Friday, February 28, 2014

Newest Michigan Senate and Governor Poll Provides A Great Lesson On Identifying Outliers

Photo courtesy of A.P.

One of the brightest spots for Republicans in the 2014 midterm cycle thus far has been the unexpected competitiveness of the Michigan Governor's and Senate race. Not so long ago, incumbent Republican Governor Rick Snyder's job approval ratings were in the doldrums, as Democrat Gary Peters enjoyed a near-year long polling advantage over Republican Terry Land in the battle for retiring legend Carl Levin's senate seat. To boot, Barack Obama had just won Michigan, Romney's home-state, by ten points, while incumbent Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow went on to topple her Republican challenger by 20 points. In other words, things just didn't look as feasible for Republicans as they do today in Michigan before the last few months.

But after several months and several polls, Democrats were finally thrown a bone from a new Democratic polling group called Clarity Campaigns. Yes, the website that had twitter ensnared yesterday in a clever name-game/political profile also released a survey that flies in the face of the most recent Michigan gubernatorial and senatorial polls that show the pair of Republicans with small to comfortable statewide leads. Clarity, on the other hand, finds both gubernatorial challenger Mark Schauer (D) and senate hopeful Gary Peters (D) with comfortable leads over Gov. Snyder (R) and Terry Land (R). Consider the chart below:

Only the last 3 Michigan Sen/Gov surveys with readily available crosstabs were used in this comparison.

As you can see, with regards to the 2014 Michigan Governor's race, it's as if Clarity and Epic/Harper/PPP are polling in two different universes. Of the twelve measurements considered across four demographic groups, Democratic challenger Mark Schauer leads Gov. Rick Snyder in all but two. The opposite is true for Epic-MRA, Harper Polling, and PPP. Epic-MRA finds Rick Snyder leading Mark Schauer in EIGHT of the TWELVE measurements examined. Harper finds him leading in TEN of TWELVE measurements, PPP finds Snyder leading in six of eleven measurements.

 There's a net 20-pt difference between Clarity's finding among men and the average of PPP, Harper, and Epic's finding. Among women, there's a 15-pt difference. Among white voters there's a 21-pt net difference, among black voters it's 26 points, and among Hispanics and everyone else, it's 21 points. Among young voters, there's a 34 point difference, while among older voters, there's a 19 point difference. Among Democrats, there's a 16 point difference, among Republicans a 6 point difference, and finally, among Independent voters, a 29 pt difference.

So looking at the toplines and the crosstabs, you'd almost have to assume that Clarity Campaign Polling surveyed an entirely different race than Epic-MRA, Harper, or PPP. Even more amazing, the widely disparate findings of the new Democratic polling firm, as compared with other pollsters, rears its head again in their Michigan Senate survey, though to a slightly lesser extent:

Like the Michigan Governor's race above, Clarity finds Democratic Senate candidate, Rep. Gary Peters, leading his likely GOP opponent Terry Lynn Land in EIGHT different measurements across four demographic groups. Neither Epic-MRA, Harper Polling, or PPP found him this strong. In fact, there was a net 15 point difference in their findings of support for Rep. Peters and Terry Land among men. Among women, there's a 9 point difference. Among whites, a 17 point difference. Among blacks, a 13 point difference...and the pattern continues.

In the polling world, folks can get defensive when numbers are released that challenge their preconceived notions of where the race currently stands, or should stand. And cries of "outlier" are often misplaced. But I'd posit that given what we've seen in this race over the last fourth months, Clarity Campaigns has produced, for now, just that in outlier. Of course, that could all change tomorrow with a new poll...

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