Projected New Senate: 50 Democrats 50 Republicans
News from the Votemaster
Although we have only one new Senate poll today, it is an important, albeit surprising one. A Monmouth University poll in New Jersey shows incumbent Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) leading state senator Tom Kean, Jr. (R) 48% to 39%. In September, the Monmouth poll showed Kean ahead by 6 percentage points, a shift of 15 percentage points towards Menendez in a month. Other recent polls have shown this race to be very close. New Jersey is the only state in which the GOP has a chance to pick off a Democratic Senate seat.
Over in the House, we have three polls. In FL-22, a badly gerrymandered district along the east coast including Boca Raton, shows the race tightening between 13-term incumbent Clay Shaw (R-FL) and Democrat Ron Klein. Shaw leads 48% to 43%.
Two polls in Illinois both favor the incumbent party. In IL-06 in the Chicago suburbs, where the current congressman, Henry Hyde (R-IL), is retiring, State senator Peter Roskam (R) leads Iraq veteran Tammy Duckworth (D) 43% to 39%. Up in IL-08, in the northeast corner of the state, incumbent Melissa Bean (D-IL) has a commanding 51% to 31% lead over David McSweeney (R). Bean was thought to be one of the few Democrats in Congress who might lose her seat, but she is quite conservative, has run a good campaign, and appears safe now.
Today's sermon is about the evils of the NANP. For those readers who don't happen to be telecommunications engineers, some explanation is in order; the connection to polling and politics will become clear shortly. The United States, its territories, Canada, and 16 nations in the Carribean use an integrated system in which all telephone numbers are 10 digits in the form AAA-NXX-XXXX, in which AAA is the area code, NXX is the exchange, and XXXX is the subscriber line. It is called the NANP - North American Numbering Plan. Back before the AT&T monopoly was broken up in 1984, most states had at most two or three area codes.
To a first approximation, the telephone system consists of exchanges (buildings full of switching equipment), each identified by an area code and exchange. Thus 914-949-xxxx is an exchange in White Plains, NY, to which 10,000 nearby telephone are connected, numbered 914-949-0000 through 914-949-9999.
With the need for ever more telephone numbers for faxes, computers, credit card verification, etc., plus the introduction of cell phones and multiple providers, the situation has gotten out of hand. Area codes and exchanges have proliferated wildly. Nevertheless, one principle has been maintained: area codes don't cross state lines.
All these developments have consequences for (telephone) polling. Suppose a polling firm is commissioned to do a poll in the close Senate race in Missouri. They know they have to poll area codes 314, 417, 573, 636, 660, and 816, although not equally since they are not equally populated. Complicated, but still doable.
The introduction of Internet telephony (VoIP) services, such Skype and Vonage, wreaked havoc with this scheme. VoIP customers can usually choose any area code they want. For example, a man in Omaha might choose Florida area code 561 so his mother in Florida could call him as a free local call. It also means that a pollster randomly calling 561 numbers might get someone who doesn't live in Florida. Since most people still have area codes that correctly designate which state they live in, for Senate polls, the problem is still manageable.
However, for House polls the problem is substantial. The layout of the area codes and exchanges do not align with congressional districts at all. While 914-949-xxxx numbers all lie entirely within NY-18, other exchanges straddle congressional district boundaries, especially when the CD has been gerrymandered into a pretzel. As a consequence, a pollster assigned to poll for some House race may have to call multiple area codes and exchanges, some of whose numbers lie within the district and some of whose numbers lie outside the district. Reverse lookup of the number about to be called is not always possible because many people have unlisted numbers.
As a consequence, some of the people polled may, in fact, not live in the district in question and some people who do live there may be missed. Of course the first question could something like be "Are you a registered voter in congressional district IN-07?" However, most voters probably don't know their CD number and some may be put off by such a question and hang up. Starting with "Hi, I'm doing a poll from the XYZ company. What's your zipcode?" is definitely a nonstarter.
This issue came up last week with a poll of IN-07 in which Eric Dickerson (R) was slightly ahead of incumbent Julia Carson (D-IN). Many people suspect that the result was due to the pollster inadvertently calling people just outside this district, which is shaped like an immune-system cell, with little hooks sticking out all over its periphery, carefully avoiding Republican territory. There is no obvious solution to calling the wrong people, so House polls have to be taken with a grain of salt.
The Washington Post has an interesting story about former Rep. Mark Foley, with quotes from some of his now-famous emails, and how he got away with it so long. In short, the page program had lots of security safeguards, but they were designed to keep the male members of Congress away from the female pages. Nobody thought about male-male contacts.
CNN just released a poll which showed that Hillary Rodham Clinton beats John McCain 51% to 44%, but John McCain beats Hillary Clinton 48% to 47%. The point is not the score--totally meaningless two years in advance--but it illustrates my perpetual point that the exact wording of the question matters hugely. Throwing in Hillary's maiden name wins her 8 percentage points. Supposed they asked about Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton vs. Sen. John McCain or New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton vs. Arizona Sen. John McCain, or New York's junior senator Hillary Rodham Clinton vs. Arizona's senior senator John McCain?. The results might be radically different.
And as usual on Sundays, we have a new cartoon of the week.
Projected New House*: 227 Democrats 207 Republicans 1 Tie* Where no independent polls exist, the 2004 election results have been used. See complete House polls.
Dem pickups: AZ-01 AZ-08 CT-04 FL-13 FL-16 IA-02 IN-02 IN-08 IN-09 KY-03 MN-06 NC-08 NC-11 NM-01 NY-19 NY-24 NY-25 NY-29 OH-15 OH-18 PA-06 PA-07 PA-10 TX-22 WI-08
GOP pickups: IN-07
See the details of the Senate and House races with photos, maps, links, polls, etc.
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-- The Votemaster