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Author Topic: Do the undecided break strongly for the Challenger?  (Read 10608 times)
The Vorlon
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« on: June 08, 2004, 08:54:02 pm »

There has been a lot of posting about how the undecided break for the challenger, etc in a variety of threads, so I figured I'd toss up a bit of information, and hopefully shed a tiny bit of light on the topic...

A new thread seemed as good a place as any... Smiley

There have been two major studies that I have personally read on this topic, one from about 1990, and the other from about 2002 or so.

I looked for them on the internet, but could not find them, so I am going from memory here.  If you do find the studies, and I am off a few percentage points.. don't shoot me.. Smiley

I am confident I remember the "broad strokes" pretty accurately, but the percentages might be off a tad here and there...

There was a study done back in 1990 (?) or so which did a simple anaylsis of what the polls said before the election and what the actual results were.

This study concluded that about 80% (+/-) of the time the challeneger did indeed do better than the polls suggested, about 10% of the time the polls were right, and 10% of the time the incumbant did better than expected.

This study had a number of flaws however.  Untill about 1990 or so, Republicans historically underpolled a bit - on average by about 4% or so.  This combined with the fact that until the 1990s the Democrats held a crushing advantage in the number of state, local, and congressional seats badly distorted the data.

Because the Dems were overwhelmingly the incumbants, and the GOP systematically underpolled, if just looked like the "break" was mostly to the challenger.

When this bias was corrected for in later studies, the "break to the challenger effect" was dramatically diminished, but certainly still there.

After correcting the data for the systemic anti-GOP bias the ratio was that about 55% of the time the challenger did better than expected, about 25% of the time there was no break, and about 20% of the time the break was towards the incumbant.

It should be remembered that, due to random error in the polls, the "normal" result would be 33/33/33 if there was no "break" effect. (A challenger would, due to random chance, underpoll as often as he/she overpolled)

The study also went a bit further and in an utterly arbitrary way divided election races into two categories - Close (under 10% lead shown in the polls) and not close (Over 10% lead shown in the polls)

There is a fairly stong effect where in a one-sided race, the challenger does better than expected.  It is fairly common to see somebody go into an election with a 30% lead and then win by "only" 19% as a bunch of his/her supporters stay home on election day.  This appears to impact Democrat incumbants a bit more the GOP incumbants, but the gap is not huge.

This is what happened in 1996 - most polls had Clinton beating Dole by 12% or better when the actual result was about 8% - CBS News Polling for example missed this election rather badly having Clinton up by 18% when the actual result was about 8%

A lot of Democrats stayed home, while Republicans went to the polls to protect their hold on the House & Senate.

Within the "close" races, the "break to the challenger" effect was still there, but slightly reduced again. - About 45% of the time the Challenger did better than expected, about 30% of the time there was no break, and about 25% of the time the incumbant did a bit better than expected.

The average "break" at the end was about the same size for both incumbants and challengers and averaged a bit over 3%.

Summary:

A bit under half the time there is an (on average) 3+ % break to the challenger at the end.

About 1/4 of the time there is a 3+ % break to the incumbant.

About 1/4 of the time there is no break at all.

Hope this helps!
« Last Edit: June 08, 2004, 08:58:35 pm by The Vorlon »Logged

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« Reply #1 on: June 08, 2004, 09:01:22 pm »
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Does this include undecideds a few weeks out?  If we're just analyzing the "breaK" of undecideds on the actual election day, it doesn't give much information about many of the undecideds.
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The Vorlon
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« Reply #2 on: June 08, 2004, 09:14:12 pm »

Does this include undecideds a few weeks out?  If we're just analyzing the "breaK" of undecideds on the actual election day, it doesn't give much information about many of the undecideds.

How the undecided break in the last couple weeks is actually more an issue of projecting turnout than it is an issue of actual voter preference. - Sorting out the "leaners" who will actually vote, versus those who stay home.  If you "properly" do the exit surveys the large majority of people who say the made up their mind in the last little while were actually always "leaning" at least somewhat to a candidate - the decision they made just before the election was whether or not to actually vote.

2000 is a great example actually.

The polls in 2000 showed a really weird effect.  A couple weeks out, If you projected turnout at right around 50% - Bush was up 6% or so.  But if you extended your turnout model to about 55-56% the race was tied.  There was this huge "bubble" of Gore voters who were almost "likely" voters.

At first everybody thought it was some weird polling quirk, but it just kept showing up again and again, so folks concluded it was real.

When the Bush Drunk Driving thing hit all the polls said two contradictory things - suddently the race was closing fast, but the same polls also said the DUI didn't change a single vote.  What really happened is that the "almost" likely Gore voters, seeing the DUI thing got excited enough to actually want to vote, sensing that their guy indeed did have a chance to win.

There was no break per se towards Gore in that very few minds actually changed, but what did change was the decision to actually vote.

This is why Bush did that weird cross country trip in the last few days to weird places - stopping in Illinois and New Jersey and a few other places rather than Florida and Ohio - it was pure voter suppression - by travelling to weird places they were trying to send the message "It's in the bag - don't bother voting" to that "bubble" of Gore voters who were "almost" likely.

One of historiy's unanswerable questions is did this Bush/Rove cross country journey convince 538 Democrats to stay home in Florida that day?
« Last Edit: June 08, 2004, 09:23:39 pm by The Vorlon »Logged

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« Reply #3 on: June 08, 2004, 09:27:50 pm »
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Wow.... Thanks for the information Vorlon! I know I heard Dick Morris  saying "Undecideds always break for the challenger" good to know that that isn't always true.
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The Vorlon
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« Reply #4 on: June 08, 2004, 09:50:48 pm »

Wow.... Thanks for the information Vorlon! I know I heard Dick Morris  saying "Undecideds always break for the challenger" good to know that that isn't always true.

It still happens more than not, just not "always".
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« Reply #5 on: June 09, 2004, 04:03:06 am »
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It happens in some states more than others.
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« Reply #6 on: June 09, 2004, 05:26:51 am »
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About 45% of the time the Challenger did better than expected, about 30% of the time there was no break, and about 25% of the time the incumbant did a bit better than expected.
While definitely not as often as I (or most, I think) were under the impression that this occurred, this is still SOMEWHAT significant... it's still a plurality of the time, and nearly twice as often as they break to the incumbent.  And if the 3% holds in close elections that's a huge difference.

Plus, if this is due to the undecideds (it was implied in a few other posts that it wasn't, but I'm not sure there's any way to tell for sure... in fact, it seems most likely to me that it IS) the "break" is stronger than it looks... perhaps not in frequency, but in amount... Because only a relatively small fraction of the populace is undecided, that small group swinging the overall total percentage by 3% indicates that they swung heavily in one direction.  Of course, that's only IF this effect is due to undecideds... which there's no evidence for or against that.

One thing's for sure, in a close election, this makes it a real b*tch to interpret the polls.  Consider the number of EVs in states closer than 3%.  If we can't predict which way those states will go, it's impossible to know who'll win.  It would be statistically safest to assume that the "break" would go to Kerry... so, he'd win.  But with "breaks to the challenger" occurring less than 50% of the time, those are hardly convincing odds!
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« Reply #7 on: June 09, 2004, 08:31:37 am »
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If you want to add to that, Mill, you can take into account how current polls show more Republicans (percentage wise) are backing Bush than Democrats for Kerry.  As I posed before, how many people are actually telling the truth during polls? Of the, say, 80% (for example) of the Democrats who are supporting Kerry, what percentage might actually vote Bush?  And vise versa for the Republicans.  Add in the undecided and independent voters, and you have one big mess.
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« Reply #8 on: June 09, 2004, 08:54:31 am »
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i *hate* that axiom that the undecideds *always* break for the challenger.  every election is different, with different dynamics.  you cant generalize.

that axiom is just a stupid as the baseball tradition that says sacrifice bunts are a good thing.
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« Reply #9 on: June 09, 2004, 09:00:40 am »
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that axiom is just a stupid as the baseball tradition that says sacrifice bunts are a good thing.
At least there's SOME data to back up the "break to the challenger" idea (though, you're right... "always" is a dangerous generalization).  I've never seen any evidence that sacrifice bunts are a good thing ;-)
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« Reply #10 on: June 09, 2004, 09:41:39 am »

There have been a zilliion posts on this forum that start out with... "In every election since 1952 (or pick another date)  the incumbant president...." (sounds impresive.. right?)

OK... since 1952 how many sitting presidents has stood for office..?

Ike in 1956 - a blowout

Johnson in 1964 - a blowout

Nixon in 1972 - a blow out

Ford  in 1976 - Competitive race

Carter in 1980 - Competitive Race

Reagan in 1984 - Blow out

Bush in 1992 - Competitive Race

Clinton in 1996 - a "solid" win

Bush in 2004 - Competitive race..

Lets see.. that's 4 competitive race with a sitting President in living memory

Last time I checked... 4 is not considered a statistically representative sample...

Each race is different....    If you try to fight the "last war" instead of the current war, you're wrong more than your right...



« Last Edit: June 09, 2004, 09:42:28 am by The Vorlon »Logged

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« Reply #11 on: June 09, 2004, 09:48:16 am »

that axiom is just a stupid as the baseball tradition that says sacrifice bunts are a good thing.
At least there's SOME data to back up the "break to the challenger" idea (though, you're right... "always" is a dangerous generalization).  I've never seen any evidence that sacrifice bunts are a good thing ;-)

Statistically, the best strategy in Baseball is to just send you players up and let the hit.  No sacrafice bunts, no stealling of bases, nothng..

Just send them up to the plate and let them do their best...
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« Reply #12 on: June 09, 2004, 09:56:07 am »
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Part of my undergrad thesis was actual about this exact phenomenon in congressional elections!

I did a study comparing polls in the last month or so of the election with the actual election results...using about 150 polls from the 1998 and 2000 election cycles.

What I found was that challengers outperformed the polls by an average of 3%, even when holding a number of other factors constant (including party, year, source of poll, etc).  The gains was statistically significant and normally distributed (I don't remember the SD off the top of my head...probably around 2%).

HOWEVER, there were a set of race in which the opposite was true.   These were races in which the challenger had what I call a "valance" advantage over the incumbent.  That is, where the challenger had better personal qualities, regardless of ideology.   Generally, these were race where:
 - The challenger was a former representive from that district or former statewide nominee
 - The challenger was a local celebrity
 - The incumbent was involved in a significant personal scandal

In these case, the incumbent actually outperformed his polls.  The incumbent's overperformance was similarly normally distributed around 3%.  
I think you might have seen this exact phenomenon at work in yesterday's Virginia primary involving Jim Moran.

Anyway, the rest of the thesis was about creating a rational-choice spatial model of voter preferences using these results, with the valence/ideology distinction at its core.

I don't know if this has any relevance to presidential elections, where both candidates are better known.
« Last Edit: June 09, 2004, 09:57:21 am by Gov. NickG »Logged
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« Reply #13 on: June 09, 2004, 09:58:04 am »
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that axiom is just a stupid as the baseball tradition that says sacrifice bunts are a good thing.
At least there's SOME data to back up the "break to the challenger" idea (though, you're right... "always" is a dangerous generalization).  I've never seen any evidence that sacrifice bunts are a good thing ;-)

Statistically, the best strategy in Baseball is to just send you players up and let the hit.  No sacrafice bunts, no stealling of bases, nothng..

Unless you have a young Rickey Henderson on first base Wink
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The Vorlon
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« Reply #14 on: June 09, 2004, 10:08:46 am »

that axiom is just a stupid as the baseball tradition that says sacrifice bunts are a good thing.
At least there's SOME data to back up the "break to the challenger" idea (though, you're right... "always" is a dangerous generalization).  I've never seen any evidence that sacrifice bunts are a good thing ;-)

Statistically, the best strategy in Baseball is to just send you players up and let the hit.  No sacrafice bunts, no stealling of bases, nothng..

Unless you have a young Rickey Henderson on first base Wink

But only with one out or less, and not if you have a runner on Third... Smiley
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« Reply #15 on: June 09, 2004, 10:40:18 am »
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Part of my undergrad thesis was actual about this exact phenomenon in congressional elections!

I did a study comparing polls in the last month or so of the election with the actual election results...using about 150 polls from the 1998 and 2000 election cycles.

What I found was that challengers outperformed the polls by an average of 3%, even when holding a number of other factors constant (including party, year, source of poll, etc).  The gains was statistically significant and normally distributed (I don't remember the SD off the top of my head...probably around 2%).

HOWEVER, there were a set of race in which the opposite was true.   These were races in which the challenger had what I call a "valance" advantage over the incumbent.  That is, where the challenger had better personal qualities, regardless of ideology.   Generally, these were race where:
 - The challenger was a former representive from that district or former statewide nominee
 - The challenger was a local celebrity
 - The incumbent was involved in a significant personal scandal

In these case, the incumbent actually outperformed his polls.  The incumbent's overperformance was similarly normally distributed around 3%.  
I think you might have seen this exact phenomenon at work in yesterday's Virginia primary involving Jim Moran.

Anyway, the rest of the thesis was about creating a rational-choice spatial model of voter preferences using these results, with the valence/ideology distinction at its core.

I don't know if this has any relevance to presidential elections, where both candidates are better known.

You state one of the biggest issues with polls:  they don't always follow a pattern.  Sounds like it was a good project though.  Would love to read some of it if you have it electronically.  As for Moran, he was going to win the primary anyway.  The contender stated Monday, when trying to identify himself to the voters, that he was a "Teddy Kennedy" Democrat.  No matter how bad Moran is, I'd vote for him over a "Teddy" any day.
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« Reply #16 on: June 09, 2004, 12:03:31 pm »
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the only play in baseball i hate worse than the sacrifice bunt, is the intentional walk.
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« Reply #17 on: June 09, 2004, 10:55:06 pm »
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I think voters perceptions and voting patterns can be much different in congressional races than presidential elections. Particularly when the challenger is unknown.

A lot of voters will wait until the last week before they even look at the congressional race in detail. A challenger would get their first serious look at this point and if they are gaining momentum throughout the race could easily sway voters their way.

As previously stated, in a race with a celebrity, scandal, or known challenger, the challenger bump is muted.

A challenger bump also seems to be less likely if the electorate already has a perceived "feel" for what the challenger is like either via previous office or celebrity status. There is less untapped momentum that can be exploited by the challenger.

 A lot of times a challenger will bring a new issue or idea to an election and it takes time to gain traction. Sometimes this new issue or idea is reflected in a personal strength that counters an incumbent's weakness. A highly ethical challenger, for example, against a scandal plagued incumbent.

I would suggest that the challenger bump is due to a lack of serious exposure to the challenger or the challenger's issues or ideas.

In the current presidential race we are missing a lot of the factors that could lead to a challenger bump due to a lack of serious exposure to the challenger or his ideas. First, the electorate is much more in tune with a Presidential race than a congressional race. Second, the challenger is well known 20 year senator. Third, Bush's approval numbers are down in part due to Abu Grahaib, a "scandal." Fourth, Kerry is not putting forth any new issues or ideas that the electorate is considering.
 
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« Reply #18 on: June 09, 2004, 11:30:38 pm »
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Just to clarify a couple things about my thesis:

- I only looked at "competitive" congressional races.  (Defined by a certain margin of victory)  So these were almost all races where the challenger had chance to win and the national parties were pouring money in.  So the bump cannot be completely attributed to lack of recognition on the part of the challenger.

- I think I used polls from up to six weeks before the elections, but the 3% bump for the challenger held steady no matter when (within this time frame) the poll was taken...four weeks before the election or four days.  This is one of the variables I tested when testing counter-hypothoses.
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« Reply #19 on: June 11, 2004, 12:01:26 pm »
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I know the Rasmussen polls are not held in the highest regard, but, interestingly, in today's release they talk about the "leaners", who were "undecided" in the non-pushed results.

Before putting in these leaners it was Bush up 47-43%
Adding in the leaners it was Bush up 49-48%

So, Kerry, right now (yes, yes, I know, it's still 5 months until the election... plus this Rasmussen poll is the most Bush-friendly of recent polls anyway) is taking the "undecided leaners" more than 2-to-1.

A LOT of caveats... Rasmussen, 5 months from the election, etc... but it's "interesting" and does at least suggest that Kerry will take a majority of undecideds.
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« Reply #20 on: June 11, 2004, 10:52:07 pm »
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that axiom is just a stupid as the baseball tradition that says sacrifice bunts are a good thing.
At least there's SOME data to back up the "break to the challenger" idea (though, you're right... "always" is a dangerous generalization).  I've never seen any evidence that sacrifice bunts are a good thing ;-)

Statistically, the best strategy in Baseball is to just send you players up and let the hit.  No sacrafice bunts, no stealling of bases, nothng..

Unless you have a young Rickey Henderson on first base Wink

But only with one out or less, and not if you have a runner on Third... Smiley

Or if your pitcher is up.  Possibly if a weak hitting SS is at bat.
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