Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Be prepared for the "Re-Elect" reports and beware of the numbers

Around this time of year you'll start to notice newspapers reporting "re-elect" numbers in their headlines and press releases and fundraising memos from candidates stating Congressman XX has a re-elect number of only XX% (Always way below 50%).

They will arrive from a few different forms of questions...

Thinking about the 'upcoming' election for U.S. Congress, do you think you will vote to reelect (NAME OF CONGRESSMAN), will you consider voting for someone else, or do you think you will vote to elect someone else?

Do you think most of the Democrats in Congress deserve to be reelected, or not?

Do you think (NAME OF OFFICIAL), the Representative in Congress from your district has performed his or her job well enough to deserve reelection, or do you think it's time to give a new person a chance?

These "re-elect" question may take other forms as well.

Beware of these numbers when reported on their own, without other supporting information.

"Re-elect" questions, in our experience, usually reflect suppressed levels of support for candidates and don’t show a true status of an incumbent's re-election standing. For example, in 2006 we polled in a Midwestern congressional district for a prospective challenger. The incumbent had a very low (26%) re-elect number, but that same official had nearly a 50% positive job approval rating and a personal favorability rating that was twenty points higher than the re-elect assessment. We've seen similar discrepancies between re-elect questions and other incumbent assessment items in our surveys and other polls throughout the years.

The "Re-Elect" question, in its various forms, should never be interpreted on its own as the tell-tale sign of an incumbent's prospects. It should only be factored in the evaluation when it is accompanied by related questions whose data also support its conclusion.

Accompanying indicators should include such measurements as job approval ratings, personal favorability ratings, and trial heat numbers. Job performance is the best indicator of whether a politician is meeting the expectations of his or her electorate. Job performance is almost always the best indicator of an incumbent's current re-election chances. Personal favorability ratings will reveal the depth and which direction voter sentiment leans towards an incumbent. The personal favorability rating identifies if an incumbent's ratings are driven by soft -- passive name ID, simple partisanship, or if there is real, personal like / dislike and, intense and deep favorable / unfavorable sentiment behind the official's ratings. The trial heat will place the candidate in a ballot simulation with another candidate(s), complicating the election by injecting numerous factors, including party labels and, not the least of which being the level of recognition and personal favorability voters feel towards the challenger(s). These factors, taken in the whole, provide a comprehensive review of an incumbent’s prospects.

Re-elect questions can be useful when interpreted and reported in conjunction with these other related factors, but should never be considered a strong, accurate read on an incumbent if reported independent of other variables.

So, we advise anybody who reads a news story, gets a press release, or sees a fundraising memo proclaiming an incumbent is in dire straits because of some low re-elect number to ask for other supporting data to verify such a conclusion.

[Note: For the reasons stated above and to ensure credibility and accuracy in our surveys, Fako & Associates rarely asks re-elect questions in our polls. When clients request the use of the question, we will only use and report it in conjunction with other questions such as personal favorability and job performance ratings.]

No comments: