Another R2K Smoking Gun: Bargain Basement Pricing

In my previous post on Kos and Research 2000 I noted how weird it was that Kos could afford to commission dozens of campaign polls given that by (his own admission) he runs a low seven-figure operation and the polls are likely far from his main traffic driver -- though I'm sure they don't hurt eyeballs-wise.  

I put this question to a pollster, who said R2K's claimed methodology and the likely cost of doing such polls legitimately raised immediate red flags. The pollster pointed me to this massive, 2000-person survey limited to Republicans back from January, commenting thusly: 

Take, for instance, their large January 2010 survey aimed at proving Republicans were all kooks.  They did a sample of about 2000 Republicans - a totally absurd sample size, most pollsters wouldn't in good conscience have a client pursue a survey of that size unless they had microtargeting aims and really needed a lot of subsample detail.  Unless you really, really want a big sample for the smaller cells (say, you want 100 interviews from female Hispanic Republicans age 18-34) there's no reason to do a survey of that size.  1000 interviews will do for a national. Sometimes we go up to 1250 with our bigger clients who really need that level of detail on a few key subsamples.  The difference in margin of error from 1000 (+/- 3.1%) and 2000 (about +/- 2%) is not a huge deal, not worth spending 2x as much on a poll.

Now, even weirder, it is just of Republicans, AND it wasn't done from a listed sample.  When you want to do a survey of, say, primary voters in a statewide, a listed/voter file sample is a totally acceptable practice because the alternative is unbelievably costly.  Think about it - not only did they call 2000 people, but they randomly dialed people, and turned away anyone who didn't identify as a Republican.  This will crush your incidence rate (meaning the number of folks who pick up the phone who are eligible to take the survey) and send costs through the roof.  We're talking at least tripling the costs.  

A survey of the length of that January 2010 survey, about 25 short-ish questions, plus a handful of demographics, is probably about a 10 minute questionnaire (I'm just eyeballing it and assuming an introductory statement and guessing on the # of demos asked, I could be off by a few minutes).  Fielding a 10 minute questionnaire to 1000 registered voters is going to run you in the $25-30 range.  Fielding a 10 minute questionnaire to 2000 voters? Probably 45-55.  But with the crazy drop in incidence caused by the Republican screener?  That survey could not have been done for less than six figures.  Period.  

Remember now that Research 2000 never claimed to be a robo-polling outfit. They claimed they did live interviews. And most polls are of likely voters, not registered voters. More screening means more cost. As far as what R2K claimed was its methodology, we're pretty much talking the Cadillac in terms of what the polls should cost. 

So, the question is did Kos really pay high five-figures, or low-six figures, for a single poll to drive eyeballs to one or two blog posts to prove Republicans are nuts? Huh?

I'm guessing no. I'm guessing R2K sold it to him for far less, say $10,000? And anyone with a rudimentary understanding of polling would have known you can't do a poll like this for that amount of money. So the question now is what this says about what Kos should have known about this. Is he so rich he can drop 100K on a single poll to drive a single day's news cycle -- something not even the major networks would do? Is he simply gullible? Or was he negligent in not checking out what what I can only guess were R2K's absurd price quotes compared to live operator pollsters? 

It wasn't just (relatively) deep-pocketed new media sources like Daily Kos who were spending money on Research 2000 polls. R2K did polling for state-level liberal blogs like Blue Mass Group in the run up to the Massachusetts special election. On January 14, R2K produced a poll showing Coakley with an 8-point lead (while other polls were showing Brown pulling ahead), and in touting the "good" news, Blue Mass Group proudly noted that "Research 2000 does live interviews, unlike robo-pollsters Rasmussen and PPP." My polling source had this response: 

A simple ballot test and a handful of demographics wouldn't be very long.  But even if that was only a 4 minute survey, you're still talking at least at least 6-8 grand for the raw interviewing costs without any additional markup. 

Did a Massachusetts progressive blog pay more than $6,000 for a top-of-the-line survey when maybe a half dozen other pollsters were polling the race by that point? Really? This begs the question of what Blue Mass Group really paid. And what did Kos really pay? And if the numbers are within what seems like their modest budgets (by mainstream media standards), it should have raised red flags if they did any shopping around for other pollsters. 

The Kos-R2K Affair

Daily Kos has sued Research 2000, its former pollster, for fraud. On the surface, the allegations seem a lot like the case Nate Silver made against Strategic Vision. In essence, when you're making up the numbers, odd biases and consistencies tend to creep in. You tend to favor certain numbers over others. The crosstabs, even on ridiculously small sub-samples, look too "clean." The report detailing the allegations is here

The one R2K poll on a race that I was working that now seems to make perfect "sense" in light of this new information is the poll of the California Senate race two and a half weeks before the primary that showed Tom Campbell building a 15 point lead in the GOP primary while polling on adjacent field dates showed Carly Fiorina building a 20 point lead. I recall thinking that if there had genuinely been 35 points of movement in 48 hours (absent some major cataclysmic event, which there hadn't been), that'd be virtually unprecedented in the history of polling. If one were to make up a poll lead, a 15 point Campbell lead made sense if one looked at the past movement in the polls, but not in terms of what was actually happening on the ground at that point. It all makes a lot more sense now. 

A lot of folks are trying to point to the root causes of this seeming debacle (including slamming robo-polls, which I think is off-base given the accuracy of outfits like SurveyUSA and PPP) but it will be interesting to see what the coming lawsuit(s) reveal about the relationship between Daily Kos and R2K. R2K was around prior to Daily Kos, and my vague recollection is that there was nothing out of line about its polling prior to its Kos contract. I could be wrong, but their polls seemed to play it up the middle. When an R2K poll came out in a previous election year, I didn't automatically assume a Democratic skew like I would a CBS/New York Times poll or a Newsweek poll. Yet the moment they signed up with Kos, all their results seemed to skew towards Obama and Congressional Democrats, starting with their 2008 Presidential tracking poll. Their 2010 polling was if anything worse, skewing several points toward Democratic Senate candidates, though their numbers in primaries seemed right, at least until the end when they disintegrated upon close contact with actual results. 

At some point when I raised this previously, it was mentioned that R2K was simply assuming a turnout model closer to Obama 2008. If so, who would be pushing them to do that? R2K? Or Kos?

Did Markos tell R2K to produce fraudulent polls showing Democrats up? Clearly not. Could R2K have simply been too eager to please their client, producing skewed results and making stuff up to boot? That seems more likely. Either way, R2K's newfound pro-Democratic skew had the effect of skewing the polling averages in a way that even Strategic Vision (which performed "better" on 538's Pollster Ratings) didn't. 

Another question to me is the volume of polling that R2K produced for Kos. I have a hard time finding a pollster who was this prolific for an individual client as R2K was for Kos. SurveyUSA has been equally if not more prolific in past cycles -- though not so much this one -- but their clients are different all over the country, usually local TV affiliates. Likewise, pollsters like PPP (D), another highly regarded automated polling operation, will release polling as a promotional vehicle for themselves -- and will potentially pay for it by picking up political clients, or selling questions on a survey otherwise deemed for public release. 

The bottom line is that polling, even automated polling, is expensive, and especially at the volumes R2K and Kos were doing. It's hard for me to believe that Kos's polling bills wouldn't have run into the deep six figures, which seems like an awfully big chunk of his $1 million (give or take) in revenue. I'm not the expert here, but it seems to me that more deep-pocketed media organizations haven't commissioned nearly this much polling (national networks release like, what, once a month?). Perhaps the unit cost was getting to be too low, and R2K's margins were getting squeezed by their arrangement with Kos, so they simply made it up. Either way, the damage to the credibility of the polling industry and the polling's effect on conventional wisdom, was fait accompli. 

UPDATE: Research 2000 claimed they did live interviews, and were not robo-polling. Live interviews are naturally more expensive. Which means they must have pitched Kos on a ridiculously low cost per poll. Was this not in itself a red flag?

Where you get 47% matters

I saw this tweet fromJim Pethokoukis and thought it was relevant to campaign planners in 2010.

Gallup has Obama at 47 percent. Tough week 

Now who else do we know received 47% support?

Democrats around the country running for the US House and state legislature seats ought to think long and hard about the implications of Obama job approval settling below 50%. Because the present profile of President Obama's support is far from uniform; it is strongly centered among African Americans and urban liberals.

Let's look at how Martha Coakley's support was distributed across Massachusetts.

Her 47% statewide showing was somewhat deceptive as it was propped up by receiving 78% of the vote in just one Congressional District--the 8th District centered in downtown Boston and Cambridge.  Her next best performance was 53.76% in the 7th District, where she resides. It appears she narrowly won the 1st District in far western MA. That's it. (I think Brown scratched out a win in Barney Frank's 4th District due to his close finish in Fall River)

She lost 5 of the 10 House districts in MA by 14 points or worse.  This would clearly have been a drag on downballot candidates had it occurred in a general election. 

Applying an Obama 47% job approval the same way and one can see that nationally he's likely to be a significant drag  in a large number of downballot races around the country.

The argument that liberals and urban dwellers fail to turn out in sufficient numbers--raised by the Coakley camp--is little solace. Perhaps another 50,000 voters in the 8th District would have put Coakley within hailing distance. But the vast swatches of suburban real estate in MA would have still been dark Brown.

In a statewide race an insane plurality in one county or congressional district can be decisive. In a local election, the fact the party is crushing the opposition somewhere else does you no good.   

I don't know if causing the rubble to bounce will work for the Democrats. I am , however, pretty confident that a campaign effort focused on base mobilization means they are already writing off plenty of House seats in "red" districts.  

NJ-GOV: GOP Christie up 6 over Dem incumbent Corzine

 This is one that we need to pay attention to. Republican Chris Christie is up 6, 42-36, over incumbent Democratic Governor Jon Corzine.

Save Jersey pulls the real highlights:

On the day Chris Christie officially kicks off his campaign for Governor, his campaign is boosted by news of a poll that shows him as the strongest challenger to Governor Jon Corzine. While neither candidate breaks 50% in the ballot test, Corzine is carrying a 50% disapproval rating. Even further, 54% of New Jerseyans say that Corzine does NOT deserve a second term. Christie leads Corzine among independent voters 49%-24% (a margin that would ensure victories in Bergen and Middlesex). 

 Jim Geraghty has more at the Campaign Spot.

Looking for Obama Republicans

Here's to hoping that a few election cycles from now, pundits are on TV predicting the turnout of "Obama Republicans" the same way in which they discussed "Reagan Democrats" this year.
As many of you know, the phrase "Reagan Democrat" refers to those voters who consider themselves Democrats, and usually vote that way, but in 1980 and/or '84, they voted for Ronald Reagan.

Right now, there's no way to know for sure if first-time voters, disaffected Republicans and others will vote for the Grand Old Party in the future, but I wonder if we can work backwards.  I wonder if we can get them to vote Republican in the future and MAKE them "Obama Republicans."  And being a former Luntzian, I can't help but wonder if we can just communicate to these swing groups better.

Here's my take on two groups of potential "Obama Republicans"...

Traditional Blank is Dead

As I write, we don't know the victor of most elections across the country, but there is one thing we know for sure about Election 2008: traditional ________ is dead.

Here are 10 items that could be filled in the blank:

1. Polling
2. Fundraising
3. Media
4. Announcing for Office
5. Advertising
6. Debates
7. Voter ID
8. Get-Out-the-Vote
9. Campaign Structures
10. Candidates

Enough said.

Forget George Will, Colin Powell & Peggy Noonan, think Yogi Berra (Poll Vault!)

" It ain't over 'til it's over " http://www.yogiberra.com/yogi-isms.html

48-47 for McCain   [Kathryn Jean Lopez]

The latest Zogby, via Drudge. This is still competitive. Thank goodness



What If?

There has been a lot of talk about the potential impact of the Bradley Effect on this year's election.  On top of that, I just read a short but nonetheless interesting article in which Father Jonathan Morris, a Fox News contributor, argues why this election is going to be close.  All of this discussion got me thinking:  what if the unexpected happens?  What if going into Election Day, Barack Obama maintains a lead in all of the polls, and state polling indicates he's going to win an electoral college landslide (as it does currently)?  And what if, as the polls begin to close on Election Day, all the major media networks' exit polls show Obama trouncing McCain, resulting in the networks calling the race early for Obama?  But what if when the results come in, something astonishing happens: John McCain, in one hell of a nailbiter, edges out Senator Obama and becomes the next President of the United States?

History and anecdotal evidence suggest that this situation, as improbable as it may be, is certainly not out of the question.  But how would the country – particularly Democrats and Obama supporters, including the mainstream media – react?

I'm not entirely sure what the answer is, but after what we witnessed with the Florida fiasco in 2000, I think that this scenario is a troubling one.  It also is one for which we should be prepared.

Aaron Marks is President of Three Group, LLC, a Pittsburgh-based new media firm that focuses on providing technology-based solutions for Republican candidates and organizations, and in particular has built Web 2.0 campaign management software called Mission Control.  Aaron also worked in new media and voter outreach on Senator Rick Santorum's 2006 re-election campaign.

Investors diss Obama

I know Warren Buffett is backing Obama, but based on this chart, he seems to be in the minority, as every perceived Obama electoral success yields negative results on Wall Street


H/T Club for Growth


Will the next Republican House caucus be anti-bailout

Democracy Corps, a project of James Carville and Stan Greenberg, notes that House Republican incumbents helped themselves -- at least in terms of keeping their jobs -- with the bailout vote:

Most of these incumbents initially voted against the Wall Street bailout, which was less popular in these incumbent districts than in the open seat races.[3] So it is possible that these incumbents have marginally improved their standing by opposing the bailout.This possibility is supported by the fact that in the incumbent districts Democrats are only even on who would do a better job with the economy and trail by 2 points on who would best handle the financial crisis (whereas they lead by 5 and 4 points on those issues respectively in the open seats).

So if the Republcians in targetted seats who are most likely to win re-election voted against the bailout, it seems likely that one of the "lessons of the 2008 election" could be that the GOP shouldn't abandon its core principles on the bailout. This could have a real impact on the future of the caucus.

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