the failure to include cellphones in a survey sample — and most pollsters don’t include them — may bias the results against Democrats. Pew has addressed this subject a number of times before, and in their view, the problem seems to be worsening. Indeed, this is about what you might expect, since the fraction of voters who rely on cellphones is steadily increasing: about 25 percent of the adult population now has no landline phone installed at all. Clearly, this is a major problem in survey research — and one that, sooner or later, every polling firm is going to have to wrestle with. What isn’t as clear is how much of a problem it is right now. I have written about this in the past, and I encourage you to review those articles. But let me try and come at it from a couple of fresh directions.
    • October 4, 2010, The Uncanny Accuracy of Polling Averages*, Part IV: Are the Polls Getting Worse? There is another type of argument, however, that is potentially more troubling. It could be that, irrespective of the character of this political cycle, polling itself is in decline. This is a widely held view among political elites and many polling professionals — and quite a few of the readers of this blog, I might add.
    • October 3, 2010, The Uncanny Accuracy of Polling Averages*, Part III: This Time, It’s Different? In Part III, we take up one type of critique that I encounter frequently — that 2010 is an unusual political cycle, and that its idiosyncrasies may render the polling less accurate. While this is not an unreasonable hypothesis, we found it does not have any grounding in the evidence: the polls have done no worse in “unusual” political cycles like 1992, nor in “wave” years like 1994 and 2006, than in routine-seeming ones like 1996 and 1998.
    • September 30, 2010, The Uncanny Accuracy of Polling Averages*, Part II: What the Numbers Say. In Part II, I demonstrated, by contrast, that a simple average of polls has performed very well over the past six election cycles in determining the winner of the contest. For example, Senate and gubernatorial candidates who have trailed by 6 to 9 points in the polling average with a month to go until the election have won their races only about 10 percent of the time in recent years.
    • September 29, 2010, The Uncanny Accuracy of Polling Averages*, Part I: Why You Can’t Trust Your Gut. In Part I, I explored why our intuition may mislead us when it comes to forecasting the outcomes of elections — for a variety of reasons, we may tend to assume that there is more uncertainty in the forecast than there really is.

  • ABC/Gary Langer, The Numbers, A Run at the Latest Data from ABC's Poobah of Polling, Gary Langer

    • ABC/Gary Langer, August 30, 2010, This I Believe. It’s quickly mushroomed into the summer’s hottest data point: A boatload of Americans believe Barack Obama’s a Muslim. Except that, maybe, they don’t. Consider this instead: They’re just willing to say it. This not-so-subtle difference is useful in understanding public opinion and its measurement. Yet the punditry and pronouncements that have followed the Obama/Muslim numbers mainly have missed the point, falling instead into the trap of literalism. They say, so they believe. Not necessarily so. People in fact may voice an attitude not as an affirmed belief – a statement of perceived factual reality – but rather as what my colleagues and I have taken to calling “expressed belief” – a statement intended to send a message, not claim a known fact.

  • See the big section in our 2008 election page, here,

    • Some methodological statements from Gallup (their methods are typical of industry standards)

    • Debate on factors that may distort polling's accuracy

    • The "Bradley Effect" - do survey respondents lie about race?

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The "Ground Game:" Turning out the Vote
Plus: Defense against Voter Fraud & Vote Suppression

  • NYT, August 25, 2010, Shaping Tea Party Passion Into Campaign Force, By KATE ZERNIKE. On a Saturday in August when most of the political class has escaped this city’s swelter, 50 Tea Party leaders have flown in from across the country to jam into a conference room in an office building on Pennsylvania Avenue, apparently unconcerned that the fancy address does not guarantee air-conditioning on weekends. They have come to learn how to take over the country, voter by voter. ...This is a three-day “boot camp” at FreedomWorks, the Washington advocacy group that has done more than any other organization to build the Tea Party movement. ...The goal is to turn local Tea Party groups into a standing get-out-the-vote operation in Congressional districts across the country.
  • WP 8/23/10. Primary turnout shows big GOP enthusiasm edge. By Aaron Blake.Three-quarters of the way through the 2010 primary season, the so-called "enthusiasm gap" appears to be playing out across the country with turnout in GOP contests exceeding previous highs and beating Democratic turnout by unprecedented margins in many targeted states.
Background on Karl Rove's successful "Ground Game"
that worked for George W. Bush ... until it didn't

    The Hamburger/Wallsten Explanation
    of the Rove/Bush Strategy

    • "One Party Country: The Republican Plan For Dominance in the 21st Century" at Amazon
    • A September 28, 2006 article in Harpers (here) tries to answer these questions:
      1. The G.O.P. still raises more money than the Democrats, but the Democrats are hardly short of cash. How significant is the G.O.P. advantage in terms of sheer dollars? Are they simply raising more money, or are they also doing a better job of spending it?
      2. How successful has the G.O.P. been in eating away at Democratic support among core constituencies like African Americans and Hispanics?
      3. You say that Republicans have surpassed the Democrats in mobilizing their voters on election day, in part by using databases such as Voter Vault, which allows party activists to track voters by personal hobbies, professional interests, and even by their favorite brand of soda. How does that bank of personal data translate into an advantage on election day? Are Democrats responding with similar programs of their own?
      4. Whatever structural advantages the Republicans have, hasn't the G.O.P. also sought to gain an electoral advantage by suppressing Democratic turnout? How significant are those efforts on the part of the G.O.P., and are we likely to see new and improved methods down the road?
      5. Republicans would no doubt argue that their policies and ideology are simply more popular with the public than Democratic policies. Do ideas still play a role in electoral success or is it all about money and organization?
    • Diane Rehm show, 27 July 2006, here
    • Fresh Air with Terry Gross, July 24, 2006, here
    • BuzzFlash, 08/28/2006, here
  • NYT, November 15, 2005. By Jim Rutenberg, Voter Profiles for Bloomberg Went Beyond Ethnic Labels. Throughout this year's mayoral campaign, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's spending records included something called "voter list development." It looked ominous to Democrats - especially as Mr. Bloomberg poured millions into it. Lists like this usually include voters' personal data - the magazines they buy, the cars they drive, their political affiliations. But as the cost of compiling Mr. Bloomberg's list inched up toward $10 million, not even aides to President Bush, who perfected this sort of voter identification last year, could figure out where the money was going.
  • Los Angeles Times July 24, 2005. By Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten, Parties Are Tracking Your Habits. Though both Democrats and Republicans collect personal information, the GOP's mastery of data is changing the very nature of campaigning. COLUMBUS, Ohio — At first glance, Felicia Hill seems to fit the profile of a loyal Democrat: She is African American, married to a General Motors union worker and voted for Dukakis, Clinton and Gore in past presidential elections. But in the weeks before election day 2004, the suburban mother of two was deluged with telephone calls, invitations and specially targeted mailings urging her to support President Bush. The intense Republican courtship of Hill, 39, was no coincidence. A deeper look at her lifestyle and politics reveals a voter who might be persuaded to switch sides. Among the clues: she is a church member uneasy about abortion; she lives in a growing suburb and she sent her children to a private school. ...For the first time, she sees the GOP as a place where black women can be comfortable. "I saw people I could relate to," she said, describing conversations she had with Republican professional women during telephone outreach calls and at party events. ...Hill and millions of other would-be Bush backers in closely contested states were identified by a GOP database that culled information ranging from the political basics, like party registration, to the personal, such as the cars they drive, the drinks they buy, even the features they order on their phone lines. The "micro-targeting" effort was so effective that the party credited it with helping to secure Bush's reelection.
  • NYT, December 6, 2004. By Katharine Q. Seelye, How to Sell a Candidate to a Porsche-Driving, Leno-Loving Nascar Fan. After the 2000 presidential campaign, strategists for President Bush came to a startling realization: Democrats watch more television than Republicans. So by buying millions of dollars' worth of television advertising time, Republicans were spending their money on audiences that tended to vote Democratic. What to do? With the luxury of four years until the next election, the Bush team examined voters' television-viewing habits and cross-referenced them with surveys of voters' political and lifestyle preferences. This led to an unusual step for a presidential campaign: it cut the proportion of money that it put into broadcast television and diverted more to niche cable channels and radio, where it could more precisely reach its target audience.
  • NYT, November 19, 2004. By Adam Nagourney, Bush Campaign Manager Views the Electoral Divide. After two years of polling, market testing and up-close demographic scrutiny of American voters, the manager of President Bush's re-election campaign, Ken Mehlman, offered another way Thursday to view the divide between the American electorate. "If you drive a Volvo and you do yoga, you are pretty much a Democrat," Mr. Mehlman told an assembly of the nation's Republican governors here. "If you drive a Lincoln or a BMW and you own a gun, you're voting for George Bush." ...Rather than dispatching troops to knock on doors in neighborhoods known to be heavily Republican, Mr. Mehlman said, the Bush campaign studied consumer habits in trying to predict whom people would vote for in a presidential election. "We did what Visa did," Mr. Mehlman said. "We acquired a lot of consumer data. What magazine do you subscribe to? Do you own a gun? How often do the folks go to church? Where do you send your kids to school? Are you married? "Based on that, we were able to develop an exact kind of consumer model that corporate America does every day to predict how people vote - not based on where they live but how they live," he said. "That was critically important to our success."
  • Washington Post, November 7, 2004. By Dan Balz and Mike Allen, Four More Years Attributed to Rove's Strategy. Despite Moments of Doubt, Adviser's Planning Paid Off. Admired, disparaged, respected and feared, [Karl] Rove joins an elite cadre of political strategists who can claim two presidential victories. Bush's adviser can now look toward the goal he has pursued since he was an obscure direct-mail specialist in Texas: the creation of a durable Republican majority in Washington and across the country.
  • Washington Post, November 4, 2004. By John F. Harris, Victory Bears Out Emphasis on Values. GOP Tactics Aimed At Cultural Divide. ...The results appeared to validate several of the pet theories of [GOP campaign director Karl] Rove, including his belief that politics is as much science as art. Presidential stops in swing states, and the route of campaign bus trips, rarely included the largest cities. That was because Rove chose them scientifically, using three criteria that he explained to reporters in the waning days of the campaign. Rove said his targets were areas where Bush had underperformed in 2000, whether Republican or Democratic, and where the campaign's target for votes was higher than the number that showed up. Second were fast-growing exurban areas or Republican places where there were a large number of people who ought to register to vote and do not -- what Rove calls "a large gap between participation and potential." Third, he said, he paid attention to areas "that have a significant number of swing voters, and swing wildly from election to election."
  • NYT, November 4, 2004. By Elisabeth Bumiller, Turnout Effort and Kerry, Too, Were G.O.P.'s Keys to Victory. In the closing hours of President Bush's campaign for re-election, Karl Rove, his chief political adviser, was obsessed with turning out Republican votes. Late on Monday night, Mr. Rove stood in the cold at a rally in Albuquerque and pulled scraps of paper from his pocket covered with numbers that reassured him that his ground army was in full assault.
  • NYT, July 18, 2004. By Jim Rutenberg, Campaigns Use TV Preferences to Find Voters. When deciding where to run his television advertisements, President Bush is much more partial than Senator John Kerry to crime shows like "Cops," "Law & Order" and "JAG." Mr. Kerry leans more to lighter fare, like "Judge Judy," "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and "Late Show with David Letterman." Those choices do not reflect either man's taste in television, but critical differences in the advertising strategies of their campaigns, which are spending more money for commercials than any other campaigns in presidential history. Crime shows appeal to the Bush campaign because of its interest in reaching out to Republican men who are attracted to such programming. By contrast, the Kerry campaign is more interested in concentrating on single women, who tend to be drawn to shows with softer themes.
  • NYT, April 7, 2004. By Joyce Purnick, Data Churners Try to Pinpoint Voters' Politics. There's this great story making the Washington political rounds about the Conservative Party in Britain. It is that fund-raisers in London found a strong correlation between Conservative Party donors and people who buy garden bulbs by mail. Far-fetched? Maybe not, because people who plant spring bulbs tend to be more suburban and rural than urban, more wealthy than poor and, with time to garden, older. Hence, a likely Conservative, right?
  • NYT, April 6, 2004. By Joyce Purnick, Foraging For Votes: One-Doorbell-One-Vote Tactic Re-emerges in Bush-Kerry Race. They call it the ground war. And as anticipated, it is back after a long hiatus, subtly changing politics as we know it. Or trying to. After decades of playing poor relation to television advertising, grass-roots politics has become a campaign star this year, as many political pros predicted it would be in the aftermath of the Bush-Gore face-off of 2000. And today it ranges from old-fashioned shoe leather to Web technology that can make a precinct captain of anyone with a computer.
  • Washington Post, November 10, 2002. In GOP Win, a Lesson in Money, Muscle, Planning. [Karl] Rove, [Rep. Tom] DeLay and others concluded that Republicans had lost the turnout battle in recent elections by focusing too much on paid advertising and too little on the ground war that Democratic allies such as the AFL-CIO do so well: getting potential voters to the polls. Beginning in early 2001, the party registered thousands of new Republican voters, particularly in fast-growing states. It invested heavily in a program, dubbed the "72-hour project," that would later help spur record turnout in key regions. The Republican National Committee spent millions of dollars honing a system to identify voters, down to specific households, and contact them repeatedly with phone calls, mail and visits from party activists.

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Analyses of Turnout

  • United States Elections Project - Michael P. McDonald at George Mason University: includes information and analysis of turnout.
    • Voter turnout rates presented here show that the much-lamented decline in voter participation is an artifact of poor measurement. Previously, turnout rates were calculated by dividing the number of votes by what is called the "voting-age population" which consists of everyone age 18 and older residing in the United States (the yellow line to the right). This includes persons ineligible to vote, mainly non-citizens and ineligible felons, and excludes overseas eligible voters. When turnout rates are calculated for those eligible to vote, a new picture of turnout emerges, which exhibits no decline since 1972 (the green line to the right).

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Final 2012 Exit Polls and Election Maps

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The Big New York Times Exit Poll Chart for 2012

The Big New York Times Exit Poll Chart for 2010

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2008 Exit Polls

The Big New York Times Exit Poll Chart for 2008

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