The saga of Gabbard and the elusive third poll

First up, a story on where we are with candidates who might reach the October DNC debate. Activist and former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer made that cutoff recently by getting his fourth qualifying poll. But all eyes remain on Representative Tulsi Gabbard. She has two confirmed qualifying polls putting her at 2%, but she needs two more by October 1st. She’s got about a week and a half, and that ain’t much.

On September 8th, Gabbard announced that she had gotten her third qualifying poll. But the DNC quickly clarified that the poll she referred to did NOT count toward their qualification metric.

This caused many people to ask…um…wait a minute, why doesn’t this count? That included listener Cameron, who got me going on this story. Well, the answer gets a little into the weeds of polling, but here we are, so let’s yank some weeds. The DNC has a rule about what’s called the topline results from a poll. These are the results that indicate the ENTIRE sample of a given poll. So if you have a poll that ONLY asked, say, adults in the US, and 2% of those people—the entire set of people you asked—support so-and-so for president, then the topline would be a 2% result. But if you had to subdivide the group to get down to some smaller set, like, say, adults who are also left-handed, that is NOT a topline result because it doesn’t include EVERYBODY who was polled. It just includes the left-handers. Here’s the official DNC rule on that:

“Each polling result must be the top-line number listed in the original public release from the approved sponsoring organization/institution, whether or not it is a rounded or weighted number.”

So in the poll Gabbard cited on September 8th, she got 1% in the topline, but 2% among registered voters—which in that poll were a subset. That’s because the poll asked questions of adults in general, not JUST registered voters. So, according to the DNC’s published rules, that result did not count.

Then there was yet another possible third poll, this time from CNN/SSRS. It covered the period from September 5ththrough 9thand Gabbard got 2% in the topline of that poll. But that didn’t count either. Why? Well, let me read another DNC rule:

“Any candidate’s four qualifying polls must be conducted by different organizations, or if by the same organization, must be in different geographical areas.”

In this case, Gabbard ALREADY HAD a 2% result in the same poll—by the same pollsters, CNN/SSRS—from August, in the same nationwide region. That first poll DOES count, and because it’s the same pollster in the same place, the second result doesn’t. Gabbard—and Steyer as well—oh, and Bennet too—have argued at various times that the DNC rules are opaque and arbitrary.

Depending on the metric you use to judge pollsters and their polls, both Steyer and Gabbard could have been in the September debate. But they weren’t, because those metrics weren’t used. The DNC published its rules, and followed them.

Over at FiveThirtyEight, Geoffrey Skelley did an analysis in a piece titled, “What If The Debate Were Based On Different Polls?” And he did find a scenario in which a more permissive polling structure would result in both Gabbard and Steyer reaching the September debate easily. However, that’s a what-if scenario, not a what-are-the-actual-rules scenario. It also doesn’t comment on whether the DNC rules are themselves fair.

Another candidate even wrote an open letter to Tom Perez, who is Chair of the DNC, demanding answers on a bunch of this stuff, notably asking why the particular rules were chosen, and whether any candidates or their campaigns were involved in those discussions. That candidate is Senator Michael Bennet, and I reported on that letter back on August 29th. I also contacted Bennet’s campaign press office back on September 11thasking for a comment on whether Perez or the DNC had responded. I have received nothing from Bennet’s campaign.

There’s one more of this puzzle that’s worth mentioning. The DNC rules are sufficiently complex that a small cottage industry has popped up to interpret new poll results in the context of those rules. The oracle of this particular area is Zach Montellaro, who’s a reporter for Politico. Along with Steven Shepard, he maintains a Google spreadsheet that is consulted widely by both other reporters AND THE CANDIDATES. In a tweet yesterday, Politico reporter Maggie Severns wrote:

“While speaking about DNC debates today at [Politico], [Andrew Yang] saw [Zach Montellaro] nodding and asked: “Are you Zach Montellaro? Whatever he’s getting, give that man a raise. Candidates like me live and die on his every word. We’re like, hey Zach, did that poll count?””

And that is a big part of the problem here. I have personally asked Montellaro questions like this throughout the race, and I rely on a journalist who is running a Google Sheets thing to tell me which polls the DNC considers for its official results. And that journalist is doing a great job, don’t get me wrong, but this strikes me as the kind of thing the DNC itself could be doing in an official capacity. Because at the moment, there is an ongoing cycle of some new poll coming out, everybody reading it, and then everybody looking at Montellaro and saying, like Yang did, “Hey Zach, did that poll count?” The same thing is often true for reporters like Geoffrey Skelley of FiveThirtyEightwho have to pin down the DNC to get specific answers on things like the Gabbard polls and the toplines.

So the take-away here is that, at least from my reading of the DNC rules, they do match up with reality. Are the rules perfect or fair? I don’t know. But you CAN run a given poll through the various DNC tests and come up with an objective result. It’s also true that if you changed those criteria, you would have a very different result in terms of who made it to the debate stage. Gabbard still has a shot of making the October debate. She gets a lot of 1% results, and is just barely not making it to that 2% threshold.

I expect the DNC to ratchet up the qualifying threshold yet again for the November and December debates, so this isn’t getting any easier. And by the way, Williamson needs three more 2% polls for October, which is still technicallypossible but based on her recent polling, is not going to happen.

Another new poll gives no help to the debate qualifying field

Late yesterday, Fox News released a new national poll, and many among us were hoping that might change the landscape for debate qualification in October. Reading from Zach Montellaro on Twitter:

“The debate ramifications: Zip. Zilch. Zero. The qualification deadline for the October debate is Oct[ober] 1[st], and this doesn't get Gabbard (or anyone else) closer.”

The only change I saw in this poll was a 4% result for O’Rourke. He didn’t need it, because he had already met the polling threshold, but this knocks out an earlier 3% result for him, bringing his DNC polling average UP ever so slightly to 3.75%.

Oddly enough, that may actually give him a noticeably better position on stage, especially in a two-night debate scenario. Right now, and this will probably change, O’Rourke has a DNC polling average that is higher than Booker, Castro, Klobuchar, Steyer, and Yang. That puts him at the top of the lowest-polling pack, but behind Buttigieg who has a DNC average of 8.5%.

Anyway, point being, there are some scenarios where O’Rourke could be center-stage—or nearly so—at some point in the October debate because his polling is just a point or two ahead of some other candidates.

Joe Kennedy is definitely running for Senate

Next up, according to the Boston Globe, Joe Kennedy III will formally announce his run for Senate on Saturday. As I previously reported, he’s launching a primary challenge against sitting Democratic Senator Ed Markey for his seat in Massachusetts. Kennedy is already serving in the House, but he’s aiming for Senate in 2020.

Now, Markey isn’t taking any of this sitting down. Reading from a Politico article by Stephanie Murray:

“The race between Markey and Kennedy is shaping up to be a contest colored by generational themes: Kennedy is 38 years old and Markey, 73, has been in Congress since the 1970s. Elected to the Senate in a 2013 special election, Markey has been rolling out endorsements from prominent lawmakers and environmental groups for weeks. Sen[ator] Elizabeth Warren [...] and Rep[resentative] Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez [...] are among his supporters. The Sierra Club endorsed Markey on Wednesday.”

Yeah, so this is shaping up to be a primary to watch. Either way, a Democrat is likely to remain in that seat, but which one is certainly debatable right now.

A listener question about the million-donor mark

Next up, a listener question about which Democratic primary candidate, if any, has one million donors. Reading from an email question by listener Isaac:

“I have been following the primary very closely and noticed an inconsistency in some of Bernie's emails. Today [September 18th] his campaign manager sent out an email that explicitly says that he will be the first campaign to hit 1 million donors in the next 24 hours. However, according to the New York Times, on July 26[th] Warren hit the 1 million donor mark. Am I imagining something here or is this actual inconsistency?”

Excellent question, and this is something I ran into a lot when I was first trying to parse fundraising numbers. I get those emails from the Sanders campaign too, and here’s an example. Reading from an email I got last night just before 7pm Pacific:

“We are getting VERY close to reaching an incredible milestone: 1,000,000 donors to this campaign. // And once we do, we're going to create a Donor Wall at campaign headquarters to feature the names of the first 1,000,000 people who have chipped in. // There's just one name that's missing: yours.”

So, quick reminder, I have not and will not donate to anybody in this field. So, yes, my name will be missing from any donor walls that might be erected.

Now, if we go back to July 26th, the New York Times did report:

“Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has received one million donations to her campaign for president, her team said on Friday, making her the only Democratic candidate aside from Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont to announce reaching that threshold in the 2020 cycle.”

And, just to repeat, that was in late JULY. So what’s the difference? In three words: DONORS versus DONATIONS. It’s a subtle bit of terminology that makes a huge difference. Each DONOR can give multiple DONATIONS. So if I gave to one campaign once, that makes me a donor with one donation. If I give ten times, I’m still one donor, but now that campaign has ten donations from me.

Sanders was in fact the first Democratic primary candidate to get one million DONATIONS—meaning one million times any amount of money was chipped in by anyway—and that happened back in April. Then Warren followed in July. What’s happening now is Sanders is approaching one million DONORS, which is a much bigger milestone, because he has been very good at extracting multiple small donations from each individual donor.

We’re about to get better data on all of this by October 15th, which is the deadline for candidates filing their latest fundraising info covering the past three months with the Federal Election Commission. Once that data is in and analyzed, we should know how many individual donors each candidate has.

Harris doubles down on Iowa

Next up, a report by Christopher Cadelago in Politico says that Senator Kamala Harris is, “putting her stumbling campaign on the line with a new Iowa-or-bust strategy: She's shifting away from the closed-door fundraisers that dominated her summer calendar to focus on retail politicking in the crucial kickoff state.”

This comes at a time when Harris’s polling performance is not super-great but also not super-bad. In the polling averages maintained by The Economist, she’s tied for fourth place with Mayor Pete Buttigieg. And that tie has both Harris and Buttigieg at 6%, which is a full 10% behind Sanders.

So Harris is ready for a pivot. One of her core constituencies should be her home state of California, which does vote on March 3rdof 2020. But that’s a full month after the Iowa caucuses. Part of the challenge for her campaign will be to remain viable until that California vote actually happens. If she has a really bad showing in the early-voting states that go before California, Harris might be written off early. Reading again from Politico:

“An Iowa poll out Wednesday, conducted by her own pollster for another client, showed Harris well out of range of the frontrunners, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren, and behind Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar.
A half-dozen Harris officials and outside allies briefed on internal expectations said she needs a top-tier finish in Iowa to remain competitive and put her in position to strike in Nevada, South Carolina and on Super Tuesday, when her home state of California holds its primary.
Harris herself appeared to confirm the Iowa focus on Wednesday, though not on purpose.
“I’m [bleeping] moving to Iowa,” she joked to a colleague in Washington, within earshot of a reporter.”

And yes, I replaced the actual epithet with a bleep there.

Amazon will allow voice donations to presidential candidates starting in October

Last up today, this story strikes me as weird, but hey, maybe that just makes me old.

According to a report in the Washington Post by Michelle Ye Hee Lee, Amazon is about to enable its Echo voice platform—whose trigger name I WILL NOT SAY—to allow voice donations to presidential candidates, starting in October.

In order to receive these donations, campaigns have to sign up, and that process is open today.

The way it works is you would say, “Amazon Robot Name, donate X dollars to So-and-So.” And that’s pretty much it. You have to confirm the donation, and listen to the robot tell you that you’d better be eligible to donate and not breaking any laws, and be 18, and whatever, but it’s basically a regular purchase as far as the robot is concerned. The amounts can be between $5 dollars and $200 dollars at the top end, and it’s only for PRESIDENTIAL candidates in the 2020 race. That DOES include primary candidates, of course.

Now, there ARE some legal questions here, but, like many things lately related to campaign finance, they might not be actionable right now. Reading from the Post:

“...[I]t would be a good idea for a company like Amazon to seek an advisory opinion from the FEC, [former FEC acting general counsel Dan] Petalas said. Such opinions provide assurances to campaigns, donors and firms that a creative business proposal meets regulations, and help ward off baseless complaints to the FEC, he said.
Yet the agency is unable to release official guidance or conduct official business after it lost its voting quorum with the resignation of vice chairman Matthew Petersen. President Trump has not yet announced a plan to nominate new commissioners.”

Well, I, for one, welcome our new lightly-regulated robotic donation overlords. Incidentally, Amazon says you can add a security PIN to your devices so that random people wandering by your robot tubes can’t just donate money on your behalf. I’m not saying you have to, but that seems like a good idea to me.

Well, that is it for one more episode of the Election Ride Home. I have been your host, Chris Higgins. You can always find me on Twitter @chrishiggins. Well, I’ve got no yarden news, the cat has done nothing amusing lately, and it is still cold and rainy where I am. So I figure in this outro it’s a decent time to say, hey, thanks for listening, and if you dig the show, I’d love it if you could take two minutes and review it on Apple Podcasts or whatever podcast thing you use. Honest reviews help other folks find the show, which helps keep me doing the show, which seems like a win-win to me. As always, thanks for listening, and I will talk to y’all tomorrow.