Tim Hibbitts: On polls and pundits

By Tim Hibbits of Portland, Oregon. Tim Hibbitts is a partner in the opinion research firm Davis, Hibbitts & Midghall, Inc. Conducting political research is one of Mr. Hibbitts’ specialties. He has been doing survey research for candidates and ballot measure campaigns since 1978 and his list of clients include mayors, member of Congress, and governors. Recently, his work was the subject of discussion on BlueOregon here: "So...What's with Hibbits?" and "Lies, Damn Lies, and Writing Poll Questions"

Since I have been under discussion here lately a one time visit to BlueOregon seems like a good idea.

Thanks in advance for considering this and I apologize that it may be longer than usual, but if you want to provoke discourse,I hope you'll consider my thoughts.

1. I haven't gotten sour,as some of your posters suggest, I've been sour for maybe 45 years or so. I prefer curmudgeonly, it sounds better.

2. Nobody in this biz gets 'em right all the time (and Jack Roberts has his favorite story of one I got wrong), but we are very proud of the record our shop has established over a 30 period as campaign pollsters and consultants, as interpreters of political trends in Oregon and beyond, and in our public record of pre election polls and election nite projections.

3. I believe a public vote on the campaign finance law in Portland would lead to a sound defeat (at least 60-40 no) if it were to be placed before Portland voters within the next 18 months. There may be an effort to refer it, don't know if it will happen or not.

4. With due respect to those who think I have been harder on the Dem party and candidates, I have dumped equally on both parties over the years. I said from March on last year that Kerry was likely to win Oregon. It did not endear me to the R's that I downplayed Bush's chances in a state they wanted badly. We called Kerry for OR right after 8PM election nite, a full hour ahead of the national networks. I have said repeatedly on air on K2 that the Sizemore passed 'double majority' law on taxes was one of the dumbest things I have ever seen because it gives weight to those who do not vote, and even encourages non voting. I have said repeatedly, including in front of conservative groups that the Republicans are not going to win in Oregon running people that are too far to the right, yet they keep doing it. Movement conservatives don't like that but the last 50 years of election results in Oregon back me up. I could go on but trust you get the point.

5. Speaking of Sizemore,this paragraph is directed especially at poster LT, who seemed unhappy that I said in the mid 90's that Sizemore was a power broker in the state. Well, duhhh, wasn't he? He has passed ballot measures that have created havoc for policymakers in the state, was asked to the table by BOTH parties at the Legislature to help redraft one of his flawed measures after it had passed, forced the OEA and public employee unions to spend millions to oppose his measures that they would rather have spent on Democratic candidates, and was challenged by Kitzhaber to a debate about public policy in 1999, the year AFTER Kitz had beaten him 2 to 1 in the Gov race. If that is not political power, what is? And LT, I don't think Bill likes me very much, but you'd have to ask him.

6. In the words of Oliver North's attorney, I'm not a potted plant, I've got opinions. Sometimes I piss off the Dems, other times the Repubs. To set the record straight and not leave my good friend Paddy McGuire hanging (thanks for saying all those nice things in your post,the check is in the mail Paddy)I did tell the Slate reporter that Portland has lots of rich, left wing whackos and latte leftists. I will stand by that. I do not include classic liberalism within that definition.There are very real differences between leftist politics and liberal politics. FYI I also told the Slate guy that the state has plenty of tin foil hat conservatives, but for whatever reason he didn't use that line. Respectfully,anyone who thinks that Portland is not way to the left of center has not been paying close attention to the political/demographic trends in the city over the past 20 years. The country has moved right a bit, PDX has moved left. It is now a one party, one ideology town, and that tends to naturally lead more toward the outlier poles of the political spectrum (eg. when there is only one political ideology is functioning in a geographic area things will tend to gravitate toward the further reaches of that ideology, as there is no effective pressure from the other side to act as a moderating influence).Why do you think so many of the Congressional R's are out on the extreme right; they come from districts that have no ideological competition, and of course they think they are in the mainstream, just like leftist whackos do. From a purely partisan view BlueOregon loyalists ought to be thrilled at PDX's move from center left to further left,it means more votes for your side. One thing I do want to clear up for Mr Bull is his link to the WW article where I supposedly said "liberals hate the police" That is a falsehood. WW got the supposed quote from one of your contributors, the one true bix. I provided a transcript to both WW and thru my attorney to the bix blog and asked them to print what I actually said. They both did so and I appreciated that. You can judge for yourself but I don't have any respect for a guy who invents a quote to fit his own political agenda, and I think that kind of behavior represents the worst of what this new medium has to offer. I don't mind being pilloried for what I do say, but not for what I don't.

7. Charlie Burr, I appreciate your comments and respect your point of view,even if I don't agree. Reasonable people can disagree over the same day Kerry/Bush appearances. I thought Kerry looked tired and it was not one of his better appearances. Just my take. I am extremely skeptical of estimated crowd sizes, always when provided by event organizers and even when provided by neutral sources like the cops. Some guy actually once (or more than once, maybe he got a federal grant for his research for all I know) had photos taken of large crowds and actually counted the number of people by blowing up the photo and sectioning it off. I am not making this up. What he found was that organizers tend to exaggerate crowd size many times over, but even the neutral sources tend to substantially overestimate crowd size, so I am not buying that JK had 50K here. But I do agree that it was a big and enthusiatic crowd that energized the base. And Charlie, the last thing I said on air that day was that the two came in with Kerry leading in Oregon, and they will leave with Kerry leading in Oregon,so I don't think the idea that I was trying to help Bush holds much water.

8. Kari Chisholm, I wrote the poll question on public financing. In this case your dislike of the question should be directed at me. In my view, any question wording that makes clear to voters that they are going to pay for political campaigns in the city is going to get a negative response in the current political climate.

9. That's it, sorry for the length, permanently signing off, discuss among yourselves.

Comments

  • (Show?)

    I appreciate tim taking the time to respond.

    About the value of JK's rally in Portland vs. Bush's, Tim wrote: I don't think the idea that I was trying to help Bush holds much water.

    I wasn't trying to imply pro-Bush bias, just a misreading the value of each campaigns event. As Tim said (and I agree) reasonable people can disagree over the day. As someone who was about 50 yards from the stage, I was pretty pumped up to see all the excitement and energy of the event, but certainly my view was a lot different from what folks saw on TV.

    As I said earlier, Tim's work is a lot more precise than most independent (especially TV commissioned) polls, and I value his research. Even if he is getting increasingly curmudgeonly.

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    FYI the retraction/clarification re: the Hibbitts, liberals, and the police is over here, for anyone who ends up wanting to actually go back and see what that was all about.

  • McBain (unverified)
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    I'm glad to see this post. Its pretty rare that these retorts actually enhance the debate but, i feel ike Mr. Hibbits seems to add something. In any event, the larger problem is not posed by those like Tim Hibbits - his career spans a large section of relavent political experience - rather it seems to me that we need to focus on those new comers who are influencing public debate.

    Polling is a good judge of where we are at in terms of moving a simple message. A Hibbits poll is a good guage of that. The target, if you will, should be those like Russ Walker, Gayle from Oregon RTL (forgot her last name), and other movement conservatives. They may not be winning statewide but, they are successful at driving a wedge between Portland and the rest of the state.

    Much like Bill Sizemore did. LT seems to rail on the Salem experience but, it was Sizemore's ability to run over the Salem Democrats in subsequent ballot measure fights that have left us with a 100% flip in representation between the mid 90s and today (Ds to Rs). I really feel that salem democrats are just as much to blame as they claim portland democrats are.

    So, don't shoot the messenger. It seems that rather than quibble over polling, using the model that those good candidates use and going door to door makes for a better poll result in the end.

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    You can judge for yourself but I don't have any respect for a guy who invents a quote to fit his own political agenda, and I think that kind of behavior represents the worst of what this new medium has to offer. I don't mind being pilloried for what I do say, but not for what I don't.

    I'm confused on this point. Who's engaged in "that kind of behavior?" I find this whole line bizarre as a defense of being mischaracterize in print. Or am I missing the point?

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    Jeff, Tim is talking about the whole Hibbits/Bix kerfuffle on Communique that is archived here.

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    Yeah, I get that. But is Hibbitts claiming b!X engaged in anything funny? Hibbits is a public figure who offers quotes to media. As evidenced by this post, he often says provocative things, and not always the most carefully-worded things. b!X may not have gotten the first quote right, but it's hard to see how Hibbitts could have gotten more fair and transparent treatment than what b!X gave. It's bizarre and ironic, if I'm understanding it correctly, that Hibbitts then accuses b!X of being careless (and meanwhile takes a fairly careless broadside at blogs in the process).

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    Well, while I think my characterization of what Hibbits had said was legitimate and a fair interpretation of what he meant, it wasn't entirely clear that what I had said was a characterization and not a quote.

    I don't stress as much as other people have about the claim that I should be slapping some sort of great big "IN MY HUMBLE OPINION" every time I express my views on something -- but in this instance, when dealing not with my general view on something but instead with relating what someone else had said (or what I thought they meant), it should have been more clear that my translation of "are not terribly enthusiastic" into "hate" was my characterization and not the word Hibbitts actually used.

    This does remind me, however, that I never got around to framing his attorney's letter.

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    Kari Chisholm, I wrote the poll question on public financing. In this case your dislike of the question should be directed at me. In my view, any question wording that makes clear to voters that they are going to pay for political campaigns in the city is going to get a negative response in the current political climate.

    That may be so, but I think the point at issue is whether the question could somehow have reflected a clear (though concise, obviously) sense of the cost and the beneift of the proposal.

    That problem may be more an artifact of the over-simplicity of poll questions as a form in and of itself than an issue with any particular writer of poll questions, of course. I have no idea.

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    Bix, I agree. You've summarized perfectly - the question posited the cost of the proposal without positing the benefit. That's the flaw.

    I do know that poll questions that often appear in media polls are shorter (and thus less precise) than poll questions conducted by campaigns - who, of course, are making massive strategic spending decisions based on the results of the poll.

    If Hibbits/Oregonian really wanted to test the outcome of a potential vote on the issue, they'd have used a question that offered the best case argument each side would make.

  • panchopdx (unverified)
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    the question posited the cost of the proposal without positing the benefit.

    Perhaps this is because the costs of the program and the source of funding are not disputed while the proposed benefits are clearly speculation and opinion.

  • (Show?)

    Oh duh.

    Pay attention, Pancho: If you're using a poll question to test how an election would turn out, you offer up BOTH SIDES OF THE ARGUMENT. That's why the benefits part of the question comes right after "Supporters say..."

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    Let's just acknowledge that there is disagreement in the survey community about the validity of:

    1) providing minimal context to the respondent and of cousre allowing the "don't know" option

    2) provindg lots of context to the respondent and inflating the possibility of stimulating a non-attitude

    There are good arguments on both sides here.

  • ron ledbury (unverified)
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    The proactive note, pro and con, about cost is like sticking a binky into a youngster's mouth. It keeps them happy and they are less likely to look at qualitative consequences. Keep your eye, I mean teeth, pointed at the binky. That is framing folks.

    Suppose that a law was passed that required all political polls be conducted in a manner that restricted the likelihood of fraud, and thus each respondent must sign their name and reveal their occupation, and date it too.

    Should I presume that every single poll that Tim does is invalid because it has no such safeguard against fraud? (Fraud as to what though, the signatures or the fraud as to the voracity of the measure of public attitude or fraud as to one's own opinion.)

    Should Tim be prohibited from making personal use of the money he receives to conduct a poll on behalf of any governmental or non-governmental entity if that poll relates to a political matter?

    What if the respondents are instead an open ended stream of writers of letters to the editor?

    Drop the piggish "permanently signing off" jig, cause I think you are lying.

    Lets get to the meat of whether any durable free speech right is enhanced or burdened by the plan.

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    Paul, I agree that there's plenty of disagreement about various approaches - BUT if our goal is to simulate an election (as the Hibbits/Oregonian poll purported to do) then how can we even begin to pretend that it's a valid result when we don't give the respondent either of the arguments on both side?

  • panchopdx (unverified)
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    Pay attention, Pancho: If you're using a poll question to test how an election would turn out, you offer up BOTH SIDES OF THE ARGUMENT.

    Both sides huh?

    Funny, I didn't see you suggest adding an opposition statement to follow your rosy benefits.

    Something like this might balance both sides:

    "Opponents contend that it is unfair to require taxpayers to fund political speech with which they disagree and that, regardless, there are many greater spending priorities the city should address with its limited resources."

  • (Show?)

    Panchopdx, after being asked to keep up, wrote to Kari:

    "Both sides, huh? Funny, I didn't see you suggest adding an opposition statement to follow your rosy benefits."

    Personally, I don't have a dog in the whole polling question fight, but look, this is the question suggested from Kari's original post:

    "The City Council will vote today on a campaign financing reform proposal. The proposal will provide public financing for candidates that demonstrate substantial support from the public, and will cost 1.3 million dollars - about one-tenth of one-percent of the city budget. Supporters say it will reduce the influence of political contributors, reduce the cost of political campaigns, and allow candidates to spend time talking to voters instead of raising money. Opponents say it simply costs too much, and public financing for political campaigns shouldn't be a priority. Do you support or oppose the proposal? (rotate the supporters' and opponents' arguments."

    If you can't tell that this includes an opposition statement, then the Clean Money System is the least of your problems.

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    If you can't tell that this includes an opposition statement ("Opponents say it simply costs too much, and public financing for political campaigns shouldn't be a priority.") then the Clean Money System is the least of your problems.

    If I decided I wanted to buy myself a new Ferrari, it isn't that it "simply cost too much." It would mean that I would have to cut my food budget, cancel my son's basketball camp, and give up vacations for awhile.

    (Though, at least I'd know the cost of that Ferrari, something we don't know about voter-owned elections.)

    I'd also be damned sure to let my family have a vote on this decision.

  • (Show?)

    Well, Pancho, I'd have to say that I like your proposed opposition statement to mine - which is thin soup.

    But that's just the point. In a poll question that is supposed to simulate an election, both sides' best arguments should be marshalled.

    Can we agree that the original question - The City Council will vote today on taxpayer financing of political campaigns; do you support or oppose the proposal? - is truly thin and would provide results that simply don't reflect the will of the electorate AFTER a campaign is run by both sides?

  • Becky (unverified)
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    Bill Sizemore used to get fairly accurate polling numbers because he would only poll one thing: the ballot title. He would ask voters the exact question, with the exact wording, that they would see on their ballot when they were voting. That eliminated any polling errors that could occur due to misunderstanding the question. It also eliminated any bias concerns due to the way the question was asked. I still believe this is the most reliable way to ask the question. Many times the issues raised during a campaign do not match up directly with the wording on the ballot and campaign insiders overestimate the public's ability to remember ballot numbers. Also, sometimes ballot titles are drafted with somewhat confusing language. This is more crucial than people seem to realize and is the major reason why campaigns do "ballot title shopping." No matter how great the issue may be, what matters most is the wording of the question that the voters are asked. It takes a tremendous amount of money (millions) to overcome a confusing or biased ballot title.

  • Doug Root (unverified)
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    Tim Hibbits hit the nail on the head. Oregon's tilt to the left will continue unabated - for awhile anyway. Unless, of course something happens to cause the voters of Portland and Multnomah County to finally understand that their favorite new catch phrase, "the creative class", and their favorite liberal pols will continue to make Portnomah little Europe - a place where birth rates decline, schools dry up, diversity dwindles, families move to the suburbs, liberals tax themselves into stupidity, and industries and companies move to the suburbs and exburbs. The Portnomah leaders can get out of the Terrorism task force, invent new taxes, operate utilities, regulate businesses out of town, congest the roads even more, conduct business behind closed doors, continue to separate from the rest of the State's more moderate and conservative small town, rural, and suburban areas, all while being relected increasingly liberal citizens, until their bubble is burst. It could burst with a bang but hopefully over time. Everything goes in cycles. We are either at the beginning of the liberalization of Portnomah, or the height, but it does not look like the end. When the return to the middle happens, real estate will be less expensive partly because the liberals will get out of Dodge when they decide that moderates are simply not as smart as them. The culture will shift and Portnomah will once again rejoin the State of Oregon.

  • Steve Novick (unverified)
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    I trust Tim Hibbitts. He's right. Becky Miller is also right about ballot titles.

  • Steve Novick (unverified)
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    I trust Tim Hibbitts. He's right. Becky Miller is also right about ballot titles.

  • TimNE (unverified)
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    congest the roads even more,

    Actually, congestion is caused more by suburbinazation than anything the city or Multnomah County is doing, but far be it from me to dull that ideological ax you have to grind.

    Have you seen the traffic going from Washington State in the morning and back in the afternoon? In fact with the exception of Washington County and the commuters from Clark County, their aren't any major traffic issues in Portland Metro, when compared to other major metropolitan areas.

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