Sunday morning marked more than the kickoff of week one of the NFL season (the Thursday night game in Seattle notwithstanding). It also marked, for electoral junkies, an equally exciting moment: the second wave of YouGov polls on the 2014 midterm elections.
YouGov is an internet-based survey, utilizing a volunteer panel. This particular project is promising because it yields data in literally every Senate and gubernatorial election, and the YouGov site even hints at House data, as well.
However, the track record has been mixed in the past on panel-based surveys. Sometimes, such surveys can yield results that land on the fairway, as YouGov did themselves in many races in 2012. But other times, the results raise eyebrows in a way that makes it difficult to consider the data credible. The most notorious example, one which sullied the panel-based experiment in a lot of eyes, was some woefully aberrant results in the 2006 round on surveys by Zogby Interactive. Perhaps the most famous of the misses was the Zogby Interactive insistence that the 2006 gubernatorial election in Colorado between Democrat Bill Ritter and Republican Bob Beauprez was a coin toss. Beauprez wound up losing by seventeen points.
So, in this installment of the Wrap, we will look at the assets and liabilities of the YouGov polls, and one way to look at them as we head into the final sprint of the 2014 electoral cycle.
By all means, however, the YouGov deluge of Senate polls was not all that crossed our eyes over the weekend, as the following exhaustive list of polls would seem to verify (polls released Sep 5-Sep 8):
AK-Sen (YouGov): Dan Sullivan (R) 44, Sen. Mark Begich (D) 38
AR-Sen (CNN/ORC): Tom Cotton (R) 49, Sen. Mark Pryor (D) 47
AR-Sen (Hickman Analytics for Pryor): Sen. Mark Pryor (D) 45, Tom Cotton (R) 43
AR-Sen (Marist): Tom Cotton (R) 45, Sen. Mark Pryor (D) 40
AR-Sen (YouGov): Tom Cotton (R) 43, Sen. Mark Pryor (D) 39
CO-Sen (Marist): Sen. Mark Udall (D) 48, Cory Gardner (R) 42
CO-Sen (Rasmussen): Sen. Mark Udall (D) 44, Cory Gardner (R) 42
CO-Sen (YouGov): Sen. Mark Udall (D) 46, Cory Gardner (R) 43
DE-Sen (YouGov): Sen. Chris Coons (D) 48, Kevin Wade (R) 35
GA-Sen (YouGov): David Perdue (R) 47, Michelle Nunn (D) 41, Amanda Swafford (Lib) 3
HI-Sen (YouGov): Sen. Brian Schatz (D) 62, Cam Cavasso (R) 27
ID-Sen (YouGov): Sen. Jim Risch (R) 59, Nels Mitchell (D) 25
IL-Sen (YouGov): Sen. Dick Durbin (D) 50, Jim Oberweis (R) 38
IA-Sen (Loras College): Bruce Braley (D) 45, Joni Ernst (R) 41
IA-Sen (YouGov): Bruce Braley (D) 44, Joni Ernst (R) 42
KS-Sen (SurveyUSA): Greg Orman (I) 37, Sen. Pat Roberts (R) 36, Chad Taylor (D*) 10, Randall Batson (Lib) 6
KY-Sen (Marist): Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) 47, Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) 39
KY-Sen (YouGov): Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) 47, Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) 42
LA-Sen (Pollster TBA for Senate Conservatives Fund): Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) 46, Bill Cassidy (R) 45
LA-Sen (Pollster TBA for Senate Conservatives Fund): Rob Maness (R) 47, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) 45
LA-Sen (YouGov): Bill Cassidy (R) 38, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) 36
ME-Sen (Rasmussen): Sen. Susan Collins (R) 59, Shenna Bellows (D) 31
ME-Sen (YouGov): Sen. Susan Collins (R) 58, Shenna Bellows (D) 26
MA-Sen (YouGov): Sen. Ed Markey (D) 53, Frank Addivinola (R) 28
MI-Sen (YouGov): Terri Land (R) 43, Gary Peters (D) 42
MN-Sen (YouGov): Sen. Al Franken (D) 49, Mike McFadden (R) 41
MS-Sen (YouGov): Sen. Thad Cochran (R) 46, Travis Childers (D) 31
MT-Sen (YouGov): Steve Daines (R) 53, Amanda Curtis (D) 35
NE-Sen (YouGov): Ben Sasse (R) 56, Dave Domina (D) 30
NH-Sen (Kiley & Co. for the DSCC): Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) 50, Scott Brown (R) 42
NH-Sen (YouGov): Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) 47, Scott Brown (R) 41
NJ-Sen (YouGov): Sen. Cory Booker (D) 52, Jeff Bell (R) 37
NM-Sen (YouGov): Sen. Tom Udall (D) 54, Allan Weh (R) 36
NC-Sen (Public Opinion Strategies for Tillis/NRSC): Sen. Kay Hagan (D) 44, Thom Tillis (R) 44, Sean Haugh (Lib) 7
NC-Sen (YouGov): Thom Tillis (R) 43, Kay Hagan (D) 42, Sean Haugh (Lib) 5
OK-Sen-A (Sooner Poll): Sen. Jim Inhofe (R) 59, Matt Silverstein (D) 27
OK-Sen-A (YouGov): Sen. Jim Inhofe (R) 60, Matt Silverstein (D) 28
OK-Sen-B (Sooner Poll): Jim Lankford (R) 58, Connie Johnson (D) 28
OK-Sen-B (YouGov): Jim Lankford (R) 61, Connie Johnson (D) 28
OR-Sen (Rasmussen): Sen. Jeff Merkley (D) 48, Monica Wehby (R) 35
OR-Sen (YouGov): Sen. Jeff Merkley (D) 51, Monica Wehby (R) 39
RI-Sen (YouGov): Sen. Jack Reed (D) 52, Mark Zaccaria (R) 32
SC-Sen-A (YouGov): Sen. Lindsay Graham (R) 42, Brad Hutto (D) 29, Thomas Ravenel (I) 8
SC-Sen-B (YouGov): Sen. Tim Scott (R) 54, Joyce Dickerson (D) 33
SD-Sen (YouGov): Mike Rounds (R) 43, Rick Weiland (D) 29, Larry Pressler (I) 6
TN-Sen (YouGov): Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) 47, Gordon Ball (D) 32
TX-Sen (YouGov): Sen. John Cornyn (R) 55, David Alameel (D) 34
VA-Sen (YouGov): Sen. Mark Warner (D) 51, Ed Gillespie (R) 39
WV-Sen (YouGov): Shelley Moore Capito (R) 55, Natalie Tennant (D) 32
WY-Sen (YouGov): Sen. Mike Enzi (R) 66, Charlie Hardy (D) 21
AR-Gov (Marist): Asa Hutchinson (R) 48, Mike Ross (D) 39
CO-Gov (Marist): Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) 43, Bob Beauprez (R) 39, Others 9
CO-Gov (Rasmussen): Bob Beauprez (R) 45, Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) 44
FL-Gov (Mason-Dixon): Gov. Rick Scott (R) 43, Charlie Crist (D) 41
KS-Gov (SurveyUSA): Paul Davis (D) 47, Gov. Sam Brownback (R) 40, Keen Umbehr (Lib) 5
OH-Gov (Univ. of Akron): Gov. John Kasich (R) 46, Ed FitzGerald (D) 27
OK-Gov (Sooner Poll): Gov. Mary Fallin (R) 50, Joe Dorman (D) 32
OR-Gov (Rasmussen): Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) 48, Dennis Richardson (R) 38
SC-Gov (ARG): Gov. Nikki Haley (R) 43, Vincent Sheheen (D) 33, Tom Ervin (I) 18
MA-06 (Emerson College Polling Society): Richard Tisei (R) 51, Rep. John Tierney (D) 43
MA-06 (Emerson College Polling Society): Seth Moulton (D) 44, Richard Tisei (R) 36
MI-08 (GBA Strategies for Schertzing): Mike Bishop (R) 42, Eric Schertzing (D) 37, Others 13
MI-11 (Tulchin Research for McKenzie): Dave Trott (R) 44, Bobby McKenzie (D) 40
OK-05 (Sooner Poll): Steve Russell (R) 52, Al McAffrey (D) 30
A few thoughts, as always, await you just past the jump ...
The YouGov series has, predictably, dominated the electoral conversation over the last two days, driven by a pair of factors.
For one thing, their sheer breadth meant that several of their findings stood (essentially) alone, even in some borderline first-tier races. For example, their survey in Montana was only the second poll involving Amanda Curtis, who became the Democratic nominee in this Dem-held seat in the middle of August. They were also only the second outfit to poll the tossup U.S. Senate race in Alaska since last month's primary, when Republican Dan Sullivan earned the right to challenge freshman Democratic Sen. Mark Begich. Further down the priority list, they stand out as the only firm to poll either the Delaware or Rhode Island Senate races.
For another, several of their results, at least marginally, ran against type. YouGov, for example, had Republican Shelley Moore Capito leading by a wider margin in a marginally competitive race in West Virginia than Democrats Chris Coons (Delaware) and Jack Reed (Rhode Island) were leading against a pair of Some Dude Republicans. And perhaps most notably there was Michigan. In that open-seat race to replace Democrat Carl Levin, YouGov had Republican Terri Lynn Land up one point over Gary Peters.
That poll, more than any of the others, stands out for its distance from the herd, so to speak. The two YouGov polls here average out to Land +1. The other dozen polls since July 1st have averaged out to a 4-5 point lead for Peters. And that includes a Land internal poll that brought down the average a bit.
And therein lies one issue, historically, with opt-in panel surveys like the YouGov project (as it happens, one of our own community members is a part of the YouGov panel, and adds some other highly intriguing observations).
In short, what Michigan tells us is that if the panel is off, every survey will be off, because, essentially, the same folks are participating in each round.
For example, and it is an admittedly minor one, in 2012, YouGov just seemed to have found a fairly pro-Democratic crew of volunteers (no pun intended) in Tennessee. Throughout the cycle, their results in Tennessee gave the indication of a state that only leaned to Mitt Romney. A September YouGov offering had Romney only leading by seven points. He eventually won, of course, in a rout in the state.
A more naked, and absurd, example was the 2006 Zogby Interactive series I alluded to earlier. In Wisconsin, the Zogby panel was clearly GOP-heavy, given that it only gave incumbent Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl modest leads throughout the cycle. He wound up winning over Republican Robert Lorge by 38 points, more than double the amount Team Zogby indicated.
To his credit, Nate Cohn (who writes up the YouGov polls for one of the poll clients, The New York Times) was aware enough of the Michigan question to offer an explanation via Twitter: unusually, the undecided pool here was largely black and Democratic.
That, it would seem, may well be a panel issue more than a Michigan one. The Democratic nominee, Gary Peters, represents a majority-black district, and unless Terri Land has a massive following with African-American voters that no one is aware of, it seems pretty unlikely that there are a ton of African-American voters in Michigan that are on the fence about this one. After all, a whopping five percent of black voters went GOP for the Senate in 2008, and four percent pulled the GOP lever in 2012.
But let's be clear: just because there may be some states where the panels seem wacky (I'll bet any conservative pundit a $100 contribution to charity on the Delaware Senate race if I only have to lay 13 points, for example) does not mean that the results should be dismissed. In 24 of their 52 "final polls" in the 2012 election, they came within 3 percentage points of the final margin (46.2 percent). Overall, in our Daily Kos Elections pollster rankings for 2012, YouGov placed mid pack (7th out of 17 major pollsters).
While it is true that most of their polls (79 percent) did overestimate in favor of the Republicans in 2012, it is also true that most pollsters underestimated Democratic performance to some extent. In other words, supporters of Democratic candidates reject the YouGov series at their own peril. Skepticism of some of the individual results may well be justified, but recent history says that there are also a lot of results here that are probably closer to reality than not.
But since the panels are, by definition, not going to change in composition dramatically, perhaps the greatest value in them is tracking changes month to month. Arguably the biggest movers this month were Alaska (which moved in the direction of the GOP) and New Mexico (which seemed much safer for Democratic Rep. Tom Udall), both of which moved more than ten points.
Unless the composition of the panel changed dramatically because a load of folks opted in or opted out, it's not a huge logical leap to say that something may have shifted in a way that warrants watching a bit more closely.
And when the next wave of YouGov data appears (presumably at the end of this month), that movement from release-to-release might be the most important thing to track.