Quantcast

Archive for the ‘poll’ Category



Myth Busting: Latino Vote, Independents, Prop 13

Monday, January 10th, 2011

Calbuzz is here to correct two important myths from the 2010 general election in California, before they are committed permanently to history and passed along ignorantly like the so-called “Bradley Effect” and other dunderhead theories:

1) Latinos did not constitute 22% of the electorate as reported by the Edison Research exit poll and blabbed along by those who would make the Latino vote look more important than it is (for the record, our two posted references to the 22 % factor, one from a guest columnist, the other a suggestion, are here and here). Latinos accounted for 16% of the vote*,  just as the better pollsters had predicted (and just 1-point lower than the LA Times/USC poll found after the fact).

2) “Independents” did not account for 27% of the voters, as reported by the exit poll and some pollsters (we name no names) who rely on party identification – a practice Calbuzz can’t fathom when party registration is available. Actual independents, that is, decline-to-state voters, accounted for 17% of the electorate.

These facts, part of the data pulled from the final voter file by Bob Proctor of Statewide Information Systems of Sacramento*, are important because they demonstrate that Latinos were not driven to vote in historic numbers (although they apparently voted en masse for Jerry Brown over Meg Whitman), nor was there a surge (or depression) among independents.

The 2010 turnout in California was not a Democratic blow-out. Nor was there any important enthusiasm gap between the parties, as so many Republican operatives had predicted. In fact, the partisan composition of the 2010 general election was just about what you’d have expected if you had never listened to any of the self-proclaimed experts: 45% Democrat, 34% Republican and 17% independent (DTS).

Despite Mike Murphy’s predictions right up to election day, the Armies of eMeg produced no discernible bump in the GOP vote. Nor did the Democrats do much to goose the numbers. What they did do – and it was no mean feat – was get the Democrats, including Latinos, to vote heavily for the Democratic candidates.

Target mail may well have been a factor since an historic 51% of the vote was cast by mail – including 49% by those who are permanent absentee voters. And in case you were looking for some massive surge by youth, forget about it: 56% of the vote was cast by people age 50 and older while just 12% of the vote was cast by people age 18-29.

The fact that just 16%* of the electorate were Latinos does nothing to diminish their importance as a voting bloc. The fact remains that Meg Whitman, who lurched to the right on the issue of a “path to citizenship” during the GOP primary and who unceremoniously canned her Latino housekeeper, drove Latinos to Jerry Brown.

But it’s important to understand that while the Latino vote is growing in California, it still has a long way to go. The Giant is awake and pissed off at the Republicans, but it has yet to throw its weight around as it will some day.

About Proposition 13:  Calbuzz readers know that we have already laid out the Path to Normalization of the California budget in excruciating exactitude but when Anthony York of the By-God LA Times reported the other day that Jerry Brown “walked right up to the third rail of California politics,” we think some confusion may have been unleashed.

We weren’t there (what’s new) so we’re relying on York and others who reported that Silver Fox said, “Proposition 13, because it took away the power of counties to tax, for the most part, it sent the decisions up to Sacramento. So we want to redistribute all that.”

What Brown (and Senate Majority Leader Darrell Steinberg) are NOT talking about, it should be made clear, is fooling around with the property tax on homes as permanently reduced by Proposition 13 (although splitting off commercial and industrial property off for separate treatment might be in the mix).

Rather it sounds like they’re talking about giving cities, counties and school districts the ability to raise other kinds of taxes and/or bonds with a majority or 55% vote (as opposed to the 2/3 vote required by Proposition 13) to go along with taking over the responsibility for programs and services that have been paid for by the state since Proposition 13.

So note to Sacramento tax watchers: It’s highly unlikely that Brown and his allies would screw with the property tax. But they might well want to make it easier for local entities to raise taxes and bonds on their own for the services they want to deliver.

For a good wrap of Brown’s budget challenges and intentions, check Ken McLaughlin and Paul Rogers of the Murky News. And for a well-sourced look at what the governor is likely to unveil today, check out Shane Goldmacher’s lookforward in Sunday’s By-God LA Times.

And thanks to Calbuzzer Jay Johnson, who sent us this cool Photoshop of  Jerry and the upcoming budget.

So much for taking personal responsibility: While it may be over the top argue that Sarah Palin has “blood on her hands” in the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others in Arizona, it’s revolting to watch Palinistas try to wash their hands of any responsibility by declaring they’re shocked – shocked! – that anyone could even hint the slightest connection to the horror  and her frequent, reckless use of violent rhetoric and weaponry images.

For Palin’s mouthpiece to claim that the crosshairs icon the loudmouth demagogue slapped on Giffords’ district last fall was really an innocent  “surveyors’ symbol”  not only ignores Palin’s own description of it as a “bullseye” but more importantly ignores her history of smirking viciousness in suggesting that those who disagree with her deserve the same fate as the caribou she delights in slaughtering:

“Don’t retreat, reload,” indeed.

And while we’re at it, we have to note our disgust with Palin apologists like the smarmy twit Howard Kurtz of the Beastly Daily Beast, who seems utterly incapable of understanding that the atmosphere of violence promoted by Palin et. al. is not just a riff on standard political fare.

Howie the Genius apparently sees poor St. Sarah as a victim of a media drive-by: “One of the first to be dragged into this sickening ritual of guilt by association: Sarah Palin. . . . This kind of rhetoric is highly unfortunate. The use of the crosshairs was dumb. But it’s a long stretch from such excessive language and symbols to holding a public official accountable for a murderer who opens fire on a political gathering and kills a half-dozen people, including a 9-year-old girl.”

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Sickening, too.

* After this post appeared, a respected Sacramento consultant passed along to us counts made by Political Data Inc. which, by adding in about 140,000 foreign-born voters who apparently did not have Spanish surnames, would increase the total Latino vote to 17%. It’s possible also, as a friend from the LA Times suggested to us, that some Latino voters, like Latinas who have married and taken their husband’s non-Spanish name, might also have been under-counted. But this can’t add much to the total percentage of Latino voters.

It Wasn’t the Economy, Stupid, It Was Character

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

In their last pre-election survey, Oct. 10-17, the Public Policy Institute of California found that six in 10 likely voters said jobs and the economy represented the most important issue facing California and that by a margin of 47-39%, Meg Whitman would do a better job on this pressing concern.

Moreover, while the survey showed Brown leading Whitman 44-36%, it oddly found “independents” – that is, respondents identified as likely voters who said they were registered as independents — divided 36-37% for Whitman.

But in PPIC’s post-election survey taken Nov. 3-14 and released Wednesday night, Brown won the “independents” 56-38% — a staggering shift of 19 points in Brown’s favor. In addition, according to PPIC, Latinos who favored Brown 51-22% in October ended up voting for Brown over Whitman by 75-22% — a 24 point move to Brown.

By comparison, the Field Poll’s last survey (based on actual registered voters surveyed Oct. 14-26) had Brown winning independents 49-33% and the L.A. Times/USC survey from Oct. 13-20 (also based on registered voters) had independents for Brown 55-26%.

Field had Latinos favoring Brown 57-27% before the election and the LAT/USC survey had Latinos backing Brown 59-23%.

Before trying to make sense of these numbers, consider a few findings from the LA Times/USC survey also taken Nov. 3-14 among actual registered voters:

1) Among those who said they think of themselves as independents instead of Democrats or Republicans (not the same as PPIC’s question which asks respondents how they are registered), just one third of those who said they’re independents were actually registered as Decline-to-State voters.

2) Among Latino voters, Whitman’s unfavorable rating was 71% compared to 17% favorable. Among registered DTS voters, it was 65% unfavorable and 22% favorable.

3) Latinos favored Brown over Whitman 80-15% (compared to the National Election Pool exit poll that said Latinos backed Brown 64-30%).

Confused yet? What the hell actually happened?

Did something occur in the closing weeks of the campaign that drove all of the undecided “independents” in PPIC’s survey to Brown? Or were they already lined up behind him as Field and LAT/USC found? How big was the Latino margin for Brown in the end? What actually drove the vote?

First, let’s look at the independent voters. According to the LAT/USC survey, they voted 59-33% for Brown which is not far off from PPIC’s 56-38%. The difference is in the shift that PPIC found versus what the LAT/USC and Field had before the election. PPIC’s survey suggests a huge movement of independents for Brown. It’s hard to see what could have driven that.

But the movement among Latinos – about 15-20% of whom are likely DTS voters – is easily explained by Whitman’s handling of her housekeeper, Nicky Diaz. In the end, somewhere between 65-80% of Latinos ended up voting for Jerry Brown. With a 71% unfavorable rating among Latinos, that’s not hard to comprehend.

Mark Baldassare of PPIC argues that his polls in October and November were both correct, and that the same things that drove Latinos to Brown also may have propelled independents. We suspect it’s more likely that the problem is rooted in using questions, rather than actual voter lists, to identify “independents” and that the October survey, for whatever reason, didn’t capture what was actually happening among actual DTS voters. (PPIC has to ask questions to identify likely voters and to classify them by party because it uses random digit dialing instead of working from the Secretary of State’s list of registered voters.)

But let’s go back to that PPIC finding in October that showed the economy was the top issue and that voters saw Whitman as better on the issue than Brown.

What the data all seem to suggest is something Calbuzz has argued several times before: that the race for governor did not turn on issues, but on character. In the end, voters saw Brown as the more authentic candidate whose values reflected more closely their own. By emphasizing that he would not raise taxes without voter approval, he made himself safe to moderate voters who didn’t like what they saw from Whitman.

By emphasizing “at this stage of my life” Brown wanted nothing more than to do what needed to be done, he undercut the attacks that portrayed him as a tool of unions and other special interests.

In other words, the conventional wisdom – that the election would turn on the economy and jobs – turned out to be completely wrong. That’s the ground on which team Whitman wanted to fight, but once the Bill Clinton ad blew up in her face and she refused to take it down, and once Nicky Diaz surfaced, the stories that captured voters’ attention were all about character and integrity.

Why does any of this matter? Because when the story of the 2010 California governor’s race is written, it should not make it all about independents and Latinos except to the extent that these voters were moved by impressions of the character of the combatants.

BTW, the PPIC survey goes into great detail looking at the propositions and the initiative process. It’s chock full of interesting data that we’re not even touching on here.

Press Clips: Sarah Palin, Wikileaks and RIP CRP

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Whither the GOP II: Word for word, the greatest headline ever written was “Headless Body in Topless Bar,” the New York Post’s slammer  on its story about a gruesome decapitation murder committed at Herbie’s Bar, a Queens strip club, on April 13, 1983 (memo to obsessive copy desk types: spare us your email, “Ford to City: Drop Dead” ain’t even close).

With its punchiness and taut economy of language, the hed came to mind as we culled the web for posts pertaining to our oft-commented-on piece story offering some prescriptive advice to the dog-ass California Republican Party, and stumbled upon this trenchant analysis by Robert Cruickshank over at Calitics.

In short, California Republicans are fucked.

While one word longer than the Post’s iconic hed, and lacking its sheer wordsmithing poetry, the Oracle’s powerhouse proclamation nonetheless wins the Calbuzz “Herbie” Award for cut-to-the-bone storytelling, at a time when the uncertain future of the state Republican Party is the subject of far more wordy fulmination across the internets.

The data point of departure for most of the discussion is the L.A. Times/USC poll which found, among other things, that one in five voters say they would never vote for a Republican under any circumstance, and that large majorities of voters express principled contempt for GOP policies on key ideological issues like environmental regulation and immigration.

To our surprise, we found  few offerings that suggest a pathway back to relevance for the GOP, in the positive and upbeat manner of, oh say, Calbuzz (“Issue Oriented – Solution Driven”) itself.

Among such scant offerings, a brave effort by Ventura County Supervisor Peter Foy (who we early on did our best to gin up as a possible contender  in the governor’s race) rose to the top of the heap. Writing over at Flashreport ,Foy noted the bevy of anti-government ballot initiatives just passed by voters and suggested that Republicans can attract them with “policies consistent with our conservative values and…new leaders who can inspire a new generation of California voters.”

Besides this murky proposal, what was truly notable in the piece was how Foy correctly pointed the finger directly at Meg Whitman’s crucial role in the party’s 2010 failure.

In 2010, I campaigned all across the state and met thousands of voters.  While I didn’t sense open hostility towards Meg Whitman, her campaign generated a sort of hard-to-describe unease.  Republican activists were detached from her candidacy.

While Whitman pledged to do many right and necessary things as governor, many felt her to be a stranger, despite seeing hundreds (if not more) of her campaign commercials.  Paradoxically, the more ads they saw, the more ambiguous Whitman became.  Try as she might, she appeared analytical and calculating, rather than heartfelt and energized…

This year, the Whitman campaign executed a corporate-style branding strategy with the most extensive communications effort in memory backed by more money than any state campaign in history.  It utterly failed.

I believe it lacked any consequential connection to the public’s view of our state.  It tried to entice voters, rather than engage them.  And it tried to sell them on a product rather than persuade them in an ideal.

Beyond Foy’s manly effort, however, it appears that many among the still-sane sector of the CRP share the same view as Cruickshank, albeit more politely. Chief among this contingent is veteran GOP operative and analyst Tony Quinn who portrayed the plight of state Republicans in harshly stark terms:

Today’s California Republican Party is a regional party with declining registration and a lack of any presence at all in the San Francisco Bay Area and in all but a sliver of Los Angeles County.  That is half the state where the Republican Party no longer exists.

The days of Republicans winning statewide office – other than with an Arnold Schwarzenegger – has certainly past.

Ouch.

Does this woman ever shut up: All right-thinking people agree that Sarah Palin couldn’t find her ass with two hands if she had a map. That being said, it greatly pains and baffles us why the mighty MSM and the Beltway Big Feet insist on treating her endless self-serving tweets and Facebook postings as if they were news, instead of third-rate press releases

When the media on Monday trumpeted coast to coast Palin’s insipid comments bashing Obama for the latest Wikileaks document dump, we at first thought our head would explode (Fortunately we averted disaster by breathing deeply and assuming Bikram yoga posture #15 – “Wind Removing Pose” – until regaining our emotional balance).

Here’s the thing: Whether Palin is defending childhood obesity , attacking Mark Halperin, backing her 16-year old brat’s use of homophobic slurs or mixing up North and South Korea doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that the nation’s newsrooms and political press acts as if it does, as Huffpost blogger Mitchell Bard properly noted:

The real story, though, isn’t that Palin said “North” instead of “South.” Let’s be honest: Vice President Joe Biden could have just as easily blown a line like that.

No, the real story is that Palin was discussing a complex, precarious, highly dangerous issue as if she were an expert, even though she clearly isn’t.

Does anyone outside of Palin’s relatively small group of smitten followers honestly believe that she is competent to act as an expert on Korean policy? That she knows the intricacies and risks of engaging with the North Koreans? That she understands the possible leadership struggle going on there? Do you think she has the first clue about the history of Korea over the last century? Do you think she’s ever heard of Syngman Rhee, the Bodo League massacre, the Battle of Inchon, or National Security Council Report 68, or that she knows about the decades of Japanese rule in Korea? Do you think she’s ever read about the role the propaganda efforts of the post-Stalin Soviet government played in the eventual armistice that ended the fighting?

…That’s the real story about the Palin flub about North Korea that the media isn’t covering. It’s not that she misspoke, but that anyone cared what she had to say on the issue in the first place.

While many in the national GOP privately  view with horror the specter of a Palin candidacy, few of them have the stones to denounce her, fearful of the wrath of her base among Jerry Springer Republicans. So it was refreshing to see MSNBC yakker and former congressman Joe Scarborough stand up and take her on:

Palin is not a stupid woman. But like the current president, she still does not know what she does not know. And she does know how to make millions of dollars, even if she embarrasses herself while doing it.

That reality hardly makes Palin unique, but this is one Republican who would prefer that the former half-term governor promote her reality shows and hawk her books without demeaning the reputations of Presidents Reagan and Bush. These great men dedicated their lives to public service and are too good to be fodder for her gaudy circus sideshow.

If Republicans want to embrace Palin as a cultural icon whose anti-intellectualism fulfills a base political need, then have at it. I suppose it’s cheaper than therapy.

But if the party of Ronald Reagan, Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio wants to return to the White House anytime soon, it’s time that Republican leaders started standing up and speaking the truth to Palin.

Good for Scarborough, but we’re unconvinced that the spectacle of a Palin presidency is all that beyond imagination.

The plain fact is that Palin is a truly dangerous person, a narcissistic, anti-intellectual demagogue playing on the fears and prejudices of modern Know-Nothings for no substantial purpose beyond her own self-aggrandizement and thirst for power.

Democrats – and serious Republicans – who chortle and mock her chances of winning the presidency in 2012 do so at their peril, particularly if the race gets complicated by the entry of an independent, like Michael Bloomberg (or Palin, herself, after losing the GOP nomination) and the matter gets tossed to a House of Representatives controlled by right-wing Republicans.

Sacto Dysfunction Mirrors Whacko Views of Voters

Monday, November 29th, 2010

Just six weeks before Jerry Brown rolls out the long-awaited opening of “Krusty: The Sequel,” the most fundamental problem the new governor faces  is neither the $25 billion state deficit nor the utter  dysfunction of the Capitol: it’s California’s dual personality disorder.

As much as politicians, government geeks and bureaucrats — not to mention “the media” —  get blamed, deservedly, for the mess the state is in, there stands a mountain of evidence showing that the polarized partisan gridlock in Sacramento perfectly reflects the sentiments of the electorate.

The plain fact is that California’s litany of problems is underpinned by an everything-for-nothing ethic among voters that is both conflicted and contradictory.

We first took note of the over-arching importance of this dynamic back before the earth cooled (“Calbuzz: The Prairie Years”) when we analyzed the confounding perspective of the electorate in advance of the disastrous May 19, 2009 special election. In that debacle, Governor Schwarzmuscle and the Democrat-dominated Legislature tried to have it both ways with a series of five initiatives that, variously, raised taxes and imposed some cuts in several popular programs.

But we’d be remiss if we didn’t also call out our fellow voters, who exhibit a maddening syndrome of self-canceling impulses about how to pay for their government.

What do policymakers see when they look at such data? Voters, pointing a gun to their own heads, screaming “Stop, before I shoot!”

This self-destructive, self-canceling world view of voters has grown both more acute and more chronic since then, as illustrated by some new data in  the most recent LA. Times/USC poll.  Among the findings, the survey found that:

–By a huge plurality – 44-6% — voters said they would rather cut spending than raise taxes to address the deficit (another 44% opted from some murky, unspecified combination).

–But by even larger margins, voters said they would either a) not support any cuts or b) favor more spending on K-12 education and health programs – the two largest items in the budget (for schools, 37% oppose reductions and 34% want more spending while 36% are against cuts and 20% want to spend more on health). The only area of the budget where there is strong sentiment for reducing expense is on prisons, where 71% favor cutting a great deal or some of current spending.

–Most troubling of all, by 70-24%, voters said that “there is enough waste and inefficiency in government spending that we can reduce most of the state deficit by cleaning up programs without cutting programs like health care and education” —  the fairy tale scenario that Meg Whitman tried to peddle, ranking up there with Santa showing up with the Great Pumpkin and the Tooth Fairy in tow. That’s how he rolls.

Our friend Joel Fox took a run at the Great Dichotomy the other day over at Fox and Hounds and offered a pretty good succinct synopsis of the problem.

So what to make of the California electorate’s pro-government, no more taxes dichotomy? Can we say that Californians have big hearts and small wallets? Or is something else going on here?

Many people believe in the California Dream. The notion of California as a place of opportunity cuts across demographics and ethnicities and is a thread that binds people in this most diverse of all states. Californians support proposals that will give people access to opportunity. I suspect that is why those polled would support avenues to citizenship and open doors at educational establishments and government programs to give people a hand up.

However, while supporting a basic framework of government support, voters clearly don’t want to pay for too much. Those responding to the survey think they already pay too much when they say the best avenue to a balanced budget is to cut spending.

Voters don’t trust government to deliver the opportunities they believe in… There is a strong sense amongst the electorate that those in government take care of themselves first.

During the campaign, Brown’s big proposal for addressing the budget mess was to lock all the legislators of both parties in a room and browbeat them with sweet reason until everyone agreed on solutions.

As a political matter, that seems to us to be 180 degrees wrong in dealing with the size, scope and depth of the problems the state now faces: Instead of spending his time in backrooms with Sacramento pols, Brown needs to get out of the Capitol and travel energetically around the state, conducting what amounts to a one-man basic civics education campaign, so that Californians truly understand a) what services state government actually provides; b) how much they cost; c) how they’re paid for.

Above all, he needs a full-blown strategy to build a shared public awareness of the simple facts of California’s predicament by breaking through the bumper sticker clichés and well-worn grooves of the political arguments that have straight jacketed California for a generation. Anything else is just tactics.

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