* Whitepaper on Campaign Reform in Pennsylvania
Center for Politics & Public Affairs, 1997
* Pennsylvania Votes, 1994
G. Terry Madonna and Berwood Yost,
Center for Politics & Public Affairs, 1995
* Pennsylvania Votes: Presidential Primaries, 1972-1992: A Source
G. Terry Madonna and Berwood Yost,
Center for Politics & Public Affairs, 1996
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Public Corruption, Personal Scandal, January 2000
Polling for the Philadelphia Mayor's Race: A Warning About Interviewer Effects, October 1999
The Race to Succeed "America's Mayor", April 1999
Republicans Are From Mars, Democrats Are From Venus, October 1998
Pennsylvania Polls and The 1996 Presidential Election, December 1996
The Pennsylvania Story - Bob Dole, Tom Ridge and The Vice Presidency, August 1996
Why All Polls Are Not Created Equal, December 1996
Pre Election Survey Predictions: How Accurate Were They, November 1992
Vacancy In The Office Of Lieutenant Governor: Time For Constitutional Change, May 1992
Pennsylvania's Presidential Primary: Will It Make A Difference, April 1992
Political observers are shocked at the rapidity at which members of the General Assembly have been charged with a variety of legal infractions. The immediate, knee-jerk response has been to view these infractions as typical behavior of politicians. On closer inspection, however, these allegations are, with some exception, substantively different from the types of misbehavior normally associated with politics.
Historically, misbehavior among politicians was largely connected to official corruption, that is violations of law related to office holding. For example, during the 1970s more than 360 Pennsylvania public and party officials were indicted, convicted, or resigned from office because they were engaged in some type of public corruption. Seven of these officials were members of the General Assembly. Official corruption and private financial gain were common threads linking these acts together. Kickbacks, fraud, macing, bribery, job selling, and income tax evasions were common charges.
No such consistent elements make up the allegations currently being leveled at members of the legislature. True, one legislator has been charged with extortion and filing false tax returns and another has been convicted of perjury in connection with a charge he violated a federal finance law. These are arguably acts of official corruption.
More to the point, however, is the number of legislators whose actions are more closely identified with the pathologies of the 1990s. Slapping ones girlfriend, alcohol abuse, mysticism and personality disintegration, and vehicular tragedy, the reasons behind the difficulties of current legislators, are not rooted in the political system. They are personal behavioral manifestations that mirror those of many in society.
Too many will conclude that the situation in the legislature reflects directly on that body as an institution or as another indication of the failure of our political system. That is an erroneous conclusion. To be sure, public dismay and disgust at the transgressions of elected officials is appropriate. But it is also important --even urgent -- for the press and the public to understand that these scandals are different than political scandals of the past. Collectively, they do not stem from a corrupt political system nor do they point to systematic problems in the institutions of representative government.
This is far different stuff than in the bad old days in Pennsylvania politics when bribery, macing, stealing, and fraud were common place and leading politicians were famous for inventing new and clever ways to break the law and corrupt the system. Todays offenses certainly affect the political system. For example, they further undermine public trust in government -- and they could alter the balance of power in state government. But they are not caused by the political system. Their causes lie elsewhere, largely in the personal and idiosyncratic characteristics of those implicated.
Three provisional conclusions can be drawn from the current political scandals.
First, the political system itself, the institutions of representative government and the political parties, are not in the main likely either to be the cause or the locus of future political scandal. Our political institutions are not perfect, but reforms of the past 25 years in combination with some sweeping social changes have reduced the chances of traditional political corruption.
Second, future political scandals will more likely consist of personal failings and individual acts unrelated, or only peripherally related, to the holding of official position. As our political institutions become increasingly diverse in terms of who serves, they will become more a reflection of our entire society --with its strengths as well as its foibles.
Finally, we are all challenged to think in new ways about the causes and effects of public scandal. Public confidence in our political institutions is already weak, voter turnout is near historically low levels, and cynicism about government and politics is widespread. Political scandal exacerbates these trends and further undermines public trust in government. Perhaps it should not. Our institutions are not the source of the problem here. We are.
During the most recent Philadelphia Mayoral Keystone Poll, we conducted an experiment to examine whether any biases were created by the characteristics of our interviewers. This Keystone Poll was conducted October 1 4, 1999 with a random sample of 520 likely voters.
Often, pollsters have difficulty producing accurate survey estimates for high-profile political campaigns that match a white candidate against an African American candidate. A study reported by The Pew Research Center For The People & The Press found that in three of four highly competitive biracial contests, independent media polls overestimated the margin of victory for the African American candidates, and, in the other, the support for the white candidate was underestimated. Estimating biracial election outcomes have been problematic in past Philadelphia mayoral elections.
Several explanations are possible for these discrepancies. First, some white voters are reluctant to say they will not support an African American candidate, particularly if they are speaking to an interviewer they perceive to be African American. Second, although not seen in the research literature, consultants involved in Philadelphia politics claim that some African American voters are reluctant to express a preference for an African American candidate when speaking to a white interviewer. A third hypothesis is that people who are less likely to participate in polls are also more likely to oppose African American candidates; thus, non-response is a greater problem in these types of pre-election polls.
In the current Philadelphia mayoral contest we have examined the first two of these potential sources of inaccuracy. Because the current election is a biracial contest, and because election polls in biracial contests have traditionally fared poorly, we conducted a simple experiment to determine whether interviewer effects are evident in the latest Keystone Poll. The mayoral contest in question involves a white Republican candidate, Sam Katz, and an African American candidate, Democrat John Street. This experiment was designed to learn whether the likelihood of supporting a candidate is affected by the race of the interviewer conducting the survey. Table 1 presents the results of our analysis.
Our findings are consistent with that of other academic researchers. Support for the white mayoral candidate, Republican Sam Katz, may be underestimated by our survey. Table 1 shows that when white interviewers speak to white respondents, they select Katz 70 percent of the time and Street about 10 percent of the time. But when white respondents speak to African American interviewers, they select Katz just over half of the time and Street about 30 percent of the time. The same effect is not present for Democrat John Streetvoter preferences yield similar outcomes regardless of the race of the interviewer.
Table 1. Candidate choice as a function of racial group, controlling for interviewer race
After eight years of America's mayor Ed Rendell, Philadelphia voters are set to pick his successor. Because Rendell cannot seek a third term, a hotly contested Democratic primary is underway. The winner of the Democratic primary will face well financed Republican businessman, Sam Katz, who has no primary opposition.
The election is likely to be the most expensive race in the nation this year, with six candidates spending about 20 million. Gubernatorial elections in Kentucky, Mississippi and Louisiana won't match the spending in Philadelphia. The Democratic primary field is a crowded affair with five viable candidates. The heavyweight list includes a former City Council President, John Street, who is endorsed by Mayor Rendell; a former at-large Council member, Happy Fernandez; a current member of the State House of Representatives, Dwight Evans, who is minority appropriations chair; John White, a former city councilman and State House member, who also headed the Philadelphia Housing Authority; and Marty Weinberg, a well connected lawyer who was former Mayor Frank Rizzos campaign chairman, his city solicitor, and served in the 1970s as Chairman of the Democratic City Committee.
At the beginning of the campaign, a January Keystone Poll showed that only John Street was recognized by a substantial number of the city's registered voters. Consistent with his higher name recognition, John Street led an early test of voters intentions. He had 27 percent of the vote, followed by Dwight Evans at 13 percent, John White at 12 percent, and Happy Fernandez at 11 percent. Marty Weinberg trailed with three percent.
With an array of strong candidates, and most of them with sizable war chests, it is no surprise the race has attracted a bevy of major league pollsters. Celinda Lake, Geoff Garin, John McLaughlin, Ron Lester, Mark Penn, and Mark Mellman have all signed on, and the battle of television commercials in the county's fourth largest media market has begun in earnest. Attack ads are being unveiled, just as a massive voter registration drive has been completed. And so the stage is set for a dramatic and climactic Democratic primary finish in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans seven to two.
Heading into this year's mayoral election, city residents had strong, positive feelings about Philadelphia as a place to live, and about the direction in which the city is headed. In January, two out of every three (66%) city residents believed it was moving in the right direction. And, most city residents thought that the condition of Philadelphia had improvedonly one in five city residents believed Philadelphia today was a worse place to live than it was four years ago. In fact, half (49%) of all city residents rate Philadelphia as an excellent or good place to live, and fewer than one in ten (9%) consider it a poor place to live.
The January survey also found that crime was the biggest concern of city residents. Half (50%) said that crime was today the most important problem facing the city, a far more dominant concern than found elsewhere in Pennsylvania. City residents also worried about unemployment (11%), welfare (11%), education (7%), and taxes (3%), although none of these issues rivaled crime. In 1995, 57 percent of city residents mentioned crime as the top concern, and 11 percent said unemployment was the city's most important problem. When voters were asked to rate a list of issues, however, education was identified as important an issue as crime, particularly among African Americans.
Another potentially important aspect of the race is the popularity of Mayor Ed Rendell. The Mayor is extraordinarily popular among the city's registered voters. Four out of every five (80%) voters have a favorable opinion of him, whereas less than one in ten (7%) has an unfavorable opinion of him. And no difference exists in terms of how whites and African Americans view him. Rendells personal popularity could make a difference in the upcoming mayoral electionone in four (24%) city voters would be more likely to vote for a mayoral candidate who had Mayor Rendells endorsement. He has endorsed John Street, made television commercials for him, but to date the Rendell factor has not been emphasized by the Street campaign.
The Current Situation
According to the latest Keystone Poll (April) of Philadelphia's likely Democratic voters, John Street's early lead in the polls has been erased. The current poll finds Street and Marty Weinberg running neck-to-neck, with each receiving about one quarter (23%) of the vote. Support for the candidacies of John White and Happy Fernandez has remained stable since January, while Dwight Evans candidacy has eroded (4%). In early April, more than one in four (28%) voters were undecided.
Support for the candidates is most divergent along religious and racial lines. Weinberg captures more than one third (35%) of Catholic voters, with Street finding support among only 13% of their vote. Street (26%) leads Weinberg (14%) among Protestants. Weinberg also holds a sizable advantage over Street among white voters, 41% to 13%. Street, on the other hand, leads among African Americans, 35% to 7%. John White holds about one in five (18%) African American voters.
Of the five candidates, three are African AmericanWhite, Street, Evansand two are white, Weinberg and Fernandez. In the past, some high profile elections in Philadelphia have been marked by racial voting. Political analysts have speculated that with three Black candidates dividing up 49% of the city's estimated Black Democratic voters a strong white candidate, namely Weinberg, will emerge victorious in the primary, winning the lion's share of the city's 42% white Democrats. Reinforcing that notion is the fact the candidates are campaigning especially hard among their respective voting bases.
The change in the horse race is attributable to the tremendous increase in favorable name identification that the Weinberg campaign has generated since January. In January, two-thirds (64%) of the city's voters did not recognize Weinbergs name; today, that number is down to one quarter (25%). Weinberg has been able to more than double the percent of voters who view him favorably, going from 15% in January to 33%. Weinberg is the only candidate, however, who has realized a significant change in his favorability scoresthe rest of the field has seen their name identification change little among voters. That Marty Weinberg has been able to drive up his name recognition is no surprise given the amount of advertising he has committed to television, almost two million dollars worth since January. This has been good strategic move for the campaign, because most voters (60%) are getting their campaign information from television.
Expectations/What to Look For
Handicapping this race is very difficult. Anyone who has observed Philly politics for any length of time knows how quickly voting preference can change in a mayor's race. Any one of three candidates could emerge as the winner.
John Street can win if he can solidify his ties to Rendell and make the voters view him as Rendells partner in the rehabilitation of Philadelphia over the past seven years. Street's odds of winning increase as voter turnout increases. Marty Weinberg can win if his advertising campaign and voter registration efforts mobilize his base of white, row house voters. That strategy has worked thus far; he is in a position to win. Keystone Poll numbers suggest that Weinbergs odds of winning decline as voter turnout rises.
John White could be the beneficiary of the negative commercials Weinberg is now using against Street. A particularly nasty advertisement currently aired by Weinberg, shows Street pushing a journalist at a press conference in 1981. If White can portray himself as competent to serve as Mayor, it is conceivable he could inherit those voters who are turned away from Street, but who will not vote for Weinberg. Like Weinberg, White currently benefits from lower turnout.
1994: Year of the Angry White Male
1996: Year of the Soccer Mom
Growing political and policy differences between men and women have been given much attention in the mass media in recent years. Entire campaign cycles are now appropriately gendered, as in the Year of the Woman, Year of the Angry White Male, and Year of the Soccer Mom. This political shorthand reflects an important planetary reality far more profound than political pundits realize.
Author John Gray, who made a fortune out of articulating these differences in the best selling book, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, explained the planetary reality as follows: Martians value power, competency, efficiency, and achievement. Men, therefore, find fulfillment in success and in results. Venusians, on the other hand, value love, communication, and beauty. Women are defined through their feelings and relationships.
In political terms, these dissimilarities were relatively unimportant in the patriarchal years before 1980. Women generally voted for the same candidates as their husbands and usually for the same reasons. Since 1980, however, a large number of women have traveled to Venus, or the Democratic Party if you will, while men, reacting predictively, remained with or joined the Martian Republican Party. A new and important political polarization has occurred. More women identify and vote for Democratic candidates and more men identify with and vote for Republican candidates than at anytime in American history.
If you think this is farcical, you are wrong: feminization has had a profound effect on the Democratic Party. Women are more liberal than men, support higher levels of governmental service, regard poverty as an important problem, and favor affirmative action programs. Since the New Deal, the Democrats have championed big government solutions to the nations problems. Women have become a strong voice within the party, arguing for high levels of governmental services. Compared to their Martian counterparts, they want increased governmental activism. For example, seven in ten Venusians believe that government should find a job for every person who wants to work, almost ten percentage points higher than men. A similar difference exists on guaranteeing medical care for people who do not carry health insurance. Women voters increasingly provide the impetus and support for the activist agenda of the Democratic party.
Not all Venusians, however, changed their politics. An important distinction exists between married Venusians and non-married Venusians. We can call this the marriage gap, a sister of the gender gap. Married women and homemakers have not changed their political affiliation very much during the last few decades. The women who made the trek to Venus are mainly single (separated, divorced, or widowed). In 1992, for example, Bill Clinton clobbered George Bush by almost twenty percentage points among these women. Clintons support among them in 1996 largely explains why his share of the female vote was 54 percent compared to Bob Doles 38 percent. Keystone polls of Pennsylvania voters taken during the 1996 election season discovered similar results. The best explanation why these women are voting Democratic lies in their economic status. Many of them are single parents, struggling to survive tough financial times. Some live on low incomes, while others are one support payment away from financial disaster. These women place great value in a government safety net ready to provide essential services: day care, health care, tuition payments, transportation, and food. The political upshot: family status has now become an important variable influencing vote selection.
To some extent, these differences have had a profound effect on Pennsylvania politics. Though the Republican suburbs of Philadelphia--Montgomery, Bucks, and Delaware counties--remain staunchly Republican in voter registration, and are firmly under the control of Republican elected officials, Venusian-style Democrats have been successful there. In 1991, Harris Wofford, running on a Venusian platform, including universal health care, shocked Dick Thornburgh in their U.S. Senate contest by defeating him in the three suburban counties. Wofford benefited from the crossover votes of college-educated Republican women, who found his Venusian platform appealing. Similarly, the nations most attractive Venusian male candidate, Bill Clinton, won the Philadelphia suburbs in both 1992 and 1996, as female Republicans and Democrats flocked to his side.
In at least one other way, the Martian/Venusian divide has influenced the Keystone states politics. Ronald Reagan, a Martian candidate if ever one existed, carried Pennsylvania in his 1980 and 1984 elections, mainly with the help of Martian Democrats. These voters, many of whom were lifelong Democrats, bolted their party and voted for Reagan. A large number of these Martian Democrats were Catholic, ethnic, working class, union members who lived in the mining and mill towns of southwestern Pennsylvania. Today, some of these traditional Democratic counties are slipping into Republican hands, thanks to the permanent conversion of male Democrats to the Martian Republican Party.
Often election cycles are inherently more advantageous toward one style of politics over another. Clinton sought the presidency during the tail end of the 1991-92 recession. His I feel your pain campaign, especially when compared to the seemingly uncaring George Bush, made him unusually attractive to all voters. The tough times, which hit virtually all segments of the economy, allowed Clinton to amass tremendous support among Martian and Venusian voters alike.
By 1994, the political environment had shifted measurably. Bill Clintons rocky presidency had fallen on hard times. His approval rating hovered at 40 percent, meaning a majority of voters said they disapproved of his job performance. Voters wanted more done about crime, taxes were too high, and the budget deficit loomed as an issue. The environment had turned Martian. Enter Tom Ridge who sought the governorship from his rural Erie congressional seat in 1994. Ridges campaign emphasized a tough crime-fighting program; he promised a special session of the legislature to highlight crime-stopping measures. Government reform and business tax cuts rounded out his major campaign themes. While other factors also played themselves out, Ridge beat Democratic candidate Mark Singel by ten percentage points among men and broke even with him among women.
As we approach the 1998 gubernatorial campaign, the political sands have shifted once again. Prosperity now pushes Governor Ridge to show his Venusian side. A massive state budget surplus permits him to expand governmental programs and to increase state spending. More money for education, tax cuts for the working poor, increased health care spending for kids, and modest increases in smaller welfare-like programs highlight his election year agenda.
When it is all said, our politicians know pretty much what voters want to hear about in any election cycle. They campaign with this in mind. But the messages now have obvious gender overtones that were clearly missing from earlier campaigns. Welcome to the world of gender politics, the political legacy of the 1990s.
PENNSYLVANIA POLLS AND THE 1996 PRESIDENTIAL
ELECTION, G. Terry Madonna and Berwood Yost, Center for Politics
& Public Affairs, December, 1996.
Presidential campaign surveys conducted for news organizations in Pennsylvania provided reliable assessments of the recent presidential campaign. Most of the news organizations which poll usually do so twice during a campaign cycle, once about four to five weeks before election day and again one to two weeks prior to the election. Polling results can vary sharply from one polling period to another. Not so in 1996. President Clinton held a consistent lead in polls conducted during both periods. Slightly less than half of the state's voters consistently indicated they would vote for him. If the eight surveys conducted during the entire cycle are averaged, they show Clinton's support at 49%, which was the actual vote total he received on election day in the state. While Clinton's support remained stable, Dole's support improved in the waning days of the campaign, and even Ross Perot picked up a few percentage points in the final voter tally. Polls conducted later in the campaign caught some of the Dole and Perot movement.
As momentary snapshots of the electorate, these polls were accurate. What these polls could not account for was the decision making process made by many voters after the polling cycle ended. According to the Voter News Service Exit Poll for Pennsylvania, about 16% of the state's voters made their choice in the final week of the campaign. In fact, most of these voters actually decided during the three days preceding the election. For the eight polls we studied, the average undecided vote was ten percent. These last minute deciders were more supportive of Bob Dole and Ross Perot than those who had made a vote choice earlier in the campaign: 38% voted for Clinton, 41% voted for Dole, and 20% voted for Perot. This should remind us that a survey is only a picture of the electorate at a point in time. Only when the pollster uses some model to predict the election outcome, which is unrelated to how well a survey is conducted, can survey data be used as a predictor.
This leads to an important and unresolved question for those who try to predict election outcomes from surveys. How does one count undecided voters or weak supporters for predictive purposes? There are several techniques for assigning undecided voters to a particular candidate, but none are error proof and all involve assumptions about how undecided voters make up their minds. Unfortunately, what compels undecided voters to choose a candidate varies from election to election. For some issues, public attitudes are stable and opinions change infrequently or only at the margins. But election campaigns by their nature strive to change voters' perceptions about candidates, especially the perceptions of undecided voters. A majority of undecided voters normally cast their votes for the challenger(s) when an incumbent's popular support is below 50 percent, which is what happened this year. The Pittsburgh Post Gazette, the Pittsburgh Tribune, and the Keystone Polls had Clinton receiving 48%, 49%, and 48%, respectively. The problem in 1996 was trying to figure out what undecided voters would do with their votes. That is, would they act like the voters who already had made up their minds, or would they act differently. In 1996 they acted differently by voting more heavily for Dole and Perot. Clinton remained where he started, with support from slightly less than half of Pennsylvania's voting population. In our view, concerns about the accuracy of the polls are unfounded and predicated on a misunderstanding of what they can accomplish. The real story in campaign year 1996 is whether the 600 million dollar presidential campaign made any difference to the nation's electorate.
PENNSYLVANIA ELECTION AND POLLING RESULTS
|Oct 28-30||Pittsburgh Post Gazette||48%||37%||9%||+11|
|Oct 25-28||Keystone Poll||48%||36%||7%||+12|
|Oct 25-27||Pittsburgh Tribune||49%||39%||5%||+10|
|Oct 13-15||Mason Dixon||50%||35%||5%||+15|
|Oct 7-10||Pittsburgh Tribune||50%||34%||5%||+16|
|Oct 4-6||Pittsburgh Post||52%||32%||6%||+20|
|Sept 28-30||Keystone Poll||49%||33%||6%||+16|
Once cited as a battleground state, Pennsylvania has slipped, perhaps
irretrievably, out of Bob Dole's grasp. The latest Keystone Poll, conducted
July 19-22 among 500 registered Pennsylvania voters, shows that Bill
Clinton holds a stunning 24 point edge over his GOP challenger, 56%
to 32%. Dole garners majority support only among the strongest Republicans.
General Election Trial Heat: Vote Choice by Party Affiliation
|% of Regular Voters||Dole||Clinton||Undecided|
|100||All registered voters||32||56||12|
|21||Not strong Republican||49||30||21|
|13||Not strong Democrat||9||84||7|
Despite Whitewater, Filegate, the active Paula Jones lawsuit, and continued bad news from the Special Prosecutor, Clinton increased his lead by seven points from April when he held a comfortable 51% to 34% advantage. Clinton's new-found popularity among the state's voters is a reversal from his standing in 1994 when his unpopularity contributed to the defeat of Democratic statewide candidates.
President Clinton - Favorability Rating
|July 1996||April 1996||Sept. 1995||Oct. 1994|
|Haven't heard enough/Undecided||22||22||22||22|
One beneficiary of President Clinton's unpopularity in 1994 was Tom
Ridge, an obscure six-term Republican congressman who was seeking Pennsylvania's
governorship. At that time, Ridge was the "candidate no one knew
from the city no one's ever seen," as one reporter put it. The
geographic reference was to Ridge's home town, Erie, a small manufacturing
city in the rural northwestern corner of the state-a place that had
never before produced a Pennsylvania governor.
Today, Ridge's position is very different. He is, at the moment, one of Dole's top prospects for the vice presidential nomination. Bob Woodward called him the "sleeper" among Republican governors. The Washington newspaper Roll Call, which until recently did not even include Ridge in the vice presidential sweepstakes, put his odds to win the nomination at 5 to 1, tying him with Governors Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey and John Engler of Michigan. Only Senator John McCain, of Arizona, at 4 to 1, ran better.
Placing Tom Ridge or any governor on the national ticket raises a central question: Will the selection of a governor help Bob Dole win in November? If Pennsylvania is any indication, the answer is a resounding "No." The addition of Ridge to the Republican ticket does not increase Dole's chances of winning the state's 23 electoral votes.
Pennsylvanians are genuinely flattered by the attention Ridge is getting from Dole and the national media. After all, Pennsylvania has provided only one vice president: George Dallas, who labored in the James K. Polk administration. Nearly half (46%) of Pennsylvania voters think Ridge should accept the vice presidential nomination if offered by Dole, although Republicans (53%) and independents (51%) are more likely than Democrats (38%) to say Ridge should accept.
More important, a majority (57%) of the state's voters say Ridge's presence on the ticket would make no difference in their vote choice. In fact, an equal number of voters say Ridge would make them less likely to vote for Dole as say he would make them more likely to vote for Dole (19% in each case).
But there is one group where Ridge makes a difference: undecided voters. Nearly 4 in 10 (38%) undecided voters say that Ridge would make them more likely to vote for Dole, while only about 1 in 10 (8%) undecided voters would be less likely to vote for Dole with Ridge on the ticket. Unfortunately for Dole, Clinton's lead is so large, and the undecided vote is so small, Ridge's standing among the state's undecided voters does not materially enhance Dole's prospects in Pennsylvania.
A bored national press corps has given far too much attention to the Republican vice presidential selection. Outside of John F. Kennedy's selection of Lyndon Johnson in 1960, there is little evidence that a vice presidential candidate can jump start a failing campaign or change the outcome of a presidential election. The data from Pennsylvania merely confirm this historical truth.
Everyone knows that Bill Clinton holds a sizable lead over George Bush,
but is the lead nine, ten, twelve, or fifteen? And is the Clinton lead
growing, shrinking or staying the same? These questions may mean little
in August or September, but they obviously become critical as the election
There is substantial evidence that measuring electoral intentions during August and September is a relatively meaningless exercise as large numbers of voters remain unfocused and undecided. Each passing year finds fewer and fewer voters with firm attachments to their political party, and more subject to the vagaries and manipulation of the media and candidates.
Much has been made of electoral volatility in this year's presidential election, but four years ago similar circumstances prevailed. In September, George Bush was either eight points ahead or six points behind Michael Dukakis, and the debate raged over the real meaning of the polls. The same was true in the 1991 Pennsylvania U.S. Senate race, where Dick Thornburgh held a 40 point lead over Harris Wofford in the summer polls. But obviously Thornburgh's greater name recognition was more responsible for the size of his late summer lead than true popularity.
A recent study shows that polls become increasingly more accurate as election day draws nearer: forty-five percent of polls conducted within five days of an election were within three percentage points of final election returns, while only 24% completed 13 or more days in advance of the election were within 3 percentage points. Early polls are, therefore, poor predictors of electoral intentions. Not until October do the important undecided or independent-minded voters pay attention or let alone make up their minds.
Electoral volatility alone, however, does not sufficiently explain the differences in the polls--survey methodology offers another explanation. One of the most often cited sources of inaccuracy is sampling error, which itself is probably not the major source of error in surveys because acceptable sampling techniques are used by most pollsters.
Simply put, there are too many polls, done without proper attention to methodology. Here are some of the common pitfalls of such polling-on-the- cheap:
* Response Rate--The response rate is the number of eligible people in the sample who agree to participate in the survey. If the response rate is 70 percent, for example, seven of ten people in the original sample participated in the study. As response rates decline, the chance that the sample represents the population under study also declines. Many pre-election polls have response rates between 20 and 40 percent, far lower than academic pollsters find acceptable.
* Voter Screens--In pre-election surveys, the voter screen categorizes people by their likelihood of voting. Most pollsters agree that identifying likely voters is a major key to accuracy; non-voters and voters may differ significantly in their candidate preferences. Not all pollsters use the same screen, some don't use any, producing differing results.
* Questions--The sequencing and wording of questions have a profound influence on the responses people provide. Asking issue questions prior to asking candidate's preference may cause people to evaluate candidates in different terms. And small differences in question wording, such as presenting the candidates in a different order, might change responses.
Many times the fourth estate and pollsters are negligent about their
responsibility. Sample design and survey methodology should be included
in any public release of polling information.
Furthermore, heavy emphasis on the horse-race often leads to little substantive analysis of the deeper, fundamental attitudes that polls often uncover. In Pennsylvania, polls have consistently demonstrated that Lynn Yeakel, the Democratic U.S. Senatorial candidate, won a disproportionate number of female voters in the April primary. Virtually no in-depth explanations have been made to explain why. More importantly, the transition to gender-based voting, whose roots lay in complex societal and economic change, has been inadequately explained by the media and commentators. The real value of polling lies in its ability to explain fundamental expressions of public opinion, whether it be new trends in gender-based voting, abortion attitudes, government's role in society, or views on taxation.
Pre-election polls took a public beating this year, but was the criticism
justified? An analysis of Pennsylvania's pre-election polls tells us
that sometimes it might have been, but often it was not. Most surveys
completed within two weeks of the general election accurately predicted
Bill Clinton's margin of victory in Pennsylvania. Clinton's actual margin
of victory over George Bush was nine percentage points (45% to 36%),
and five of the six polls analyzed were very close to Clinton's final
margin (within two percentage points). Pollsters probably benefited
from high turnout, estimated to be 83% of registered voters. Higher
turnout has traditionally resulted in more accurate surveys.
On the other hand, Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate race proved more difficult to measure. Arlen Specter narrowly defeated Lynn Yeakel (51% to 48%), and only half of the surveys reviewed were within two points of Specter's actual margin. Furthermore, merely one-third of the polls were within two points of the actual margins for both races.
Estimated Margins of Victory - Pre-Election Polls in Pennsylvania
Specter Clinton WNEP-TV +10 + 9 Mansfield University + 7 + 9 Pittsburgh
Post Gazette/WTAE + 4 + 7 Millersville/Penn State Harrisburg + 4 +10
Greensburg-Tribune + 2 +15 Mason-Dixon - 1 + 9 Actual Margin Of Victory
In Pennsylvania + 3 + 9
Why were some polls right and others wrong? And, moreover, why were some polls correct for one race and wide of the mark on the other? The answer probably relates to the differences in how each survey was conducted. Unfortunately, many pollsters and their clients do not make the details of survey methodology available, which makes understanding of these differences impossible, and considerable reduces the public's ability to discern good polls from bad ones.
Methodology aside, the dynamics of the Specter-Yeakel race made it difficult to measure for several reasons. First, most polls showed a large number of undecided voters going into the final week of the campaign. Assessing undecided voters' intentions is generally difficult. Even though most undecided voters lean toward one candidate or another, some of these voters will change their minds. Also, more than one in ten likely voters were genuinely undecided in the Specter-Yeakel contest a week before the election, making final predictions tenuous.
Second, gender-based voting also played a role in the Specter-Yeakel race. In early July, Lynn Yeakel held a tremendous twenty-two point lead among female voters. By the campaign's end, Specter had closed the gender gap (37% Specter to 39% Yeakel among female voters). Exit polls indicated the gender gap re-emerged as Lynn Yeakel carried the women's vote by twelve points, probably because undecided female voters went her way.
Third, a new and potentially troublesome problem for pollsters may have appeared in this year's senatorial election. An examination of the Keystone State Poll indicates that the sex of an interviewer may have had some affect on a respondent's answers. Male respondents who spoke to female interviewers were more likely to express support for Arlen Specter's than those who spoke to male interviewers, thus overstating Specter's support. And more polls overstated than understated Specter's support.
Poll bashing was common this year, and in some cases with good reason because all polls are not completed with the same degree of methodological rigor. The media's responsibility extend beyond publishing polling results. Polls released for public consumption should describe the basic elements of survey methodology in such a way as to give the interested readers an opportunity to understand how the survey was conducted.
April 28th is primary election day in Pennsylvania, and the state's
voters will trudge to the polls, and, among other offices to be elected,
pick delegates to the national nominating conventions. Four years ago
in a commentary piece I raised a central issue regarding Pennsylvania's
role in the presidential nominating process. Pennsylvania holds its
election late in the primary season and has not been influential in
either parties' selection process since 1976, when Jimmy Carter locked
up the Democratic nomination by winning the Pennsylvania primary.
But more important the state's voters have had virtually no choice in selecting from among the wide array of candidates who announce for the presidency and who appear on the ballots in those states holding early primaries. Put another way, Pennsylvanians have been effectively limited to two choices by the time their primary rolls around. The Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary limit the field of candidates and, in most instances, one of the two candidates remaining in the field after those processes are completed becomes a prohibitive favorite: Carter-Udall, Ford-Reagan in 1976; Carter-Kennedy, Reagan-Bush in 1980; and Mondale-Hart in 1984.
The 1988 presidential election had a similar result. After New Hampshire, and certainly after the Super Tuesday primaries, George Bush eliminated Bob Dole and the delegate selection process became little more than routine exercise in accumulating a delegate majority. Bush was left with no serious opponent in the Pennsylvania primary; he won with 78.8% of the Republican vote and captured all 59 delegates. The Democratic contest was similarly a non-event. The Pennsylvania vote largely ratified the course of the campaign set previously by Michael Dukakis' victories in earlier primaries. Dick Gephardt did not survive Super Tuesday and he was out of the contest by the end of March. Al Gore's loss in New York caused him to retire from the race, leaving Jesse Jackson to battle Dukakis for Pennsylvania's 178 delegate votes. Dukakis crushed Jackson winning more than 1 million votes to 400,000 for his opponent. Dukakis won 163 of the 178 contested votes in the Pennsylvania primary.
Then, too, it is also impossible to field a presidential candidate during the latter stages of the nominating process. In 1976, Frank Church and Jerry Brown entered late only to find it hopeless to compete successfully with the front-runners. No one can enter late and win. Candidates run early and hard or they don't run at all.
The major consequence for Pennsylvania of the current nomination system is to reduce the influence of the state's political leaders in the selection of presidential candidates. Interestingly, there seems to be little motivation within the state to increase Pennsylvania's national power. This year, as opposed to 1988, no effort has been made to change the date of the state's primary from late to early april, 1992. In 1988, a bill to move Pennsylvania's primary from the fourth week to the first week of the month passed the state House. The earlier effort was part of the plan, hatched by big state Democratic leaders, to create an industrial state regional primary to rival Super Tuesday, and included New York, New Jersey, and Wisconsin. The plan never came to fruition, however.
There is considerable speculation that a rule's change in the Democratic nomination procedure will keep the campaign competitive for a longer period of time. In the past, the primary in Pennsylvania was essentially a "beauty contest" with the names of the presidential candidates appearing on the ballot statewide. Delegates pledged to the various candidates were selected out of congressional districts, completely separate from the voting for individual presidential candidates. In 1992, the preference vote will be binding and candidates will receive delegates proportional to the number of primary votes they receive, at least if the presidential preference vote reaches a 15% threshold. Some observers believe this rule's change will keep the nomination struggle competitive for a longer period. But federal campaign finance laws make it difficult for candidates not doing well in the early primaries to raise campaign funds necessary to run effective campaigns later in the primary season. The significant effect of which is to force candidates to pour a disproportionate share of money as well as time and effort into early caucuses and primaries. Any candidate not doing well will find it hard to remain in the contest for very long. In fact, 34 states will select delegates before the Pennsylvania primary, and it is not likely that more than two candidates will remain in either parties' field, largely replicating the scenario of past presidential primaries and continuing Pennsylvania's marginal, if not insignificant, role in the nomination process.
Governor Robert P. Casey's search for an interim United States Senator
brought to light a genuine weakness in the Pennsylvania state constitution,
a shortcoming in the way a vacancy in the office of Lieutenant Governor
is filled. Article 4, Section 14, of the state constitution requires
in the event of a vacancy that the President pro tempore of the Senate
become Lieutenant Governor.
The practice of elevating the pro tem has deep historic roots reaching back to the 1790 constitution, when the "speaker of the senate exercised the office of governor" in case of death, resignation or removal. Neither the 1790 nor 1838 constitutions provided for the office of Lieutenant Governor. The office of Lieutenant Governor was created in the 1874 constitution, which contained a vacancy provision in which the "powers, duties and emoluments" thereof devolved upon the President pro tem of Senate. In the 1968 constitutional reforms, another change required the pro tem to succeed to the office itself.
The current vacancy process is flawed in at least two respects:
(1) it allows for the Lieutenant Governor to be from a different party
than the Governor. Since
1968 it has been the clear constitutional intention that the Governor and Lieutenant Governor
be from the same party, when a constitutional amendment required each elector to cast one vote
for both offices.
(2) it provides for a legislator to assume a position in the executive
branch without an
intervening election or the opportunity of the Governor to provide a replacement. This brings
into question the principle of separation of powers and the need to maintain the independence
and autonomy of both the executive and legislative branches.
A major corrective step would include amending the constitution
to allow for an appointed Lieutenant Governor under a process similar
to that employed in the 25th Amendment of the federal constitution.
(1) The Governor would nominate a Lieutenant Governor.
(2) The nominee would take office upon confirmation by a majority
vote of both houses of
(3) Each chamber would have thirty days to reject the nominee, failure
to reject would
result in de facto confirmation.
An important a priori assumption should prevail: the Governor has the
right to choose a Lieutenant Governor whose politics and philosophy
are consistent with his/her own. But both chambers should be part of
the confirmation process because no electoral choice was ascertained
for an appointed Lieutenant Governor.
The major advantage of the proposed change is that it provides for accountability and shared responsibility in the selection process. While emphasizing constitutional and procedural values at the expense of electoral concerns, it provides for an orderly and politically sensible way to fill the vacancy. A legislative consensus would provide support for the nomination and add legitimacy to it, while at the same time the thirty day requirement for action would prevent the legislature from delaying unnecessarily any confirmation.
As you may recall, the appointment provisions of the 25th Amendment were applied in 1973 for the first time, less than a decade after its enactment. Suddenly in 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned from the vice presidency after he admitted evading payment of federal income taxes, and House Republican Leader Gerald R. Ford was appointed by President Nixon and confirmed under the new amendment. After his elevation to the Presidency following Nixon's resignation, President Ford appointed Nelson Rockefeller to the Vice Presidency. The 25th Amendment has worked reasonably well, and there has been no serious effort to modify the appointment section of it.
Additionally, there remains a potentially unresolved constitutional problem surrounding the issue of whether the President pro tempore retains his/her Senate seat upon becoming Lieutenant Governor. Article 4, Section 14, places the pro tem in the line of gubernatorial succession, and indicates in that eventuality the pro tem's Senate seat be filled by an election "as any other vacancy in the Senate". The constitution is silent on whether the pro tem gives up his/her seat upon assumption of the Lieutenant Governorship, however. Article 4, Section 6, of the constitution states "No member of Congress or person holding any office (except of attorney-at-law or in the National Guard or in a reserve component of the armed forces of the United States) under the United States or this Commonwealth shall exercise the office of Governor, Lieutenant Governor or Attorney General." It would appear that holding two offices such as Lieutenant Governor and State Senator would be unconstitutional, but a serious ambiguity exists in constitutional language that should be corrected to avoid constitutional challenge in the future.