November 23, 2006

The number, not the trend

Quico says: OK, enough with the phone-based tracking polls. What are real field surveys saying?

Below is a selection of recently published results from reasonably recognized firms - no fly-by-night CEPS/Survey Fasts here.

Click to expand

Of course, each of these polls uses a different methodology, sampling procedure and likely-voter estimation. They cover different geographical areas and treat the "won't respond" group differently. This is not a time-series. Results aren't comparable to one another, so there's no use looking for trends; it's the absolute numbers that are interesting.

One thing I find interesting is that there's a much wider spread between Rosales's high and low numbers (from 24 to 48) than between Chavez's (45-58). But then, that Rosales 48% comes from Keller, which was not really a voting intentions survey - so if you overlook that one, Rosales's best showings are in the low 40s - PSB and C21.

November 21, 2006

Once more, with gusto...

Quico says: Sigh. Nothing takes the sheen off of a juicy leak quite like seeing the leakee interviewed at length the next day on ND. In this detailed interview, Hinterlaces big cheese and talking head in chief Oscar Schemel goes into much more detail about his polling than I could go into yesterday. It's in Spanish, and too long to translate, but well worth reading if you are able.

Two things I noted. There are some strange mismatches between Hinterlaces's data as Schemel talks about it and Hinterlaces's data as ND publishes it. Schemel says, if anything, the undecided group is growing, but the ND reported tracking poll shows the opposite. Schemel describes Chavez's trend line as falling ever so slowly and Rosales' growing ever so slowly, but ND shows Chavez steady and Rosales rising. I guess this has much to do with the treatment of the "won't respond" cohort, but still it's puzzling.

Secondly, with characteristic single-mindedness (but also with the focus group data to back it) Schemel insists that Rosales is not winning over key independent voters. He resists the interpretation that Undecideds and No Contestans are almost all Rosales voters.

Why? Schemel mentions something I fear is at the heart of the problem: the emotional dimension. Voting for a challenger has to feel right. You have to look the guy in the face and feel like you know what makes him tick, feel comfortable with his presence, feel that he understands you and your problems, just trust him instinctively. Rosales just doesn't seem to be connecting with NiNi guts strongly enough to bring them out to vote for him. If that doesn't change in the next two weeks, it's possible that the Undecideds will "break" in favor of abstention - a disaster for the opposition.

So, it's still uphill, and time is desperately short now.

November 20, 2006

Blessed are the leakers...

...for they bring us the juicy polling reports that don't show up in the newspapers.

Quico says: Well, a pajarito put a copy of Hinterlaces's advice to the Rosales Campaign in my inbox. To his credit, Schemel doesn't quite buy the spin Noticiero Digital is putting on his polling. His basic message? Chavez can't seem to get over 50%, but Rosales is not managing to win over Ni-Nis. The upshot? One out of every four votes is still up for grabs.

Schemel's straightforward enough to just report what his poll shows: a bit less than half the people he's polling say they will vote for Chavez, roundabout 30% say they will vote for Rosales, just under 10% say they know who they'll vote for but won't tell a pollster, and something like 15% still haven't made up their minds.

Much speculation surrounds the 10% or so who "won't respond." Much of the dispersion in the polls we're seeing in the papers seems to arise from different ways of treating these "no contesta" folk. Pollsters who lump them together with "undecideds" show Chavez leading by a lot, pollsters who lump them together with Rosales's total show Chavez leading by a little. That's the long and the short of it.

Schemel figures most of them will break for Rosales, which seems like a reasonable supposition. But how many precisely? Nobody really knows how to estimate this - and unlike ND, he doesn't try.

Then there's the 15% undecided. Conventional wisdom is that most undecideds end up backing the challenger - it's called the Incumbent Rule, and it doesn't always hold. Here's how US Democratic polling guru Mark Blumenthal explains the dynamic:
The basic idea is that voters make their decisions differently in races involving an incumbent. When newcomers vie to fill an open office, voters tend to compare and contrast the candidates' qualifications, issues positions and personal characteristics in a relatively straightforward way. Elections featuring an incumbent, on the other hand, are as Molyneux puts it, "fundamentally a referendum on the incumbent." Voters will first grapple with the record of the incumbent. Only if they decide to "fire" the incumbent do they begin to evaluate whether the challenger is an acceptable alternative.

Voters typically know incumbents well and have strong opinions about their performance. Challengers are less familiar and invariably fall short on straightforward comparisons of experience. Some voters find themselves conflicted -- dissatisfied with the incumbent yet also wary of the challenger -- and may carry that uncertainty through the final days of the campaign and sometimes right into the voting booth. Among the perpetually conflicted, the attitudes about the incumbent are usually more predictive of these conflicted voters' final decision than their lingering doubts about the challenger. Thus, in the campaign's last hours, we tend to see "undecided" voters "break" for the challenger.

That's the theory. Does it have any empirical support?

In 1989, Nick Panagakis, president of Market Shares Corporation (the firm that polls for the Chicago Tribune) analyzed results from 155 surveys, most from the late 1980s, all conducted during the last week before an election. In a famous article in The Polling Report, Panagakis found that in 82% of the cases, the undecideds "broke" mostly to the challenger.
Who are the undecideds in Venezuela right now? Schemel says they are disproportionately young and female. They are open to persuasion, and worried about the classics - street crime and economic issues (unemployment, poverty, etc.) but also disunity, and what he calls "the breakdown in values."

At this late stage in the game, Rosales has yet to convince them that Chavez is responsible for the problems they have on these issues, or that he can do better. The key thing here is to differentiate Rosales's approach from Chavez's in voters' minds, to make it clear to them how their values differ and how those different values would translate to different ways of governing. Schemel thinks these differentiations are still kind of fuzzy in the minds of many undecideds: Rosales's job is to sharpen them.

The other trend Schemel notes is a genuine gap between the enthusiasm on the Rosales side and the apathy in the Chavez camp. This suggests to him the race could come down to turnout, and depressing chavista turnout could be the key. Alongside the damage Chavez does to his own side's turnout every time his proposals turn hyper-radical, allegations of corruption really demotivate his followers. Expect to see more of them - not so much as a way of winning over new voters, but as a way of keeping chavistas at home on election day.

In the end, not that much has changed. Rosales has consolidated the traditional oppo vote, but he still has to pretty much run the table on the remaining up-for-grabs votes. Assuming the "won't respond" folk really are all planning to vote for him, he has to win over 2 out of every 3 undecideds in the next two weeks, while trying to keep his supporters enthusiastic and Chavez's demobilized. That's hard, but not impossible. The guy has a fortnight to close the deal.

Addendum: It may be that the report this post is based on is dated - the darn thing didn't have a date on it. However, now that ND is publishing Hinterlaces's raw data every day, I can post updated 3-day moving averages of the underlying data. The latest slide shows undecideds are dwindling - down to just 6% - and it's Rosales who's reaping the gains:

This is still data from a phone poll, which probably undercounts very poor, phoneless people who tend to go for Chavez. But, again, it's the trend, not the number...

November 19, 2006

The Other Election

Quico says: Well, just days to go before the vote, and you can almost feel the tension rising here. From coolly bored, Dutch voters have ramped their energy levels all the way up to civic-mindedly engaged ahead of Wednesday's General Election. By Tuesday evening, some pundits predict the mood could escalate all the way up to mildly but earnestly curious about the result. Heady days, my friends, heady days...

On the streets of Maastricht, electioneering occurs in such jaw-droppingly polite style you have to pinch yourself. A few lawn signs. Some very mild-mannered ads on TV and the radio, and then this, the Parties' Fair - held in front of City Hall for the last week or so before th vote.

Basically, all the main parties set up these little stalls, and voters get to walk past, picking up campaign leaflets and just generally shopping around for the party offering the best goodies. Party workers with little partisan knick-knacks in hand stand ready and eager to answer questions about their policies. The whole scene is ridiculously civilized.

Prime Minister and Harry Potter-lookalike J.P. Balkenende and his painstakingly moderate Christian Democrats are hoping to get re-elected. There's something almost comical about the extent of the "right's" moderation here. In trying to established his right-wing bona fides, for instance, the CDA major of Maastricht is proposing an ordinance to move all the cannabis cafes to the edge of the city, away from downtown. Really.

While nobody could question the CDA's almost-dreary moderation, the same cannot be said of their coalition partners, the "right-wing liberal" VVD, which gets more and more right-wing and less and less liberal by the hour.

The campaign was been spiced up considerably by a last-minute ploy by the VVD immigration minister to ban muslim face coverings in public places, which is the sort of thing that passes for an outrageous dirty trick in Dutch politics. All flippancy aside, though, it is fairly upsetting to see how the VVD has been building its campaign platform mostly around immigrant-baiting (which, around here, consists mostly of muslim-bashing.)

Actually, the whole campaign is being run on traditionally right-wing themes. Even the Labour Party (PvdA) is feeling the pressure. Alongside traditional leftie messages like "Invest in Clean Energy" and "Better schools and more university research," they've adopted "Safer Streets and Neighborhoods" as one of their main slogans.

I guess this is what voters in overrun-by-immigrants Amsterdam and in Rotterdamistan demand, but in lily-white Maastricht, where the foreignest people you usually meet are Belgians, it all feels oddly out of place.

The PvdA's middle-class friendly shtick is somewhat undermined by the fact that, if they win, they'd have to strike up a coalition with the paleo-leftie, rojo, rojito Socialist Party (SP - higher taxes for all!) and the groovy-hippie-sandalista GreenLeft (GroenLinks - subsidized cannabis for all!)

Frankly, there was something inspiring about the way the Parties' Fair works. Everyone from the far-right to the far-left lined up neatly in a row, in a shared public space, talking to voters in calm, even tones about their ideas and projects. Only to a Venezuelan could a scene so aggressively bland have seemed so positively exhilarating.

The PvdA sandwich-board man told me that when they're done for the day, all the volunteers clean up the square together and a lot of them adjourn to a near-by pub, where they spend a few hours drinking beer and talking politics. I asked him how these drinking sessions usually go.

"Does anyone accuse each other of being George W. Bush's bitch? Do the SP guys call the VVD guys enemies of the people?! or neototalitarian fascistoids?!" He just laughed at me. "No, no, c'mon." Then he paused for a second and added, "though, well, I admit the other night I did get fairly upset when the CDA guys called our pension proposals unrealistic."

These Dutch people are bloody weird.