Monday, March 19, 2012

Has New Jersey’s Gender Gap Really Closed?

Cross-posted at PolitickerNJ

An article in the Star-Ledger today reports on a poll that gives President Barack Obama and Governor Chris Christie the same job approval rating among New Jersey women. This would be big news if true. But I’m not so sure I buy it.

The poll, only conducted among New Jersey women voters, reports that 59% approve of Obama and 57% approve of Christie. The article claims, “The poll confirms a recent trend for Christie who has, for months, been closing the gender gap. In October, a Monmouth University/NJ Press Media poll found women approved of the governor 53 percent to 40 percent.”

One problem with that statement is that since today's poll only surveyed women, there is no way to assess whether there is a gender gap in the current data.

But a much bigger problem with that statement is that it is patently false – the result of selective, or just plain bad, research on the part of this reporter. Yes, the gender gap was closing in October, but it has since opened up again, as the more recent Monmouth poll in February showed.

In fact, every New Jersey poll released since last month showed a significant gender gap for both Governor Christie and President Obama.

Three recent Garden State polls conducted by Monmouth, Quinnipiac, and FDU show President Obama’s marginal approval rating at 54% to 58% among female voters in New Jersey. This is similar to the 59% result in the poll reported today. However, those same three polls set Governor Christie’s approval rating among women at 46% to 50%, lower than the 57% in today’s poll.

Christie Obama  
Poll Men Women   Men Women
Monmouth 2/7*
Approve 59 50 46 56
Disapprove 32 40 47 38
Net+23+10 -1+18
Quinnipiac 2/29
Approve  62  49  46  54
Disapprove  32  44  50  41
Net+30 +5 -4+13
FDU 3/13
Approve  62  46  43  58
Disapprove  27  40  49  34
Net+35 +6 -6+24

* The Monmouth University Poll releases provide gender breakdowns for all residents. The numbers in this table are for registered voters, to be comparable with the other polls.

For background, among all New Jersey voters, all three polls found Governor Christie had higher net job approval ratings than President Obama – between +17 and +20 for Christie and between +6 and +9 for Obama.

On the gender gap, all three polls showed Christie with a whopping positive net rating among male voters – from +23 to +35 – and a smaller net positive rating among women – from +5 to +10. For Obama, his rating among male voters was in negative territory – from -1 to -6 – while  it was decidedly positive among women – from +13 to +24.

And the trend for the three polls suggests that the gender gap for both politicians may have actually widened rather than narrowed over the past six weeks.

Today's poll was conducted for Kean University. Kean started publishing polls last year, but the methodology (sample design, weighting and analysis) is farmed out to a private polling firm. In the past, they have used a Republican polling firm to conduct their surveys. It‘s unclear whether this was true of the current poll, because the article did not report this key methodological detail.

Unlike the three polls cited in the table above, Kean does not subscribe to the National Council on Public Polls principles of disclosure. In other words, it’s impossible from their press release - which is not available online - to assess how the poll was actually conducted. [Note: I emailed the poll director for methodological information, but have not yet received a response.] Aside from the sampling and weighting issues, it’s unknown whether this poll asked the same job rating question as the other three polls.

I am a strong proponent of having a variety of sound public opinion polls covering the same populations and topics. No one poll can be comprehensive. Having a number of pollsters attack different angles of the same policy issue gives us a richer picture of the state of public opinion on that issue.

And as we have seen with election polling, having a plethora of polls enables us to calculate an aggregate projection which tends to be pretty much on target. In terms of office holder job ratings, multiple polls provide an important validity check.

In this case, that validity check does not pan out. A combination of unknown polling techniques and poor reporting has given us a tantalizing front page story line, regardless of its veracity.

Note to the media: this is a must-read from the National Council on Public Polls – 20 Questions a Journalist Should Ask About Poll Results BEFORE deciding whether to report them.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Super Tuesday Looking Good for Romney

A slew of polls were released on the eve of sorta-Super Tuesday.  It’s not quite the stellar lineup originally planned.  Texas pushed its primary back to May because of Congressional redistricting hiccups and Virginia is already in the Mitt Romney column because Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich failed to qualify for the ballot there.  Regardless, the signs point to the inevitability of a Romney nomination if he does well on March 6.
The polling aggregators at both Real Clear Politics and Huffington Post show the closely watched state of Ohio as a dead heat.   However, the trend lines clearly show Romney gaining and Santorum dropping over the past week.  And as we saw last week in Michigan, that trend was predictive of the final outcome.
Importantly, the March 6 primaries feature the two most socially conservative states to hold contests thus far.  These are states where Santorum was expected to do well, but he now clings to a 2 to 3 point lead in Tennessee.  Even in Oklahoma, his poll lead has fallen from around 20 points to 10 in the few polls conducted over the past month.
In the 2008 Republican primaries, two-thirds of voters from Tennessee and Oklahoma called themselves Evangelical Christians, among the highest concentration in the country.  Furthermore, more than 4-in-10 GOP primary voters in these two states said it mattered a great deal to them that a candidate shares their religious beliefs.
These are the voters who have been reticent to back Romney.  Forget about the exit poll analysis you have seen claiming that Romney’s weakness is strong conservatives or strong Tea Party supporters.  Those groups are important, but when you strip away the political and demographic characteristics of these groups, the one thing that differentiates their vote choice is whether they are evangelicals.
It’s the Mormon thing.  Romney’s faith may be a sticking point with Protestants, but it doesn’t really bother Catholics.  It’s little surprise that Romney has won every state where Catholics (or Catholics plus Mormons) made up at least 30% of the electorate.
Other than Massachusetts and Vermont, Ohio is the only state in the Super Tuesday lineup where the Catholic vote is expected to top 25%.  [Idaho’s caucuses should have a sizable Mormon vote.]  This looks good for Romney.
It also helps that Santorum’s appeal to blue collar voters fell short in Michigan and looks to do so again in Ohio.  And Ohio, like Tennessee, has a significant number of voters who cast their ballots early.  The Romney campaign has proven itself effective at pumping up the early vote.  In the end, I think Romney will win Ohio by about 4 or 5 points.
But that’s still not enough to get the Romney inevitability train up to speed.  It’ll be what happens in Tennessee and Oklahoma that determines whether the storyline turns to WHEN rather than IF Romney will clinch.  I think Santorum will take Tennessee by 3 or 4 points and Oklahoma by 12.  But if Romney performs well among the large group of evangelical voters who turn out – picking up at least one-third of that vote – it will be a clear sign that this hold-out group has finally started to accept the idea of Mitt Romney as their standard bearer in November.