Polling is deficient / Reporting suffers / Politics starves / People drop out

UPDATE, August 1, 2008: The CNN poll of July 27-29 places Cynthia McKinney was at 1%. http://www.pollingreport.com/wh08gen.htm.  Scroll down to “CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll. July 27-29, 2008. N=914 registered voters nationwide.”  McKinney’s responses were not mentioned in the AP article.

In 2008 there will be six Presidential candidates on sufficient ballots to win the election: Chuck Baldwin, Bob Barr, John McCain, Cynthia McKinney, Ralph Nader and Barak Obama.

Getting on the ballot is much more difficult than most people realize. While Democrats and Republicans are automatically on the ballot in many states, other parties must devote a disproportionate amount of resources to signature gathering and defending against specious legal challenges from the enormously better resourced largest parties.

The Democrats and Republicans are so strong that many reporters who deign to mention the other parties do so only as an indistinguished protest vote.

Despite this year’s passel of notable candidates from the Greens and Libertarians, the polling firms like Rasmussen typically restricts its polling to Republicans and Democrats. the last word on their website is a 2004 non-explanation of why they were then excluding Nader:

First, it is not at all clear how many state ballots will include Nader this fall. If he is not on the ballot, he is not likely to be much of a factor.

Second, if the national election stays close, Ralph Nader will not attract the 5% to 7% level of support found in several recent polls. Given the experience of four years ago, many potential Nader supporters will ultimately decide to cast their vote for John Kerry.

In Rasmussen’s website banner you will see rolling quotes from respectable person praising the accuracy of Rassmusen Reports. Its not clear whether Nader was included in the 2000 polling, when most people will insist that he was a factor. Rasmussen’s 2000 polls are not archived online. The firms failure to include Nader in 2004 only appears to be accurate in hindsight, since there was no replay of the Florida situation. It’s too early to say whether or not the 2008 reporting is accurate or not. Rasmussen and the other polling firms are not counting voters according to politics, but only by their presence at the two party horse race.

AP reports the July 30, 2008 CNN poll:

“Obama leads McCain by 46 percent to 42 percent when third-party candidates are included, with Ralph Nader getting 6 percent and Bob Barr, a former GOP congressman from Georgia running for president as a Libertarian, getting 3 percent.”

So when including Barr and Nader, the margin of 4% between Obama and McCain is very slightly larger than the polls 3% margin of error.

It is unusual to find candidates other Democrats or Republicans covered in any poll.

CNN doesn’t report the full result of their own poll. Instead, the relevant article only mentions the two candidate contest, in which “Obama holds a 51-44 percent edge over McCain” and submits these figures to a kind of handicap analysis. CNN stirs the pot by reporting that “Obama’s trip, McCain’s ads have had no major effect on race so far.” That’s a 7% lead for Obama and a very different race, but not as accurate, nor as interesting as the more complete number.

CNN’s reporting on its own poll is inaccurate because it glosses over the preferences of the electorate. Whether or not Nader or Barr will receive exactly 6 or 3 % of the vote in November, they presence of four qualified candidates in a majority of states is going to effect to outcome of the election. The evident support that minor party candidates have tells you that the voters have some ideas that cannot be expressed in the terms of a horserace. These ideas must help them determine what they are looking for in a candidate. I’d bet you that most McCain and Obama voters have such ideas, or ideology, as well. Its hard to tell just what people are about and how they relate their own experiences to politics, because discussion is always framed as a choice between two candidates, not what motivates the choice.

CNN’s reportage is uninteresting because it doesn’t examine the reasons why voters are supporting a particular candidate. In order to do an analysis of who is supporting who and why, you have to look at what the specific interests and how it impacts their choice. Recent polls have shown that 57 %of the general public 59% of doctors now support national health care. Many of them support Obama believing that he will bring national health care into existence. Some of these national health care supporters hope only for an expansion of coverage. Obama’s health care plan does not institute national health care. There is an argument that Clinton’s similar plan would actually cover more people. Both Democrats relied on expanding employer-provided health insurance and private plan administration of some new public program to cover the uninsured. The preservation of private corporate bureaucracy in the administration of a public program means systemic denial of care for the sake of the HMO’s profits. Millions who have had to plow through the obstinate denials of private insurance would prefer a single payer plan that controls cost and does not permit denial of care. Thus, it seems likely that a percentage of professed Obama voters who favor national health insurance made their endorsement based on the logic of a horserace, and not of their own interests.

It would be interesting to know why this was so. its likely that spokespeople from groups like Physicians for a National Health Program could appear in debates with supporters of Obama and McCain’s plans. The PNHP doesn’t even support McKinney or Nader specifically though all have similar healthcare proposals.

If you want even a cursory treatment of the differences between more than two of the six presidential candidates, you have to dig. Given how difficult it is even to get basic information on the actual positions of the candidates, voters cannot know where they stand in the political process. I know I’m dreaming when I expect a little analysis on the cable news for example. I don’t expect voluntary change in course from corporations delivering the news. Horserace coverage of politics must be the easiest and cheapest news produced, or else there wouldn’t be so much of it. I do expect that the sheer sameness of it will induce enough boredom to eventually kill the pedigreed talking head shows.

Two other polls released in the last couple of days reveal interesting information about dissatisfaction of the U.S. electorate with status quo politics. I’m lumping these two polls together because they indicate a high level of general dissatisfaction with politics in general, not just the political choices commonly presented.

Zogby asked respondents whether “the United States’ system is broken and cannot be fixed by traditional two-party politics and elections”.

44% agreed. Somewhat more surprisingly, the poll also found that 23% of the respondents agreed that states should have the right to secede. In South Carolina, I expect that, but this was a national poll.

The Hart/Newhouse NBC/WSJ poll conducted July 18-21asked registered voters: “if the next election for president were held today, and John McCain were the Republican candidate, Barack Obama were the Democratic candidate, Bob Barr were the Libertarian candidate, and Ralph Nader were an independent candidate, for whom would you vote?”:

John McCain …35
Barack Obama … 48
Bob Barr …2
Ralph Nader …5
Depends (VOLUNTEER) …1
Neither/other (VOLUNTEER) … 3
Not sure … 6

For decades, voter participation in U.S. elections has declined. The big uptick that came in 1992 coincides with the Ross Perot campaign.

Presidential polls should include Cynthia McKinney as the Green candidate and Chuck Baldwin as the Constitution candidate because they, like Baldwin, Barr, McKinney and Nader will all be on the ballot in a majority of the states. The Green and Libertarian parties are enjoying local successes and attracting politicians with national profiles. These campaigns are operating like dissident movements in a one-party state and doing it successfully.

Some links:

Opendebates.org has been working in recent election cycles to open up the national presidential debates to candidates of all parties on the ballot in a majority of states.

This site, is either an betting site or a aggregate of polling information provided as a public service or an off-shore betting outfit. But it does offer some returns for any candidates mentioned in a broad number of polls.


Posted on July 31, 2008, in Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. There is no me. I do not exist. There used to be a me but I had it surgically removed.PeterSellersPeter Sellers

  2. That’s a good point? What is up with that comment?

    I’ve received a couple comments like the one above, which appear to be some kind of spam-bait. The originating IP address belongs to Network Solutions. The linked blog “congresscheck.com” is an automatically generated fake.

    Surveillance Bill | bjdw@spamgourmet.com | congresscheck.com/tag/surveillance-bill | IP:

    These artificial blogs and postings have gotten less random in the last few months, but are still inhuman. They now merely seem to be incomprehensively joking. I reckon that somebody is perfecting the script now so that this time next year, the internet will be overwhelmed with fake blogs engaged in viral marketing.

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