Thursday, September 12, 2013

Is N.C.'s Public Policy Polling biased?

Is Public Policy Polling biased? The Raleigh-based firm is a prolific poller, and has established a strong record of accuracy over the years. But it's also described as Democratic-leaning and now finds itself in a debate about whether it concealed poll results that were unfriendly to a Democrat.

PPP polled in Colorado's state Senate recall elections last weekend. When it found that Democratic state Sen. Angela Giron was down by 12 points, it decided not to make the results public. PPP said it was concerned that something was off with its methodology -- it was unusual that a Democrat would be losing so badly in a heavily Democratic district. Perhaps respondents didn't understand the question?

Turns out they understood the question just fine. Giron did in fact lose in Wednesday's recall vote by the precise 12 points that PPP's survey predicted. And now PPP's decision to keep its results private is lighting up the Twitterverse, including from data phenom Nate Silver, formerly of the New York Times.

"VERY bad and unscientific practice for @ppppolls to suppress a polling result they didn't believe/didn't like," Silver tweeted Wednesday afternoon.

"Nate I'm sorry but that is absurd," PPP tweeted back. "You're saying you would put out a model if you had serious concerns it was wrong?"

"I'm especially skeptical when a pollster puts its finger on the scale in a way that matches its partisan views," Silver later tweeted.

This is more than just a spat between wonks. Alleging that a polling firm is suppressing poll results because it doesn't like them is an extremely serious charge. Silver's accusation would have more credence if PPP didn't a) routinely release polls that included bad news for Democrats and b) have a long track record of accuracy and c) blow the whistle on themselves in this case.

Another tweeter pointed out that Silver himself withheld poll data on election day that he thought was suspicious, and included video to prove it. (Watch in the 5:40 to 6:10 range.) No word from Silver on that.  

If a polling firm sees red flags that suggest its data may be off, it makes sense for it to revisit its methodology rather than just throw results out there that it doubts are true. Silver is a smart guy, but he's wrong on this one.

-- Taylor Batten


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Cannon over Mitchell for mayor: Was it those ads?

So, what was the deciding factor in Patrick Cannon's walloping of James "Smuggie" Mitchell in Tuesday's Democratic primary for Charlotte mayor? Better name recognition, Cannon's 20-year record, solid grassroots' appeal, a slap at the "establishment" ties associated with Mitchell? All were likely factors. There was also the fact that Cannon came off as more confident and polished than Mitchell.

But Mitchell may also have misfired with what Cannon and others deemed Mitchell's "negative" campaigning. The blitz of mailed flyers which Mitchell said only was designed to show the contrast in their positions showed Cannon with various sour looks on his face and tied Mitchell to former Mayor Anthony Foxx's agenda. The continuous flow of such ads turned some people off. And then there was the final blitz of robocalls from Mitchell, including one looped one over and over again from Mitchell's wife, a former astronaut. It had the ring of desperation to some.

But the race was probably decided before much of that even occurred. Cannon led in early voting returns both in absentee and one-stop voting by the same margins that he won the overall vote. By the way, both Edwin Peacock, who won the Republican mayoral contest in short order Tuesday and Cannon were in our top four in our inaugural Mayoral Power Rankings in April.

In elections elsewhere....

It seems New Yorkers aren't so forgiving of sexual impropriety as folks are in other places - places like, uh, South Carolina.

S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford, who forgot his state duties to have a tryst with his Argentine mistress while on the state's work clock, made a rebound from disgrace to Congress last year. But on Tuesday night, former N.Y. Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who resigned that job after discovery of his trysts with prostitutes, couldn't get elected to a local office as city comptroller.

Well, actually, he was seeking the Democratic nomination, but that was a virtual lock for whoever the Democratic nominee turned out to be. That will now be Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. Stringer didn't have the deep pockets of Spitzer - Spitzer outspent Stringer $7 million to under $4 million - nor could he match Spitzer's financial expertise. As N.Y. attorney general, Spitzer was known as the "Sheriff of Wall Street" for his aggressive and successful prosecution of financial firms.

But it looks like Spitzer couldn't escape the scandal in the mind of many undecided voters, and nagging doubts about his integrity were only reinforced by his decision not to fully disclose his tax returns. Stringer released five years of his returns.

On Tuesday, Stringer handily beat Spitzer.

And speaking of handily getting beaten, the weird ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner also got a sound whipping voters. He only got five percent of the vote, and it's kind of surprising he got that many after discovery in the middle of his campaign that he had continued the lewd sexting behavior that led to his resignation from Congress in 2011.

But there's still room for forgiveness, it seems, even in the Big Apple, and even while the one seeking forgiveness is spewing curse words and flipping people off with his middle finger as Weiner did the day before and in the hours after his defeat. Go figure.   

Thursday, September 5, 2013

North Carolina's reputation plunges

A revealing new poll about North Carolina is out today. The state's reputation nationally over the past two years has dropped from one of the 10 best in the country to one of the worst.

The survey comes from Public Policy Polling in Raleigh. Some will no doubt dismiss the findings because they consider PPP a "Democratic" firm. But that criticism would miss the point that the original poll ranking North Carolina well was also done by PPP, and after the legislature had been in Republican control (and that PPP ranked all 50 states in any case).

We can't summarize the new findings better than PPP's Tom Jensen can, so here's what he has to say:

Two years ago PPP did national polls assessing the favorability of every state in the country. While southern states generally found themselves toward the bottom of the list, North Carolina was an exception. It polled among the ten most popular states in the country, with 40% of voters rating it favorably to only 11% who had an unfavorable opinion.
North Carolina's national image has seen a strong shift in a negative direction since that time. Its favorability has dropped from 40% to 30%, while the share of voters with an unfavorable opinion of it has more than doubled from 11% to 23%. Its +7 favorability rating would have ranked it 40th in our national study of state popularity in 2011, rather than its top 10 popularity at that time.
The state's national image has seen particularly large declines with racial minorities and women. In 2011 North Carolina stood out in the south as a state African Americans had a positive opinion of, at a 42/8 favorability rating. Now blacks see it negatively by a 19/30 spread. It's a similar story with Hispanics- they gave the state a positive 50/9 favorability in 2011, now it's a negative one at 20/39. There's also been a steep decline with women. They gave the state a net +32 favorability in 2011 at 40/8, but that's dropped all the way down to +3 at just 25/22.
Predictably the biggest hit in North Carolina's national image following this legislative session has been with Democrats. Their view of North Carolina has dropped a net 38 points from +18 (35/17) a couple years to -20 at 18/38 now. What's interesting though is the state has gotten less popular with Republicans too- it had a +42 favorability at 48/6 in 2011 and that's declined now to +28 at 41/13.
This analysis is also available on our website:

How the professor helped his buddy the candidate

As a political science professor, Larry Little tries to foster civic engagement in his students. Instead, his wrong-headed approach last week is providing ammunition to those who want to suppress the vote.

Little teaches American government at Winston-Salem State University. Last week, he invited Democratic City Council candidate Derwin Montgomery to speak to his class. Sounds OK, perhaps, except that Montgomery used his visit to campaign, then arranged transportation to the Winston-Salem elections office for students who wanted to vote. Those students left class early, apparently with the professor's blessing.

It gets worse. It turns out that Little and Montgomery are friends, and Little served as an adviser to Montgomery's first City Council campaign in 2009. That might explain how Montgomery got access to Little's students that his opponents, Joycelyn Johnson and Phil Carter, didn't.

Montgomery defeated Johnson, then a longtime incumbent, in that 2009 race. He did so by getting Winston-Salem State students to flood the polls, with hundreds registering and voting the same day. Johnson complained at the time that many of those student voters were not properly registered.

Winston Salem State is part of the UNC system, which limits political activity on its campuses. Its chancellor, Donald Reaves, has created a committee to investigate the incident. The committee should declare that what Little and Montgomery did was wrong and determine an appropriate punishment for Little.

At a time when voting rights are being restricted by the N.C. legislature and local election boards, the professor has done a disservice to the cause of civic participation. Republicans have been especially seeking to limit student involvement in elections -- at Elizabeth City State, Appalachian State and elsewhere. The incident in Little's classroom, rather than creating good citizens, fuels the statewide voter-suppression movement.

-- Taylor Batten

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Not a good day for election suppression

Updated 4:22 p.m.: Advocates of election suppression were dealt two small blows Tuesday, showing that even in North Carolina, there may be a limit to how far you can go to make it hard for people to participate.

The Republican-led state Board of Elections voted unanimously earlier this afternoon to allow Elizabeth City State University student Montravias King to run for the city council there, the Associated Press and WCNC's Jeremy Markovich report. The Pasquotank County Board of Elections, also led by Repubicans, had blocked King from running, saying that he couldn't use his campus address to establish residency.

Later, at the same state board of elections meeting today, the two Republicans on the Watauga County Board of Elections said they would undo their decision to combine three Election Day precincts into one, a move that had eliminated a precinct on the Appalachian State University campus.

The state board, however, did allow Watauga to eliminate the early voting site on campus. 

We've written about the cases here and here.

The unanimous ruling on the King case was the right one. King had been registered to vote since coming to college in 2009, and the state board seemed to have clear guidance from the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in Symm v. United States that the government can't deny or discourage residency to students.

In Watauga County, here's the stat you need to know: The App State precinct had the highest early voting turnout in the county in 2009 and 2011, according to Watauga BOE member Kathleen Campbell, the lone Democrat on that county's board. The precinct also trended Democrat, which was why Republicans had targeted it.

North Carolinians are still left with what some feel is one of the country's most restrictive voting laws. But for the most part today, N.C. officials decided it's better to have more people, not fewer,  taking part in elections. 

Peter St. Onge

Frankly, the governor says "frankly" a lot

Former editorial board member Lew Powell thinks we missed the bigger story with our Saturday editorial about Gov. Pat McCrory. Frankly, he might be right.
Here's Lew: 
I was shocked to read your misguided Aug. 30 editorial, “Does the governor have a truth problem?”
Of course, Gov. McCrory wasn’t telling the truth when he insisted his two campaign aides were given jobs that “frankly, a lot of older people applied for, too.” Nor was he telling the truth when he claimed, "Frankly, yesterday I went out and talked to several” Moral Monday protesters.
But we North Carolinians should be proud, not ashamed, to hear McCrory prevaricating with such earnestness. What previous governor even approaches his self-proclaimed frankly-ness? 
On the limits of government to solve problems:
“Frankly, there is no new money falling out of the sky.”
On his unwillingness to support teacher pay raises:
“Frankly, I inherited a financial mess.”
On the shortcomings of liberal arts:
"Frankly, if you want to take gender studies, that's fine. But I don't want to subsidize that if that's not going to get someone a job.”
On his opposition to extending unemployment benefits:
“Frankly, Gov. Perdue accepted over $2.6 billion in debt, which we haven't paid back to the federal government.”
On the elimination of pre-registration for young voters:
“Frankly, we think students can do that themselves, just like any other age group.”
And McCrory hasn’t hesitated to contend that advertising for the state lottery is “frankly annoying,” that corruption frankly has existed in North Carolina politics in the past,” that drug testing for welfare recipients “frankly can't be implemented in a consistent way,” that US Airways was “frankly, one of the parties that brought up some of the initial concerns” at the airport and that legal loopholes frankly allow people to vote once or twice or even more.”
OK, so maybe truthfulness isn’t our governor’s strength. But where’s the Observer’s appreciation of his mastery of frankly-ness? We’re witnessing rhetorical history in the making – and he’s only in his first year!