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Reconsidering the Ohio Results

Public Opinion Watch: Reconsidering the conventional wisdom about Ohio; Bush's Hispanic support headed downward; It's still a Roe v. Wade Country.
 
 
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In this edition of Public Opinion Watch:
(covering polls and related articles from the weeks of November 29-December 5, 2004)

  • Reconsidering the Conventional Wisdom about Ohio
  • Bush's Hispanic Support Headed Downward
  • Still a Roe v. Wade Country

Reconsidering the Conventional Wisdom about Ohio

Everybody knows what happened in Ohio, right? Hordes of evangelicals descended on the polls in rural and exurban areas and their votes for Bush swamped the Democrats' valiant, but doomed, mobilization efforts in urban areas.

Steve Rosenthal, head of the leading Democratic 527, America Coming Together (ACT), has a very interesting article in the Washington Post on Sunday that questions this conventional wisdom with hard data, including a post-election poll of 1,400 rural and exurban voters in Ohio counties that Bush won by an average of seventeen percentage points. I recommend it strongly.

Here are some key excerpts from the article:

The first myth: Many more churchgoing voters flocked to the polls this year, driven by the Bush "moral values" and the gay marriage referendum. Reality: In Ohio, the share of the electorate represented by frequent churchgoers actually declined from 45 percent in 2000 to 40 percent in 2004.

Second myth: The Bush campaign won by mobilizing GOP strongholds and suppressing turnout in Democratic areas. Reality: Turnout in Democratic-leaning counties in Ohio was up 8.7 percent while turnout in Republican-leaning counties was up slightly less, at 6.3 percent. John Kerry bested Bush in Cuyahoga County (home of Cleveland) by 218,000 votes – an increase of 42,497 over Gore's 2000 effort. In Stark County (Canton) – a bellwether lost by Gore – Kerry won by 4,354.

Third myth: A wave of newly registered Republican voters in fast-growing rural and exurban areas carried Bush to victory. Reality: Among Ohio's rural and exurban voters, Bush beat Kerry by just five points among newly registered voters and by a mere two points among infrequent voters (those who did not vote in 2000).

Fourth myth: Republicans ran a superior, volunteer-driven mobilization effort. Reality: When we asked new voters in rural and exurban areas who contacted them during this campaign, we learned that they were just as likely to hear from the Kerry campaign and its allies as from the Bush side.... [A]ccording to our post-election polling; only 20 percent of exurban and rural Ohio voters reported that they had been contacted by someone from their church, and only slightly higher percentages were contacted by conservative organizations.... [V]oters in these Republican counties were just as likely to be visited by a Kerry supporter at their homes as by a Bush supporter. Fewer than 2 percent were visited by a Bush supporter whom they knew personally.

I would add the following to what Rosenthal says, based on my own analysis of Ohio county voting data. Gore lost Ohio by about 165,000 votes in 2000, so Kerry needed a net gain of over 165,000 votes to take the state. My analysis shows that Kerry only gained about 103,000 net votes in all of metro Ohio outside of the exurbs. Therefore, Bush's 66,000 net vote gain in the exurbs and rural areas was not particularly consequential to the outcome. Kerry didn't gain enough votes outside of those areas to win anyway.

Or look at it this way. If you take all of the metro, non-exurban counties where Kerry registered net vote gains, including Cleveland's Cuyahoga county (52,000), Columbus' Franklin county (37,000), Cincinnati's Hamilton county (18,000), Akron's Summit county (14,000), and the rest, he still only had a net gain of about 155,000 votes, which is not enough to take the state even before any counties where he lost net votes – non-exurban metro, exurban, or rural – are taken into consideration.

In that light, consider Warren county, that much reported-upon exurban county outside of Cincinnati, which made for great copy in the 2004 election, as a sort of an evangelical-drive vote machine for George Bush. But in the end it was not key to Bush's victory in Ohio; he would have carried the state even he had not received one additional net vote from Warren this year.

Finally, it's instructive to compare Kerry's performance in 2004 not just with Gore's in 2000 but with Clinton's in 1996, when the Democrats actually carried the state. While there was heavy falloff in 2004 from Clinton's performance in Ohio's rural and exurban areas, it is also true that Clinton did much better – by a margin of 150,000 votes – than Kerry in Ohio's non-exurban metro areas. Interestingly, about two-thirds of this falloff can be accounted for by declining Democratic support in Ohio's medium-sized metro areas (think Youngstown's Mahoning county, Canton's Stark county, Dayton's Montgomery county, Toledo's Lucas county, and so on). Even more interesting, if Kerry had matched Clinton's victory margin in non-exurban metro counties as a whole, he would have won the state, despite the sharp fall-off in rural and exurban support.

Bush's Hispanic Support Headed Downward

Or, more accurately, closer to where it was to begin with. I argued the other day that it was quite unlikely that Bush actually got 44 percent of the Hispanic vote, as the national NEP exit poll claimed, and that the 59 percent share given him by the Texas state exit poll was particularly fanciful.

Now we have this Associated Press item showing a drastic downward revision in the Texas figure for Bush's Hispanic support:

In the Nov. 3 BC-ELN-Texas Glance and BC-TX Exit-Poll Excerpts, The Associated Press overstated President Bush's support among Texas Hispanics. Under a post-election adjustment by exit poll providers Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International, 49 percent of Hispanics in the state voted for Bush, not a majority. The revised result does not differ to a statistically significant degree from Bush's 43 percent support among Texas Hispanics in a 2000 exit poll.

The revised BC-TX-Exit-Poll Excerpts showed that 20 percent, not 23 percent, of all Texas voters were Hispanic. They voted 50 percent for Kerry and 49 percent for Bush, not 41-59 Kerry-Bush.

Quite a change and it should affect not just the Texas Hispanic estimate, but the national one as well. As Steve Sailer correctly points out:

That reduction of 10 points in Texas would appear to knock almost 2 points off Bush's national Hispanic share by itself (since the exit poll claimed that Texas accounted for 18% of America's Hispanic voters), and the reduction in the Hispanic share of the Texas vote from 23% to 20% would reduce Bush's national Hispanic share as well (because he still had more Hispanic support in Texas than nationally).

That makes my – and Sailer's – estimate that Bush received around 39 percent, not 44 percent, of the national Hispanic vote look better and better. Particularly since, according to a Scripps Howard News Service story on December 2, Bush's national Hispanic support has now been revised down from 44 percent to 40 percent by NEP consortium member, NBC.

Word of this revision came from an NBC official, elections manager Ana Maria Arumi. According to the story, Arumi says that:

[T]he exit poll over sampled in South Florida where Republicans are strong among Cuban-Americans.

For the revised figures the networks combined 50 state exit polls, which reflected more than 70,000 interviews.

This is obviously a step in the right direction and I can't help but feel some vindication from it, but it does not answer some key questions about this particular survey snafu and actually raises some additional ones.

1. If the initial figure was so far off, why was that? Could it really all be from oversampling in South Florida? But what about the huge overestimate of Bush's Hispanic support in Texas, which was just revised downward in a few days earlier? Isn't whatever caused that overestimate likely to have been part of the problem too? Has that correction of the Texas data even been incorporated into this new estimate of the national figure?

2. And if the Texas data were so screwed up – as the exit poll authorities now appear to admit – how do we know that there weren't other states that were also seriously messed up and are now being uncritically incorporated into this new state-based national estimate?

3. If it is necessary to combine all the state data to get a reasonable national estimate for this particular demographic group, what about other demographic groups? Should we also use state-based national estimates for them? If not, why not?

4. Who's making the decisions here anyway? The Texas revision was announced by the Associated Press and credited to Mitofksy/Edison, but this revision is announced by NBC, an NBC official is the one making the claim about South Florida oversampling, and the networks are described as the ones pooling the fifty state polls (see above) to get the national estimate. What on earth is going one here?

5. Whoever is, or is not, in charge, at some point there should be an explanation forthcoming of what exactly went wrong, how exactly it was fixed and why exactly it was deemed appropriate to fix it in that particular way. At this point, all we can do is guess at all these things, which reduces one's faith that the fixes they are currently implementing are really the right ones and are (finally) producing correct figures.

Whatever the answers to these questions, this revision of the NEP exit poll's data swings their national Hispanic vote estimate from 53 percent-44 percent Kerry to 58 percent-40 percent Kerry. Quite a change: that doubles Kerry's margin among Hispanics from nine to eighteen points. And personally I believe that 40 percent figure for Bush is still a touch high.

Here are some additional materials about the Hispanic results and revisions that you may find helpful. Mark Blumenthal of Mystery Pollster has a post about the revised national Hispanic figures that goes into some detail on a few questions raised by the revision and has another post that provides even more detail on these questions, as well as some clarifications by the NEP and NBC on what is and is not being "corrected" and why. And the William C. Velasquez Institute (WCVI), which did its own exit poll of Hispanics that indicated a 65 percent-33 percent lead for Kerry, has a useful press release on the NEP revisions (national and Texas) and the WCVI position on Hispanics and the 2004 election. Here's a quotation from the Institute's president, Antonio Gonzalez, on their position:

There is no doubt that some churning of numbers has occurred, meaning Republicans appear to have made significant gains in Texas and Arizona while Democrats appear to have made significant gains in Colorado and Florida. But the net effect among these respective gains is a canceling out of one another. Latino voter partisanship has remained consistent with roughly a 30 point democratic advantage in 2000 and 2004's presidential elections.

WCVI also provides on their website an analysis of their exit poll data by St Mary's University political scientist, Henry Flores, and an extensive powerpoint presentation on their poll's findings.

Still a Roe v. Wade Country

Gallup has released a useful new report on abortion and public opinion. As the report notes, Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. On the other hand, the public does not favor unrestricted access to abortion, though different questions return different answers on the level of restrictiveness the public actually favors (see my earlier analysis of abortion and public opinion).

The sensitivity of public opinion on abortion rights to question wording suggests that the politics of the issue are particularly sensitive to how it is framed in political debate. As Alan Abramowitz observes:

I think that these results [from the Gallup poll], and similar results from other polls, help to explain how Republicans have been able to use the abortion issue to their advantage in recent elections by downplaying the idea of overturning Roe v. Wade while emphasizing support for restrictions on abortion such as the ban on "partial birth" abortions, parental consent, waiting periods, etc. Liberals are now associated with the idea of "abortion on demand" which is opposed by a majority of the public. As long as there doesn't seem to be any immediate danger that Roe will be overturned, liberals are likely to remain on the defensive on the issue of abortion.

Food for thought...

Source used for this section:

Jeffrey M. Jones, " President Bush and Roe v. Wade," Gallup Organization, November 30, 2004

Ruy Teixeira is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and The Century Foundation .