Riehle: Hierarchical Vote Analysis

06/27/2008 01:31 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Today's Guest Pollster article comes from Thomas Riehle, a Partner of RT Strategies.

If it were a different month on the calendar - say, October - the Obama campaign might be concerned to see that the groups most likely to be truly undecided, not leaning even a little toward Obama or McCain, comprise some voters he must be counting on:

  • Women (21% undecided), women ages 40-64 (24%), women ages 65 and older (25%), women with less than a 4-year college degree (24%), and
  • Registered voters in the Northeast (20%) and Great Lakes (20%).

Moreover, no one at the Obama campaign can be happy to see that the vote is currently tied among women with a college degree or more (43% Obama - 42% McCain) - highly educated women having become one of the most reliably Democratic groups in the electorate. Obama may start to win back support from among the relatively large group of McCain supporters currently to be found among women who voted for Clinton in Democratic primaries or caucuses (25% now support McCain), college-educated Clinton primary voters (28% McCain), moderate or conservative Clinton primary voters (23%) - but right now, those are some significant defections.

The calendar says June, not October, and undecided voters eventually will make up their minds. All in good time. For now, the McCain camp and Obama's camp are looking for indications of subtle trends moving in the early stages of the general election. For that kind of tracking, many campaigns use a tool called the "Hierarchical Vote." It divides support into 7 categories, from most pro-McCain to most pro-Obama, and tracks movement from one category to another across the 7 categories of support. Tracking changes month-to-month in the Hierarchical Vote overall among all voters (and within 50 or more subgroups) gives a campaign the insight needed to focus resources on the groups who are ready to move right now.

On the Cook Political Report website, you will find posted a Hierarchical Vote analysis from the past four Cook Political Report / RT Strategies polls (March through June). I hope you find it a unique and useful way to delve under the familiar topline vote totals and see what's really going on as we approach Independence Day. We'll keep updating this Hierarchical Vote table as Election Day approaches - just as the campaigns will do. Please let me know what you think and what you learn in reviewing these results.