Tag Archives: Polls

Trump, The Others, and A New Test of the Hypothesis

A couple of days ago I assimilated data from a bunch of on line polls where people could informally and unscientifically express their opinion about who won the GOP debate (the big boy debate only, with ten candidates). I suggested a series of hypotheses to isolate the idea that this sort of on line unscientific effort might reflect reality, with the idea of testing the results of those polls with upcoming formal polls.

Now we have a couple of formal polls to test against. I took the raw percentages for the ten GOP big boy debate candidates, recalculated the percentages, and came up with the standings of those candidates in the more recent scientifically done polls. The polls are by Bloomberg and WMUR. The former is national, the latter pertains to New Hampshire, which will have a key early primary. Here is the relevant graphic:

Screen Shot 2015-08-11 at 10.50.08 AM

We see verification of Trump being in the lead. His performance during the debate was liked by a large majority, and he is the leader of the pack, still by a large majority, by those subsequently polled. What appears to be a drop is more a factor of the difference between asking who won the debate vs. who one would vote for.

There is a big difference, though, in the back field. Bush and Walker were in the lower tier of the back field in people’s response to the debate, but are moving into a shared second place.

So, two things. First, Trump is still winning, and really is winning, the GOP race. Second, unscientific online polls seem in this case meaningful. The polls initially gave uncannily similar (not random) results, and the application of a more scientific methodology verifies them.

I quickly add this. This is not a prediction of who will win the GOP nomination, or who will win the election for President.

Nate Silver makes some excellent points about this question in this blog post. The bottom line is that polling at this stage, or even well into the primary process, does not predict either outcome very well. But I think Silver also misses an important point. These polls are not meaningless. If you view them as having only one function, predicting primary or general election outcomes, they are useless. But they do something else.

Polling at this stage in a presidential race is not about who is going to be President. Rather, such information is a good indicator of what people are thinking, how the politics are operating, how campaigns are doing, what issues are motivating people, and all that stuff. If you see polls early in the process this way, they are interesting. If you want to know who will be on the ballot in November (next November, not this November) or who will win, then … well, no.

Unscientific polls rocket Trump to way top spot.

Trump went into the GOP debate last night with a roughly 20% poll standing. Everyone will tell you to ignore polls early in this race, they never predict the outcome of a primary or a general election. That, however, is a non sequitur. We do not look at early polls to predict the distant future. We look at them to help understand the present, and to get a handle on what might happen over the next few weeks. The meaning of the polls shifts quite a bit before the first primaries, then they meaning of the polls has to be re-evaluated after every primary. At some point the re-evaluations start to return an end result like “Candidates A and B are in a horserace” or “Candidate A is the clear leader.” After that, you can get caught on a boat with your mistress, or you can be killed, and that can change things, but not much else does. Democrats believe in the Dark Horse but no one has ever captured one to my knowledge. But up until that point, polls are useful, and meaningful, if done scientifically, but no, the fact that they don’t predict an outcome over a year in advance is not a surprise and does not mean they don’t have interest or utility.

But what about unscientific polls?

Well, they are not scientific and thus not worthy. However, over the last few hours, several non-scientific polls, and in this case I mean internet polls where anybody who happens on a site can vote, have come out asking who won last night’s GOP primary.

If a bunch of unscientific polls that all return the same result become scientific, or at least, believable? That is a hypothesis I’d like to test with the current polling. It seems to me that if informal web based polls from across a spectrum of political orientation (of the site, not the poll clickers … we don’t know who the poll clickers are) all show similar results, then they might mean something. So, here is the hypothesis. If several informal polls show a very similar result, we expect to see that result reflected in the first scientific polls that come out.

I got poll results from the following sources (shown in order from left to right on the charts):

Right Scoop
Fox 5
Palm Beach Post
News OK

Sadly MNSNBC had a poll but it was fairly useless in the way it was conducted. Also, HT Politics had a poll with similar results as those above, but I found it after I’d made the graphs.

Trump was a clear winner in these polls.


Trump’s numbers ranged over several points, but are always higher than everyone else, and approached or met 50%. One hypothesis predicts that formal, scientific polls should have Trump as the front runner. Another hypothesis predicts that Trump’s numbers in a scientific poll should be between about 40% and 50%, give or take a few points.

The gaggle of low numbers is difficult to even see on this graph, so I made a second graph with everybody but Trump:


Here we see what looks to me like two tiers. Walker, Christie, Bush, Huckabere and Paul are all really low, while Cruz, Kasich, Carson and Rubio are all relatively high. Note how variable Cruz’s numbers are. But aside from Cruz, just as is the case with Trump, the results are fairly similar across the polls.

One hypothesis would then be that Walker will be shown as dead last in upcoming proper post debate polls. One could produce a number of other hypotheses as well, but it could get messy. Let’s try this hypothesis. Upcoming proper post debate polls will have a rank order statistically like this:


An additional hypothesis should probably be made, that the rank order for all the non-Trump candidates will be as shown. (This avoids the problem of having such a large magnitude of difference between the first and second rank).

There is one poll that I know of that was conducted by pollsters. It is by One America News Network, a conservative news agency that bills itself as “credible” (which is funny, why would you have to say that if you were that?)

If we take this poll by itself, most of the above suggested hypotheses are smashed. Here is the result of the poll questions “who won the debate” and “who lost the debate.”

Screen Shot 2015-08-07 at 2.02.20 PM

This poll asked questions of “Republican poll participants.” It shows Ben Carson beating Trump, and a lot less spread between leader and others than the on line polls indicated. Also, very few people thought Scott Walker, who was a big looser in the on line polls, had lost the debate. Generally, the rank order between this poll and the on line polls is different.

Reading the reporting of this poll, it looks a lot like a shill for Ben Carson. Details of the methodology are as follows:

Gravis Marketing, a nonpartisan research firm, conducted a random survey of 904 registered Republican voters across the U.S. Questions included in the poll were focused only on the top ten GOP candidates that participated in the 9 PM ET debate. The poll has an overall margin of error of +/- 3%. The polls were conducted on August 6, immediately following the GOP debate using interactive voice response, IVR, technology. The poll was conducted exclusively for One America News Network.

I should add that the agency reporting the poll is owned by the company that commissioned the poll. Gravis, the pollsters, are used at Real Clear Politics. So I’m on the fence about the legitimacy of this poll and eagerly await other results.

The Tide is Turning on Climate Change

If you are running for office, note that the majority of Americans think global warming is real, important, and can and should be addressed by government.

This has been happening since two elections back, when we started to see candidates threatened, if only to a limited degree, based on an untenable position on climate change. Last election cycle this became even more important as organizations like ClimateHawksVote had remarkable successes in supporting climate hawk candidates — candidates that place climate change at the top of the list of important issues. Since then even more has happened, including changes in the way broadcast media addresses climate change (the false balance is melting away) and various and sundry activities in the US Congress (see this). All along the way polls have indicated that Americans are increasingly accepting of the consensus climate science, and increasingly concerned about climate change. Having 2014 as the warmest year on record, and all of the 10 or 15 warmest years (depending on how you like to count) having happened in the most recent decades has probably added to this.

Now, there is a new poll by the New York Times and Stanford University that shows that most Americans support “government action to curb global warming.” Not only that, but a large number of Republicans, who are generally directed by their leaders to not accept climate change science, are on board as well.

According to the poll, 78% of Americans believe that global warming will be a serious problem in the future. Only 10% think it is not serious at all. Similarly, 83% of Americans indicate that global warming will be serious world wide. 56% of Americans think global warming has hurt them personally, though most of them feel it has done so to a moderate amount or “a little.” 78% of Americans think global warming has not helped them. A full 85% of Americans think global warming will hurt future generations.

About 42% of those polled think that doing something in the US about global warming will help the US economy, 24% think it would be neutral, and only 30% think it would hurt.

Regarding elections, and candidates, 66% would be more likely (21% say no effect) to vote for a candidate that has a strong issue statement on global warming, saying it is real, matters, and that we need to shift to new forms of energy.

13% of Americans, by contrast, would be more likely to vote for a candidate that expresses the position that global warming is a hoax and a fraud. 67% would be less likely to vote for such a candidate.

78% think greenhouse gasses should be limited.

The poll asks far more questions than I just summarized.

When these questions are asked of just Republicans, similar but weaker support for the reality of the science and the importance of taking action are found.

For example, when asked if global warming be a problem for the United States:

Of all respondents, 78% say somewhat to very serious. Of Republicans, 54% say somewhat to very serious. Also, among all respondants, among the youngest age group (18-29) 85% say somewhat to very serious, with 47% indicating very serious.

That pattern, with something close to a majority of Republicans, a strong majority of all respondents, and a very strong majority of younger respondents, stating that global warming is real, should be addressed, should require government action, and matters in their voting preferences, holds.

The bottom line is that accepting the science and calling for action is the position that will garner more support among Americans, though as expected, this does not hold for the Tea Party. A majority of Tea Party “members” do think global warming is serious, and even feel that it will hurt. But a strong majority also feel that if nothing is done to reduce global warming that this will not help future generations. A slim minority of Tea Parties would support a Climate Hawk candidate. Candidates claiming global warming is a hoax do not garner huge support from the Tea Party. But, 49% would be more likely to vote for a candidate who claims “I am not a scientist.” So I guess that ploy plays.