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1. An Introduction to One Pretty Important Poll
Republican Chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee Ed Royce has been considered to be pretty much invulnerable in 2014 by his supporters, which makes it unlikely that his 39th Congressional district will get much attention from pollsters. Except, in the wake of his vote to maintain the government shutdown and risk the country’s first ever non-trivial default — not the sort of thing that one expects from the Chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee, who is supposed to keep an eye on America’s standing in the world — a polling firm from North Carolina was hired to include him its its surveys to see how it affected his stature and standing.
They found it that it has affected him — badly. Quite badly. (Either that — or he wasn’t even still popular before the shutdown, which is of course possible.)
Here’s the survey from Public Policy Polling, based in North Carolina, which does “robo-call polls” that routinely kick the butts of polls using live interviewers when it comes to forecasting elections. PPP, here hired by MoveOn.org, is noted for being willing to wade into races like special elections where other pollsters fear to treat — and usually comes up quite well. And sweetest of all for us statistics geeks — they show their work!
Now I wish that I could tell you that looking at this next chart isn’t going to cause deep psychich pain most of you, but it very likely will. It’s intended for the stats geeks — as well as for anyone who may be contemplating a run at Royce. They’ll know what to do with it. If you don’t, skip as much of it as you need to; take comfort in the explanations I give below.
All right, ready? (Read the next section if you are; skip ahead to section 3 if you can’t bear the technical details.)
2. Technical Explanation of the Chart
Most of this chart addresses a poll done of 734 registered voters in CA-39 from Oct. 15-17. The poll consisted of 11 questions, seven substantive ones and four demographic ones, regarding gender, party affiliation, ethicity/race, and age. Those appear at the left in purple; full question wordings (important to know!) are at the link.
Of the 7 questions substantive questions, two address “horse race issues” — approval of Royce and likelihood of voting for Royce — and are asked (in various ways) both before and after the middle three questions. Those middle questions address the voter’s attitude towards the Tea Party, towards a government shutdown, and towards the possibility of default. After those questions, the voter is told that Royce voted to continue the shutdown and risk possible default, which is why we have the “test and retest” of the “horse race” questions. Note that the questions are presented out of numerical order to make it easier to compare the “before and after” results on the “horse race” questions.
The lines at the bottom present the answers to these middle three policy questions (which don’t vary across districts) in two other California districts: CA-49 (Darrell Issa’s district in south OC and North San Diego County) and CA-25 (Buck McKeon’s district in the Simi Valley to Palmdale area.) These are included to probe some surprising and important results that occur in the CA-39 survey.
The overall responses to the CA-39 questions appear twice, one for each row of demographic factors. The result for each demographic subgroup (in orange) is then presented in the white (or occasionally gray) columns in the columns to the right of the purple ones. “Party Registration” and “Race/Ethnicity” subgroup results are along the top, then “Gender” and “Age” are along the middle column. Just look for the orange headers to see where a column of data begins. Each column for CA-39 shows the responses to each of the seven substantive questions.
Within each cell showing a group’s response to the questions, you’ll see a color-coded breakdown of results. Green means a positive response to the question asked: generally, “do you like X?” or “will you vote for X?,” though Question 6 is a little complicated. (There, green means “I am less likely to vote for Royce now that I know how he voted on this issue.”) Red means disagreement a negative response — “don’t like,” “won’t vote for,” except on Question 6 where it means “more likely to support Royce than before.”
For most purposes, all you need to look at are the green and red numbers. In all cells showing results, the brown number at the right represents the “don’t know” response; this is important mostly as an indication of how well-settled the population’s views are. Question 6 contains a fourth number, in blue, representing the answer that the information on Royce’s vote didn’t change the voter’s opinion about him. (Many more people should be in this category, but people tend to say that something changed their opinion in the direction that they already endorsed.)
Do you want to know how many people are in each demographic category? The number of people who answered the survey — 734 for CA-39 and in the 650 range for each of the other districts, appears in the lines in blue, followed by the percentage of respondents who fall into each demographic category. So, in the middle of the chart you see that those answering were about 52% female and 48% male; multiply those by 734 and you find that approximately 382 women and 352 men answered the survey, but as those percentages are rounded each number could be slightly off.
Rounding the final turn, notice that two columns — “Asian &c” (officially counted as “Other” — not Latino, White, or Black, which in CA-39 will generally mean “Asian”) within “Race/Ethnicity” and “18-29” within “Age” — are colored gray. These strike me as the most interesting subgroup results. The Asian vote in CA-39 is large, growing, and critical, so their response to Royce and the Tea Party/shutdown/default questions are especially stunning. The youth vote is small, but stunning in the opposite direction — and requires some explanation. Again, this is why the comparisons with other California districts, which appears in the lines with yellow blocks, was done.
On to the results.
3. Ed Royce is in Trouble, and This Poll’s Results Probably Understate It!
I’m not saying that Ed Royce is going to lose; I’m saying that his swerve deeply into Tea Party territory, with his final vote for continuing the government shutdown and risking default on our federal debts, leaves him more vulnerable than anyone would have guessed a year before the election. It leaves him vulnerable enough for Democrats who would have previously considered this to be a lost cause to start sniffing around in earnest.
The main results show that Royce is slightly underwater both in his approval and in the likelihood of voting for him. In fact, on the voting measure, he’s underwater even before the survey starts asking about the shutdown and default crises. Highlighting his vote just makes that a little worse. This is a small enough effect that it needn’t really worry him; the bigger problem is that people already know enough about it that if they voted right now, he’d be ousted.
But the bigger problem by far is that he has substantially alienated the Asian community — mostly Taiwanese, Korean, and Filipino — within the district. As some of us have suspected, they really don’t like people playing political games with the economy.
The grayed-out column at the top right shows that Asians were a bit negative towards Royce to begin with, disapproving of him by a margin of 38 to 30. Learning of his vote moved undecided Asians strongly against him. Comparing Q2 to Q7, we can see that the percentage of undecideds dropped from 17 to 9, with about 60% of them deciding that they’d vote against Royce if the election were held today. Why such a strong reaction? Well, check out their attitudes towards the policy issues, around which I’ve placed a small box: Asian voters are by far the most negative of any ethnicity towards the Tea Party? (Did you know that Royce is part of the Tea Party Caucus? If you’re Asian and in CA-39, a year from now you probably will!) They are markedly negative on the shutdown and the prospect of default as well.
These are really simple issues to get across to people. Royce had the chance to reassert his moderate credentials, befitting the Chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee, and he totally blew it.
By the way — Asians will probably be quite a bit more than 24% of the vote next year, especially if an Asian candidate runs. (Jay Chen ran against Royce last year, inducing Royce into panic spending of about $5 million to secure his victory — as well as inducing Royce to make a lot of racist attacks that will still blow back on him.) So their weighting in this poll understates their influence on the final result. And having an office in Rowland Heights’s Diamond Plaza and a couple of Asian-American woman in the overlapping Assembly races won’t help him much, in part because Ling-Ling Chang and Young Kim, if nominated in AD-55 and AD-65, respectively, will have to live down those racial attacks.)
This result seemed so striking that I decided to compare it to those in the districts containing Camp Pendleton (CA-49) and Palmdale (CA-25). And yes, they’re more extreme. Why that is so is up for discussion; perhaps it has to do with the greater size and cohesiveness of the Asian communities in Orange County; perhaps it has to do with their being of a socio-economic status where they well understand and highly despise the sort of irresponsibility that Royce demonstrated. Much of the public may eventually forget about what happened this month in Congress, but the prosperous Asian communities of Diamond Bar, Walnut, West Covina, Rowland Heights, Hacienda Heights, Chino Hills, Yorba Linda, Fullerton, and Brea are probably among the least likely to forget — or to forgive.
Another reason to be startled at these results is what the youth contingent had to say. Unlike the 180 or so Asians sampled, only 75 or so 18-29 -year-olds answered the survey, which is not enough for much confidence in the result. And, as a comparison to CA-45 and CA-25 shows, the youth from North Orange County and the eastern San Gabriel Valley are quite different from those elsewhere — at least if you take the result seriously, which I’m not sure I do. (That doesn’t mean that the pollsters erred at all; it means that sometimes you just get an unrepresentative sample in your poll — especially when the sample you collected is small.)
Look at the gray column in the middle tier — and especially the three non-horse-race questions. Compared to the other age groups, the youngsters in CA-39 like the Tea Party a lot — and they just love the idea of wrecking the economy as a form of protest. By 45-41, they favor the Tea Party; they are evenly divided on default. No other demographic subgroup — not even Republicans! — is close to being evenly divided on default! But the stunner is their attitude towards the government shutdown: 55-41 in favor! The two next most conservative subgroups have scores of 51-44 in favor (that’s the GOP) and 38-58 against (that’s for whites.) Most groups oppose the shutdown by 25 to 60 points. A score of 14 points in favor is amazing!
Three possible explanations come to mind: (1) youth in general are now deeply Tea Party oriented; (2) youth in CA-39 overall are Tea Partiers; or (3) this sample just happened to get an extra heavy helping of them, which skewed the results. I can’t distinguish between (2) and (3) based on these data, but I can take a stab at (1). Youth in Issa’s CA-49 oppose the shutdown by a margin of 36-64. (No one was undecided!) Youth in McKeon’s CA-25 opposed it by 36-50. So either there’s something distinctive about youth within this district — which would be good news for Royce except for that that malady is probably relatively easily fixed — or there was just something off about this sample. And if that’s true, then Royce is in fact even deeper underwater than this poll suggests.
4. So Who’s Going to Run Against Him?
Part of my job with the DPOC involves candidate recruitment, so I’ve been looking for someone who could put Amy Porter back onto the job market for some time. There are possibilities — but this poll may change the game. Lots of people are now slated for primaries that they’re likely to lose — and remember that a candidate for CA-39 does not have to live in the district, but only within the state! (Royce can’t complain about carpetbagging without undermining the Bigoted Buttkicker, Young Kim, whom he himself encouraged to carpetbag in AD-65.) So this poll gives me, like others searching for candidates, a nice presentation to place in my binder — which is why I put in the time to make up such a spiffy chart.
The first name that comes to mind, of course, is Jay Chen. Jay has been leaning against running next year, preferring to spend more time planning and saving for a possible race in 2016. (He has other possibilities as well.) I asked Jay about this survey; he was familiar with it and he agreed that it makes Royce look more vulnerable. I asked: enough to draw him into the race? He didn’t say yes — but he didn’t say no, either. He wouldn’t be starting from Square One again — and Royce’s advantage from being the Foreign Relations Committee Chair may recede somewhat when he reveals himself to be a radical nincompoop, as he did here. But he has no reason to decide quite yet.
So, I asked him for his views on the shutdown and the almost-default. He was kind enough to mail me an answer:
“By costing our economy $24 billion due to their insistence on playing a game of chicken they knew they would lose, the Tea Party has clearly established themselves as the party of fiscal irresponsibility. The voters and John Roberts’ Supreme Court have already approved a plan to provide healthcare to the needy, and Tea Party Republicans need to stop damaging our country in their futile effort to change that.”
“Fiscal responsibility” — not a bad plank for one’s platform. Chen didn’t mention Royce by name — “Tea Party Republicans” could refer to almost anyone, right? — but this wouldn’t sound out of place from the mouth of a candidate. That candidate may or may not be Chen, but last week Royce has made that candidate a lot easier to find.