Undecideds Crucial To Volatility of PA Polls

Zogby, who has had some conspicuously bad polls this primary season (who can forget California?), which have arguably contributed to inflated expectations for Obama (which in turn have benefited Clinton) is back with a new poll out of Pennsylvania (601 LVs, April 15-16, MOE +/- 4.1%), showing Clinton ahead by just 1 point over Obama, 45-44. While many will be tempted to call this an outlier, it's becoming more and more difficult to dismiss the suggestion that this race is close to a statistical tie when, as Josh Marshall observes, four of the most recent polls have the two within single digits:

...Clinton's lead at 1 (Zogby), -3 (PPP), 6 (Franklin and Marshall) and 5 (LAT/Blooomberg).

Further evidence that Clinton's attacking Obama may be worse for her than Obama's original comments have been for him, Obama gained 3 points in the latest Zogby and 6 points in the latest PPP poll, the latter showing Obama once again with a lead in the state, a controversial position to be sure. PPP's blog explains their confidence in their numbers despite the fact that they've been the only outfit showing him with a lead, a fact that has gotten them a lot of abuse from readers:

One reason I have faith in our numbers is that in six out of seven Democratic polls so far we've underestimated Obama's performance. The only place where we said he would do better than he ended up doing was Ohio where we said he would lose by 9 and he ended up losing by 10. So I feel a lot more comfortable as the outlier showing Obama doing better than everyone else than I would if it was the other way around.

But Mark Blumenthal suggests the variation between results from Zogby and PPP and, say, Survey USA where Clinton is still up by 14, is a function of undecideds. Generally, the higher the percentge of respondents who either don't know or prefer someone other than Clinton and Obama the better Obama does (Zogby: 12, PPP: 13), the fewer, the better Clinton does (SUSA: 6, Rasmussen: 9.)

The most likely explanation is that uncertain voters consider Clinton a safer choice and tend to opt for her rather than Obama when pushed. Obama has long been perceived by Democrats as the candidate best able to bring change to Washington, but Democrats also agree that Clinton has more experience. The combination of the Wright and "bitter" controversies surrounding Obama may be giving some voters pause, and the strategy of the Clinton campaign appears directed at maximizing that sense of uncertainty. This pattern creates the possibility that the bulk of the remaining undecided voters may "break" to Clinton between now and primary day.

Which is probably to say that Obama supporters would be well-advised to tamp down their enthusiasm at the suggestion of an Obama upset, since as we've seen in other Clinton country states from California to Texas and Ohio, those undecideds do indeed tend to break for Clinton toward the end.

But something else we've seen this primary season is that 5 days is an eternity and we're likely to have plenty more shifts to come (PPP will have a final poll out Monday.) This is even more true after last night's debate. Certainly, if the last several polls were categorized by whether or not they were in the field before or after "bitter gate" broke, the next few polls will be measured pre- and post-debate. While in the past, Obama has seemed to solidify support when under attack (it's no accident that Clinton has stopped using "out of touch" and "elitist" herself on the stump) I wonder if the same will occur this time. Many have found Obama's reaction to the gotcha questions in the debate last night to be defensive and inadequate, whereas his responses to the Wright controversy and "bitter-gate" were the very definition of grace under fire. But those are pundits. I suspect pollsters will be tripping over themselves to be the first to release a post-debate poll tomorrow and we'll have a better idea of how the folks that actually matter, the Pennsylvania voters, reacted to Obama's performance last night.

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Live From The National Constitution Center

I've made it here to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia for tonight's debate. I'm in the media filing room and, well, I have to say this is the lamest filing room I've been to. We're basically in a cafeteria sitting in those middle school cafeteria seat/table combo things. The food is good though (not cafeteria-like at all.)

Outside, crowds of the candidates' supporters are gathered on each street corner with signage, cars passing by honking their support. Unlike every other debate or event I've been to, there's way more Hillary Clinton visibility here, which is surprising since we are in Philly, which is Obama country.

The debate will air live on ABC on the east coast at 8pm EDT. Apparently, it's tape delayed on the west coast so it airs in prime time there as well, which is also limiting the amount of coverage other networks can give the debate.

From TV Decoder:

According to the usage guidelines circulated by ABC, other news organizations are only allowed to excerpt half a minute from the broadcast.

That means choosing only one 30-second clip to use on television and the Web between 11 p.m. Wednesday and 5 a.m. Thursday. [...]

"We have an obligation to our West Coast affiliates to not make chunks of the debate available until their viewers have had a chance to see them," an ABC spokesman said.

I guess what this means is that the debate won't be streaming live, which is all very lame (I'll double check that.)

Oh, and by the way, I've been here for 30 minutes or so and we've seen at least 6 presidential ads, 4 Obama ads, 2 Clinton. I don't envy you Pennsylvanians right about now.

Update [2008-4-16 19:40:40 by Todd Beeton]:OK, I solved the mystery of the lame media filing room. Turns out I was in the satellite filing room, the main one is much cooler. In my defense, the signage is confusing. T-miunus 20 minutes.

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A Clinton Win in Pennsylvania Might Not Yield Many Net Delegates

With the spate of new polling out of Pennsylvania released today and yesterday, both the Pollster.com trend estimate and the Real Clear Politics average now show Hillary Clinton leading Barack Obama, by 7.0 points and 8.6 points, respectively. Assuming for a moment that this lead doesn't budge too much in either direction and Clinton is able to carry the Keystone state a week from now, what will be the overall effect on the state of the race for 2,024 delegates? CQ's Greg Giroux and Jonathan Allen say not much.

How many delegates might each candidate win in Pennsylvania, which is the most populous of the states and territories that have yet to vote?

That answer will be mainly determined not by the sum of the votes Clinton and Obama win in Pennsylvania, but rather by the state's parts. Pennsylvania will send 187 Democratic delegates to the party's national convention in Denver this August, and most of them -- 103 to be exact -- will be allocated according to the votes the candidates receive in each of the state's 19 congressional districts.

And a CQ Politics analysis of the political circumstances in Pennsylvania's congressional districts, detailed below, projects an edge to Clinton -- but by just 53 district-level delegates to 50 for Obama under the Democratic Party's proportional distribution rules.

These numbers suggest that Clinton, even with a victory in Pennsylvania, would make only a small incremental gain against Obama's overall lead in the delegate race.

Of the state's remaining 84 slots, only 55 pledged delegates will be distributed based on the statewide popular vote, with the state's remaining 29 seats going to unpledged "superdelegates."

You can click through the link above to get a district-by-district breakdown, but the long and the short of it is that one can generally estimate how many delegates each candidate will receive in most congressional districts due to proportional allocation, the number of delegates in each district, and general demographics. For instance, in districts that have five delegates, a 70 percent supermajority is required for the winner to take home a 4-to-1 delegate win rather than a 3-to-2 delegate win. The breakdowns in other districts are similar.

This isn't an exact science, it's estimation. What's more, as mentioned in the article above, about a third of the state's pledged delegates are apportioned in relation to the statewide, rather than district-by-district, vote. So Clinton might be able to score some extra delegates on that end, bumping up her net gain from three to significantly more than that. However, with a 164 pledged delegate deficit and an overall 136 delegate deficit, merely netting 10 or even 20 or 30 delegates out of Pennsylvania -- particularly when North Carolina is beginning to look like a rout in favor of Obama (and thus another big delegate pick up) -- is just not going to be enough to get Clinton much closer to earning the nomination.

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Dueling Pennsylvania Ads

Taking a look at the candidates' schedules, it's looking like, at least right now, the candidates aren't due to hold any events in the Philadelphia area in the time frame surrounding tomorrow's Philly-based debate (which I'll be liveblogging from the debate media room.) Michelle is in Indiana today and Barack is in NC tomorrow. Bill and Chelsea are in PA today but it's unclear what's happening on Thursday. One suspects that the weekend through election day will likely find the candidates back in the area, but in the meantime, they're going to have to rely on surrogates and ads on the air. Here are the two latest ads from Clinton and Obama that are up right now on the "bitter" controversy. I think Clinton's is smart because it uses real (presumably) Pennsylvanians, so it's not she who's uttering the "out of touch" attacks directly. Obama's is a strong response in that it hits Clinton's tactics and promises deliverance from politics of division/as usual, etc., which seems to be working for him. On message alone, it seems to me Obama wins since calling Obama out of touch doesn't track with a larger narrative, while accusing Clinton of being the poster child for "politics as usual" does, one that she reinforces time and time again.

What do you guys think?

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Quinnipiac: PA Race Is Steady; Rasmussen: Clinton Gaining

bumped - Todd

Contrary to ARG's poll released yesterday, which showed a 20 point swing toward Clinton in just a week in Pennsylvania, the new Quinnipiac University poll shows the race holding steady at a 6 point Clinton lead.

CandidateApril 9-13April 3-6

You'll note that the poll went into the field before Obama's comments got widespread coverage, but Quinnipiac's conclusion was that:

There was no noticeable shift in the matchup in polling April 12 - 13, following widespread media reports on Sen. Obama's 'bitter' comments.

That's not to say there wasn't some movement, it's just that it was somewhat of a tug o war, with Clinton gaining ground in the Philadelphia suburbs and Obama making gains among African-Americans and men. Most of Clinton's good news in the poll, though, is simply having "halted the erosion" of support among her core constituencies, especially women and white voters. Here's a rundown of how various demographic groups polled this week versus last:

  • White voters for Clinton 57 - 37 percent, compared to 56 - 38 percent last week;
  • Black voters back Obama 86 - 8 percent, compared to 75 - 17 percent;
  • Women back Clinton 54 - 40 percent, unchanged from 54 - 41 percent last week;
  • Men are for Obama 51 - 43 percent, compared to a 48 - 44 percent tie last week;

On the other hand, Rasmussen Reports poll, which was in the field yesterday, shows Clinton actually widening her lead over Senator Obama by 5 points in just a week.

CandidateApril 14April 7

Rasmussen doesn't conclude whether Clinton's increase was directly due to coverage of Obama's comments, but they did poll people's attitudes about the comments and the results certainly suggest that they may have had an impact.

In Pennsylvania, 75% of Likely Primary Voters have heard of the remarks. Thirty-five percent (35%) agree and 51% disagree. Fifty-nine percent (59%) of Obama supporters agree with the comments while 25% disagree. Among Clinton supporters, 73% disagree.

Thirty-seven percent (37%) say that the comments reflect an elitist view of small town America. Forty-eight percent (48%) disagree. Most Clinton voters (57%) believe Obama's comments reflect an elitist view while Obama voters overwhelmingly reject that notion.

My suspicion is that the truth is somewhere in between, but the fact is, even before the current controversy, Clinton was re-asserting herself in the state. Of course, what we've learned this primary season is that 1 week is an eternity, so if Obama's comments did hurt him in the state, he certainly has plenty of time to reverse it.

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