Category Archives: Election Analysis

Michigan Reverses Direction
On Mail-In Ballot Oversight

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 20, 2020 — The Michigan Court of Appeals on Friday reversed a lower court ruling that allowed a post-election ballot reception period that would have lasted until Nov. 17, and granted the process known as “ballot harvesting,” where another individual or individuals can deliver unspecified numbers of ballots for voters.

The three-judge high court unanimously overturned a ruling from Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens who made the original directive in deciding an election lawsuit that the Michigan Alliance for Retired Americans, a union-funded organization, brought forth.

When the Michigan attorney general and secretary of state jointly decided not to appeal Judge Stephens’ ruling, the Republican controlled state House and Senate filed the motion and were granted standing. It is unclear now whether the Michigan Alliance will appeal to the state Supreme Court.

According to the Detroit News’s reporting, the original ruling contained the directive that the ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 3. That clerical distinction, however, will be difficult to enforce once we advance into the post-election counting and challenge stage.

The US Postal Service, themselves, according to their employee practices handbook, indicate that many mail pieces do not require postmarks. In most of the 21 states that are now allowing the post-election reception period, the ballots will fall into one of these categories thus making the postmark question moot, and that will invariably lead to further lawsuits and litigation. Below is the official language for the postmark directives:

“Postmarks are not required for mailings bearing a permit, meter, or precanceled stamp for postage, nor to pieces with an indicia applied by various postage evidencing systems.”

The Appellate Court ruling means, at least until if and when the state Supreme Court addresses the issue, that there will be no post-election ballot reception period in Michigan. Ballot harvesting pertaining to individuals who are not immediate family members of the person wanting to vote absentee or is not an election office clerk, will again be prohibited. Therefore, all ballots are required to be in the possession of election authorities throughout Michigan’s counties before the polls close on Election Day, Nov. 3.

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Iowa: Questioning the Polls

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 19, 2020 — Every political observer remembers that the cumulative polling community incorrectly predicted the Great Lakes states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin in the 2016 Trump-Clinton presidential race, but further research finds additional significant misses in succeeding elections.

Political research reveals that two of those campaigns came in Iowa during the 2016 presidential race and the hotly contested governor’s race two years later. Today, we look at the Hawkeye State numbers with the goal of potentially ascertaining if there is a common polling pattern or consistent error factor.

In October, four polls have been released for the 2020 contest from a like number of different pollsters, two from left of center organizations while the other two are independent entities. The research organizations are Data for Progress, Civiqs for the Daily Kos Elections webpage, YouGov, and Quinnipiac University. Each has conducted one October Iowa survey.

In the presidential race, the polls yield former vice president Joe Biden an average lead of just over one percentage point. The cumulative ballot test mode then finds Des Moines real estate executive Theresa Greenfield (D) topping Sen. Joni Ernst (R) with a margin of four percentage points.

How do these numbers compare to recent polling vs. results electoral history, and is there an inherent Republican under-poll present?

In 2016, the Real Clear Politics polling average from Nov. 1-4 found then-candidate Donald Trump leading former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by a mean average of three percentage points derived from three polls and three different polling firms. On Election Day, Nov. 4, 2016, Trump carried the state by a much larger 9.5-point margin.

Overall, 26 Iowa polls were released during the 2016 election cycle, with Trump recording a cumulative average lead of under half of one percentage point. According to the Real Clear Politics polling archives, 12 firms combined to reach the grand total, including Public Policy Polling (5 surveys), NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist College (5), Loras College (3), Quinnipiac University (3), Emerson College (2), and Selzer & Company for the Des Moines Register (2). The widest spread came from Loras College (Clinton plus-14) at the end of June. The Selzer & Company for the Des Moines Register poll produced the most accurate finding, Trump plus-7, at the very end of the election cycle (Nov. 1-4, 2016).

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Georgia Polling Dichotomy

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 16, 2020 — An October polling plethora has been released in Georgia, which is becoming one of the most important 2020 election cycle states both in terms of the presidential and US Senate outcomes. As the only state featuring two US Senate races, Georgia has attracted more than its share of polling universe attention.

Quinnipiac University released new data yesterday that either is detecting a new trend or is an outlier. Their results give Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, and US Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock big leads in their respective races, something no other survey research firm is reporting.

The Quinnipiac poll (Oct. 8-12; 1,040 likely Georgia voters, live interview) finds Biden posting a 51-44 percent lead over President Trump, Ossoff claiming a similar 51-45 percent advantage over Sen. David Perdue (R), and Rev. Warnock outpacing both Rep. Doug Collins (R-Gainesville) and appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R) by 19 and 21 percentage points (41-22-20 percent).

Six other pollsters, also surveying in October, largely see things much differently.

Polling within the same period as Quinnipiac are Survey USA, Data for Progress, and Morning Consult.

Survey USA chose exactly the same sampling period as Quinnipiac, Oct. 8-12. With a sample size of 877 likely Georgia voters also in live interviews, they see a dissimilar political landscape. While they find Biden leading in the presidential race, his margin is only two points, 48-46 percent.

The two pollsters’ Senate numbers are starkly different. S-USA finds Sen. Perdue leading Ossoff, 46-43 percent, a net nine-point variance when directly compared with Quinnipiac. The jungle primary special election race is even more disparate. While Quinnipiac projects one of the biggest leads for Warnock during the entire election cycle, S-USA finds only a four-point difference between he and Sen. Loeffler, 30-26 percent, a far cry from the Q-Poll’s 41-20 percent.

The two pollsters even see a different ballot test order. While the Q-Poll finds a Warnock-Collins-Loeffler split, Survey USA projects a virtual three-way battle among Warnock, Loeffler, and Collins. The latter poll posts Rep. Collins’ statewide support at 20 percent.

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The Trafalgar Effect

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 15, 2020 — The Trafalgar Group is the polling firm that came to national political notoriety four years ago when they correctly predicted a Donald Trump victory in both Michigan and Pennsylvania and were the only survey research firm to do so. Since that time, they have forecast at least four other wins when the active polling community was arriving at opposite conclusions.

Yesterday, Trafalgar released its latest Pennsylvania data (Oct. 10-12; 1,034 likely Pennsylvania voters) and finds former vice president Joe Biden leading President Trump 47.4 – 45.1 percent — just over a two-point spread. In October, not counting the Trafalgar number, we see 12 other pollsters returning Pennsylvania data and they average a pro-Biden forecast of just under seven points.

Routinely, Trafalgar’s data shows President Trump in better position than most pollsters because they attempt to quantify what is termed the “shy Trump voter,” i.e., those who are actually voting for the incumbent but won’t admit it to a pollster. In most cases, the Trafalgar calculations, derived from a proprietary algorithmic formula, have been reliably accurate.

From 2016, we remember that, generally, the polling community missed badly in the Trump-Clinton presidential race. While their national count was accurate – predicting a tight plurality for Hillary Clinton (final result: 48.2 – 46.1 percent) – many state projections were off, particularly those in the Great Lakes region.

In the previous presidential election cycle, a total of 62 surveys were conducted in the state of Pennsylvania, and only three found a lead for President Trump, including the Trafalgar pre-election survey. In Michigan, 45 polls were publicly released, and Trump led in just two, one of which was Trafalgar’s final 2016 study. In Wisconsin, 33 polls were taken, and none found President Trump running ahead. Yet, in all three cases, he won the state.

The Great Lakes/Mid-Atlantic region was not the only area where 2016 polling missed the mark. In North Carolina, the margin average looked to be dead even heading into the election, but President Trump won with a 3.6 percent spread. The cumulative polling missed Arizona by two points, and Florida by 1.2 percent. In all of these instances, the Republican voted was under-estimated.

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Potential Ticket Splitting?

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 14, 2020 — We’ve seen a preponderance of straight-line party voting in the past few elections, but two new surveys testing both the presidential and US Senate campaigns in respective states suggest a split ticket result could possibly occur.

Two polls were released earlier this week, one from Michigan and the other Montana, which find a constant sample plurality that suggests the respondents might vote for different party candidates in the presidential and US Senate race. In both cases, the respective Senate candidate is polling better than the same party’s trailing presidential contender.

In Michigan, Siena College/New York Times surveyed the Wolverine State electorate (Oct. 8-11; 614 likely Michigan voters, live interview) and finds that former vice president Joe Biden leads President Trump, 48-40 percent, but the same sample finds Democrat Sen. Gary Peters leading challenger John James (R) by only a 43-42 percent margin. Therefore, we see a net seven-point swing toward the Republican candidate as the voters move down the ballot.

We see a potentially similar pattern developing in Montana, but the parties are reversed. Here, Public Policy Polling surveyed the Big Sky Country voter sample (Oct. 9-10; 798 Montana voters, interactive voice response system) and notes that President Trump is topping Biden, 52-46 percent, yet in the Senate race, Sen. Steve Daines (R) and Gov. Steve Bullock (D) are tied at 48 percent preference. These results translate into a six-point net swing toward the Democratic candidate after the individual voter professes his or her presidential preference.

Both of these patterns appear unusual for contemporary election cycles that now see sometimes less than five percent of party members straying from their organization’s nominee while Independents follow their own predictable track. This tells us that non-affiliated voters in these two states may be acting more like true independents, which would constitute a relative break in the voting prototypes that have come to the forefront during this decade.

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