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Posts Tagged ‘Mike Murphy’



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.

Team eMeg Grabs the Green, Proves They’re Yellow

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Not since Vice President Dick Cheney hid out in the “secret” bunker under the old U.S. Naval Observatory following the attacks of 9/11 have we seen an act of political cowardice as brazen as the announced refusal by Meg Whitman’s lavishly paid loser consultants to show up at the upcoming post-election debriefing sponsored by the Institute of Governmental Studies at Berkeley.

Well, maybe that’s unfair to Cheney. He had an excuse: the military and Secret Service insisted on protecting the chain of command in the face of uncertainty.

But Henry Gomez, Mike Murphy, Rob Stutzman, Jeff Randle, Mitch Zak, Jilian Hasner, Tucker Bounds and Sarah Pompei have no such excuse. Especially our friend Murph, who was paid a $1 million signing bonus (masquerading as an investment in his film company) and $60,000 a month, plus what else we’ll know when the final financial report is released.

“I don’t think we’re going to go,” Stutzman told the L.A. Times. “It’s self-indulgent, by self-important scholars and journalists. It is what it is.”

No, this is what it is: the logical extension of eMeg’s infamous statement to her housekeeper, Nicky Diaz: “You don’t know me and I don’t know you.” Chickenshit, dismissive arrogance.

Since its inception after the 1990 campaign, IGS “has brought together the state’s politicos after each gubernatorial election,” wrote Ethan Rarick in the preface to the book on the 2006 conference. “At the center of the conference are the consultants and staff members who ran the major campaigns, but the event also draws the state’s most involved and observant pollsters, political journalists and political scientists. For two days, the Berkeley campus becomes the center of the state’s political universe, a hotbed of debate and discussion about California and its voters.

“The sessions – open to the public and on the record – are videotaped, and the transcript is then edited into a readable and cohesive form. Published as a book, the conference proceedings serve as the principal historical record of California gubernatorial campaigns.”

Never before has a major campaign failed to represent itself at the conference. Moreover, the 2010 governor’s race – with eMeg’s unprecedented spending (we expect it’ll tilt the scales at $180 million, when all is said and done) – cries out to be studied, dissected, analyzed and understood.

Gov.-elect Jerry Brown’s team will be there. That will be worthwhile. But truth be told, Steve Glazer, Sterling Clifford, Anne Gust Brown, Jim Moore, Joe Trippi and Krusty the General himself, all were pretty damn accessible and transparent during the campaign. If you had a question about strategy, tactics, intentions, fundraising, polling, whatever, they held back very little.

Maybe they’ll come clean about who called Whitman a “whore” for trading pension benefits for the support of police groups. (Although we guessed it was Anne and tried unsuccessfully to get her to break the news to us.) But we don’t expect to hear a lot of insider details that will alter how we saw their campaign unfold.

Team Whitman, on the other hand, was the most self-important, impenetrable political death star we’ve ever encountered in California politics. And that includes the fact that at least one of your Calbuzzers was frozen out in 1998 by the Al Checchi campaign altogether after writing the (unchallenged) history of his (mis)management of Northwest Airlines.

“It’s amazing to me that somebody [Murphy] would do five minutes on a national television program [Meet the Press] but won’t go back and forth with the California political writers,” said Democrat Roger Salazar, who managed the independent committee California Working Families for Jerry Brown. “Not showing up at one of the most respected forums in California politics is cowardly. You’d think that $60,000 a month would buy you some guts.”

Gomez has no history in California politics. He was eMeg’s lapdog at eBay and was her No. 1 horse whisperer during the race. But Murphy, the longtime strategist who put presidential would-be Lamar Alexander in a Pendleton back in 1996, was the chief political professional in the Armies of eMeg – the only one who had private time with Whitman in the backstage green rooms at all three debates, for example.

He’s not talking about his reasons for not showing up. Which leaves Stutzman as the next most senior strategist to comment. “There’s a lot of things people are going to ask that we’re never going to disclose — and that are none of their business,” he told the S.F. Chronicle the other day.

In other words: fuck you, you fucking fucks.

The Team Whitman principals deny they have non-disclosure agreements that are keeping them from discussing the internal workings of the campaign (although their agreements could require them to deny they exist). Which suggests their refusal really is just about cowardice and arrogance.

Frankly, we don’t get it. It would be in Team Whitman’s interest to justify their decisions and defend their performance. Otherwise, the journalists, scholars and politicos will have to depend on Whitman’s opponents and neutral analysts to explain:

– Why the best they could do — with unprecedented campaign resources, a raging pro-Republican year and a retread 72-year-old opponent – was 10 points more than GOP registration.
– What were their strategic and tactical goals at various points throughout the campaign? How did they craft their messages? What data did they rely on?
– Who knew what and when about Nicky Diaz? What was their initial plan to deal with Whitman’s lack of a voting history? Why did they decide not to emphasize her family?
– How did they intend to overcome the Democratic registration advantage? What did they think Brown’s greatest weaknesses were? Why could they never sustain a message about the issues? What was the effect of the independent expenditure campaigns against Whitman during the summer?
– Who made the decision to shield Whitman from California political writers? What happened to their much-vaunted voter-targeting strategy? How much of their media experimentation was just a test run for future clients? How come they couldn’t help any other Republican candidates?

These are just a few of the questions Team eMeg won’t be answering anytime soon. But Rarick, who runs the program at IGS, is holding out hope that the Whitman campaign will be represented.

“We would be delighted if Ms. Whitman wants to attend personally. I was surprised to see Rob Stutzman quoted on the Chronicle’s blog to the effect that Ms. Whitman was not consulted on the decision to skip the conference,” he told us in an email. “I think it is incumbent upon us to make every possible effort to allow the Whitman campaign to defend itself, and thus although candidates do not normally participate directly in this conference, we have reached out this morning and invited Ms. Whitman to attend personally and participate on the panels. We’d be delighted if she would like to attend.”

As for Calbuzz, we’d still like to have dinner with Meg.

Calbuzz: The Next Generation – Plus Some Classics

Friday, November 26th, 2010

A world leader in innovative management techniques, team-based new product strategies and future-focused organizational learning, Calbuzz Corporate is all about best practices business operations.

Consistent with that philosophy, our Department of Succession Planning and Forced Geezer Retirements today introduces Braeden Max Vegter (left) Benson Parker James Guron (below), executive vice-presidents in training and the most recently born key players in our Calbuzz 2050 Plan.

As we hunker down at our annual corporate retreat for some intensive staff mentoring and coaching, here’s a holiday offering of a couple of Calbuzz Classics, some prescient posts from one year ago that forecast outcomes for some of the biggest political stories of 2010:

Why iCarly Lost the Senate Race: On November 27, 2009 we took an early look at Carly Fiorina’s GOP bid for Senator Barbara Boxer’s seat, and took note of what would become a chronic problem for her – hoof in mouth disease. We also reported a major bonehead play that ranked right up there with Meg Whitman’s refusal to accept our invitation to dinner and doomed the Fiorina candidacy from the start:

“Two old white guys left standing at the altar: So Carly Fiorina was scheduled to call Calbuzz for an interview Monday, but her handlers stiffed us at the last minute with a murky explanation about some supposedly late-breaking, double secret probation type emergency development thingie.

We were pleased to see, however, that iCarly was not so in distress that she bypassed a Beltway breakfast session with the crew of the conservative American Spectator.  Philip Klein’s post on the affair is well worth reading, if only for the challenge of trying to follow the rococo twists and turns of her extended riff on abortion rights.

On other issues, primary foe Chuck DeVore, R-Sirloin, jumped all over her statement that she would have voted for Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, while Mrs. Chuck tweeted exception to Fiorina’s comment that she’s a stronger GOP bet by virtue of not being “a white male.”

Asked why she is a better candidate than her Republican primary opponent Assemblyman Chuck DeVore (R-Calif.), Fiorina said that a woman stands a better chance of defeating Boxer.

“With all due respect and deep affection for white men – I’m married to one – but (Barbara Boxer) knows how to beat them. She’s done it over and over and over again.” Uh, really?

Among those who might take offense at her comment are:

1-The entire base of the California Republican Party.
2-Michelle Malkin, shrill harridan of the GOP’s Glenn Beck wing, who bashed
her
for an “identity-politics driven campaign.”
3- Matt Fong, the former state controller who lost to Boxer in 1998 and is decidedly not a white male.

To summarize: Hurricane Carly would have been better off calling us.”

Murphy enters the fray: On November 24, 2009, Calbuzz scooped the world by being the first to report that Big Foot Republican consultant Mike Murphy was joining the already crowded ranks of operatives in the Legions of eMeg:

“Mike Murphy, the blunt-spoken, sharp-tongued, smart aleck Republican strategist who has advised such clients as John McCain, Mitt Romney and Arnold Schwarzenegger, is joining Meg Whitman’s campaign for governor, two reliable sources told Calbuzz.

Whitman, who has already spent more than $20 milllion, decided to shake up her campaign on  Friday, Nov. 13, one source told us, and add  another layer to her consultant-rich organization.”

BTW: There’s a rumor afoot that Murph won’t be showing up to participate in the quadrennial deconstruction of the governor and senate races sponsored at Berkeley by the Institute of Governmental Studies, this time Jan. 21-22, 2011.

This event is a junkie’s delight, as top campaign operatives and pollsters shed light on how the campaigns looked from the inside.  Murphy’s non-appearance is just a rumor, at this point, as Ethan Rarick, the point man at IGS, says he can neither confirm or deny the buzz. Calbuzz strongly urges Murphy to NOT be the first major consultant to duck the important retrospective.

What it all meant: A day later, we examined what the hiring of Murphy was likely to mean strategically to Her Megness, taking a look at both the risks and opportunities of the big move. Things played out pretty much as we foresaw with one key exception: it appears that in the inside game, Murphy never gained the upper hand over longtime Whitman sycophant Henry Gomez, whose clout with the candidate, coupled with his utter ineptitude, likely spelled failure for the obscenely expensive campaign from the start:

“Despite their partisan differences, count Democratic consultant Garry South, the party’s Duke of Darkness, as one of Republican strategist Mike Murphy’s fans: ‘He’s a great guy – one of the funniest and smartest people I know in politics. He brings a centrist perspective that befits the political climate in California pretty well.’

But South – who was S.F. Mayor Gavin Newsom’s consultant in the governor’s race until the Prince dropped out last month – also warned that by bringing Murphy into her campaign, Meg Whitman runs the risk that afflicts most wealthy candidates in California (viz: Simon, Bill and Checchi, Al).

‘Having more consultants doesn’t necessarily mean a better campaign,” he added. “They put together these big campaigns but they don’t know who to listen to and there’s sometimes warring camps that take hold inside and give the candidates conflicting advice.’

As word spread, in the wake of our Tuesday post, that Whitman had brought Murphy into her campaign, insiders saw both opportunities and risks in the move, balancing the high-profile consultant’s talent for messaging and strategy against his take-no-prisoners style, which can be aimed both at his candidate’s rival – as well as his own rivals within the c

One Republican strategist who has worked with Murphy described his greatest value to Whitman this way: ‘He’s somebody with actual political experience and the stature to push back on the candidate and her non-political advisers when it’s necessary.’

While it appears that Whitman crony Henry Gomez, her former eBay colleague and closest adviser, was the one who reached out to Murphy, his presence in the campaign will also assure that ‘When Henry has an idea that’s dumb, there’s someone who can call him on it,’ the source said.

Like many business executives, Whitman has a low regard for political professionals, several sources said;  for this reason, she needs a strategist who is not intimidated by her, “someone who can get into her face and say ‘This is what we have to do,’” as one operative put it…

Murphy has a reputation for being disorganized, disheveled and sometimes difficult to get engaged. ‘“Organization is not his forte,’ said a former GOP colleague…

Murphy is said to have been genuinely impressed with Whitman’s leadership skills and – no doubt – her ability to pay whatever fee he’ll be charging for his strategic and message advice. ‘Fortunately, this is the type of campaign that has the luxury to keep adding talent,’ said one operative.”

Now that’s the understatement of 2009.

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