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Mark Schauer, special sauce and Obama's magical database elixir

by: Eric B.

Mon Jun 23, 2014 at 10:49:11 AM EDT

MLive profiled Mark Schauer's campaign yesterday. It's an interesting read.

Michigan is a blue state in presidential years, but voters tend to sit out mid-term elections. Johnson claims the party has identified some 995,000 Democrats who stayed home in 2010 but voted for President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

By opening up early campaign offices and implementing outreach techniques popularized by Obama, Michigan Democrats believe the numbers game can help them win the governor's office and a competitive U.S. Senate seat.

"This is the Obama campaign 2014," Schauer tells supporters. "People ask me all the time if we've got the Obama database yet. Well we've got the Obama database, and we've got the special sauce that goes along with it."

This reminds me of stories right after Obama won re-election that came out of Florida where Republicans, confident that they were going to win, were aghast at how the Obama campaign had gone in and found voters no one previously knew existed and got them to the polls.

A database, of course, doesn't win elections by itself, but it doesn't appear that anyone believes this. It also appears that the Democratic Party has -- maybe -- gotten past its history of relying on dumb gimmicks to win elections an is instead trying to win them by doing things that work. I'm not normally one for horse race election coverage, and I'm also not a big fan of making things closer than they are for the purposes of ginning up excitement, but it's possible that this year the polls might lead to inaccurate predictions because the playing field has been changed. Might, I said. Might.

Eric B. :: Mark Schauer, special sauce and Obama's magical database elixir
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but it's possible that this year the polls might lead to inaccurate predictions because the playing field has been changed.

I think this is the wrong way of looking at it. If Schauer isn't leading or neck-and-neck in the polls in late October, he's not going to win. Don't buy it if someone says they've got numbers that aren't reflected in polling. Reputable pollsters are generally pretty good at what they do when it comes to statewide races.

(Caveat: Michigan has some pollsters who do not deserve to be labeled "reputable.")

But if the Obama database and "special sauce" that goes with it can change the electorate, you'll start to see that showing up in the polls as we get closer to the election. I think we'll have a pretty good idea of whether or not any of this is working before Election Day.

Maybe not
All polling starts by trying to figure out who is a likely voter, right? You do that by figuring out past behavior, which cuts out anyone whose behavior changes this time. So, the playing field is changed by one of the actors behaving differently, which could mean that the polls are this time simply not as accurate as we're used to them being.

Among the Trees

[ Parent ]
Disclaimer: This isn't my area of expertise.
I have experience in a vaguely-related area, but this isn't what I do for a living. So when Grebner comes along and tells me I'm totally wrong, trust his word over mine.

That said, I'm going to stand by my previous comment, but with an added asterisk.

You're right-- based on past behavior, the people that the MDP is targeting are not likely voters and would presumably count against them in the pollsters' likely voter screens.

But LV screens should be able to account for some shift in the electorate. This discussion from 2004 gives an overview of some of the criteria used for determining likely voters by major public pollsters, and almost all of them contain some variation on:

- voter registration
- intention to vote
- engagement with news about the race
- past voting history
- age

The MDP has 995,000 target voters who are already registered. If they can successfully contact and mobilize them, they should light up the intention to vote and engagement with the race categories too. That, to me, suggests they should show up in a LV polling in September or October.

Now the asterisk: Every pollster seems to weight those categories differently, and based on those weights might not see things the way I do.

I certainly hope that a LV model will pick up voters who say they're paying attention and plan to vote, even if their past voting history suggests they won't vote in a midterm. But again, this isn't what I do for a living. Maybe pollsters have a good reason to discount a voter's self-reported intentions and engagement because they skipped one out of the last three elections and are, say, under 30.

But it seems to me that a successful voter outreach program as hinted in that MLive piece should turn an unlikely voter into a likely voter in the eyes of a decent LV screen.

All of this also assumes that pollsters are also still able to put together representative samples despite increased cell phone use. I've got nothing there.

[ Parent ]
Depends on *how* they decide who's a likely voter
(Some of this is expanding on what you said, Fitzy.)

From what I can tell, the ways pollsters determine likelihood of voting can be sorted into one of two broad categories:

1. Checking the voting records of respondents; and
2. Asking certain questions (perhaps a straight-up "Do you plan to vote?" or modeling off a set of questions).

For #1, if a respondent is among the 995,000 who didn't vote in the most recent "similar election" - 2010 - then their absence from the polls that year will count against their being considered a likely voter this year. Not that they absolutely won't be considered a likely voter in 2014, but it makes it less likely. Out of ~7.5 million registered voters in Michigan, around 13% are folks whom the MDP has ID'd as Democrats who didn't vote in 2010. Many of them won't be regarded by most models to be likely voters. So by including most of the people who voted in 2010 while excluding many of those who stayed home, it appears that these models would inherently lean toward the party that dominated the 2010 election.

For #2, there are folks who currently don't plan to vote but who will end up doing so on November 4. We here at MichLib know that voting is very important, but many folks out there see it as little more than another errand to run - "head to the post office, grab a few groceries, vote, pick up the kids from basketball practice." You're asking them if they're planning on running a specific errand 19 weeks from now, when they're probably not even thinking 19 days ahead.

Fitzy, are you right? Will pollsters pick up on any 'surge' of likely voters?

I'm not Grebner, but I would infer that those pollsters in #2 above - who rely on asking voters if they plan to vote - would be more likely to pick up such a spike than would those who rely solely on voter history.

Is Joe Jones a "likely voter" if he (a) voted in the presidential elections of 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012; (b) hasn't voted in any other elections in that time frame, including midterms, primaries, or mayoral races; and (c) has decided that the roads and schools are in such bad shape that he needs to get out and vote this year? Odds are, pollsters in Group #1 above wouldn't consider him a likely voter (since he hasn't voted in gubernatorials), while those in Group #2 would (since he does plan to vote this time).

On the flip side, what if Sue Smith voted in 2002 and 2006, but not 2010? That's hard for me to tell. But if she has a more complete history of voting - perhaps she's voted in most August primaries, or maybe she's voted in every midterm since 1982 except for 2010 - she may be considered a likely voter, even if she doesn't plan to vote this time.

But again, I'm no Grebner.

Now on Great Lakes, Great Times, Great Scott: Cotter vs. Jesus and Reagan

[ Parent ]

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