Dissecting the Methodology Behind New Gubernatorial Polls

Scott Lay
Publisher of The Nooner

The John Cox for Governor campaign and its supporters are excited about a new poll from Thomas Partners Strategies/Optimus. The poll, conducted for iHeartMedia, KFI-AM and KNBC finds Gavin Newsom at 45.2% and John Cox (R) at 41.1% among likely voters. It further has Cox with a lead among 35.2%-48.3% among likely No Party Preference voters.

For lieutenant governor, the poll finds Ed Hernandez (D) with 18% and Eleni Kounalakis 13.9%. 66% of the voters in the sample are undecided. In the insurance commissioner race, it finds Steve Poizner with 33.5%, Ricardo Lara (D) with 26.7%, and 39.8% undecided.

On the gas tax repeal, it has “yes” with 43.6% and “no” at 26.6%.

Okay, how do we square this with the Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted for the University of Virginia Center on Politics released earlier this week, which had Newsom at 52% and Cox at 41% (both with leaners)?

Methodology. I’ll give both to you and you can decide.

UVA – Reuters/Ipsos: n=1,021 self-proclaimed likely voters; 09/09-09/14/2018; online from pre-selected panel; weighted to likely voter pool; credibility interval +/- 3.5% (crosstabs provided)

Thomson Partners: n=1,040 likely voters (voted in 2010 or 2014 midterms or in the 2016 primaries) “plus 15% additional most

likely to turnout in the 2018 general based on in-house turnout score modeling”; 09/14-09/16; interactive voice response; landline only; MOE +/- 3.5% (no crosstabs available)

Both methodologies have problems, but it’s not a criticism per se of the conduct of such polls but rather the state of polling today. The woeful response to telephone calls is the biggest part. Many of us don’t have landlines, and few of us answer unknown phone numbers. Further, many of us have a phone number (me included) that doesn’t match that on our voter registration. The concept of re-registering just to correct that seems silly.

That means that–even with auto-dialing for live interviews–the length of time to conduct interviews is far longer, meaning it’s far costlier. Meanwhile, the media outlets that used to pay for the respected Field Poll have consolidated and have shrunken budgets.

In California, language is another issue. From the methodology statements of both of the above polls, it appears they were conducted only in English. I don’t need to tell you the challenge with that. Ballots are available in multiple languages, but does a Spanish-speaking voter who hears “insurance commissioner” translate that to “comisario de seguros” on an automated phone call? I have a decent amount of Spanish knowledge, but yes, I had to Google Translate that.

The best is generally considered to be Public Policy Institute of California, although the space is limited on questions on races. Nevertheless, the foundation-funded surveys are conducted by live calls to landlines and cells in English and Spanish. They, however, rely on random-digit dialing, which some criticized. That said, determining “likely” voters for November 6 by those who voted in 2010 or 2014 without including new voters overlooks some of the most motivated voters.

Berkeley’s Institute of Government Studies and LAT/USC Dornsife are also respected independent polls.

My point is that both polls this week have flaws, and I will continue to discuss them as additional polls come out.

Meanwhile, both gubernatorial campaigns have a reason to make the race seem close at this point (as do all campaigns). Underdogs need fundraising to continue and to motivate volunteers and staff. Leaders need to avoid voters from becoming complacent both for themselves and would-be down-ballot allies they hope to pull along.

I’m guessing the governor’s race is really over 10 points, and that’s nothing against John Cox. The last three non-incumbent elections were decided R+3.47 (Wilson-R v. Feinstein-D), D+19.6 (Davis-D v. Lungren-R), and D+12.9 (Brown v. Whitman). I skip recall/Schwarzenegger as everyone would agree that the dynamics of 2003 recall/2006 “re-elect” were just strange, and I don’t know where you call it a non-incumbent election.

That averages 9.68% among three non-incumbent elections. Since the last non-incumbent election (2010), Democratic registration as a share as the total has declined 0.13% and the Republican share has declined 5.73% (equivalent 15-day pre-primary report). Both parties are losing to NPP, and that is increasing now with motor voter. But, I’m just giving you the numbers of what you already know.

The problem for Cox is that this is not an issues election. There are no videos of “illegals” running across the border. Affirmative action isn’t an issue. In the below cited CA25 poll, in a +6.7% Trump district, the President’s approval is -7% and one of his top issues (reducing legal immigration and funding for the border wall) is -14%. And, that’s what should be a Likely Republican district, whereas California is a Likely Democrat state–from the numbers.

This is a party turnout election and Cox needs two things to move the race below 10+ digits–complacency of Democrats and an overwhelming share of NPP+ voters to get anywhere near the low-single digits. That’s just the numbers, which as you know I like to look at. To woo NPP+ voters, who, all things being equal, will likely split on the normal D/R share, there has to be a set of issues.

I’m just an independent writer who on your behalf consumes a firehose of email, tweets, and television ads. If I, a true policy wonk before political geek, can’t identify an issue, neither will be my less-engaged friends and family. They will vote party.

The plan had been to ride the gas tax repeal to victory. While there is little public polling so far, the non-affiliated polling I’ve seen shows Prop. 6 going down by double digits. Those polls were conducted before the $30+ million campaign opposing Prop. 6 had really started. (The “no” campaign had collected $28.9m as of yesterday).

Any candidate in a competitive district needs to be very wary of attaching themselves to the gas tax repeal campaign, as, like it or not, it is likely to be very unpopular after the upcoming ad barrage of crumbling bridges (I’m guessing we’ll be seeing Highway 1 a lot) and other transportation issues.

I want competitive campaigns as it is in my interest—from governor through the races to ballot measures, but I also share challenges and opportunities I see from The Nooner’s Global Headquarters.

(UPDATE: The Cox poll number was corrected. Originally put at 35.9% it has been corrected to 41.1%)

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