Polling for All Seasons, Tastes and Political Stripes

 If the blizzard of polls overwhelms you, one solution is to tune into FiveThirtyEight, which summarizes recent polls, aggregates multiple polls to see trends and covers a wide range of topics from politics to sports to culture.

If the blizzard of polls overwhelms you, one solution is to tune into FiveThirtyEight, which summarizes recent polls, aggregates multiple polls to see trends and covers a wide range of topics from politics to sports to culture.

Election season means leaves change color and political polls fall like rain. Keeping track of all the polls and making sense out of them is beyond the capability of most of us. Thank goodness for FiveThirtyEight. 

FiveThirtyEight, named after the number of electors in the US Electoral College, launched in 2008 as a polling aggregation site. The idea was and remains that looking collectively at polls is more useful than focusing on a single poll, which can be influenced by the skill and methodology of an individual pollster. The fivethirtyeight.com website was acquired last April by ABC News.

In a weekly roundup of polling, called Pollapalooza, the site reports on the “Poll of the Week” and provides a quick reference and links to a wide range of political polls. This week’s Pollapalozza blog centers on polling that FiveThirtyEight shows support for President Trump flagging while support for Robert Mueller’s Russian interference investigation rising. 

The blog started with findings from a CNN poll that shows 61 percent of respondents believe the Mueller investigation is serious and should continue, up 6 points from a month ago. Poll findings indicate 72 percent of respondents believe Trump should testify under oath (+4 points since June) and 47 percent think Trump should be impeached (+5 points since June).

The latest poll by Quinnipiac, which has a slight tilt toward the right, produced complementary results. Respondents by a 55-32 margin said the Mueller investigation is fair, up 4 points from a Quinnipiac poll conducted a month ago.

 FiveThirtyEight is the brainchild of  Nate Silver , who brings a statistician’s eye to everything from political races to baseball sabermetrics. He has steered his informative and sometimes provocative blog through transitions that included the New York Times, ESPN and now ABC News. His statistical approach to politics and other subject areas has drawn a large following and earned him the label of ‘disruptive’ of status quo thinking.

FiveThirtyEight is the brainchild of Nate Silver, who brings a statistician’s eye to everything from political races to baseball sabermetrics. He has steered his informative and sometimes provocative blog through transitions that included the New York Times, ESPN and now ABC News. His statistical approach to politics and other subject areas has drawn a large following and earned him the label of ‘disruptive’ of status quo thinking.

Numbers were different, but the margins were similar in a YouGov poll, which indicated respondents approved of the Mueller investigation by a 49 percent to 30 percent margin. 

If you tire of reading about the Russian investigation, Pollapalozza offers a guide to other recent research. For example: 

  • 58 percent of Americans want the senior Trump official who wrote an anonymous op-ed published by the New York Times to identify himself or herself. (CNN poll)

  • A plurality of respondents say it’s “not very important” or “not important at all” for a political candidate to have strong religious beliefs. (Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research)

  • “Two-thirds of Americans rely on social media to get at least some of their news, but more than half of those people expect the news on social medial to be largely inaccurate.” (Pew Research Center)

  • “Among Americans who lost trust in media, 7 in 10 say that trust can be restored.” (Gallup and Knight Foundation)

If politics isn’t your thing, the FiveThirtyEight website serves up the latest news in sports, science & health, economics and culture.

In the culture category, the site’s blog, called Significant Digits, reported the results from a Washington Post survey of 50 cities that found police departments with lower caseloads of homicides have higher arrest rates while the opposite is true for cities with higher caseloads. “Major police departments that are successful at making arrests in homicides generally assign detectives fewer than five cases annually,” according to survey findings as reported in the newspaper under the headline, “Buried under bodies.”

The sports section is peppered with stories such as why the NFL, reputedly a passing league, doesn’t throw enough passes or a piece pitting “old-school stats” versus “fancy-pants analytics” in Major League Baseball.

FiveThirtyEight is pretty much like having your cake and political polling, too. It is worth some clicks.

 

Chinese Retaliatory Tariffs ‘Shrewdly’ Designed to Hurt Rural America

 Axios has posted an interactive map that shows the localized effects of  Chinese retaliatory tariffs if President Trump acts on his threat to impose another $200 billion on tariffs on Chinese exports to the United States.

Axios has posted an interactive map that shows the localized effects of  Chinese retaliatory tariffs if President Trump acts on his threat to impose another $200 billion on tariffs on Chinese exports to the United States.

 

Axios.com has posted a story with an interactive map showing areas of the country destined to feel the greatest pain from retaliatory tariffs spurred by President Trump’s trade policies.

“Industries affected by the brinksmanship are mostly concentrated in rural, deeply red, already-struggling parts of the country, with political consequences for Trump and Republicans in 2018 and beyond,” according to the Axios analysis. 

The analysis drew on data from the Brookings Institution, US Chamber of Commerce, US Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Axios posted the map after a public comment period ended last week on Trump’s threat to quadruple tariffs on Chinese goods to $200 billion. China has said it will retaliate with $60 billion in tariffs on US exports.

“That's on top of 25 percent and 10 percent tariffs enacted, respectively, on steel and aluminum imports from Canada, China, Mexico and the European Union, and by those countries against the United States,” Axios reported.

US farmers, manufacturers and consumer groups have been bracing for the blowback. The Axios map helps to localize where the most severe impact could be felt. For example, it identifies six industries in Douglas County that would be affected by retaliatory tariffs, which is 95 times more concentrated impact than the the national average. The map identifies 35 affected industries in Clackamas County.

“Employment in rural and low-population counties can be exceptionally vulnerable to gyrations in the global economy,” Mark Muro, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, tells Axios. "In a small county, a single meatpacking establishment can provide hundreds of jobs and make up a large share of that county's total employment.”

Muro  and a colleague wrote a previous report anticipating the impact of retaliatory Chinese tariffs with this observation: “Trade diplomacy can often seem an international and faraway activity. However, when it comes down to specific lists of tariffs on particular products that Americans produce, from ginseng to airplanes, the high-level posturing of Washington and Beijing suddenly gets more real.”

He added: “Our top line estimates suggest while the total number of jobs potentially disrupted by an all-out trade war remains modest, the count encompasses a diverse and shrewdly chosen ‘hit list’ of hallmark American industries – one that appears well-calculated to scare both red and blue America.”

Trump has assured his supporters, especially in the Farm Belt, his take-no-prisoners approach to international trade can produce positive results for US workers, businesses and farmers. In response to immediate-term impacts on soybean growers and other farm interests, Trump proposed a one-time $4.2 billion subsidy. It has met with opposition and disappointment by congressional Republicans and recipients of the aid.

 

New Book Says Polls Provide Indications, Not Predictions

 Anthony Salvanto with CBS News has written a new book that explains what polling can and can’t do. It’s a good place to begin to become a savvy research consumer.

Anthony Salvanto with CBS News has written a new book that explains what polling can and can’t do. It’s a good place to begin to become a savvy research consumer.

Political polls give indications of voter attitudes, not predictions of election outcomes, says Anthony Salvanto in his new book, Where Did You Get This Number.

Salvanto, the director of elections and surveys for CBS News, says he wrote his book to explain how polling works after skepticism arose following the 2016 presidential election that polls suggested was a lock for Hillary Clinton. She did win the popular vote, but lost in states critical to a victory in the Electoral College. The polls were right and wrong at the same time.

In an interview on Face the Nation, Salvanto said he is often asked how national poll numbers are generated based on as few as 1,000 ten-minute telephone interviews. He explains representative samples can produce reliable results. Pollsters may not interview you, but they interview people like you.

A representative sample is just part of the best practices followed by professional pollsters. Clear, objective questions must be asked. Individual questions should test a single variable. Conclusions should be tempered by statistical validity. For example, a national poll with a 1,000-respondent sample may provide a valid national picture, but not a statistically valid picture of voters in Colorado.

Even the most scrupulous professional pollsters don’t always get the numbers exactly right. There often is a slight, but significant skew as a result of the specific methodology a pollster uses. For example,  failure to include a representative number of random sample calls to cell phone users could under-represent younger people, low-income families and minorities.

Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com argues it is more reliable to look at groups of polls through the lens of a probability model.  He claims analyzing a pool of polls and weighting each one by their history of accuracy can burp out a more accurate polling results. Even then, Salvanto would say, it is not a prediction, just a reflection in time.

Then there are the polls that aren’t really polls. Push-polls ask questions, less to get an answer and more to deliver a message, often a negative one, about a political opponent. Cheap robopolls get lower than average response rates, which can skew results. Because they are prohibited by law from calling cell phone users randomly, they have a built-in bias.

The bottom line: Purchasers need to be smart consumers of research. Before looking at results, look at the sample so you know whose views are represented in the results. Understand the methodology being used and the statistical confidence it will yield. Know the benefits and limitations of different types of research, and certainly between qualitative and quantitative research. Collaborate with a pollster on the questions that need to be asked and let him or her advise you how to ask them fairly so you get usable responses, not just what you want to hear.

Salvanto’s book may be the place to start on your journey to understanding polling’s potential and limitations.

 

Scrubbing Unintended Bias from Research Surveys

 Unintended bias can undermine survey research, rendering findings as unreliable. Best practices, starting with clear and objective questions, is the best way to ensure survey findings are useful and actionable.

Unintended bias can undermine survey research, rendering findings as unreliable. Best practices, starting with clear and objective questions, is the best way to ensure survey findings are useful and actionable.

“Bias is the mortal enemy of all surveys,” says SurveyMonkey. It turns out bias is a sly enemy that can sabotage meaningful research findings.

SurveyMonkey offers tips on how to “promote honest answers” from surveys, which all depend on the good intentions and sound practices of the survey creator.

“One of the leading causes of misleading survey data is researcher bias that comes directly from the survey writer,” according to SurveyMonkey. “This bias is sneaky. It’s caused by survey creators who innocently influence the results to reach an outcome they hope or expect to reach. It’s sneaky because survey creators are typically unaware it’s happening.”

Bias is reflected in the wording of questions. Just as attorneys are taught not to lead witnesses, researchers should avoid leading questions in surveys. This applies to all types of research from online surveys, telephone polls and stakeholder interviews.

 SurveyMonkey says unintended bias can be sneaky and sabotage research findings.

SurveyMonkey says unintended bias can be sneaky and sabotage research findings.

Unintended bias also can occur by asking the wrong or incomplete questions, SurveyMonkey says. If you ask respondents to name their favorite kind of pizza, then list a few options, you may skew the results by appearing to limit the range of choice. An open-ended question would be better that allows respondents to list their choice, whether it was pepperoni or pineapple.

Another survey flaw is interviewing the wrong people. An unrepresentative sample can generate findings that don’t reflect the views of the audience you are targeting.

Related to that is excluding a significant cohort from your sample. This can happen when surveys are conducted at times or places where some people can’t participate. For example, a telephone poll that relies only on randomly selected landline phone numbers is bound to underrepresent young people, minorities and lower-income households. A focus group only works for a random sample of people in the immediate area of where the focus group is held.

Bias can rear its head by misreading survey data. “Bias can come into play when a survey creator gets excited about a finding that meets their hypothesis, but overlooks that the survey result is only based on a handful of respondents,” SurveyMonkey says. A common mistake is trying to quantify findings from qualitative research such as focus groups or stakeholder interviews.

The key takeaway is that bias can creep into research at just about every phase of survey work. Tools such as SurveyMonkey make online surveys broadly available to anyone who wants answers. However, researching best practices are essential to ensure you get useful, actionable answers.

Best practices start with clear, objective questions and include a representative sample and a faithful reading of results.

“By remaining true to your survey’s purpose and having a firm understanding of the topics of your research,” SurveyMonkey says, “ you’ll be well on your way to eliminating researcher bias from your survey.”

 

Poll Shows Polarization Affects Brand, Media Views

 Recent polling reveals political polarization has spilled over into net brand favorability ratings, with sharply disparate views of everything from Trump Hotels to the NFL to Starbucks. Some of the most notable partisan differences are on media outlets.

Recent polling reveals political polarization has spilled over into net brand favorability ratings, with sharply disparate views of everything from Trump Hotels to the NFL to Starbucks. Some of the most notable partisan differences are on media outlets.

Voters in America are polarized and that polarization has spilled over onto brand favorability, according to Axios.

Brands such as the NFL, Starbucks, Chick-fil-A and Trump Hotels are viewed differently through a polarized lens. Some of the most disparate political favorability ratings attach to media companies.

“The only media outlets preferred by Republicans over Democrats are Fox, Fox Business and Breitbart,” Axios reported. “Most entertainment outlets listed, like Comedy Central, HBO and MTV, are much more widely favored by Democrats.”

The net brand favorability gaps between partisans are based on polling by Morning Consult of adults taken from last October through January 2018.

Not surprisingly, the largest gap is for Trump Hotels, with Democrats and Republicans split on their views by 80 percentage points. Democrats give Trump Hotels nearly a 50-point negative rating.

CNN has the second largest gap, with Republicans giving it a negative favorability rating of 15 percent while Democrats rate it favorably at more than 50 percent.

The gaps are significant, but it is equally interesting to note that only 11 of the 30 brands have any negative rating, and most of those are relatively minor.

For example, Starbucks, which has provoked conservative angst, enjoys a nearly 50 percent favorability rating by Democrats and a 25 percent rating by Republicans.  Cabelas, known for selling guns, has a better than 50 percent favorability rating by Republicans and around 30 percent by Democrats. Chick-fil-A, which has faced pushback from LBGTQ advocates, enjoys a Republican favorability rating around 60 percent and a Democratic favorability rating of 30 percent.

While there are stark differences of opinion about well known media brands, overall the ratings are favorable, even for Fox News. Republicans give it more than a 50 percent favorability rating, but Democrats are basically neutral on the network.  The New York Times, which is frequently targeted in Trump tweets, received a 50+ percent favorability rating from Democrats and a slightly positive rating from Republicans.

The biggest negative ratings from Democrats, in order, were for Trump Hotels (40+ percent), Breitbart (20+ percent), Halliburton (15 percent) and Koch Industries (10+ percent). The biggest negative ratings from Republicans, also in order, were for CNN (15 percent) and the NFL (12 percent). The Washington Post, HuffPost, MSNBC and BET had negative ratings of 5 percent or less from Republicans.

 

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Pew Poll Shows Split on Gene Editing Uses

 Improved gene-editing technology has intensified the debate over its appropriate use. A majority of Americans think it’s okay to eliminate a congenital disorder, but not okay to create a designer baby with higher intelligence.  (Illustration Credit: Jenna Luecke and David Steadman/University of Texas at Austin)

Improved gene-editing technology has intensified the debate over its appropriate use. A majority of Americans think it’s okay to eliminate a congenital disorder, but not okay to create a designer baby with higher intelligence. (Illustration Credit: Jenna Luecke and David Steadman/University of Texas at Austin)

Technology can work wonders. It also can generate mind-numbing questions, which is the case for gene editing.

According to a new Pew Research survey, a majority of Americans support gene editing to eliminate serious congenital illnesses before birth, but have serious reservations about using the technology to “make a child more intelligent.”

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The prospect of designer babies has been a topic of debate for decades. Now the possibility is closer to reality because of improved gene-splicing capability. Pew notes that its previous surveys reflect a similar ambivalence to gene-editing technology that turns on its intended use.

The debate over gene editing ranges from medical to ethical policy considerations. It has religious and political overtones as well. Pew says “highly religious Americans” are more likely to view gene editing as “taking medical technology too far.” An even broader concern shows up in polling over the use of embryonic testing to perfect gene editing technology.

There also are differences of opinion between men and women. Pew says men are more apt than women to view gene editing for babies as appropriate. Not surprisingly, people with higher levels of science knowledge tend to regard gene editing as appropriate.

Supporters and skeptics share a common perspective that negative effects of gene editing, such as unintended health impacts, will eclipse positive effects. The exception are people with science backgrounds who have more faith in positive effects. Atheists see more positive effects as likely, too.