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Mar 17

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Judging a Horse Race Without Any Horses

Gallup recently announced the results of a survey that is interesting not so much for the results but the implied thinking about how people choose among a large list of possibilities with limited information.  Specifically the survey dealt with the Republican candidates for president in 2012, of which there are currently none.

By comparison the 2008 election had the following announcement dates in 2007:

Jan. 28th:  Mike Huckabee
Feb 5th:  Rudy Gulianni
Feb 13th: Mitt Romeny
Mar. 1st: John McCain
Mar. 12th: Ron Paul

In addition, most candidates in 2007  ‘pre-announced’ by announcing the formation of exploratory committees, announcing their intention to announce, and announcing the date of their announcement.  Consequently, at this point four years ago, there was a full field of candidates.  In 2011, we have a group of people appearing as frequently as possible on TV to say that they are still thinking about it.  Not that a shorter campaign season won’t be welcome by many, including myself.

However, a very large field of potential but unannounced candidates leaves the question of how to evaluate such choices.  Asking ‘who would you vote for’ seems premature since so many of the potential names might not be running, and no real campaigning has occurred.

So the Gallup national survey of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents focused on what Gallup called the positve intensity score.  Respondents were given essentially five choices for each name.  First was “didn’t recognize” and then among those they did recognize whether they viewed them as “Strongly Favorable”, “Favorable”, “Unfavorable”, and “Strongly Unfavorable”.  Those who did not offer an opinion were included with the ‘didn’t recognize’.  The positive intensity score was the percentage of people who recognized the name, and regarded the name as strongly favorable minus the percentage of people who recognized the name and regarded it as strongly unfavorable.

The first interesting thing about the positive intensity score is that it merges both recognition and favorability.  If 85 percent of people don’t recognize your name, you can’t  have a positive intensity score over 15 even if everybody who knows you really likes you.

The second interesting thing about the positive intensity score is that it only compares the strongly favorable and strongly unfavorable scores.  The apparent thinking is that if the responder only finds the person somewhat favorable, it is likely that there is somebody else that is strongly favorable that will get their final choice.  It also recognizes that as people learn more about the previously unknown names, their opinions will often be formed by those who already have strong opinions about the candidates.

So on to the chart of Gallup’s results, courtesy of their web site.  If you are a candidate,  you want to see your name in the upper right corner (high intensity and high recognition).

The single positive intensity score obscures that there are two very different routes to get there. 

  1. Have some people who strongly like you and very few people who strongly dislike you.
  2. Have a large negative following but an even larger positive following.

The Gallup analysis would seem to presume that at least for now both approaches are equivalent.  As candidates are announced and the campaign gets under way, one of the ‘big picture’ questions it will shed light on is exactly that: is it better this year in the Republican Party to be in the first category of candidate or the second?

Here is the detailed numbers to evaluate where the various names are now.

About the author

Daniel Nolte

Architect, Network Administrator, Computer Forensics Administrator, Voiceovers. website,

Permanent link to this article: http://betweenthenumbers.net/2011/03/judging-a-horse-race-without-any-horses/

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  1. Judging a Horse Race – Redux » Between the Numbers

    […] an earlier post I discussed a new metric that Gallup was using to judge the crowded field of Republican prospects […]

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