Monday, May 10, 2010


Pat Toomey: Conservative Hero

Is Pat Toomey too conservative for Pennsylvania?

This weekend in response to a post I made about possible Pennsylvania Senate match-ups Alan Reifman made that assertion "I think Toomey is too far to the right for Pennsylvania." When I saw Reifman's post, I was going to respond with something along the lines of "but Pennsylvanians elected Rick Santorum... twice." But before I did, I decided to contrast Santorum's and Toomey's DW-Nominate scores. These scores allow one to compare how conservative and how liberal a legislator on a -1 to 1 scale with higher positive scores indicating a more conservative record. What I found surprised me.

Using joint House and Senate scaling (to compare across chambers), we find that Pat Toomey (.718) had a considerably more conservative voting record than Rick Santorum (.349). To put that number into context, Lincoln Chafee (the ultimate liberal Republican and now independent) had a DW-Nominate score of .002. The ideological gap between Pat Toomey and Rick Santorum is slightly larger than the gap between Santorum and Chafee. You could argue that Toomey is to Santorum as Santorum was to Chafee.

Still, I wanted to get a better idea of how conservative Toomey voting record was. To do so, I pulled the DW-Nominate score of every United States legislator (House and Senate) since 1981 (see below for why I chose this cutoff). Toomey is further to the right than the GOP caucus as a whole as seen in the percentage histogram below. Indeed, of the 1,520 legislators to receive a DW-Nominate score for their career since 1981, Toomey ranked as the 24th most conservative.

Toomey ranked more conservative than 98.4% of all United States legislators since 1981. He had a more conservative voting record than J.D Hayworth, Jim DeMint, and even Jesse Helms. Toomey did have a more "liberal" voting record than Tom Coburn and Tom Tancredo.

To put it into prospective, Pat Toomey would most likely be the second most conservative Republican in the United States Senate, which would be quite an accomplishment considering Pennsylvania is a moderate state.

Note: The reason I use 1981 as the cutoff is because prior to the 1980's a legislator's liberal-conservative record was also highly correlated with a second dimension of DW-Nominate scores. Since 1981, however, the scores I use cover roughly both economic and social votes.

Friday, May 07, 2010


PA: Sestak Is Stronger in the General Election

Is Arlen Specter really a stronger general candidate Joe Sestak? It's an argument we've heard from Specter supporters. Unfortunately for Specter fans, I see limited evidence to support their claim.

A quick glance at the aggregates in a Specter vs. Republican Pat Toomey and Sestak vs. Toomey matchup shows that both candidates lose to Pat Toomey. Yes, it is true that Specter only trails by 6.9% (while Sestak trails by 9.1%), but the Sestak vs. Toomey matchup also has a larger pool of undecided voters. Thus, Sestak would have a greater opportunity to pick up voters and close any gap between Toomey and himself. Now you might say, but Specter could potentially pick up the undecided voters in a Specter vs. Toomey matchup. This scenario does not seem likely when we look at the favorability ratings of Specter among the general electorate.

In the last three polls (conducted in early April), more voters rated Specter unfavorably than favorably. In two of the polls, a majority of voters had an unfavorable view of Specter. It is very unlikely that Specter would be able to win under these conditions. On the other hand, Sestak had a higher net favorable than Specter in all polls and in none of the polls did a majority of voters grade Sestak unfavorably. To me, this illustrates that Sestak definitely has a better chance of picking up undecided voters than Specter to have a chance at beating Toomey in November.

Of course, Toomey is the favorite whomever he faces in the general election. He leads in both potential match-ups and has higher favorables than Specter and Sestak in all recent polls.


How IRV screws it up

To answer a question Patrick Ruffini has, here is how ranking a candidate lower in IRV can help them.

Let's say we have three candidates Reagan, Carter, and Anderson, and we have 17 voters.

Let's say, Patrick Ruffini prefers Reagan to Anderson to Carter. 7 other people also have this preference (which we'll call RAC).

Five people prefer Carter to Reagan to Anderson (which we'll call CRA).

Four people prefer Anderson to Carter to Reagan (which we'll call ACR).

To me these seem like possible legitimate breakdowns based on the dynamics of a given race (economic vs. social conservatives, economic vs. social liberals, etc.)

Under IRV, Mr. Anderson is eliminated in the first round because he has the least amount of first place votes. The four voters who ranked him first now transfer their votes to their second choice, Mr. Carter. Mr. Carter now has 9 votes and a majority. He wins 9 to 8 over Mr. Reagan.

But let's say, Mr. Ruffini sees what's going on... See, Ms. Soltis conducted a poll before the election and informed Mr. Ruffini that if they both switched from RAC to ACR (or ARC... doesn't matter), Mr. Anderson would have six first place votes.

Now, Reagan has six first round votes as does Anderson. Mr. Carter is now the candidate eliminated with only five first round votes. With Mr. Carter eliminated, his voters (who ranked CRA) votes are now distributed to their second choice candidate... Mr. Reagan.

Mr. Reagan now has 11 votes and a clear majority. He wins the election thanks to Mr. Ruffini and Ms. Soltis switching their votes.

Note, this happened in the 1990 Ireland election.

Monday, May 03, 2010


Specter/Sestak: Do the I(VR)s Have It?

Is Joe Sestak closing the gap between Arlen Specter and himself through television ads, or was the race always close?

About a month ago three polls conducted for the 2010 Pennsylvania Democratic Senatorial primary were released within a week of each other, and they all showed vastly different results. Quinnipiac had Specter leading Sestak by 21%, Susquehanna by 14%, and Rasmussen by 2%. This past Saturday I tweeted "IVR polling was much more accurate in 04 Rep primary with Specter v. Toomey... Does this mean Ras[mussen] is right?" The tweet spoke to something I noticed two weeks ago when referencing back to polling on the 2004 Republican Senatorial Primary in Pennsylvania. In that contest, then Republican Arlen Specter just escaped a strong challenge from now Republican nominee Pat Toomey. In the final month of that contest, automated phone polls conducted by SurveyUSA showed at times a much closer race than live interviewer polls done by Quinnipiac and Franklin and Marshall.

Three weeks to a month before the 2004 primary, Quinnipiac had Specter up by 15% and Franklin and Marshall by a nearly identical 13%, but SurveyUSA had him up by only 6%. Then 10 days before the primary, all the pollsters agreed that Toomey was only 5-6% behind. On the eve of the primary, Quinnipiac gave Specter a 6% lead, but SurveyUSA saw a 48-48% tie. On election day, Specter won by only 1.5%.

Today, as we stand two weeks before the 2010 Democratic Senatorial Primary, a new live-interviewer poll from Muhlenberg College paints a much closer race than previous live interviewer polls. Like the live interviewer polls taken around this point in 2004, Specter has a 6% lead over his opponent. This result is close to the Rasmussen poll released about three weeks ago.

Why was the automated phone polling right in 2004 and looks to be onto something in 2010? It could have to do with the tighter likely voter screen automated phone polling usually uses. Base voters (who would have favored a challenge from the right by Toomey in 2004 and Sestak in 2010) are the voters who are most likely to actually vote. It is the reason that both the Keystone and SurveyUSA polls found Toomey performing 5+% better 2004 when applying stricter voter screens. It should also be noted that base voters are also more firmly committed to their candidate, which even the Quinnipiac poll, that gave Specter a 21% lead over Sestak, showed.

The bottom line is I think this election is probably going to be a close one, and Specter better hope for a healthy turnout.

Sunday, May 02, 2010


Arkansas Democratic Primary Runoff?

It is no secret that I have believed that Bill Halter would be a strong challenger to Blanche Lincoln. Lincoln's weakness in general election match-ups combined with aggravating of the liberal base have left her vulnerable on two key fronts.

Now with the primary election only two weeks away and early voting starting in earnest, one question is will Lincoln survive? I do not know the answer to that question. The other query is will Lincoln receive the necessary 50%+1 to escape a runoff with Halter. I think the answer is increasingly no. Why?

Well, let's take a look at the trend seen in the only pollster (DKos/Research 2000) to poll the race consistently.

The overall trend shows that Lincoln has been pretty much stuck in the middle 40s and Halter slowly rising. However, the more interesting part of the graph is what happened with the other category. Right around the time conservative Democrat D.C. Morrison filed to run, the other category all of a sudden started polling in the mid to high single digits.

Normally, the rise of an otherwise unknown third candidate might be scoffed at as nothing more than poll respondents disgusted with negative attacks of the two major candidates going for the third name on the questionnaire. In the 2009 New Jersey gubernatorial election, Independent Chris Daggett did much better in the final aggregate of polling than on election day due most likely to such a phenomenon. The key difference here is that, if the poll is conducted correctly by the interviewers, Morrision's name was not even mentioned by the them ("If the Democratic Primary for U.S. Senate were held today, for whom would you vote for if the choices were between Bill Halter and Blanche Lincoln?"). It was the interviewee who without mentioning by the interviewer said some form of "other". That is people knew there was another candidate, and they were actually going to vote for him/her (not just threatening to vote for them). To me, the support for Morrison seems to be real.

Interestingly (but not surprising considering considering he's a conservative), Morrison's support seems to be among whites only.

When we break down the Kos polls by race, we also see that Halter's support among blacks is significantly higher than among the electorate at large. In fact, black voters have preferred Halter to Lincoln in the last few Kos polls. This lead has gotten larger with each successive poll. Why is this important? Blacks are pegged to make up less than than 20% of the Arkansas electorate, but they are also much more undecided at 30%. Of course, with a little less than 70 respondents in the Kos surveys, we should keep in mind that the black subgroup has a much larger margin of error. That said, because black support for Halter has risen in every poll, it seems to be indicative of a real trend. Why else would Barack Obama (who is NOT beloved in Arkansas, but has a 91% favorable rating among Arkansan blacks) and Bill Clinton (loved by Arkansan blacks) be cutting ads for Lincoln?

In the olden days, the fact that Lincoln is stuck in the mid 40's would mean she was not going to rise any further. Thus, Halter's rise and Lincoln fall would continue, and Halter would pick up the majority of remaining undecideds. Caution prevails though as such a trend did not occur in the Illinois Democratic Gubernatorial primary (and I was BURNED by it). Unfortunately for Lincoln, even if undecideds did not break as previous undecideds and instead voted as the rest of the electorate as a whole, Lincoln will just escape the runoff with about 50.5% of the vote.

Still, with Lincoln's support falling and being right on the edge of a runoff, I'm thinking a runoff is probable.

Note: Thanks to the Mark Blumenthal for polling advice.

Saturday, May 01, 2010


The No-Party Affiliation Primary aka Crist Fail

What primary is the Governor speaking of? The one he skipped out on? Of course as a dear friend said maybe Crist wants people to change their party registration for the "No Party Affiliation Primary"....

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