Thursday, August 12, 2004

Falsely attacking Ralph Nader:
It is getting pretty amazing out here in Internet land. Over the last few months, I have posted two reports about the non-Nader factor. You can read them here: ["Anti-Nader study falls flat"] and here: ["The non-Nader factor"].

Since that time, a few things have happened. First, the and folks have totally changed their strategy. They are now called "The Unity Campaign." They are also taking advantage of the popular Nader-bashing phenom. The group is actively soliciting donations for its effort and has barely raised over $13,000 destroying a great man who has a Constitutional right to run for president.

Second, they have totally changed their reporting perspective which is probably in response to the two reports posted here on Politizine. The group no longer tracks national preference polling to make their claims that Nader will cost John Kerry the election. Instead, they are following state by state polls, as we wisely suggested they should. The Unity Campaign now has an interactive map, with some of the latest numbers, posted here: [This week in the Battleground].

Sidebar: Not to brag, but it is clear that criticism posted about their data - both here and other places on the Web - led them to alter their strategy. This may be why they emailed me their data and Web site on Thursday. Politizine commends them for acknowledging that their previous data and strategy were flawed. Unfortunately, they haven't altered their attacks against Nader.

Back to the map: While looking at their current battleground map, it is clear that the strategic changes they made still lack some fundamentals. They still don't seem to understand the nature of winning and losing or assumptions that can be made from polling data. They also cleverly limit their data to make their case - even though more thorough analysis continues to show no Nader factor.

The group awards each state's Electoral College votes in the following manner: If a candidate has less than 3 percent of a lead, the state is deemed a "toss-up margin." If a candidate has a 3 to 8 percent lead, the state is identified as a "slight lean" state. More than an 8 percent lead, the state is called "leaning" or what would otherwise be called a solid for a specific candidate. The Unity Campaign's map has the race at Kerry 254, Bush 252, with 32 Electoral College votes as toss ups. We understand their methodology but challenge the premise that somehow a candidate is in a better position to win whether he has 2 percent or 3 percent. Most polls have the margin of error around 4 to 5 percent. If they altered their map to the 4 to 5 percent threshold - as others have - they could make the case that Kerry is in danger of losing the presidency, with or without Nader in the race.

Second sidebar: Since January, I have been watching the state polls at The Hedgehog Report, a site put together by David Wissing, a Republican activist. Sometime in July, he cleared the site of almost eight months worth of polls, saying it was getting too difficult to update. Luckily, I saved most of the analysis from these polls. His new site is here: [The Hedgehog Report] . Despite his Republican leanings, Wissing has shown Kerry with huge Electoral College vote leads based on polling he has been tracking for months. While he is a partisan, I think his methodology is very accurate and his site offers the most thorough polling data on the Web.
Currently, Wissing has the race at Kerry 296, Bush 242, based on recent state polls and previous election results.

For example, their electoral map lists four states with 32 Electoral College maps as "tossup" [sic] states: Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, and New Hampshire. In three of those states, Minnesota, Missouri, and New Hampshire, Kerry is actually leading even though Nader is receiving small percentage points in polls. While the lead is within the margin of error in all the states, he still would hypothetically win those states.

Since June, there have been seven polls in Iowa. One shows a tie between Kerry and Bush. One shows Bush with a 1 point lead and Nader receiving 2 percent. However, this Des Moines Register poll from mid-July does not list any specific data about Nader's supporters except that they will be voting in November. So, while Nader could be impacting this poll, without the specifics, we just don't know. Five other polls show Kerry leads of 2 to 4 percent. In almost every other poll taken from Iowa between February and June, Kerry wins. In all other polls than the one mentioned above, Kerry wins or loses the race whether Nader is on the ballot or not. Iowa has also historically been a blue state. So, even though The Unity Campaign lists the state as a toss up, in reality, it is at worst a "slight lean" Kerry state. At best, it is a Kerry win.

Onto Minnesota, where the group has a poll posted from July 12 showing Kerry with a 1 point lead over Bush. Nader has 2 percent. However, there have been three other polls since that time showing Kerry leads as high as 7 percent. In all but one of the seven polls since June, Kerry has had leads as high as 9 percent. In the one poll - Strategic Vision from July 20-24 - Bush and Kerry were tied at 47, with Nader getting 2. Without Nader, Kerry has the lead, 48 to 47. In almost 250 polls done since January, this is one of about 10 that shows Nader potentially hurting Kerry. Nader's candidacy doesn't give Bush the lead, but he does potentially take the lead from Kerry. Strategic Vision, unfortunately, doesn't list any of the specific demographics from the poll on its Web site, so we don't know much about the methodology or how many Democrats are voting for Bush, an important anomaly in the 2004 election cycle. However, with or without Nader, Minnesota is clearly a "slight lean" Kerry state, at worst.

Missouri is a bit trickier. Between January and June, Bush led almost every poll in the state which has been considered a red state. However, with the economy in the tank and manufacturing getting hammered - something that both Kerry and Bush are to blame for - Missouri is now in play. Leads have been going back and forth between the two major party candidates. Bush's best lead was 11 percent in early June; Kerry, 3 points, in late July. However, Nader on the ballot in the state doesn't affect Kerry's results. In seven polls done in the state since June, Kerry either wins or loses on his own. I agree that the state is a toss up. But there is no Nader factor, despite assertions by the Web site.

Lastly, New Hampshire, which is always a mysterious state. Since after the primary in January, Bush and Kerry have traded leads back and forth. In all but one of the polls done in the state, Nader has not been a factor. In a Becker Institute poll from June, Kerry's 48 to 45 lead drops to a Bush 45 to 44 lead when Nader is added. But in other polls, Nader on the ballot has been a plus for Kerry, taking Republican votes away from Bush, as noted in a March ARG poll. In four other polls, Nader takes equally from both Bush and Kerry, 1 percent, again proving claims Nader and others have made about the 2000 election cycle: [Debunking the Myth]. Kerry has led in five of the polls from the state since June, with leads as high as 7 percent. New Hampshire could easily be rated a "slight lean" Kerry state.

With that said, their map also does not take into account all kinds of other polls held or current polls posted on Wissing's site. If The Unity Campaign did use these polls, their argument would be thrown right out the window.

For example, on their map, Ohio is listed as a "slight lean" Bush state when at best, it is a toss up. In the 10 polls held since June, Kerry has led in five and Bush in five. And again, Kerry wins or loses the state whether Nader is on the ballot or not. This has been consistent in all the polling done in the state, with one poll in June showing Nader helping Kerry by taking away more votes from Bush. In the poll they use to call the state slight lean Bush - from the Columbus Dispatch, mid-July - Bush is only leading by 3 percent, the definition of toss up in most people's eyes since it is below the standard 4 to 5 percent margin of error. So why again do they lean the state to Bush? Ohio is a toss up state, pure and simple.

They also list Pennsylvania as a "slight lean" Bush state based on a poll from late June. Since that poll, seven other polls have shown Kerry with decent leads in that state, mostly in the 5 to 12 percent range. In fact, the Fox/Opinion Dynamics poll listed is the only poll out of 10 since June with a Bush lead. And, there is no Nader factor in the polls. At worst, Pennsylvania is a "slight lean" Kerry state. At best, it will go to Kerry.

One could also argue that other states they designate as Bush "slight lean" states - Arkansas, Arizona, and Nevada - are actually toss ups. Using their definition, less than 3 percent being a toss up, all three states fit the toss up profile.
The Unity Campaign's latest poll posted from Arkansas is from May. Since that time, three other polls have shown a 1 point Kerry lead, a tie, and a 2 point Bush lead, with no Nader influence. So, Arkansas is clearly a toss up.
Over in Arizona, the same could be true. While Bush has led most polls - some by huge margins - the last two polls have a Bush 3 point lead and a Kerry 1 point lead. Nader won't be on the ballot in Arizona so it is doubtful he will be a factor. While lots of people admire him there, write-in candidates rarely earn many votes. Arizona should be listed as a toss up.
In Nevada, while Bush has led in past polls, the last two show a Bush lead by 3 and a Kerry lead by 4. In the poll in which Bush led, Nader received 4 percent, showing potential influence in the race although Mason-Dixon, the polling agency, offered no specifics in the methodology. In the other polls from all three states, Nader is not a factor. So Nevada should be considered a toss up too.

These mistakes alone change the dynamic in The Unity Campaign's battleground map - from a 254-252 virtual tie - to a win for Kerry with 296 Electoral College votes. Bush should be at 190 and 52 would be ruled as toss ups.

Conclusion? There is still no Nader factor. Kerry is currently leading - as he was when Politizine filed the two other reports. If The Unity Campaign folks would read the data properly and follow the polls correctly, they would see this.
Now, this could change. But as it stands now, Aug. 12, the day The Unity Campaign sent out their press release to the nation, it just isn't so. There is no Nader impact. These are the facts.
However, following the data properly and reporting accurately does not fit into The Unity Campaign's agenda. They are raising money and appearing on television talking about a political phenomenon that doesn't exist. It is a myth and their presumptions are wrong. Their actions are corrupt and they should be ashamed of themselves. Trashing Nader and misleading people about his campaign will not help Kerry win.

We will continue to follow this data and update it as the campaign moves along.

A few other notes:
Although I have curbed my blogging, Blogger has changed formats and it performs much better now. They have made these awesome new changes that make it easier to post links and design the pages. It is pretty impressive and very user-friendly. We are also delaying our new format introduction for a few more weeks until I can find a few more people to make commitments to post material here.

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