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Meyer on Krusty: Why Exactly Did He Want This Job?

Saturday, November 13th, 2010

When Dianne Feinstein called Jerry Brown last winter to confirm what everyone in the world already knew – that she wasn’t going to run for governor, so the Democratic nomination was all his – Krusty responded that he was kind of hoping she would run so he wouldn’t have to.   When we reported the conversation at the time, we said that Brown was half-joking; after Leg Analyst Mac Taylor’s announcement this week that California faces a $25 billion budget deficit, now we’re thinking he wasn’t kidding at all.

As Calbuzzer Tom Meyer, Tim Gunn’s favorite editorial cartoonist,shows this week, the task is made far more difficult by a whole batch of initiatives passed by the state’s self-canceling-minded voters – More services – Less taxes! – not only hardy perennials like Props 13 and 98 but also Props 21, 22 and 26, a new trio of budget straitjackets passed in last week’s election.

Calbuzz is particularly miffed about Prop. 26, which for the first time imposes a two-thirds vote requirement for a whole batch of fees on corporate polluters and the like, because it snuck through with almost no coverage and little notice. As long-time readers know, the measure effectively voids the state Supreme Court’s decision in the Sinclair Paint decision, a business-backed effort that we first blew the whistle on way back when corporate types were trying to weasel it through buried deep inside a “good government” reform package being fronted by California Backward Forward.

As the full implications of Prop. 26 begin to dawn in Sacramento, we confess we’re kicking ourselves now for not screaming to the heavens about it more during the campaign, beyond the excellent Jean Ross piece we ran on its hidden agenda. While we, of course, criticize ourselves severely for the oversight, a full investigation by our Division of Corporate Responsibility and It Didn’t Happen On Our Shift Unaccountability absolves us from responsiblity and concludes that now it’s Krusty’s problem, not ours.

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Mac’s World: Here are Calbuzz Washington Correspondent Mackenzie Weinger’s latest whip counts and doped-out updates on the California House delegation amid the fierce maneuvering that has followed the Republican skunking of the Democrats in the mid-terms:

Despite her stated intention to remain her party’s leader in the 112th Congress, soon-to-be former Speaker Nancy Pelosi faces mounting opposition within the Democratic caucus.

As of November 12, 18 Democrats — including one Californian, Rep. Jim Costa (who declared victory this week, although votes are still being counted in the 20th CD) have said they will oppose Pelosi in her quest to become House Minority Leader. In the contest to become House Minority Whip, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) is leading Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) with 51 public backers to Clyburn’s 13.

(Update: The New York Times, quoting unnamed Democratic sources, is now reporting that the Hoyer-Clyburn fight has been resolved, and that the South Carolinian will accept a newly created #3 post in the caucus).

Among Clyburn’s backers is Rep. Xavier Becerra of L.A., a rising star in the party. He currently serves as vice chair of the Democratic Caucus and is angling to stay in that position, announcing his intentionto stay in leadership in a November 5 letter to fellow Democrats: “As your Vice Chair in the 111th Congress, I have devoted my energy and resources to pass our Democratic agenda…. In the coming days, I hope you will give me the opportunity to speak to you personally about my candidacy for Vice Chair.”

At the start of the week, there was discussion of possibly moving each leader below minority whip down a spot amid the Hoyer-Clyburn contest,; that would have left Becerra out of luck for his vice chairmanship. But the new Democratic Caucus election schedule for next Wednesday ends with the minority whip race, meaning leadership posts lower down the food chain should  be settled, protecting the currently unopposed Becerra.

The other Californians supporting Clyburn are Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, as well as Reps. Barbara Lee and Grace Napolitano. Hoyer’s California backing comes from Reps. Joe Baca, Howard Berman, Lois Capps, Dennis Cardoza, Sam Farr, Bob Filner, John Garamendi, Jane Harman, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Linda Sanchez, Adam Schiff, Brad Sherman, Jackie Speier and Henry Waxman.

Across the aisle as members of the new majority party, several California Republicans appear set to become major power brokers in the 112th Congress. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is currently unopposed for House Majority Whip.

Among House committees, a batch of state GOPers are in line or vying for important chair positions: Rep. Dan Lungren, House Administration, Rep. Buck McKeon, Armed Services, Rep. Jerry Lewis, Appropriations, Rep. Darrell Issa, Oversight and Government Reform; Rep. David Dreier, Rules and Rep. Ed Royce, Financial Services.

Lewis, who served as the Appropriations chair in the 109th Congress, faces a challenge from Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky, another veteran on the panel. And Royce is vying against Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL), the current ranking minority member, for the top spot on the Financial Services committee.

With the GOP’s gains, of course, a number of California Democrats have lost powerful committee chairmanships: Rep. George Miller, Education and Labor; Rep. Henry Waxman,  Energy and Commerce;, Rep. Howard Berman, Foreign Affairs: Rep. Bob Filner, Veterans’ Affairs and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, Standards of Official Conduct.

In other California congressional news, Dreier, McKeon and Rep. John Campbell are now in DC as part of the GOP majority transition team. And, along with Costa, who claimed victory over Republican Andy Vidak, Democrat Jerry McNerney in the 11th district also crowned himself a winner, in his close race against Republican David Harmer. Neither Vidak nor Harmer have conceded.

ABC – Always Believe Calbuzz: There were many doubters among the Calbuzz cognoscenti – some of them on our own staff! – who whispered darkly that in the midst of the worst recession in decades, we were totally nuts to keep yammering on about the importance of Prop. 23, which sought to suspend California’s landmark climate change legislation. This just in: the “No” on Prop. 23 campaign wracked up more votes – 5,416,385 at press time – than any candidate or other initiative, yay or nay, on the statewide ballot.

In other toldja’ news, the record will show that the Calbuzz Sports Desk focused its reporting from spring training on the Giants vs. Rangers, the match-up that made it into the World Series. Sometimes we amaze even ourselves.

Ironic Potheads, Obama Mojo MIA, EJ in the Zone

Friday, November 12th, 2010

Pot post-mortem: Who knew the most interesting, intriguing and ironic question of the entire election would turn out to be: WTF did North Coast potheads vote against Proposition 19?

Calbuzz kudos to Bob Salladay of California Watch for breaking it down in a nice piece that reports how the dope legalization measure lost big in weed-rich Humboldt and Mendocino counties, which mirrored the statewide vote of 53-to-46 against, while Trinity County smoked Prop. 19 in a 60-40 landslide.

Prop. 19 undoubtedly failed because some of the state’s largest counties voted against it, not sparsely populated areas in Northern California. But that’s not stopping supporters of the initiative from lashing out at pot producers in the so-called Golden Triangle. Here’s one comment that has been getting attention:

“Lets grab machetes and head up to Humboldt… Humboldt, your little community just pissed off a ton of people who are sick of paying your inflated crop prices!”

The arguments against Prop. 19 centered in part around the layers of regulatory oversight imposed by the initiative. Some worried about a provision restricting growing to a 25-square-foot plot of land, even though the initiative allowed for larger cultivation amounts approved by local authorities….

Many felt that asking pot growers to vote for Prop. 19 was like asking bootleggers to overturn Prohibition: Why would they give up such enormous, tax-free profits?

Bottom line: the free spirits who’ve built the market in California don’t want the damn government hassling them with taxes and regulations. In other words, they’re Republicans, as Calbuzzer cartoonist Tom Meyer aptly demonstrates today.

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P.S. Also check out John Hoeffel’s look-ahead political analysis which seems to point to the inevitability of legalization, perhaps as soon as 2012.

What ever happened to the guy we elected? As Democrats across the nation, at least those without the good sense to live in California, descend ever-further into a pit of political despair following the Republican wipeout, perhaps the most depressing development has been the total weenie act being performed by a self-pitying Barack Obama.

After a sulky, day-after press conference in which he more resembled a spoiled teenager stuck in detention than what you call your Leader of the Free World, Obama sunk to new depths in a sad sack appearance on “60 minutes.”

As Huffpost blogger and business executive coach Kathleen Reardon excellently reported:

I waited last night for the confident Democratic President of the United States to appear on 60 Minutes but he never quite arrived. In fact, the president who did arrive said when asked by Steve Kroft about his promise to change Washington:

“That’s one of the dangers of assuming power. And you know, when you’re campaigning, you, I think you’re liberated to say things without thinking about, ‘Okay, how am I gonna actually practically implement this.’”

What? Nah! He didn’t say that, did he?

Washpost columnist Gene Robinson took a broader and politically more  trenchant look at the president’s woe-is-me session with Kroft.

Obama was reasonable, analytical, professorial – but also uninspired and uninspiring. I’m just being honest, if not generous; when Kroft asked whatever happened to Obama’s “mojo,” the president gave the impression that he’s been wondering the same thing.

“Do you get discouraged? Are you discouraged now?” Kroft asked.

“I do get discouraged,” Obama replied, according to the transcript of the full interview. “I thought that the economy would have gotten better by now. You know, one of the things I think you understand – as president you’re held responsible for everything. But you don’t always have control of everything, right? And especially an economy this big. There are limited tools to encourage the kind of job growth that we need. But I have fundamental confidence in this country. I am constantly reminded that we have been through worse times than these, and we’ve always come out on top. And I’m positive that the same thing is going to happen this time. You know, there are going to be setbacks, and we may take two steps forward and one step back, but the trajectory of this country is always positive.”

Well, it may be unfair, but presidents aren’t allowed to be discouraged. They aren’t allowed to talk about the limitations of the job, or the fact that they are held accountable for everything from inclement weather to the lack of a championship playoff system in college football. Presidents are not permitted to acknowledge familiarity with the concept of “one step back.” And good things aren’t “going to happen,” in the presidential lexicon. They’re already happening.

We keep wondering when the Democrats will get serious about pointing out that the Republicans who went before them — like George Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger — have left behind them a path of utter devastation, from the national economy to a $25 billion California deficit. Wonder if Jerry Brown is studying what a weak-ass job President Obama has done making it clear that he’s had to clean up a pile of doggie doo left on his doorstep?

Meanwhile, truly masochistic erstwhile Obama fans won’t want to miss Politico’s take out on the president’s political perils (warning: do not attempt to read this if you are a Democrat taking Cymbalta, Effexor, Lexapro, Paxil, Prozac, Wellbutrin, Zoloft or suffer from suicidal ideation), although Jason Linkins helpfully lightens things a bit with a nice takedown of the piece’s extraordinary Beltway-centric perspective.

E.J to the rescue: Our old friend E.J. Dionne, who long ago set down the theoretical framework for Bill Clinton’s Third Way centrist politics, appears to have been taking an extra helping of progressive pills in recent weeks, as he’s been on a real roll with columns urging Democrats to stop whining and stiffen their spines.

After his world scooplet interview with Never Say Die Nancy Pelosi, his  smackdown of the post-election instant conventional wisdom industry and his lead-the-way analysis of some of the actual factual reasons behind the GOP House takeover, our boy outdid himself on Thursday with a terrific piece in which he picked the docile and doleful Dems up by the scruffs of their necks and tried to shake some sense into them.

Funny that when progressives win, they are told to moderate their hopes, but when conservatives win, progressives are told to retreat.

Worse, Democrats tend to internalize the views of their opponents. Already, some moderate Democrats are claiming that all would have been well if Obama had not tried to reform health care or “overreached” in other ways. Never mind that Obama’s biggest single mistake (beyond the administration’s projection that unemployment would peak around 8 percent) was giving in to Senate moderates and not demanding the much bigger stimulus plan a weak economy plainly needed.

In fact, moderate Democrats would do better calling attention to how extreme and out of touch the conservative program actually is. Moderates should be more offended than anyone that the GOP’s ideological obsessions (health-care repeal, tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation) have little connection to solving the country’s problems, particularly the economic difficulties in the electorally pivotal Midwest..

Give Republicans credit for this: They don’t chase the center, they try to move it. Democrats can play a loser’s game of scrambling after a center being pushed ever rightward. Or they can stand their ground and show how far their opponents are from moderate, problem-solving governance..

A working class hero is something to be: If, like us, you’ve been too busy with the Odyssey of eMeg to have caught The Onion’s recent series lampooning Joe Biden, NYT biz writer Jeremy Peters is on the spot, explaining the nuances of the counter-intuitive humor behind these very funny pieces, and pointing to the best examples.

Why Increased Robopolling in California is Troubling

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

Mark DiCamillo of the Field Poll, and Mark Baldassare of the Public Policy Institute of California, discussed polling in the 2010 election at the Sacramento Press Club this week. DiCamillo talked about the rising influence — and the problems with — robopolls like Rasmussen, Pulse Opinion Research  and others. What he had to say is too important to be heard only by the hacks of the press corps. Here’s an edited version of DiCamillo’s remarks for the Calbuzz cognoscenti.

By Mark DiCamillo
Director of  the Field Poll

When comparing the polling in California this year to previous years, two things stand out. The first is the sheer number of pre-election polls conducted and reported.  When reviewing only polls conducted in California’s general election races for governor and U.S. Senate, by my count there were at least 75 different statewide public polls completed by 14 different polling organizations. And this doesn’t even count the many private polls conducted in each contest for the various political candidates and campaigns.

The other thing that jumps out is that in this election cycle more of the polls than any year previously were robopolls, also referred to as Interactive Voice Response or IVR polls.

By my count nearly half of all of the statewide public polls reported in California’s general election in the governor and Senate races were robopolls. If you were to also include polls conducted in local election contests across the state, robopolls constituted the majority of all public polls in California in this year’s general election.

Because robopolls are now so prevalent, it is more important than ever for the media and the public to understand just how these polls differ from traditional telephone polls, especially those conducted by the state’s three leading public polls – The Field Poll, the Public Policy Institute of California and the Los Angeles Times/USC Poll.

Comparing the methodologies: The basic survey approach of robopolls is to contact people by telephone using the recorded voice of a professional announcer. The announcer instructs those answering the phone to use the keypad on their phones to answer their poll questions. Traditional polls use live interviewers to call voters who ask each question directly.

Because most of the costs of conducting a traditional telephone survey are derived from the time spent and wages paid to telephone interviewers and their supervisors when carrying out data collection, robopolls are much cheaper to conduct than a traditional telephone survey since there are essentially no interviewer costs associated with conducting these polls.

This is one of the reasons why they are now so prolific. They can be conducted at a fraction of the costs of conducting a traditional phone survey.

However, other than cost, robopolls differ from traditional telephone surveys in a number of important ways.

(1) Short polling period, no callbacks

Most robopolls are typically conducted very quickly over a one-day period. They typically make only one attempt to reach a voter at each number dialed. If no one answers the phone they do not make callbacks to that number but simply replace it with a new telephone listing.

By definition, this means that robopolls have significantly lower response rates than traditional polls and are polling only those segments of the voting public that are the easiest to reach.

Contrast this to a Field, PPIC or Times/USC poll which is typically conducted over a one-week period and which makes up to six to eight different attempts at each usable number to try to bring voters into their samples. While this is more costly and time consuming, it produces samples that more closely capture the varied demography of California’s voters — working and non-working, old and young, white non-Hispanic and ethnic, those living alone and those living in multi-family households.

(2) Limited knowledge about who is actually answering their questions

Robopolls make calls from a random digit dial sample of all possible residential landline telephone numbers within the political jurisdiction they are polling. The recorded announcer instructs the person answering to tell them if they a registered voter, leaving this important selection criteria totally in the hands of the respondent.

Polls like The Field Poll, the Times/USC Poll and virtually every private poll conducted for a political campaign sample voters off of lists derived from the state’s official voter registration rolls.

This gives the poll a number of advantages. First, it enables interviewers to ask to speak to a specific individual by name and if that individual is not available, the interviewer can make appointments to call back that voter at a later time. Also, because the sample of names is derived from lists of known voters, we know by definition that the person we are seeking is indeed a registered voter. Working off a voter list also provides the pollster with the voter’s actual party registration as well as their frequency of voting in past elections, since this information is contained on the official voting records. This information can also be used to ensure that the sample is aligned properly to the state’s actual party registration and in identifying which voters are most likely to vote.

(3) Exclusion of cell phones

By law, the automated dialing devices used by the robopolls are not allowed to call cell phones. Traditional telephone polls routinely dial cell phones by hand to include them into their samples. Since more than 20% of all California voters are now cell-phone-only households and cannot be reached when dialing random sample of landline phone listings, most robopollsters are systematically excluding these voters from their samples.

(4) Language limitations

To my knowledge, the pre-recorded messages of most robopolls are in English only. This excludes from their samples the additional set of voters who do not understand spoken English. By contrast, Field, PPIC and the Times/USC polls routinely conduct all of their statewide polls in English and Spanish. In addition, Field’s final pre-election poll this year was extended further to include four other Asian languages and dialects — Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean and Vietnamese.

We estimate that 7%-10% of all registered voters in California would either prefer or require non-English language interviewing when completing a telephone survey, so this portion of the state’s fast-growing ethnic voters is under-represented by the robopolls.

(5) The need to construct a model and apply larger weighting adjustments

Each of these factors means that the quality of the raw unadjusted survey data derived from robopolls is of significantly lower quality than that of traditional telephone polls like those conducted by Field, PPIC and the Times/USC.

In their methodological descriptions, robopollsters admit that women are much more likely to participate in their surveys than men, and that older voters are included in their samples in far greater numbers than young or middle age voters. Because their initial data are less representative, robopolls need to make fairly major adjustments to their raw data to bring their samples into balance with the characteristics of the larger voting population.

By contrast, the unadjusted raw data obtained by traditional telephone pollsters more closely reflect the actual population of voters they are polling. While The Field Poll does make weighting adjustments to its samples, the adjustments tend to be small and have a modest impact on the overall poll’s statewide findings.

For example, The Field Poll’s final pre-election poll this year showed both Democrats Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer ahead of their Republican opponents in this year’s races for governor and U.S. Senate by eight to 10 percentage points in both our unweighted and weighted samples. The main impact that the weighting or sample adjustments was to align the various subgroups to known characteristics of the voter population. Importantly, they did not have much impact or significantly alter the overall statewide preference distributions initially found in the survey.

Despite their sampling drawbacks, the better robopollsters are able to transform the survey information they obtain into reasonable pre-election poll estimates by developing a sophisticated model of the probable electorate and adjusting their sample to conform to its characteristics. Because of this, I view the better robopollsters more as skilled modelers of the electorate than as high quality survey researchers.

But because of their need to construct models to determine the overall shape of the probable electorate rather than rely on actual survey data or information about each respondent’s voting record to determine this, the modeling itself can create potential problems.

For example, the determination of how many Democrats and Republicans to include in a sample is closely tied to voting preferences. When making this determination the robopollster takes great liberties in deciding who is ahead and by how much, since even a slight change in the partisan distribution of the sample will affect the preference distributions in most election contests.

This is perhaps the most worrisome aspect of the robopoll method, since it confers robopollsters with greater latitude in influencing the outcomes of their poll measures, and risks either introducing systematic biases into their poll.

Some robopollsters admit to taking into account a state’s voting history, national trends and recent polling to construct their partisan weighting targets. This means that the proportions of Democrats and Republicans allocated to their sample are derived from subjective judgments about the historical and prevailing political conditions in a given state and from other polls already conducted in that political jurisdiction.

It would be revealing to be able to compare a robopoll’s unadjusted and adjusted poll distributions in their pre-election preference measures. I suspect that if this information were available, it would reveal wide differences between the two estimates.

Because robopolls make subjective judgments when establishing their estimates of the composition of the likely electorate, this method can easily produce an entire array of different possible survey results. It is left to the robopollster to choose which result or political reality fits their own expectations at that moment in time. This is not only dangerous, it has the long-term effect of undermining public confidence in the objectivity of the entire public opinion polling process.

Concerns about the future of polling: As more pre-election polls employ the robopolling method, my fear is that they will crowd out the other higher quality polls that are being conducted, leaving the media and the public with a sometimes confusing batch of pre-election poll estimates to sort through.

This is not to say that better robopollsters are manipulating their poll results for their own ends. Some are trying to make up for the deficiencies in their initial survey samples. For example, at least one robopollster extended their data collection over a longer three-day period and experimented with the use of live interviewers to call separate samples of cell phone listings in an attempt to fill the gap of voters only reachable by cell phone.

Yet the other problems inherent in their survey approach remain. This is why I continue to view the results of most of them cautiously.

Polling on Prop. 19: One other controversy between robopolls and traditional telephone polls surfaced this year in California during the Prop. 19, marijuana legalization initiative campaign.

When polling this year on Prop. 19, the traditional telephone pollsters fielded a number of inquiries from reporters and others questioning the reliability of live interviewer telephone polls conducted on a controversial topic like marijuana. The theory they presented was that because robopolls avoid direct human interactions when conducting their polls, voters felt less constrained about admitting their true opinions on Prop. 19.

Most of the literature on interviewer effects on sensitive topics research like marijuana relate to people being asked about their own personal behaviors that might be embarrassing or socially undesirable. This, in my opinion, doesn’t apply when polling on a policy issue like Prop. 19, which simply asks voters their opinions about an initiative to legalize marijuana’s sale and use.

At the time, I challenged those questioning the accuracy of live interviewer polls on the topic to revisit the issue after the election. Well, the results are in and the live interviewer polls like Field, PPIC and the Times/USC polls were generally closer to the final vote on Prop. 19 than the robopolls.

In their final pre-election surveys the state’s three leading traditional telephone polls showed Prop. 19 trailing by an average of 8 percentage points. By contrast, the average of the two final pre-election robopolls conducted in California showed Prop. 19 trailing by just 4.5 percentage points. According to the California Secretary of State, with nearly nine million votes counted and more than one million votes yet to be counted, California voters were rejecting Prop. 19 by eight percentage points, 54% to 46%.

I hope this puts that theory to rest.

Mark DiCamillo is Senior Vice President, Field Research Corporation and Director of The Field Poll

Beware Murphy, Rasmussen and Other B.S. Artists

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

In the days following the elections in California and across the country, so many commentators, “political experts” and partisans have engaged in so much overstated, hyperventilated and tortured analysis, we at Calbuzz have hardly known what to say.

But when we saw meathead David Gregory interviewing our friend Mike Murphy, the $90,000-a-month campaign guru for Meg “Biggest Loser” Whitman, on “Press the Meat” the other day, we felt compelled to get up off the floor and say something.

“We got beat and, you know, I ran the campaign, and I take responsibility for it,” Murphy said, at least acknowledging that he had been in the neighborhood.  But then came excuse, No. 1: “It’s a very blue state and it’s getting bluer. As the red, you know, wave kind of went one way, there was a bit of a blue riptide coming the other way.”

And then, excuse No. 2: “CEO candidates who are doing kind of a tough medicine message . . . Meg and Carly Fiorina in California, they weren’t buying it. So we just couldn’t get there. We could win the Republicans, win the independents, but in California if you don’t win a lot of Democrats… you don’t win and we did not.”

Whoa there, big fella. “Win the independents?” If Meg and Carly had actually won the actual independents, they would be governor- and senator-elect.

Now it’s Murph’s job to spin. And when you make $2 million off a political client (if you just count Whitman’s initial investment in Murphy’s film company and his salary) you have good reason to try to convince the world that it was an impossible task. But it’s Gregory’s job – and since he didn’t do it, ours – to question his spin.

What you have to ask, though, is what was Murphy doing telling the California and national media – the day before the election – that his polling showed the race to be essentially tied and that Meg’s GOTV program was going to put her over the top?

Consultants have an obligation to work as hard as they can for their clients, but they also ought to consider their credibility with the reporters who will be covering them in the future. There are a lot of ways of doing both: “Look, it’s going to be close. This is a heavily Democratic state. But we think we’re going to do well.” Whatever.

Which brings us to Harry G. Frankurt, professor emeritus of philosophy at Princeton University, who wrote in 2005: “One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit.” Unlike liars, bullshitters are unconcerned about whether what they are saying is true, Frankfurt argued in “On Bullshit.” They simply alter the rules of the discussion so that truth and falsity become irrelevant.

In this way, Frankfurt contends, bullshit is an even greater enemy of truth than lies. This may be an even more important argument than Calbuzz made in our essay “The Death of Truth: eMeg and the Politics of Lying” back in July.

As we explained yesterday, Jerry Brown carried the independents in California even though the National Election Pool exit poll by Edison Research showed Whitman winning them 47-43%. That’s only because the NEP exit poll didn’t actually survey actual independents – or “Decline to State” voters as they’re known in California. They called “independent” anyone who didn’t think of him- or herself as a Democrat or a Republican.

We harp on this because we want to bust the myth that Whitman carried the independents in California BEFORE it becomes part of the historical narrative about the 2010 election. (Like the so-called “Bradley Effect” has become part of mythology. This is the false belief that voters lied to pollsters before the 1982 governor’s election because they didn’t want to appear racist when being surveyed. Long story short: the polls were right among precinct voters but they didn’t count absentee voters and George Deukmejian beat Tom Bradley among absentees who had already voted.)

Here’s the point: Brown won the moderates 60-35% and he beat Whitman in the polls that surveyed actual DTS – independent — voters. To win statewide in California you have to carry your party, win the independents and make some inroads into the other party. That’s what Brown did.

But Whitman’s standing with independent voters is just one of the myths being perpetuated about the 2010 election. And though it’s of immediate concern in California, it’s likely not the most important fiction at large in the journosphere.

Let’s take the “historic repudiation of Barack Obama and the Democrats,” the “powerful ideological shift” or whatever formulation is most current.

Didn’t happen.

As the notoriously neutral Cliff Young and Julia Clark, pollsters at Ipsos Public Affairs, argue in a lucid piece published by Reuters:

Pundits and politicos alike would have us believe that the Obama era is over, with the general elections in 2012 being a mere formality to an imminent Republican resurgence. Obama went too far left, or so the argument goes, and the Republican gains this year are a leading indicator of a re-adjustment.

In our view, this perspective is fundamentally wrong: the results of the present mid-term elections have little to do with the probable outcome of the general election in 2012 . . .

The 2010 electoral cycle, with the poorest performing economy in a generation, was a change election which favored the party out of power – the Republicans. This means that there was no fundamental shift in American values, or a “new Republican mandate,” but instead that the election was the result of the natural ebbs and flows of voter sentiment, driven by larger economic forces.

Then there’s the “rejection of Obamacare” – an odious label the Republicans use to describe the health care reforms passed by Congress and which some numbskull journalists insist on mimicking.

As CNN reported Wednesday, according to the Kaiser Health Tracking Poll (a very professional and reliable outfit and wholly transparent): Americans are split and conflicted about their opinion of the new health care reform law. . . 42 percent have a favorable opinion of the law, compared with four in 10 who have an unfavorable view of the new measure. The survey indicates that roughly one-third of Americans are enthusiastic about the law, almost one-third are angry about it, but more than half are confused when it comes to health care reform.

According to CNN’s digest of the survey, about half of adults say they’d like Congress to repeal all or parts of the health care reform law. But when asked about specifics, most want to keep key provisions. More than 70% would keep the tax credits to small businesses and financial help to Americans who don’t get insurance through their jobs. And a majority wants to keep provisions that close the Medicare doughnut hole and prohibit denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions.

As Kaiser reported: It is unclear how much public support House Republicans will find should they attempt to repeal or dismantle the law. Overall, about a quarter think the law should be entirely repealed and another quarter think only parts should be repealed, while about two in ten think the law should be left as is and another two in ten want to see it expanded. Still, even among those who voted for Republican candidates and those who say they want to repeal parts or all of the law, majorities still want to keep some of its most popular provisions.

So much for the “mandate” to undo health care reform. If Obama and the Democrats have any spine, they won’t be stampeded by those who would do the bidding of the medicopharma lobby.

Besides, as our old friend E.J. Dionne at the Washington Post, digesting Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin of the Center for American Progress, and the very smart Hendrick Hertzberg of the New Yorker argue, the electorate that turned out in November 2010 was not the same electorate that showed up at the polls in November 2008: it was older and whiter. So talking about what “the people” are demanding – as so many Washington pols are wont to do – is just so much (there’s no nice way to put this) bullshit.

And while we’re on the subject of bullshit: Let’s not forget all those Rasmussen polls that predicted elections everywhere wrong, wrong, wrong and which appear also to have had an outsized influence early in election cycles of creating narratives that showed Republican candidates doing far better than public polls were showing.

For further detail, read Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog at the New York Times where he explained that “polls conducted by the firm Rasmussen Reports — which released more than 100 surveys in the final three weeks of the campaign, including some commissioned under a subsidiary on behalf of Fox News — badly missed the margin in many states, and also exhibited a considerable bias toward Republican candidates.”

And don’t miss poll wizard Mark Blumenthal, now ensconced over at Huffington Post, who reported:

A remarkable bi-partisan group of campaign pollsters released an open letter this afternoon that assailed the “sometimes uncritical media coverage” of the “proliferation” of public pre-election polls that fail to disclose basic information about how they are conducted and that “have the capacity to shape media and donor reactions to election contests.”

The authors of the letter — 9 Democrats and 10 Republicans — amount to a virtual “who’s who” of campaign pollsters, the political consultants that conduct the opinion surveys sponsored by political campaigns for their internal use.

Their message is a bit unusual: At a time when political journalists and bloggers are busily scoring the accuracy of the final public election surveys, these pollsters called on the news media to judge the quality of polls based on “the professionalism with which they are conducted” rather than “their accuracy in the closing weeks of the election.”

More specifically, the campaign pollsters urged journalists to hold public polls to disclosure standards of the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) that call on pollsters to release details such as the exact wording of questions, the demographics of their samples, the methods used to draw their samples and interview voters and the response rates they obtain.

Loyal readers of Calbuzz will note that back in October 2009, we laid out the kinds of standards we’d apply in taking polls seriously and while we have, from time to time, made mention of private polls and those that don’t adhere to AAPOR standards, we’d consistently used them only as referential data – not as principal measures of any horse race.

Our point, dear Calbuzzers, is this: Don’t buy a bag of bullshit just because it’s in a pretty package. The best spin is true.

Party, Gender and How Pollsters Handled Indies

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

“Party, party, party,” Mark DiCamillo, director of the esteemed Field Poll, replied when we asked him back in June if a candidate’s gender or partisan affiliation is more important in a general election.

“If you had to ask just one question that would predict how someone would vote, you’d want to ask their party,” he said.

Despite all the drama some writers, consultants and party activists stirred up around the notion that Meg Whitman could peel away women voters, a crucial part of the Democratic Party base, the results in the governor’s race prove that when push comes to shove, party trumps gender every time.

We’ll walk through the numbers, but there’s one problem: the data we have on the vote by party from the National Election Pool survey by Edison Research is crap.

The NEP survey asked voters leaving the polls to tell them if they think of themselves as Democrats, Republicans, independents or something else. These are not really independent voters as we know them in California – people who “decline to state” a party when they register to vote.

So we have to use data from the most accurate polls – the Field Poll and the USC/LA Times – to understand how actual independents voted when looking at gender and party effects.

Also, understand that Field and USC/LAT used actual voter registration rolls to identify actual voters. And of course, the NEP survey snagged actual voters leaving the polling place. But PPIC asks respondents how they are registered to vote, which means their sample, by party, is a reflection of what respondents say, which may or may not accurately reflect how they are registered. We can demonstrate the hazard in this by comparing the USC/LAT survey which, in addition to using party registration, also asked voters to identify themselves by party.

First, women: According to the NEP exit poll,  men voted for Brown over Whitman 51-45% while women voted for Brown 55-39%. That’s a  6-point margin among men and a 16-point margin  among women.

These numbers were reflected pretty well in pre-election polling, all of which showed Brown winning: Field had it 46-42% for Brown among men (4 points) and 51-35 (16 points) among women; USC/LAT had it 48-45% among men (3 points) and 55-34% among women (21 points); PPIC had it 41-40% among men (1 point) and 47-32% among women (15 points).

Then, party: But look how much stronger the party vote was.

In the Field Poll, Democrats voted for Brown 77-7% and Republicans voted for Whitman 68-16%; in the USC/LAT poll Democrats were for Brown  81-10 and Republicans were for Whitman 77-15%; PPIC found the Democrats 76-7% for Brown and the Republicans 73-11% for Whitman. These margins were from 69% to 71% among Democrats for Brown and from 52% to 62% among Republicans for Whitman. Much stronger effects than polling found for gender.

The NEP exit poll – in which the vote by party was intensified because of how independents were identified – found it 91-7% among Democrats for Brown and 84-11% among Republicans for Whitman.

DTS versus “independents”: As we all know, in California you may choose not to affiliate with a political party when you register to vote. These are “Decline to State” voters or DTS voters, who comprise about 20% of all registered voters. They are a crucial swing-vote block in California elections and identifying them and tracking their preferences is crucial to understanding how public opinion is moving.

Calbuzz will have more on this tomorrow when we deconstruct some of the myths that already have been spun about this election, including some knowing misstatements about how independents voted here.

But since Mark DiCamillo of the Field Poll and Mark Baldassare of PPIC are doing their Mark and Mark Show at the Sacramento Press Club today, we thought we’d add a few notes to the discussion.

The Field Poll and USC/LAT — like virtually every political pollster hired by any big campaign or interest group — now uses the voter list to develop a sample of actual registered voters. Most pollsters pre-select the list for past voting behavior, only including in the sample people who have voted before, plus newly registered voters. Calbuzz thinks that’s the best practice to identify likely voters. It’s what all the good private pollsters do and what the poll takers for USC/LAT did. Mark DiCamillo of the Field Poll disagrees. He takes a random sample of the voter list and uses past behavior to help select likely voters after interviews are completed. His system works: the Field Poll consistently ranks as one of the most accurate polling operations in the country.

But Mark Baldassare of PPIC asks a scientific random sample of adults: “Some people are registered to vote and others are not. Are you absolutely certain that you are registered to vote in California?” And, “Are you registered as a Democrat, a Republican, another party, or as an independent?” If the person says “independent” he or she is asked, “Do you think of yourself as closer to the Republican Party or Democratic Party?”

That’s the kind of thing you have to do if you’re using random digit dialing instead of working from a voter list. Unfortunately, respondents aren’t always the best sources for knowing how they are registered to vote, no matter how careful the questions are.

The USC/LATimes poll, for example, asked people whether they were Democrats, Republicans or independents and compared their answers to their actual party registration: 22% of those who said they were “independent” were actually registered as Democrats; 34% of “independents” were actually registered Republicans, and just 38% of the self-identified independents were actually DTS voters.

When USC/LAT reported results, they used party registration, not party ID, to describe how people were voting. Which is a good thing, because in their survey, registered DTS voters favored Brown over Whitman 61-24 55-26% (probably too big a margin but at least in the right direction), but self-identified “independents” were favoring Whitman 46-45%.

The NEP exit poll — because it’s a nationwide survey including states with no voter registration — also asked people how they identify themselves. They asked: “No matter how you voted today, do you usually think of yourself as a Democrat, a Republican, an independent or something else.”

Using that definition, the exit poll showed Whitman beating Brown 47-43% among “independents.” It’s exactly the same wrong result PPIC had, when it showed Whitman ahead of Brown 37-36% among “independents.”

Field and USC.LAT did not suffer the same problem because they were polling actual DTS voters. Field had independents 49-34% for Brown and, as we said before, USC/LAT had them 61-24% for Brown.

We can’t say for certain how DTS or independent voters actually split in the governor’s race because we don’t have exit poll data we can rely on. But if you look at the Field Poll as a standard — since they were almost precisely on the numbers everywhere else — and factor in the USC/LAT findings,  it’s likely that independents actually voted for Brown over Whitman by about 15 points.

This is bolstered by the fact that self-identified “moderates,” who comprised 40% of the electorate, voted for Brown over Whitman by 60-35%, according to the NEP exit poll. That compared to liberals who went 86-8% for Brown and conservatives who went 78-17% for Whitman.

One other note on the NEP exit poll: it did a lousy job of creating a sample that reflected how Californians are casting their ballots. Final figures are not available yet, but it’s expected that vote-by-mail (VBM) ballots will account for about 50% of the votes cast. But we understand that NEP/Edison only included 600 mail ballots compared to about 3,300 precinct interviews. The margin of error on those 600 mail ballots is huge compared to the rest of the survey and weighting them up would have required some ugly math — not something a reputable pollster would be proud of. The entire survey was obviously weighted to the final unofficial results — 53-42% for Brown. But whether the individual components of that total are accurate is anyone’s guess.

Tomorrow: Myth busters, including Mike Murphy’s bogus argument