New York Times couches poll showing GOP swing in northern MN

The New York Times is backing away — sort of — from its weekend poll that showed a sudden swing to Republican Pete Stauber in Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District.

In September, the Times found DFLer Joe Radinovich was favored slightly over Stauber among those polled. But the weekend poll put Stauber up 15 percent over the challenger for retiring Rep. Rick Nolan’s seat.

In the September poll, those surveyed disapproved of President Trump’s performance by 1 percentage point; now the poll-takers approved of Trump by 18 percent.

What happened?

It’s probably not that dramatic a shift, the Times’ Nate Cohen writes, but there’s probably more truth to it than the DFLers who are attacking the poll want to admit, he says.

Minnesota is a tough state for pollsters because its voter file, a data set of every registered voter in the state, doesn’t contain information on partisanship, like party registration or whether people voted in Democratic or Republican primaries.

In contrast with most states, we can’t adjust to make sure we have the right number of registered Democrats or Republicans.

Based on all of the other polls we’ve done, we can say with some confidence that the ability to control the number of registered Democrats and Republicans in a poll is a very important factor in results.

Response rates are extremely low nowadays, and our samples, at 500 per poll, are pretty small. Some of our poll results would have been 10 points different without the ability to weight by party registration or primary vote history, and occasionally even more than 10 points different. (Weighting means giving more weight to respondents from an underrepresented group to ensure the sample reflects the demographic profile of likely voters.) In almost all of these cases, it’s Democrats who have been overrepresented, not Republicans.

Based on that, and as we wrote at the time, we decided in September to largely avoid districts without party registration or primary vote history, including some places we’d really like to poll, like Montana or Minnesota’s First and Seventh Districts. For the same reason, we also considered not re-polling Minnesota’s Eighth.

It would be foolish to rule out the possibility that this poll result would have been 10 points different if we could have weighted by party registration, given that we know it has had that kind of effect in other districts. One could find additional evidence for this case by looking at President Trump’s approval rating and the party identification of the poll, two measures that lurched far to the right even though we don’t have much reason to believe that either ought to have moved so far.

If the Times had weighted party affiliation in the same manner it did in September, the Stauber lead would be narrower, but he’d still be up by 4 points, Cohen says.

But Cohen also makes a case for why the shift to the right is real; Republicans are running more ads in the district than DFLers are, the survey is now including the independent candidate in the district, the Kavanaugh Supreme Court fight, and the fact that northern Minnesota is now a socially conservative district.

“I’m just floored to read what Nate Cohn wrote,” Donna Victoria, who polls for the Radinovich campaign, tells the Timberjay. “They sold this poll for four days essentially as entertainment. Now Cohn’s written an article saying it could be off by as much as ten points?”

  • Gary F

    Also heard that the Dem Congressional Campaign Committee is pulling its ad money from this campaign to Lewis/Craig and Hegadorn/Feehan races. You don’t throw big bucks at a race they figure is lost.

    • Who’d you hear that from?

    • Rob

      Although it does look like the Dems are doing exactly that with Beto O’Rourke. Tons of money being spent on what will likely be a close – but still losing – effort, sad to say.

    • JamieHX

      Maybe if they had spent more money up to this point they wouldn’t be realizing that they may as well quit now. The ratio of lies-on-top-of-more-lies ads that have been running against Craig and Feehan, compared with those SUPPORTING the Democrats seems to be about 10 to 1 or worse.

  • AL287

    Didn’t we learn anything about polls in 2016?

    They no longer have any validity because of cell phones, the lack of landline phones and social media.

    That area is going to trend Republican because of the shift in rural areas to the Trump party ( The Republican Party is no longer recognizable and the Democratic Party is headed in the same direction.).

    My son is totally disgusted by politics and refuses to vote no matter who is running. It’s really sad because his generation (Millennial) has the numbers to turn things around and they are the ones least likely to vote in midterm elections.

    My opinion is if you don’t vote you can’t complain.

    However, the chickens are coming home to roost with Mitch McConnell’s announcement that Social Security and Medicare are going to have to be cut to offset the 17% increase in the deficit caused by–drum roll please– the much touted tax cut that didn’t produce increases in pay and create those hundreds of thousands of new jobs. The main beneficiaries of the tax cut, namely corporations decided to line their own pockets and their shareholders by buying back stock with the tax cut.

    What did the Republicans think was going to happen when you cut corporate taxes by 20% and increase military spending by the same amount to nearly 1 trillion dollars?

    So let’s fix it by slamming retired, disabled and working poor.

    Ain’t democracy great?

    • >>Mitch McConnell’s announcement that Social Security and Medicare are going to have to be cut<<

      I'm shocked that he said this RIGHT before the midterms.

      • AL287

        October surprise?

      • Anyone who didn’t see that one of the reasons for the big tax cut was to drive the deficit up so that the so-called “entitlements” would have to be cut wasn’t paying attention. It’s amazing that Democrats haven’t been campaigning on this but where elections are concerned, they have a really hard time getting out of their own way.

        • >>Anyone who didn’t see that one of the reasons for the big tax cut was to drive the deficit up so that the so-called “entitlements” would have to be cut wasn’t paying attention.<<

          I'm just amazed that he actually SAID it…right before an election.

          • People are busy paying attention to the sideshows.

          • But I heard Trump owes Warren $1 Million!

            EDIT: My quip was to be meant as a joke playing off of Bob’s “sideshows” response.

          • AL287

            He doesn’t trust the test and has made the bet contingent on him having a test run that he trusts.

            He tweeted that right after Senator Warren’s test came back showing Cherokee ancestry.

          • jon

            So he changed the terms right after the results came back?

            Is allowing such behavior how Trump managed to let a casino go bankrupt? Just letting people retroactively change the number they bet on in roulette once the ball stops moving.

        • Sonny T

          They said the tax cut would lower the deficit. A whole lot of people were involved with this line of thinking, from legislators to economists. If what you say is so we are entering into conspiracy-theory territory. Which I would be willing to entertain, but the complications are boggling.

          • Who said it would lower the deficit. No respectable economist, I imagine.

          • Sonny T

            It’s called supply side, a whole wing of economic theory. And the cut had to pass Congress. That’s a whole lot of very public people who had to be in on a very sinister plot.

            Now, if you’re implying they all secretly hoped for this result, I might entertain the idea. I am a big doubter of authority, and have the job to prove it 🙂

          • Paul Ryan has never made a secret of his ultimate goal. He just figured out another way to accomplish it. Politically, it was brilliant.

            All he basically had to do is have republicans stop complaining about the deficit for four or five months while lawmakers emptied out the treasury.

    • Joseph

      “They no longer have any validity because of cell phones, the lack of landline phones and social media.”

      Modern polling does include both cellular, and land-line, phones for better sampling and reach.

      • Rob

        But if you’re like most people, you don’t answer your cell phone if it’s a number you don’t recognize. And pollsters don’t tend to leave VMs. So, tbey still end up with very small samples that aren’t reliable enough for extrapolation.

        I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing; my POV is that polling as a jounalistic practice is a waste of time and resources – and can even have the effect, in some cases, of suppressing voter enthusiasm/turnout. A pox on polls, I say!

    • jon

      No we didn’t learn anything from the polling of 2016… instead we made a simple rule of “don’t trust polls!” and assumed that it had any bearing on reality when the better lesson to learn would be “ask what the margins of error are.” or even “understand there are margins of error.”

      Alsa, math is hard, and as a nation we choose not to do these things because they are hard.

  • Barton

    I love that our voter rolls do not list party affiliations. I think its ridiculous to track that information/ask for that information on voter registrations. Our affiliation isn’t the important thing after all.

    But I also understand how that makes polling harder. And I guess I’m okay with that too. There is too much reliance on polling and freakouts about the numbers. Not that I have any idea how we move past that, but I’d like to think that our system could.

    • emersonpie

      In 1992 there was a primary where voters chose either R or D ballots, and that info was on the Voter File for years afterward. In 2020 (per the 2016 law) we will have another presidential primary, with separate ballots for major parties. The ballot you choose will be public information. Of course, with a 15% primary turnout, it will still be a challenge for pollsters to use the data in a meaningful way..

      • Journalists will no longer be able to vote in primaries. I’m still not sure what the point of this change was other than to give data to campaigns so they can try to extract more cash from people.

        • emersonpie

          Minnesota voters seem to be able to handle a state primary that has one ballot, and voters must stick to one side or the other. That way, your ballot is truly secret. The parties at the national level must require the change to a dedicated ballot for primaries. Maybe the presidential primary will have its own ballot, and the state primary ballot will still be divided. Then journalists would have to skip the presidential primary, but still be able to keep their vote secret for the state primary.

  • The Resistance

    People need to pay attention to issues, not polls. This story is a good example of why stories about polls and the horse race are almost always worthless.

  • Jim E

    “Based on that, and as we wrote at the time, we decided in September to
    largely avoid districts without party registration or primary vote
    history, including some places we’d really like to poll, like Montana or
    Minnesota’s First and Seventh Districts”

    Polling the MN 7th seems like a serious waste of time and resources. Some districts are beyond PVI spin. Rep Collin Peterson will likely easily get re-elected in the 7th until he decides it’s time to retire.

  • Sonny T

    “New York Times Couches Poll…” I am not familiar with the term “couches”. What does this mean?

    Answered my own question. Merriam Webster: “to phrase or express in a specified manner.”

    Umm.. Wouldn’t it be unethical to “phrase or express” the news in any way other than openly and factually?

    • boB from WA

      It means they stuffed it in a sofa, and sent it to Davenport IA.

    • RBHolb

      “Openly and factually” is a matter of opinion.

      I’m not sure what your objection is.

      • Sonny T

        No. The news gets reported in a certain way, in a certain style taught in journalism schools. You don’t slant reporting through criticism, opinion, or omission. Did the Times commit any of these offences? That was my question.

        • It sounds like you have a journalism background. What is your answer? Personally, I don’t see where the suggestion of opinion or criticism or omission colored a report on a poll, conducted by Siena, by the way. It sounds like you do.

          Candidates complaining about polls is pretty common. Most of the time, they don’t have to stand on. It’s a lot of theater.

          • Sonny T

            I had a journalism teacher in college who would have used rulers on us, if allowed.

            My question is, what is the meaning of “New York Times couches poll showing GOP swing in northern MN”? Couches it how? Did they treat the poll differently because the “wrong” candidate got good news?

          • By not standing behind it

          • Sonny T

            But I’ve been told the Times is the gold standard of neutrality. Why would they care who’s ahead?

          • I don’t see what that has to do with affirming that the poll might not be correct. It’s not an editorial issue. It’s a mathematical one.

            The poll said what the poll said. September’s poll said what the poll said. Both were reported as such.

          • Sonny T

            I don’t want to take up your time Bob so I’ll investigate myself. It seems to me the current poll should receive the exact coverage the previous did and if not, why?

          • I’m no longer aware of what exactly you’re talking about. There were two polls. One in September. One in October. What exactly is your concern?

          • Sonny T

            I thought, from your piece, that the Times reported one poll result in a different way from the other. After really looking through this issue, I still can’t tell. I don’t get the Times. Or do I? I get the Strib 🙂

            “Vigilance is the price of liberty.” –Thomas Jefferson

          • I don’t think the NYT wrote a story about the polls at all. I think they just presented the polls.

          • Sonny T

            got it

  • Gary F

    Joe’ s campaign manager quit/fired. That usually means things aren’t good.

  • Military spending isn’t sustainable. But here we are burning money.

  • Doug

    I’m actually a “war baby,” but for this discussion I’ll consider myself a boomer. Millenials can blame us for the state of the nation but I, and I believe most boomers, did what I, and other boomers, believed was fair and just. I don’t believe we voted greedily or unfairly. I believe the real culprit is Big Money. It schemed for as long as we boomers were adults to turn the country into what it is.

  • They were also led to believe that the GOP tax scam was actually beneficial to them.