05/05/2009 03:38 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Re: Pollster Smackdown

A quick follow-up on yesterday's back-and-forth between Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg on behalf of the organization known as Democracy Corps and Republican Whit Ayres on behalf of the new group, Resurgent Republic. Yesterday, Greenberg had some harsh criticism for the first survey from Resurgent Republic. Last night, Ayres sent a full response to Greenberg's criticism, which I am posting in full after the jump.

Also, in addition to what I posted yesterday, TPM's Eric Kleefeld got a rebuttal from Ayres and then another reaction from Greenberg. Finally, Nate Silver weighed in in defense of Resurgent Republic.

(I'll post soon with my take on the substance of the argument. Apologies for the slow follow-up  on this one -- between a dentist appointment this morning and some "backroom" administrative chores this afternoon, I'm a little behind the curve. Again, stay tuned for more soon).


TO: Stan Greenberg

FROM: Whit Ayres

DATE: May 4, 2009

RE: Response to Your Letter

Thank you for your critique of the first Resurgent Republic survey. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, you should be flattered. We admire the work of Democracy Corps, and hope we can further public debate on important issues.

Party Balance

You took issue with the partisan balance in our survey, where we had 29 percent Republican and 33 percent Democrat. Gallup's latest survey had 28 percent Republican and 35 percent Democrat. That hardly sounds like, as you put it, a sample "so outside the mainstream on partisanship."

If the sample were outside the mainstream, our Presidential job approval numbers would have been outside the mainstream as well. We reported a job approval for President Obama of 61 percent approve and 32 percent disapprove. That is right in the range of other recent polling, and three points better than you reported in the most recent Democracy Corps poll of 58 to 32 percent.

You added "independent lean Republican" and "independent lean Democrat" to the party bases to get a two-point Democratic advantage in partisanship in our sample. We first ask: "In politics today, do you normally think of yourself as (ROTATE: a Republican, an independent, or a Democrat)?" Only after respondents answer the first question do we ask leaners. Consequently we think the proper party balance is the response to the initial question.

This sample came from a random-digit dialing sample of land-line telephones as well as cell phones to adequately capture this growing demographic. We screened for registered voters, and set calling quotas by state, race, and age. This is standard research methodology in every respect.

Issue Questions

You also questioned our phrasing on fairness versus opportunity, particularly our including the words "spread the wealth" in the definition of fairness. While it may have been said in an unguarded moment, the phrase is a direct quote from the President. In any event, we balanced his phrase with other phrases often heard on the left: that we need to "narrow the gap between rich and poor," and "make economic outcomes more equal." The combination is certainly an accurate view of "fairness" in the minds of many of my liberal friends.

On the budget questions, we offered the essential numbers on the President's proposed budget without commentary, and found that support was weak. We have verified the prediction in your Democracy Corps analysis in March: that the more the proposed budget was debated, the more support would decline.

We followed the initial question about the budget with a series of left versus right arguments. We say, for example, "Candidate A says that investments to address unmet needs in education, energy, and health care are necessary to bring the country out of recession." We think that is a fair statement of one of the arguments made on behalf of the budget. While we can quibble about a phrase here or there, I am confident that a fair-minded person who reads the entire series of arguments will conclude that we have done an honest job capturing the perspective of the left on the budget.

Finally, on the section regarding energy policy and climate change, we show an overwhelming majority of independents agreeing that climate change is occurring and humans are causing it. That is not exactly standard Republican rhetoric at the moment. In fact, we test the President's argument that "a cap-and-trade program would create green jobs that cannot be shipped overseas," and find it to be successful. But cap-and-trade advocates who press on with an expensive plan to tax utilities and their customers in this economy may find themselves facing challenges they don't expect.

I look forward to our continuing efforts to utilize survey research to inform the political debate on both the left and the right.