by Ruy Teixeira
November 24, 2004

Ruy Teixeira
Ruy Teixeira

(covering polls and related articles from the weeks of November 15–21, 2004)

In this edition of Public Opinion Watch:

• Did Bush Really Get 44 Percent of the Hispanic Vote?
• Have the Republicans Really Achieved Parity on Party Identification?
• Does Bush Have a Mandate for His Conservative Agenda?

Did Bush Really Get 44 Percent of the Hispanic Vote?

Edison Media Research/Mitofsky International exit poll of 13,360 voters for National Election Pool, released November 2, 2004 (conducted November 2, 2004)

I very strongly doubt it. This claim is based, first and foremost, on the finding in the National Election Pool (NEP) exit poll, the nation’s largest and by far most influential, exit poll. But that finding, if carefully scrutinized, seems highly implausible for a variety of reasons. I lay these out below and conclude that a more reasonable estimate for Bush’s Hispanic support this year is around 39 percent.

Start with the Texas state exit poll. That poll shows Bush with an astonishing 59 percent of the Hispanic vote. That’s an increase of 16 points in Bush’s support over 2000 and a shift in margin of 29 points (from an 11 point deficit to an 18 point lead).

The poll also claims that this mega-shift happened at the same time that Bush’s support was being compressed among whites. Bush’s support, the exit poll claims, dropped by a point among Texas whites compared to 2000, at the same time Kerry’s support among Texas whites rose by four points compared to Gore’s. So Texas’s favorite son runs for reelection and widens his margin among white voters practically everywhere—except Texas, where he loses ground! But among Hispanics in Texas, he gets a massive 29 point shift in his favor?

This pattern just doesn’t make sense. But where the Texas poll makes the least sense of all is when you try to match them up with the county-level voting returns. If Bush was pulling over 70 percent of the white vote and almost 60 percent of the Hispanic vote, how on earth did he lose any counties in Texas? Consider these (racial composition figures based on voting age population):

Brooks County: 90 percent Hispanic, 10 percent white (68 percent to 32 percent Kerry)

Dimmit County: 83 percent Hispanic, 16 percent white, 1 percent black (66 percent to 33 percent Kerry)

Duval County: 86 percent Hispanic, 13 percent white, 1 percent black (71 percent to 28 percent Kerry)

El Paso County: 75 percent Hispanic, 20 percent white, 3 percent black (56 percent to 43 percent Kerry)

Hidalgo County: 85 percent Hispanic, 14 percent white (55 percent to 45 percent Kerry)

Jim Wells County: 73 percent Hispanic, 23 percent white (54 percent to 46 percent Kerry)

Maverick County: 94 percent Hispanic, 4 percent white (59 percent to 40 percent Kerry)

Starr County: 97 percent Hispanic, 2 percent white (74 percent to 26 percent Kerry)

Webb County: 94 percent Hispanic, 6 percent white (57 percent to 43 percent Kerry)

My, my, where could those 59 percent Bush-voting Hispanics be hiding in the great state of Texas? Perhaps in the big urban areas such as Harris County (Houston)? Well, let’s see, if we figure Hispanics are at least a sixth of Harris County voters (probably more, but let’s be conservative), then, by themselves, they would push up Bush’s margin, compared to 2000, by five points if they really voted for him at the 59 percent rate (and it should be even higher—to balance the apparently way-under-59 percent Hispanics in these other Texas counties). But wait! Bush’s margin actually contracted in Harris County by a point. Maybe black voters (18 percent of the Harris County voting-age population) moved the needle back the other way? Seems unlikely if we believe the Texas exit poll: it says Bush improved his margin among black voters by 19 points in 2004!

That just deepens the mystery. To account for the slight shift away from Bush in Harris county, we would then have to assume that Harris County whites reduced their margin for Bush by 12 points or more in 2004.

Similar exercises could be performed on other counties, but these examples should suffice to make the point: the 59 percent figure, as common sense would suggest, is clearly a gross overestimate of Texas Hispanics’ support for Bush in 2004.

That puts the national exit poll figure for Hispanics off to a bad start. In 2000, Texas Hispanics were 10 percent of the national exit polls’ Hispanic sample and this year they will likely be substantially more (the latest census population projection put Texas Hispanics at 19 percent of the nation’s Hispanic voting-age population and the Texas exit poll has Hispanics at 23 percent of Texas voters this year, compared to just 10 percent in 2000).

And we would expect Bush’s support in the southern region of the national exit poll, which includes Texas, to be particularly skewed by the Texas figure. That it is, it’s . . . 64 percent! Wait a minute–64 percent? That’s even higher than the Texas figure! Maybe it’s the inclusion of Florida in the southern region sample? Nope, the Florida exit poll says Hispanics voted 56 percent for Bush, three points less than their Texas counterparts (amazing in and of itself!).

Only two other states in the southern region (Georgia and Oklahoma) have Hispanic breakouts available, so we can’t directly find all the missing pro-Bush Hispanics. But, as the astute conservative analyst and number-cruncher, Steve Sailer, has calculated, if you take the given Hispanic Bush support rates for the four available states and figure the number of Hispanic Bush votes that implies from those four states, you can then estimate how many Hispanic Bush votes must have come from the non-broken-out states (given their percentage of overall voters in those states, which the National Election Pool (NEP) has released) to produce the number of southern Bush Hispanic votes indicated by the 64 percent support figure. Well, I suppose the Hispanics in those other states could have produced those missing votes—but only if they voted early and often: they would have had to support Bush at the rate of 190 percent! (Read Sailer’s analysis in its entirety for all the details on these calculations.)

There are similar problems with the other regions of the national exit poll. In the west, the NEP says that Bush’s Hispanic support rose by eleven points (from 28 to 39 percent). But the NEP California state exit poll says that Bush’s Hispanic support in that state only rose by four points over 2000 (from 28 to 32 percent). Given that California Hispanic voters are over three-fifths of this entire region’s Hispanic voters, that puts a heavy burden on the other states of the west to produce this 11 point jump in support for Bush. Indeed, as Sailer has calculated, once you take into account the other released Bush support rates for Hispanics in western states, Hispanics in the remaining states in the west must have supported Bush at the rate of 167 percent to reconcile the released state figures with the western region figure.

Sailer’s similar calculations for the Midwest (123 percent Bush support among Hispanics in non-broken-out states) and the east (95 percent) show this problem affects all regions, albeit not as severely as the South and West.

Okay, so what’s the explanation for this particular set of anomalies? That is, even accepting all the various state-level Hispanic figures as gospel, including the absurd Texas figure, why do we get these crazy mismatches between the state figures and the regional figures from the national poll?

It seems to me there are two logical possibilities. One is that the Hispanic respondents included in the national poll systematically differ from those included in the state poll. So, for example, if Texas Hispanics in the state poll support Bush at 59 percent, those Texas Hispanic respondents included in the national poll support him at, say, 67 percent. Or California Hispanic respondents in the national poll support Bush at 39 percent, not 32 percent. And so on.

That strikes me as less likely than the other possibility. We know the national exit poll took some pretty serious weighting to get it to match up with the actual election figures. This suggests that, for example, even Hispanics that were already sampled/weighted in the Texas exit poll to have a 59 percent support rate for Bush were probably further weighted toward Bush in the process of getting the national exit poll “corrected.” The same logic would apply to the other states—Hispanic respondents from those states in the national poll got an additional push toward Bush that makes their Bush support rates higher than those measured at the state level.

If this has happened, it’s worth noting that in the 2000 Voter News Service poll this problem does not appear to have occurred. If you take the Hispanic proportions of voters in each state in the 2000 poll and the Hispanic support rates for Bush in each of those states, you can calculate a state-based 2000 Bush support rate and compare it to the national rate. They are very close: the state-based rate is 34 percent and the national rate is 35 percent.

All this leaves us with a question: if 44 percent is the wrong level for Bush’s support among Hispanics, what is the right level? Of course, we’ll never really know for sure, but I am persuaded, by playing with the numbers and making some reasonable assumptions to correct the anomalies in the NEP that it is somewhere around 39 percent. That is also Sailer’s conclusion and that of the National Council of La Raza, whose extremely useful review of 2004 poll and voting data on Hispanics I recommend to you.

If the 39 percent figure is about right, that would mean Bush improved his standing among Hispanics by four points—about his gain in support among voters overall. That makes sense to me and is certainly no cause for complacency among Democrats. But there is no reason to panic either: Bush made gains among Hispanics, as he did among most voter groups, but not a breakthrough.

Have the Republicans Really Achieved Parity on Party Identification?

Annenberg Election Survey poll of 67,777 registered voters in 2003–04 and 44,877

registered voters in 1999-2001, released November 19, 2004 (conducted by SRBI from December 14, 1999–January 19, 2001 and from October 7, 2003–November 16, 2004)

According to the 2004 NEP exit poll, Democrats and Republicans were dead-even on party identification (37 percent to 37 percent) in the 2004 election, a four-point shift from the 39 percent to 35 percent Democratic advantage registered by NEP’s predecessor, the Voter News Service, in the 2000 election.

Did a shift of this size really take place in partisan allegiances of the American electorate? Given how much the NEP poll apparently had to weight down Kerry voters and weight up Bush voters to conform to the election result, there are certainly reasons to be cautious about that poll’s measurement of a characteristic so closely correlated with the presidential vote. It is also possible the NEP’s measurement reflects less a change in underlying sentiment among the electorate and more a change in who showed up at the polls on election day.

It doesn’t exactly settle the issue, but it’s worth drawing people’s attention to data on party identification trends recently released by the Annenberg Election Survey. According to these data, based on 45,000 interviews of registered voters (RVs) conducted from December 1999 through January 2001, Democratic identifiers led Republican identifiers by 33.7 percent to 29.9 percent, a 3.8 point Democratic advantage, essentially identical in size to that measured by Voter News Service in the 2000 exit poll.

Annenberg also conducted about 68,000 interviews of RVs from October 2003 to mid-November, 2004 and found only a slight diminution in the Democratic party identification advantage to 2.8 points (34.6 percent Democratic to 31.8 percent Republican). That’s quite a different story than the one implied by 2004 NEP exit poll and, given the huge sample sizes in the Annenberg study, is certainly worthy of consideration.

Does Bush Have a Mandate for His Conservative Agenda?

Greenberg Quinlan Rosner poll of 2,000 voters for Democracy Corps/Institute for America’s Future, released November 5, 2004 (conducted November 2–3, 2004)

Perhaps the silliest of the claims put forward about Bush’s narrow victory on November 2 was that he had some sort of mandate to pursue his conservative policy ends. Nothing could be farther from the truth as demonstrated convincingly in this memo “What Mandate: A Report on the Joint National Post-Election Survey” by Stan Greenberg and Bob Borosage. As they point out in the memo:

“A majority of voters backed the president, but they still thought the country was off track and preferred a different direction in America’s relations with the world and on domestic social policy. . . . The public’s priorities are wholly different than those the president put forth in the days after the election. That is particularly clear if one looks at fiscal and tax policies, health care, and Social Security privatization.”

They conclude:

“Progressives should feel confident in mobilizing opposition to these initiatives. If the president goes forward and the lines are drawn, voters will finally hear the differences on economic issues and strategy that they were looking for at the beginning of this campaign. If the argument is drawn clearly, the president and his allies will find themselves facing significant voter skepticism, and generating potential electoral vulnerability. The president’s claim to an electoral mandate for his agenda misreads where the voters are.”

Just so. But there are a lot of interesting findings in the memo, so check out the whole thing. My personal favorite: the finding that, while voters’ first choice of a Bush campaign initiative for him to pursue in his second term is continuing the war on terrorism, their second choice is . . . nothing.

That about says it all.

Ruy Teixeira is a joint fellow at the Center for American Progress and The Century Foundation.

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