Ruy Teixeira
Ruy Teixeira

(covering polls and related articles from the weeks of September 20–26)

In this edition of Public Opinion Watch:

• The Myth of the Security Mom
• So, How Well Does That Gallup Likely Voter Model Really Work?
• New Surveys Show Democrats Need Clear Agenda, High Hispanic Turnout
• Was the Republican Convention Bigger than 9/11?

The Myth of the Security Mom

Anna Greenberg, “The Security Mom Myth,” Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, September 23
Noam Scheiber, “Mothers of Invention,” The New Republic online, September 24

Last Wednesday, Katherine Seelye solemnly informed us in the New York Times that Kerry is in a struggle for a Democratic base: women. The next day, Lois Romano piled on and claimed in The Washington Post that female support for Kerry was slipping, in an article that was particularly heavy with theorizing about the importance of the alleged “security mom.” Both articles, however, were thin on data and logic, never stopping to ask themselves whether, if Kerry has less support than he did, say, six weeks ago, he has actually lost more support among women than among men and whether that pattern has been consistent across polls during that time period. And neither bothered to look at how women stack up to men in terms of being politically motivated and supportive of the president because of security issues.

Nah. Too complicated.

But others have taken the time to look at the questions New York Times and Washington Post reporters chose not to investigate. I am delighted to report their findings here in Public Opinion Watch.

First, let’s take the issue of how much women’s support for Kerry has changed compared to men’s. Here’s what Philip Klinkner, professor of government at Hamilton College and contributor to the political science blog PolySigh, has to say:

“[Wednesday’s] NYT reports that the Kerry campaign is worried about losing support among women. The story however provides no evidence that the gender gap is closing. The only numbers cited show that Kerry is running worse among women than Gore did in 2000, but Kerry’s also been running worse [among] men. In fact, there’s no evidence that Kerry has lost any more support among women than among men. Bush, at least until recently, has been running better than Kerry, so that almost inevitably means that he’ll be doing better among women as well as among men. But is there any evidence that Bush is closing up the gender gap? In fact, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the demise of the gender gap are greatly exaggerated.

“In 2000, exit polls showed that Democratic vote among women was 54–43 and among men it was 42–53. Calculating the gender gap as the women’s Democratic vote minus the men’s Democratic vote divided by two, that gives a gender gap of 11 points [((54– 43)– (42–53))/2]=11

“In the latest (early September) WaPo poll, the Democratic vote was 49–43 among women and 39–57 among men. That’s a gender gap of 12 points . . . a bit higher than in 2000. The latest ARG poll shows women voting Democratic 50–42 and men 42–51. That’s a gender gap of 8.5 points, a bit lower than in 2000. Both polls suggest that the gender gap is running about where it was 4 years ago.

“Furthermore, there’s no evidence that Bush’s recent surge came more from women than from men. The early August WaPo poll showed Kerry leading Bush 50–44. The early September poll had Bush up by the same 50–44 margin. That means Bush picked up a net of 12 points (he went from down 6 points to up by 6 points). In August, Kerry was running 56–39 among women and 44-50 among men. That means Bush picked up a net of 11 points among women (from down 17 to down 6) and a net of 12 among men (from up 6 to up 18). Thus, the Bush surge came equally from men and women.”

Well, that takes care of that. Now let’s look more specifically at the security moms nonsense. Pollster Anna Greenberg is all over this one, as you can see from checking out her excellent memo, “The Security Mom Myth.” Here are some excerpts from the memo:

“Sixty-four percent of women voters are married, but only 43 percent have children under 18 years of age. This means that only 26 percent of all women voters could be characterized as ‘security moms.’ If we narrow the analysis to white women, this number goes down to 22 percent of all women voters. Women are diverse and trying to characterize them as a monolithic group with unified set of political views misses the mark. As we know, there are huge differences among women voters, just look at the marriage gap between married and unmarried women. Kerry currently wins unmarried women by 22 points and loses married women by 4 points….

“Women tend to be more worried about their personal and economic security than men, which is not surprising because they are more likely to be victims of crime at home and they are more likely to live on the economic margins. But this concern about personal security does not necessarily translate into political preferences. In fact, men are much more likely to make the war on terrorism and security a part of their voting calculus….

“Since 9/11, Bush has garnered strong ratings on security from everybody… It is important to note, however, that men give Bush stronger ratings on all matters of security than women: they prefer Bush on the war on terrorism to Kerry by 26 points while women only prefer Bush by 9 points; they prefer Bush on foreign policy by 9 points, while women are evenly divided between the candidates; and they prefer Bush on being respected in the world by 10 points while women prefer Kerry by 13 points.

“Women are more skeptical, moreover, about the situation in Iraq than men and women (55 percent) are more likely than men (47 percent) to say that the war in Iraq has made us less secure.”

Still not convinced? Then take a look at what Noam Scheiber had to say in his amusingly named article, “Mothers of Invention”:

“If you’ve been following the presidential campaign these last few weeks, you’ve probably heard a thing or two about security moms—the erstwhile soccer moms who became obsessed with terrorism after September 11, and, in the process, began tilting Republican. The typical ‘security mom’ story—variations of which have appeared in the Washington Post (twice), the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the Philadelphia Inquirer in recent weeks, as well as on CNN, ABC, and NPR—cites the hair-raising effect of the recent Russian school massacre. It mentions Laura Bush’s frequent pitches to women on security matters, and notes how the Republican Convention was awash in security talk. Often the stories are larded with a testimonial by a real-live security mom, invariably a pro-choice, pro-gay rights, anti-death penalty former Gore supporter who’s convinced only George W. Bush can keep her children safe. All of them conclude that security moms could cost John Kerry the election.

“Oh, and the stories usually have one other thing in common: They’re based on almost no empirical evidence….

“[I]t wasn’t until after this summer’s Republican convention that security moms became a bona fide growth industry. Suddenly, as the New York Times put it earlier this week, “an issue Mr. Bush had initially pitched as part of an overall message—which candidate would be best able to protect the United States from terrorists—has become particularly compelling for women.” Except that, well, it hasn’t—at least that part about “particularly compelling.” The problem with most of the reporting on security moms is that it fails to distinguish between Kerry’s support among women relative to men (i.e., the gender gap, which doesn’t tend to fluctuate much over short periods of time) and his absolute level of support among women (which fluctuates just like it does for anyone else). In fact, while Kerry has lost ground among women since August, he’s lost about the same amount of ground among men.”

There’s lots more good stuff in the article. Highly recommended.

So, How Well Does That Gallup Likely Voter Model Really Work?

As I’ve repeatedly argued, Gallup’s likely voter (LV) data would be inappropriate to use until right before the election, even if they worked perfectly at that particular time. But it’s interesting to note that Gallup’s LV data lately have not been working terribly well, compared to registered voter (RV) data, even on election eve, which is supposed to be when the LV data really shine. That kind of undercuts their pseudo-rationale for their cavalier use of these data.

After all, David Moore of Gallup has admitted: “We simply do not know, nor can we know, which model is better during the campaign itself.” But he defends the use of LV data months and months before the election because “if it is the most accurate model just before the election, it is probably the most accurate during the campaign as well.”

Oh, really. Well, let’s see just how accurate these data have been recently. Here are the last four presidential elections, comparing Gallup’s LV-based final predictions with their final RV results in terms of predicting the actual margin of the election (D=Democratic edge; R=Republican edge):

2000: RVs, +1D; LVs, +2R; actual result, +.5D
1996: RVs, +16D; LVs, +11D; actual result, +8.3D
1992: RVs, +8D; LVs, +12D; actual result, +5.5D
1988: RVs, +8R; LVs, +12R; actual result, +7.7R


1. In 2000, the RVs pretty much get it on the nose and correctly call the popular vote winner, which the LV prediction misses.

2. In 1996, the LVs are indeed substantially better—but in 1992, the RVs are substantially closer to the final outcome. And in 1988, the RVs are pretty much dead-on while the LV prediction is more than 4 points off.

That’s three out of the last four elections for the don’t-get-no-respect RVs.

And the LV data? Not too impressive. Does this track record justify subjecting us to LV data from the very beginning of the campaign and acting like the RV data are somehow inferior? I don’t think so.

New Surveys Show Democrats Need Clear Agenda, High Hispanic Turnout

Penn, Schoen and Berland poll of 800 likely voters for New Democrat Network, released September 15 (conducted September 9–12)

Bendixen and Associates poll of 800 registered Hispanic voters in Florida and 600 registered Hispanic voters in Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada for New Democrat Network, released September 15 (conducted August 27–September 7)

The New Democrat Network (NDN) has two new surveys that each provide a different important insight into the dynamics of the 2004 campaign.

The two surveys are a nationwide poll of likely voters by Penn, Schoen & Berland (PSB) and a survey of Hispanic RVs by Bendixen and Associates that included 800 interviews in Florida and 600 interviews in the three southwestern states of Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada.

The PSB poll has a number of interesting findings and is worth looking at in its entirety. But the most revealing finding is this: when asked whether Bush, the Republican Party, the Democratic Party and Kerry, respectively, “ha[ve] a clear agenda for the future of the nation,” this is what voters had to say:

Bush: 57 percent yes/40 percent no
Republican Party: 56 percent yes/39 percent no
Democratic Party: 45 percent yes/50 percent no
Kerry: 41 percent yes/52 percent no

The pattern here is easy to detect and it isn’t good for the Democratic campaign. Apparently, criticizing Bush hasn’t been enough—voters still see the Democrats as lagging behind the Republicans in terms of a clear agenda, which is clearly a liability for the Democrats. (Note that this particular finding—about voters’ lack of clarity on Kerry’s agenda—has been confirmed by a number of other recent polls.)

The Bendixen polls of southwestern states show Kerry running even more strongly than he was in NDN’s polls of the same states in April. Kerry’s lead among southwestern Hispanics is now 63-30, slightly larger than Gore received in these three states in the 2000 election.

The Bendixen data also find that southwestern Hispanics prefer the Democrats over the Republicans by wide margins on issues like: helping you and your family live a better life (+29); being committed to public education (+27); creating a large number of new jobs (+32); and supporting universal health care (+37).

And Bush and the Republicans are viewed ever more negatively by these voters. In Arizona, the Republican Party image is down from 48 percent positive/44 percent negative to an abysmal 32 percent/52 percent, and among all southwestern Hispanics the Republican party image has declined from 42 percent/42 percent to a net –16 (34 percent/50 percent). Similarly, Bush’s job rating among Arizona Hispanics has sunk from 42 percent/53 percent to 38 percent/58 percent and among all southwestern Hispanics from 41 percent/53 percent to 39 percent/58 percent.

These data make clear that Hispanics in these states will be, if anything, a better constituency for Kerry in 2004 than they were for Gore in 2000. And that means the higher Hispanic turnout is this year, the better off the Democrats will be in these states.

Finally, the poll of Florida Hispanics finds Democrats and Kerry making some gains compared to earlier in the year, including among Cuban Hispanics, who typically vote very heavily Republican. Bendixen’s estimates indicate Democrats could do better this election among Florida Hispanics than they did in 2000, which could be key to delivering the state for Kerry.

Was the Republican Convention Bigger than 9/11?

Those who defend the sudden tilt toward the Republicans in registered voter samples as a real political trend and not any kind of sampling problem, like to point toward the post–Sept. 11, 2001, period as an example of a recent shift in the party identification distribution. If it happened then, they say, why shouldn’t we give full credence to the shift we’re seeing now?

But there is a very serious problem with this logic. After 9/11, despite the immensity of the rally effect behind the president and his party, the shift in party identification toward the Republicans was substantially less than what we’re seeing now. What polls showed then was not a shift toward a 4- to 5-point (or more) Republican advantage in party identification—like we’re seeing in some current polls—but rather a simple reduction in the Democratic edge or at best parity. Moreover, even this modest shift took place over several months, rather than over several weeks, like the shifts we’ve seen in some recent polls. (Note: by fall of 2003, the Republicans’ post–9/11 gains in party identification had disappeared and the Democrats’ party identification edge had returned to about the same level they had in 2000 and early 2001.)

Given this, how believable is it that we would now be getting not a gradual reduction in the Democratic Party identification advantage (as we did after 9/11) but a much more sudden, much larger shift in party identification to produce an actual Republican advantage of 4 to 5 points or more? Are we really to believe that the GOP convention was such an earthshaking event that it had a bigger effect on the underlying sentiments of the electorate than did 9/11 and Bush’s six months of 80+ percent approval ratings in the post–9/11 period?

And this from a convention that poll data said was viewed with a distinct lack of enthusiasm by the public! According to the Gallup poll, Bush’s acceptance speech, which the media fawned over so ostentatiously, was not rated any better by the public than was Kerry’s—in fact, it received slightly worse ratings. Kerry’s acceptance speech was rated excellent by 25 percent and good by 27 percent; Bush’s was rated excellent by 22 percent and good by 27 percent.

In terms of whether the Republican convention made voters more or less likely to vote for Bush, there were almost as many saying the convention made them less likely to vote for Bush (38 percent) as said it made them more likely (41 percent).

That was actually quite a poor performance. The Democratic convention this year had a substantially better 44 percent more likely/30 percent less likely split. In fact, looking back to 1984, which is as far back as Gallup supplies data, no candidate has ever had a more likely to vote for/less likely to vote for split even close to as bad as Bush’s this year.

Well, what about the tone of the convention? Did voters think the Republicans got that one right? Nope. Just 39 percent thought the GOP maintained the right balance between criticizing the Democrats and saying positive things about themselves, compared to 50 percent who thought they spent too much time criticizing the Democrats. By contrast, in 2000, 45 percent thought the GOP maintained the right balance in their convention, compared to 38 percent who thought they spent too much time criticizing.

Can anyone seriously maintain, then, that this year’s GOP convention was such a blockbuster that it could produce a surge in Republican Party identification that dwarfs that produced by 9/11? It just does not compute.

Still not convinced that party-weighting should be considered, at least in some form, to correct for sudden partisan imbalances in polls? I close with the words of Charlie Cook in his latest online column:

“Pollsters acknowledge variances from one poll to the next in gender, race, income and education, and they correct for it, but refuse to acknowledge that partisan numbers fluctuate just the same, and need to be corrected.

“My own view is that samples should be weighted by party to the average party breakdown in a combination of the polls for the last several months, linking it to a very large sample of combined surveys to reduce sampling error. While this method might be a bit sluggish if party identification is changing dramatically, it would mean that when a candidate is gaining or dropping, it is most likely because they really are, not because of a sample that is too tilted in favor of one party or the other.”

An excellent idea, Mr. Cook.

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

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Ruy Teixeira

Former Senior Fellow