Friday, October 31, 2014

There are significant differences between IVR, live operator, and internet polls of the race for Massachusetts governor

Which polling methodology is seeing the right set of voters won't be known until after Tuesday's election

As the polls of the race for Massachusetts Governor have steadily moved from a Martha Coakley lead in early September to a Charlie Baker lead in late October, a complicating factor has arisen: each of the three polling methodologies used to survey the race are showing different results. Interactive Voice Response (IVR) or robopolling firms show a reasonably large 5 point lead for Baker. Traditional live operator telephone polling shows Baker with a 2 point lead. And internet panel surveys show Coakley with a 4 point lead in the race.

MA Gov. polls by type (graph)

MA Gov. polls by type (chart)

Which of the methodologies are seeing the appropriate set of voters? IVR-only firms like Emerson are not able to reach large swaths of the population without landlines, meaning fewer younger, urban, and non-white voters. Live operator telephone polling suffers from severe non-response effects as more and more people screen their phone calls. Internet surveys are the new kids on the block and have their own (probably smaller) set people who cannot be reached.

Pollsters of each persuasion use best-practices and weighting to compensate for these effects, but it seems that each of the methodologies is getting a different view on the Coakley/Baker race. If the IVR firms and/or the live operator pollsters are having trouble seeing all of the Democratic voters, Baker could be in for a Tuesday shocker. If the internet pollsters are getting it wrong, Martha Coakley will suffer another tough loss and Charlie Baker will be the next in a long line of Republican governors of Massachusetts.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A comprehensive look at polling of all four ballot questions provides an indicator of likely results

Baker disagrees with voter consensus on gas tax and earned sick time while Coakley and the average voter disagree on bottle bill expansion

While the occupancy Massachusetts' corner office is still up for grabs—the race between Martha Coakley and Charlie Baker remains too close to call—a comprehensive look at the last two months of polling shows a strong enough voter consensus on the four ballot questions that a likely result can be predicted for each initiative.

The following summary table shows a polling average for each question, whether the measure is likely to pass or fail, and the position of the two major gubernatorial candidates. The remainder of the article gives a comprehensive look at the last two months of polling on each question.

Ballot question summary

A plurality of survey respondents and candidate Coakley are against gas tax indexing repeal (by a relatively small average margin of four points) while Baker supports indexing repeal. Voters, on average, are against bottle bill expansion as is GOP candidate Charlie Baker, while Democrat Martha Coakley sides with environmental groups in favor of bottle bill expansion. Most voters oppose repeal of the casino law, as do both gubernatorial candidates. Question 4 on earned sick time is very popular among voters (with an average margin of 25 points) and is also supported by Coakley, while Baker opposes the earned sick time initiative.

Question 1 - Eliminate gas tax indexing

Ballot Question 1 on repeal of automatic gas tax indexing is the only initiative that has shown some polling inconsistency. That being said, only one public poll in the last two months has shown a positive margin for repeal, and the most recent polls have 14 and 7 point margins against repeal. There is some evidence that survey respondents have been confused by the meaning of "Yes" or "No" in the context of this question in earlier surveys, but there is also evidence that voters are starting to figure it out, based on the fact that Republicans are more likely to be for repeal, and Democrats against. This is the only question where there is a reasonable probability of a result that goes against the polling consensus.

Ballot Q1 polling

Question 2 - Expand bottle bill

The polling of Ballot Question 2 on expanding the types of containers with a 5 cent deposit is definitive. Expansion proponents have not led in a public poll in the last two months and the margin seems to be increasing with a whopping 46 point margin in the latest poll from UML. One reason may be the difference in the money spent by environmental proponents and the large retail stores who oppose the question.

Ballot Q2 polling

Question 3 - Repeal casino law

It does not seem that voters are in favor of repealing the Massachusetts casino law that allows for the creation of several resort-style casinos in the Commonwealth. Ballot Question 3 has been behind in every public poll in the last two months, by an average margin of 15 points.

Ballot Q3 polling

Question 4 - Require earned sick time for most employees

Polling of likely voters has shown consistent support for Ballot Question 4, which would require employers to provide earned sick time for most Massachusetts employees. The initiative has led in every public poll in the last two months, with an average margin of 25 points. It would seem reasonable for Coakley to use Baker's opposition to this popular measure against him, which she started to do in debates, but there has been no large ad campaign drawing the distinction.

Ballot Q4 polling

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Polling methodology seems to be playing a roll in Massachusetts gubernatorial survey results

IVR polls are 6 points better for Baker/GOP

Polling averages of the Massachusetts gubernatorial race between Republican Charlie Baker and Democrat Martha Coakley show Coakley with a small 2 point lead, but there seems to be a major difference between the polls conducted using IVR (Interactive Voice Response) methods, and the polls that use traditional polling methods of operator-based dialing, or newer Internet-based survey techniques.

IVR polling has the significant disadvantage of only being able to reach respondents with land-line telephones—federal law disallows robocalls to cell phone numbers. IVR pollsters like Rassmussen and Massachusetts-based Emerson College Polling Society use various sampling and weighting techniques to attempt to compensate for their limited reach.

Breaking down all of the Massachusetts gubernatorial polls conducted since the September 9 primary by polling methodology (Internet, IVR, and Traditional) shows a large gap between the non-cell-phone IVR polls, which have Republican Charlie Baker up 3 points, and the traditional and internet-based polls, which have Democrat Coakley up by 3 points. The boxplot below gives a visual representation of the poll distributions.

There is some chance that these variations are due to sampling error or other causes, but the variations could very well be due to the IVR pollsters not reaching cell-phone-only voters who tend to vote more for Democratic candidates.
MA Gov Polls by polling method (graph)

MA Gov Polls by polling method (chart)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Recent polling shows a robust coalition against repeal of Massachusetts casino law

Most Republicans, Independents, and men support gaming law—Democrats are split down the middle

The casino issue has a history of splitting coalitions in Massachusetts with religious Republicans vs. big business Republicans and social justice Democrats vs. union Democrats, but recent polls show more consistency in pro-casino sentiment—likely enough to defeat an anti-gaming ballot initiative.

Opponents of the Massachusetts's gaming law, which allows for construction of up to three destination casinos in the Commonwealth, have sponsored Ballot Question 3 to repeal the law. However, casino supporters have lead in all ten of the post-primary surveys of the ballot question by an average margin of 11 points.

Polls show a strong cohort of casino supporters consisting of Republicans, Independents, and men who, on average, oppose repeal by 16 to 17 points, roughly 55 to 38 percent. Women, on average, oppose repeal by a smaller 6 point margin—48 to 42 percent. Democrats—who have strong idealogical factions both for and against expanded gaming—are split down the middle with approximately 45 percent on either side of Ballot Question 3.

Graph of MA Question 3 polls

Polls of MA Question 3 on casino law repeal

There have been ten public surveys published since the September 9 state primary that have tested the casino ballot question. All of the polls had sample sizes in the range of 400 to 504 likely voters.

The post-primary polls range from a 4 point margin against repeal in the 9/21-9/23 Boston Globe/Social Sphere survey, to a 20 point margin against repeal in the following 9/24-9/27 WBUR/MassINC poll. The time-weighted average, which gives higher weights to more recent polls, shows an 11 point margin against gaming law repeal—40 percent for repeal and 52 percent against.

There are strong majorities of Republicans, Independents, and men against repealing the casino law, with average margins of about 16 points across these voting subgroups. Over 50% of Independents opposed repeal in every single poll, and over 50% of men opposed repeal in all but one poll, the most recent Boston Globe poll, which showed 49% of men in opposition.

The polls show women opposing the repeal of the casino law by a smaller 6 point margin with 48% opposing repeal and 42% in support of repeal. More women were against, rather than for, the repeal in all but one survey, the closer-than-average Boston Globe/SocialSphere poll with 9/21-9/23 field dates, which had a 4 point margin for women who want to see the casino law repealed. There are a larger group of undecided women voters than most other categories (10%).

Democrats are almost evenly divided on the casino question with a 1 point average margin against repeal. There is a strong anti-casino coalition in the Democratic party which campaigns against the social costs of institutional gambling, while a largely union-based Democratic coalition supports casino construction as a job creation measure. These opposing coalitions seem to be canceling each other out. The comparatively large group of undecided Democratic voters (10%) may also indicate an ambivalence or divided loyalties on the casino question.

So far, the anti-casino wing of the Democratic party does not have enough support to overturn the Commonwealth's gaming statute. Pro-Question-3 groups will need to do a better job of making their anti-casino case to the public in order to achieve repeal on November 4.