Thursday, August 25, 2011

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl = 19% Job Approval?

So says Pittsburgh's own Civic Science Inc. in an interview with KDKA's Jon Delano, that is.

*-UPDATE: "CSI Pittsburgh" offers up some thoughts and answers to suddenly frequently asked questions on its blog. Original post continues:

Before folks start breaking out into song, a few important caveats. Civic Science Inc. is a consumer market research firm, and something of an innovative high-tech start-up at that. It does political tracking mostly "for fun" (and, apparently, for publicity). Although they reputedly were alone in accurately predicting the results of the Rich Fitzgerald / Mark Patrick Flaherty race for Allegheny County Executive, this particular business avowedly isn't even their specialty -- as evidenced by the lonesomeness of their one and only local politics query.

Furthermore, this is somehow an Internet-based poll -- though it looks as though there's more to it than the straightforward, rinky-dink, answer-as-often-as-you'd-like polls any of us can slap on our website. There is talk for example of "sampling", "demographics" and "science".

Judge for yourself how the firm's CEO, John Dick, answered the Comet's cursory question about compensating for the "digital divide," or the fact that several sets of demographics interact with the Internet a lot less frequently and intensely than others:

1) We believe in the law of big numbers. While there is admittedly bias in any human sample, those biases can be measured when you have large enough data. In the case Ravenstahl #s, a 26,000+ person sample included enough people in every imaginable demographic to build reliable models. 2) On the matter of "digital divide:" First, this is a dying phenomena. Web connectivity is virtually ubiquitous among all but the oldest and most indigent populations. Compare that with the landline telephone (still the prevailing means of opinion research). Only 74% of US households have a land phone. Among those, at least half subscribe to Do-Not-Call Lists and CallerID services, rendering them unreachable. If there is a "digital divide," think of it as a crack in the sidewalk. The "land-phone divide" is Panther Hollow.

In our non-expert opinion, if there happens to be any significant sampling biases (if there are no significant controls for age, race, income, and for whatever psychology explains people choosing to fill out Internet political polls on their own initiative) "large numbers" would not do anything to fix that. We don't feel like we have the data quite yet to weigh whether that is in fact a problem here, but the amount of attention this poll is garnering so quickly suggests that's likely to change.

All of that aside -- 19% job approval! It's hard to imagine any skewed sampling of any variety that could make Mayor Ravenstahl feel okay with a number like 19% being produced. Colonel Gaddafi used to poll at least in the low 30's.

Next time we hope they also measure the "job approval" of City Council, or of other specific local public officials. The responses may have simply reflected a general "Aw, phooey" sentiment towards city government as a whole, until we discover some one or some thing polls any better.

And we hope there are many next times. Poll numbers are like crack for the media, and nonpartisan polling data would make local politics a lot easier to cover and analyze. Kudos to Civic Science for taking some first steps!

MORE: That's Church seemed to be at least a little impressed by the "trust me, geniuses" argument, though Null Space wonders how much better this is than a radio call-in poll. Maria of 2PJ's in fact broke out into song 40 minutes before we published this.

COMETNONYTUNE: Hey Nineteen (Steely Dan)

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  1. It would be interesting to see how the numbers from an internet survey compared with the tried and (somewhat true) telephone polling. My gut tells me that many people wouldn't participate in an internet survey unless they felt strongly about the particular issue. Right now, the majority of the public is fed up with government from the local to the national level.

    An even more interesting comparison would be an internet survey that put hypothetical contenders in a head to head competition with the mayor. That forces respondents to make a more concrete decision than "satisfied" or "unsatisfied."

    Finally, as you mention, a survey analyzing the satisfaction with city government overall, would probably give the reader an idea as to whether the mayor's approval rating is really 19% or is it more a general dissatisfaction with the incumbent politicians.

    You really only need to look at the polling regarding Congress. The approval of Congress as a whole is/was 11% during the debt ceiling debate. However, the individual numbers for representatives were generally much higher. (Keeping in mind that, while it may not be an overall positive rating, a 33% approval rating is still much higher than an 11% approval rating.)

  2. Regardless of the polling method, surveying close to 10% of the city's population (assuming that all of the respondents were city residents) means that the results are, according to the laws of statistics, based on a large enough population that they are highly reliable. As far as any potential explanation might go, I have seen nothing to indicate that this poll's authors make an attempt to explain it. (That doesn't mean that they haven't.)

    On a snarkier note, I'll echo my comment on That's Church: I don't believe the cited rating since it couldn't possibly be that high!

  3. Adam - The 27K respondents included subsets of 1) city residents 2) city suburbanites and 3) folks further flung than 100 miles from the city. (Follow the link to Delano's report.) So it's not nearly 10% of the city's population. For what it's worth, Ravenstahl polled respectively better in each subset as listed above -- "19%" corresponds to the foremost.

  4. Adam, the laws of statistics go out the window if your sample is biased. More people can't fix a bad sample until you get close to 100%. Googling "Literary Digest" and "survey" will show you the classic example.

  5. John Dick is also a republican operative who used to work for people like Santorum.

  6. Really, Bram?

    First, you take the Channel 2 blog award nomination.

    Now, you are going to start with tunes?

    That's cold.

  7. There is a reason for the saying: Lies, damn lies and statistics.

  8. Infy- It's an Oh-Magzh n'at.

    Anon 8:09 - That appears to be correct:

    "Prior to starting GSP Consulting, John served as the Director of Business Coalitions for Santorum 2000, the successful reelection campaign of U.S. Senator Rick Santorum. He was responsible for coordinating the campaign's fundraising and grassroots efforts among Pennsylvania's business and industry leaders. John also served as the Deputy Campaign Manager where he was responsible for organizing the grassroots structure, developing grassroots coalitions, and implementing early-stage strategy. John also served as Coalition Director for Southeastern PA for Victory 2000, the Pennsylvania political arm of the Bush and Santorum 2000 campaigns." (link)

    Ravenstahl also has links to several folks who worked for Santorum, doesn't he? It's a small world, PA political communications. I wouldn't think this would discredit CSI's work, assuming their methodology checks out.

  9. In theory you might be able to construct an equivalent to a random sample out of an Internet sample, but no one seems to have figure out how to do that reliably yet. Polimetrix has been trying seriously but they are still a below-average pollster (per Nate Silver). Zogby Interactive has been trying a little less seriously and they are the least accurate pollster around, by a wide margin.

    Maybe someone will figure it out, but I think it is conceivable there is enough variation in how Internet polls vary from random sampling polls such that it will be impossible to develop a method that consistently corrects for the errors.

  10. Back during the ACE primary campaign, Rich Fitzgerald was reporting to supporters that a poll--conducted by the national Democratic Party, I believe--found that Ravenstahl was by far the least popular politician in Western. And yet, despite these polls, if there's a split field in the next primary--Lamb, Peduto, Wagner, Ravenstahl--the mayor wins.

  11. Western "PA", I meant.

  12. if those polled were AM radio listeners, would the results be the same?

    the kid knows where the voters are, and it ain't where Civic Science was trollin'.

    i'd prefer a poll of those who actively read the soutpicksburgh raportr and the nor'side chronicle.

  13. It gives one pause to witness the unreserved glee with which some are receiving this. Polls and stats can be hammered into whatever shape is desired.

    That said, sure, there is dissatisfaction out there - about all kinds of government and municipal services. People love and treasure the scapegoating process - it's cleaner for them to point their finger to one guy as the source of all the difficulty. That approach might be understood of a child, but adults who comment on civic-oriented issues need to know and do better.

    What would be different - about the storm overflow problem, the pension problem, the public infrastructure problem, etc. - if we had a different mayor, say O'Connor, Peduto, PittGirl? nothing - apart from who is in the crosshairs? If it were easy to fix these problems, Tom Murphy would have had them all fixed up long ago - he certainly WANTED to do so.

    As someone who wants to help build Pittsburgh, personally I have no patience for those who want to make political hay out of these large-picture problems, thereby failing to address them in any real capacity. We ALL share the responsibility for setting things right, and we have to accept that responsibility and get cracking on it.

    Washington Blvd. scares me...but what almost scares me more is reading the PittGirl blog and witnessing the level at which the author and most of the commentators appear to be operating - where their heads are at. I get a sinking feeling in my gut because I really think we're screwed if people are as fantastically and enthusiastically ignorant as they appear to be on that site.

    Just to be clear - the LAST thing we need in Pittsburgh is to continue to celebrate and encourage people who are great critics, but absent as civic participants. It's just going to kill us - it IS killing us.

    One more if 19% of people approve of Ravenstahl, isn't that right about where the voter participation rate hovers? What does that tell us? It says, unavoidably, that the folks who support him vote, and the folks who don't do NOT vote. The non-supporters appear to be - no, ARE a self-defeating demographic. Do they really want change, or are they happier in scapegoating mode? How's that working for us all?

  14. I think even with a crowded field Lamb would win.

  15. PittGirl scares me a lot too. I read Infy/Comet/Null Space daily, but on the rare occasions that I look at PittGirl I'm like, WTF? (to paraphrase her tone). I really find her style grating and childish, and yet she seems to have a following. So yeah, where are her readers' heads at, n'at?

  16. Minuteman - Good comments. One thing though. I think the non-voters are more likely to be the one-third of poll respondents who said they have "no opinion" about Ravenstahl's job performance.

  17. PittGirl's style seems suitable for cute-guy stalking, or stuff like that - which is fine if that's your thing (it sure ain't mine). Mix in real life-and-budget-in-the-balance civic issues, and you have a shameful mess. I will give her lots of credit for being very productive on charitable causes, to be fair.

    My bad, I guess, for even glancing PittGirl's way when something serious is up for discussion. No one's twisting my arm, after all.

  18. I distinguish PittGirl from her readers. I like PittGirl, in part because of her devotion to charity, her personality, and her seeming awareness that she should avoid substantive issues.

    Her readers, on the other hand, generally constitute a vivid demonstration of what occurs when a region loses a good part --in some ways, the good part -- of its population for a couple of decades.

  19. "PittGirl" has always blogged substantive issues. Who can forget her series of King Kong tirades? Her political perspective accurately reflects that of a resident of Irwin, PA who is a Downtown small-business owner, and that's a voice that deserves to be out there engaging. If anything, sometimes I get a little peeved when the rest of us *try* to challenge her powerfully written ideas, and she takes solace in "poopypants haha" and "everybody's different, politics makes me stabby" but on balance we're coming out way ahead.

  20. There is an "ideas" part? Let alone "powerfully written ideas?

    Must be well-hidden among the silly treehouse capers, the simplistic Haitian adventures, the pigeon chronicles, and the dreamboat cruises, because we missed the "ideas" part entirely.


    This thread has been highjacked. You're only pleasing the Dread Lord.

  22. If you ask your former boss Theresa Smith then she will tell you that the Mayor is doing a perfect job and can't do any wrong.

    Her & Burgess carry his water more than anyone else. It's really ashamed that Smith lies about how her constituents feel on the issues. Look at her statements surrounding Marcellus. She was claiming that all of these people in her District were telling her to not support the drilling ban. Meanwhile go anywhere else in the city and people were all for it.

    Her district isn't this weird bunch of people who are against the popular things.

    She lies.

    Look how she did Sandy wrong down in the West End? A stand up business guy who got screwed by some artists in that place on Chartiers Avenue.

    She always talks about things being political at the Council table...HELLOOOOO are a POLITICian...the person who support all of the time, Luke, is the most political of them all.

    Get this woman off of Council.

  23. Oy vey. Anon 12:58 - Correction: my former client, TKS. And once a client, always a client.

    "She was claiming that all of these people in her District were telling her to not support the drilling ban."

    I wouldn't doubt that a single iota, friendo. Her Facebook wall alone testified to that.

  24. Minuteman has some really good comments here. the critics that fail to participate in government, civic life or building any real solutions are killing this city. They are killing it because too many supposed progressive politicians actually listen to them. The politics of second guessing and armchair quarterbacking has stagnated decision making.

  25. I live in Theresa Smith's district. I thought the drilling ban was idiotic and unconstitutional. Also, she seems to be the only one on council not committed to a the mayor or Peduto's side.

  26. Bram - The tree house caper was indeed silly and ill-conceived, and PittGirl and her readers lost the battle. Please enlighten us further--what, exactly, was the caper a microcosm of? To me, it illustrated local TV news suburban mom feelgood-ism and the "they're doing it to us again" mentality run amok.