polling

Richards effect

The “Richards effect” is the phenomenon in which polls consistently underestimate support for female candidates relative to white male candidates.

The termed was coined by political scientists Christopher Stout and Reuben Kline who noted that in the 1990 Texas gubernatorial race many polls predicted Clayton Williams (R) to beat Ann Richards (D) by as much as 8 points. However, Clayton’s “lead” evaporated on election day and Richards won.

From their research paper: “Perhaps it was not only the traditional polling problems that led polls to be less accurate, Ann Richards’ gender may have also played a vital role in these polling discrepancies. Our results indicate that female candidates, and in particular female candidates from gender-conservative states, like Ann Richards in Texas, tend to do worse in pre-election polls than in actual elections.”

incumbent rule

The “incumbent rule” is a rule of thumb used by pollsters that says incumbents rarely get a higher percentage in the election than they receive in polls, and that voters still undecided on the very last poll tend to “break” disproportionately for the challenger.

Michael Barone: “The assumption has been that voters know an incumbent, and any voter who is not for him will vote against him.”

Polling Report: “It seems that undecided voters are not literally undecided, not straddling the fence unable to make a choice – the traditional interpretation. An early decision to vote for the incumbent is easier because voters know incumbents best. It helps to think of undecided voters as undecided about the incumbent, as voters who question the incumbent’s performance in office. Most or all voters having trouble with this decision appear to end up deciding against the incumbent.”

Nonetheless, empirical data suggests the rule may be a myth. Nate Silver notes that it is “extremely common for an incumbent come back to win re-election while having less than 50 percent of the vote in early polls.” In addition, “there is no demonstrable tendency for challengers to pick up a larger share of the undecided vote than incumbents.”

Bradley effect

Bradley effect

The “Bradley effect” is a polling phenomenon involving high support for non-white and non-female candidates in opinion polls not reflected by election results.

Origins and History

This phenomenon was coined following Tom Bradley’s (D) run for California governor in 1982. Bradley, an African American and the mayor of Los Angeles, was ahead of opponent George Deukmejian (R) entering the final days of the election. On Election Night, Deukmejian defeated Bradley by less than 2% of the vote. Political observers posited that some white voters voiced their support for Bradley in phone polling to avoid appearing politically incorrect or racist.

Additional examples of the Bradley effect followed the namesake’s narrow loss. Chicago mayoral candidate Harold Washington won a more narrow victory over a white opponent than polling indicated. Jesse Jackson’s 1984 and 1988 Democratic presidential campaign received a smaller vote share from white voters than their expectations from polls. Colin Powell considered a Republican presidential run in 1996 but was advised that the Bradley effect would be prominent in an increasingly white party.

The Bradley effect has weakened over time thanks to polling precision and changing cultural values. U.S. Senate candidate Harold Ford (D) received roughly the same amount of white support in polling as he received on Election Night. Barack Obama (D) flipped the Bradley effect on its head in the 2008 presidential election by winning white voters in previously Republican states like Indiana and North Carolina.

FiveThirtyEight’s study of the 2008 Democratic primary between Obama and Hillary Clinton showed the signs of a reverse Bradley effect. Obama received 3.3% more of the vote across all primaries than was indicated by polling including a higher proportion of the white vote. The publication acknowledged that hidden racial motivates may have existed but did not impact Obama’s chances in the aggregate.

The concept of the Bradley effect has been called different names and expanded in scope since 1982. Virginia gubernatorial candidate Douglas Wilder (D) won narrowly in 1989, leading state observers to call it the Wilder effect. David Dinkins (D) won one term as mayor of New York City and lost to Rudy Giuliani in 1993 with some attribution to a Dinkins effect. Hillary Clinton’s 2016 loss to Donald Trump has been attributed to something similar to the Bradley effect. Pew Research Center noted that polls may have underestimated Trump’s support and overestimated Clinton’s support due to concerns by respondents about their level of support.

Examples

Vanity Fair (November 3, 2016): “A more significant Bradley effect was visible among certain demographic groups, however. Morning Consult found that voters with a college degree supported Clinton by a 21-point margin in phone interviews, but only by a 7-point margin online.”

The New Republic (October 12, 2008): “But now Lance Tarrance, the pollster for Bradley in that race, has an article up at RCP suggesting that the Bradley Effect was merely a case of bad polling — and that his campaign’s internals had shown a dead heat.”

Politico (October 9, 2008): “There was, in the primary, clearly a ‘reverse Bradley Effect’ among black voters, whose support for Obama was consistently understated in the polling.”

psephology

Psephology is the scientific study and statistical analysis of elections and voting.

The term was coined in 1952 by Oxford Professor R. B. McCallum and is derived from the Greek word psephos, which means pebble, and references the pebbles used by the Ancient Greeks to cast their votes.

push poll

A “push poll” is a form of interactive marketing in which political operatives try to sway voters to believe in certain policies or candidates under the guise of an opinion poll.

More akin to propaganda than an actual unbiased opinion survey,  a push poll is most often used during a political campaign as part of a candidate’s election strategy or by a political party to gain advantage over a rival or rivals.

While push polls are not illegal, many consider them to be unethical, and they generally fall under the umbrella of “dirty” or “negative” campaigning. They often include personal attacks, fear mongering, innuendo, and other psychological tactics to lead those being polled to believe a specific point of view or turn against a specific candidate.

Most push polls are concise and to the point, so that a large number of people can be called in a relatively short period of time, so as to have a maximum effect on public opinion.

As noted by the New York Times, a large number of reputable associations have denounced push polling as a sleazy tactic, and in certain states push polling is regulated.

In fact, over the years, many jurisdictions have tried to enact legislation to control the use of push polls, but such laws have come up against opposition from those who swear by the practice. In 2012, a proposed “push poll law” in New Hampshire ran into head winds from pollsters concerned that such laws would “outlaw message testing, preventing firms from deploying legitimate survey research on behalf of their clients.”

In 2007, a Roll Call opinion piece suggested that the term itself is misleading, noting: “The term ‘push poll’ never should have entered our lexicon, since it does nothing but confuse two very different and totally unrelated uses of the telephone.”

Richard Nixon was one of the pioneers of the push poll, and in his very first campaign in 1946, he used the practice by hiring operatives in his California district to call Democrats and warn them that his opponent was a “communist.”

Most agree that push polling is a negative tactic, but not all campaigns agree on when a survey is actually a true measure of political opinion, and when it is in fact a push poll.

During the 2000 Republican primaries, the campaign of John McCain accused the George W. Bush campaign of push polling in South Carolina by asking questions such whether you would be more likely to vote for or against McCain after learning that his “campaign finance proposals would give labor unions and the media a bigger influence on the outcome of elections.” The Bush camp denied that its survey was in fact a push poll. As described in Slate magazine: “This controversy, which has consumed the media for the past week, misses the point. Every campaign poll that asks about an opponent’s flaws is a push poll.”

This point of view was reiterated by a CBS News article 7 years later, when it was alleged that Mitt Romney’s campaign was a victim of push polling centering on his Mormon faith: “A push poll is political telemarketing masquerading as a poll. No one is really collecting information. No one will analyze the data.”

exit polls

An exit poll is a poll of voters taken immediately as they leave the polling place in which they are asked which candidate they chose.

Exit polls are conducted by media companies to get an early indication of who actually won an election, as the actual result sometimes may take many hours to determine.