There Is No Hidden Democratic Vote

Noting that IVR polls (polls conducted via an automatic computer voice over the telephone) in Tennessee have been consistently more favorable to Harold Ford than have polls conducted with an actual human asking the questions over the phone, Mickey Kaus wonders if there is a new, hidden type of Democratic voter in this election:
A robopoll, Instap. notes, is supposed to minimize this Political Correctness Error because fewer people will embarrassed in front of a machine. A machine isn't going to call them "racist."

But then why the difference in the polls? Maybe a new and different kind of PC error is at work--call it Red State Solidarity Error. Voters in Tennessee don't want to admit in front of their conservative, patriotic fellow citizens that they've lost confidence in Bush and the GOPs in the middle of a war on terror and that they're going to vote for the black Democrat. They're embarrassed to tell it to a human pollster. But talking to a robot--or voting by secret ballot--is a different story. A machine isn't going to call them "weak." ...

If Red State Solidarity Error exists, it means Dems might do a bit better than the non-robo polls indicate--not just in Tennessee, but in other states where the dominant culture is proudly conservative. ... Intrigued by this possibility via a diary by MyDD user Tom, I went and checked out the differences between regular phone polls and IVR polls over the last month in other "red states" with competitive Senate races this year:
  • Arizona: The last two IVR polls show an average lead of 49-41 for Kyl, exactly the same as his average lead in phone polls.

  • Missouri: The theory holds here, with Democrat McCaskill up 46.7%--45.0% in the last three IVR polls, but down 46.3%--44.7% in the last three phone polls. However, that could also be explained by the phone polls generally being older, since McCaskill has had a bit of mo' recently.

  • Montana: Democrat Jon Tester leads by an average of 51%-43% in the last two IVR polls, and by 47.5%--42.5% in the last two phone polls. That is a difference of 3%, so, the theory seems to hold in Montana. Then again, as with Missouri, the difference could be chalked up to the older phone poll being less favorable to Tester, who has been pushing outward lately.

  • Ohio: The last two IVR polls in Ohio have down Democrat Sherrod Brown ahead by an average of 50.5%--41.5%. That is a pretty striking lead, especially since the last three phone polls have only shown Brown ahead by an average of 47.0%--42.7%. the difference is doubled.

  • Virginia: The last two phone polls in this race have shown Republican Allen leading Jim Webb by an average of 44.5%--42.5%. However, the last five IVR polls have shown an average Allen lead of 49.2%--43.8%. Allen actually leads more in the IVR polls than he leads in the phone polls. Maybe that is because it has become so embarrassing to tell an actual person these days that you support George Allen.
So, the theory does not hold in Arizona at all. In Missouri and Montana it holds, but could be chalked up to other factors, such as the time the polls were taken. It holds in Ohio and Tennessee, but in Virginia, it is reversed.

I don't think that there is enough evidence here to conclude that there is a hidden Democratic vote in Tennessee and other red states, where conservative voters don't want to admit in public that they have at least temporarily given up on Republicans. The differences between the polls just is not large enough--it could simply be random sampling error at play. As Mystery Pollster notes: First, let's talk about random sampling error. If we assume that all of the polls in Tennessee used the same mode of interview (they did not), that they were based on random samples of potential voters (the Internet polls were not), that they had very high rates response and coverage (none did), that they defined likely voters in exactly the same way (hardly), that they all asked the vote question in an identical way (close, but not quite) and that the preferences of voters have not changed over the course of the campaign (no again), then the results for the various polls should vary randomly like a bell curve. Mystery Pollster goes on to note that the polls in Tennessee kind of look like a bell curve anyway. All in all, it seems very unlikely that there is a "hidden" Democratic vote out there in red states. It seems far more likely that Harold Ford and Bob Corker are in a very close race. In 2006, we would be unwise to hang our hats on unsubstantiated theories regarding a possible boost to the Democratic vote.

Tags: polls, Senate 2006 (all tags)



Re: There Is No Hidden Democratic Vote

Virginia could be reversed because... maybe voters don't want to admit to a person that they're planning to vote for a man who's been accused of being a racist?

Sorry... it is kind of an interesting theory, but nothing to hang your hat on.  I'm tired of the talk, though, that a black Democrat can't win a Senate seat in the South.  Maybe it says something that a candidate with so many problems (Corker) is in a statistical dead heat, but whatever.

by Tom 2006-10-04 02:08PM | 0 recs
I think it's the other way around

I think people know, in the hearts, in the name of all that is good and decent, they should vote for the Democrats.

But, they get in the polling place where their wives and mothers can't see them and the say to themselves, fuck equality, fuck the environment, fuck the poor, fuck education, and fuck the wounded soldiers in Iraq. I want lower taxes.

And so there's a hidden Republican vote. They know they shouldn't, but the devil makes them do it.

by stevehigh 2006-10-04 02:43PM | 0 recs
Re: There Is No Hidden Democratic Vote

Are the two different types of polls within each other's margin of error?

Looking at Missouri, for example, I would guess that McCaskill getting 46.7% in one set of polls and 44.7% in another set means the results agree because of the margin of error, even though it's enough for her to poll either ahead or behind.  In either type of poll the race is close and turnout and GOTV will be the key, whoever the poll says is marginally ahead.

Anyway, interesting theory, but sounds like apophenia.

by SteveWFP 2006-10-04 03:12PM | 0 recs
there's another problem with the notion...

They're embarrassed to tell it to a human pollster. But talking to a robot--or voting by secret ballot--is a different story. A machine isn't going to call them "weak."

Kaus treats his dubious assertion as if it were simply axiomatic. As for the numbers, they actually seem to suggest that there is a sort of Southern Solidarity thing going on -- Missouri and Tennessee, smaller effect in Montana, but a reverse effect in Virginia, where voters have been smacked accross the face by racism and southernism, and they don't like it -- maybe the real live person just makes them stop and actually think about the question a bit more?

There's just no evidence to suggest that subjects are hiding their true, Dem-curious feelings from phone pollsters, rather than simply venting shallow and fleeting frustrations with their own party.

by msnook 2006-10-04 03:35PM | 0 recs
Bell Curve?

Nuh nuh nuh...

The game the Rove-DeLay-Stevens machine wants to play is oblierating the swing voter and to make you be either for them or against them in toto. The RNC doesn't waste its time in Rhode Island trying to convince Lincoln Chafee to vote for President Bush. Instead it's all about reminding the trampled white underclass that the Democrats are the party of niggers, Jews, queers, Catholics and the like who will utterly destroy your way of life if you ever so much as think of voting for them.

Now...the Democrats continue to think there is a big "middle" of voters hiding somewhere just waiting to turn blue. But while there are independents, the Democrats lose elections by in large because they don't do what the Republicans do...surpress turnout of the other side.

I don't advocate true voter supression tactics, but as far as the Lakoffian "framing" argument ... the Dems routinely think they can "evangelize" conservatives to the social justice Gospel.

In other words, the Kaus hypothesis would make sense but for the reality that the sampling techniques used 40 years ago to get a broad brush of the electorate are now obsolete. The way Democrats win in this environment is to nail potential Republican "saviors" to the cross and convince their followers they are dead and no longer important.

Turnout, as Rove would tell you, is a zero-sum game not a bell curve. If the Dems use that logic, and wisely discard it in other areas of their strategy, they may have a much easier road ahead.

by risenmessiah 2006-10-04 03:49PM | 0 recs
Re: There Is No Hidden Democratic Vote

My thought on this is that the difference is at least partly indicative of the level of interest/passion on the different sides. If a robot calls you up and wants to talk politics, lots of people are going to just hang up on it. However, you will almost certainly be less likely to hang up on it if you're feeling interested or excited about politics. If you're feeling frustrated, grouchy, or disenchanted with politics, you're probably more likely to just hang up.

If this is the case, it may provide an additional layer of "likely voter" assessment.

by Elakazal 2006-10-04 04:57PM | 0 recs
I'm sure that....

...there's a few people this holds true for. But there's a few people that ANYTHING holds true for. Nothing to it but more putrid Kausification for now.

by MNPundit 2006-10-04 06:17PM | 0 recs
by estebban 2006-12-26 12:06AM | 0 recs


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