Wednesday, June 14, 2017

More District 6

I know we're watching stories on the London fire and the GOP shooting today, and rightfully so given the tragedies, but the 6th Congressional District race still matters, at least politically. The Democrat, John Ossoff, had enjoyed a couple of 7-percentage-point leads in recent polls, but a new one has it as a dead heat (freaking out Dems, heartening Republicans). It's really important to peek under the hood on this one. Indeed, the folks who conducted the poll included this warning:

I love that, cut corners recklessly, which kinda defines of a lot of political reporting, especially on cable news. Anyway, the text on the linked page above goes to some length to explain why the sudden change may or may not matter. It's worth reading, the problem is it's hard to incorporate such caveats into political stories, especially on television -- a medium ill suited to nuance.

Among those respondents who say they're already voted, Ossoff has a 19 percentage point advantage over Karen Handel. Among those who have not yet returned an early ballot, Handel has a 14 percentage point advantage. What's that tell you? It's gonna be damn close. Dems tend to do well with early voters and do well in high-turnout races.

Then there's this fascinating warning in the poll methodology that you should read:
3 weeks ago, a SurveyUSA poll for WXIA-TV had Ossoff 7 points atop Handel. Some of the change in outcome poll-on-poll may reflect sampling vagaries and not reflect actual movement in the contest. Today's survey has fewer high-school educated respondents and fewer lower-income respondents than did SurveyUSA's sample 3-weeks ago. Both high-school educated voters and lower-income voters back Ossoff. Today's sample is older than SurveyUSA's release 3 weeks ago. Older voters back Handel. If you see these 3 differences as bugs not features, you can argue that Ossoff is today no worse off than he was 3 weeks ago.
So we're talking about the vagaries of sampling here, the kind that make it tough to call a congressional race in the first place. Interesting weird factoid, if I'm reading this right. Keep in mind GOP candidates do better in landline surveys, Dems in cell phone surveys, given the ages of respondents who rely on each. In the previous survey, Handel won on in the landline sample 52-46 and Ossoff won on the cell sample 57-34. In the newer survey, Handel again won the landline 52-46 but Ossoff only won the cell sample 48-42. What's that mean? No idea. If I had more time I'd dig and figure it out, but it just could be statistical noise.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Investigative Reporting -- Thinking Out Loud

In the Fall semester I am scheduled to teach Investigative Reporting and I'm wrestling with exactly how to do it. It's not that the topic frightens me. Hell, I have a first place award somewhere for investigative reporting, and I've taught data journalism and advanced classes for years. My struggle is in how exactly to structure the class.

Some background. This class comes a bit earlier in the curriculum for students than it should. Blame our new curriculum or how we put it together, so investigative is probably a lousy term for what the students are prepared to do. By this point enterprise reporting is probably a better fit, but this is the title and these are the students.

Often we teach these kinds of classes with a team approach. I hate teams. I also hate spunk, but that's a different problem. You'd set up teams based on beats or topics and send students on their way to generate story ideas on, say, crime or health or whatever. The problem with teams is, of course, the weak links or the overbearing links in each team that either do no work or all the work. It's hell to come up with a grade for an individual student. Yeah, you can do peer evaluations, but it's a pain in the ass. Still, having 20 or so individual investigative topics and stories is unmanageable as well and spreads the instructor awfully thin, trying to keep it flowing and make sense.

So this is my thinking out loud. Whining, really, as I figure out what to do. Here's an idea I'm considering -- focusing the entire class on Downtown Athens. Why downtown? As those who know Athens and UGA well, downtown has changed dramatically. We have high-rise student luxury apartment buildings going up everywhere. Never should luxury be in the same sentence as student apartments, but there ya go. Anyway, we can cover everything with a focus on downtown, from crime to business to entertainment to all the usual stuff. We can do data journalism and who owns downtown, how that's changed, how much booze is sold downtown, and so on. I like giving a bit of focus to a class rather than sending them out to "investigate" stuff. Of course I'll set them up with information ahead of time, describing (i.e., lecturing) how you do such stories and having them read investigative journalism. I'll make them get a student membership to IRE. I may or may not make them buy a textbook like this one, which is terrific but a bit dated.

I dunno. Still thinking it through.

Georgia's 6th District

UPDATE as of 12:14 p.m. Friday

Here's an updated version of the AJC poll story with more methodological details, including this:
Abt Associates surveys for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution are conducted by telephone. It called 1,000 registered voters in the 6th District in order to get a sample of 745 likely voters. Of those, 60 percent were reached on cellphones. The questions were asked by live interviewers, not an automated system.
So that's good, a "gold standard" type survey. I'd prefer to have the questionnaire or topline, but the story itself is full of interesting factoids on where Ossoff is getting his support and where Handel is struggling. Key missing data -- did the survey ask if people had already voted and, if so, who they voted for? Given the high early voting in this district, a good question to ask. Again, I prefer a link to the raw crosstabs and such. But I'm a polling nerd.

Also there's this graf:
The poll was conducted June 5-8 by Abt Associates and involved 1,000 registered voters. Of those polled, 46 percent identified themselves as Republican or Republican-leaning and 44 percent identified as Democrats or Democratic-leaning.
I tried to find the party identification splits for this district to see how the poll lined up, but I didn't have much luck. Then again, I was in a rush. Party ID is fluid, of course, and goes up and down for a particular party depending on the way the political winds are blowing, and right now they're not blowing as well as the GOP would like, a Trump Effect. Keep in mind that 1,000 above is misleading as the analysis appears to be of 745 "likely voters" as the first quoted graf above notes. The story reports a 4 percent margin of error, but my math says it should be more like 3.6 percent, but being cautious is always a good thing.

-- original post below --

In the 25 or so years I've been a journalism prof in Georgia, I've learned you'll never go broke here betting on the Republican candidate in a race. I didn't buy the Hillary hype in the 2016 prez election, and I figured Karen Handel, the GOP nominee with decent name recognition, would win the 6th Congressional District race against newcomer John Ossoff.

New polls are, finally, convincing me otherwise.

The latest AJC poll has Ossoff up by 7 percentage points, 51-44. The poll has a 4-point margin of error, so technically you'd call this a statistical tie (that 44 could be as high as 48, that 51 as low as 47), but when taken in combination with an earlier WSB-TV poll that gave the Dem the edge, this difference is starting to look real.

I doubt the recent televised debate made any significant difference or caused this bump. Yeah, Ossoff looked a little better than Handel in that debate, but not so much so as to nudge voters one way or the other. Debates rarely matter. Hell, look at Trump. He lost the debates against Clinton and still won the election. Odds are the folks bothering to watch the 6th District debate had already made up their minds. Oh, and only 5 percent in the most recent poll say they're undecided. That's bad news for Handel, but it's hard to tell just how strong or soft Ossoff's support really is. We'll know more when the AJC releases its crosstabs.

Another factor in Ossoff's favor -- so many early voters. There's good reason to see them breaking Ossoff's way.

It's a fascinating race given Ossoff hasn't gone all anti-Trump, which you might expect, and Handel seems to have an infatuation with Nancy Pelosi that is frankly wearing thin on independent voters, the ones she desperately needs to win over. Her problem is she's about as good a campaigner as Theresa May in the U.K., meaning not at all.

I also can't comment much about the poll itself, its methodology, as not much was released. Was it a robo-poll? Did it call landline and cellphones? All I can tell at first glance is it was of 1,000 respondents.

Full disclosure: I don't live in the 6th Congressional District. Then again, neither does Ossoff. But he lives a lot closer than I do and in this special election that may just close enough to win him the seat.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Yet More Campus Carry

UGA just sent out an updated list of questions and answers about how Georgia's "campus carry" law will be implemented. I've uploaded a PDF version of the email here, if you'd like to read it. I wrote about the previous email here.

I'm gonna nitpick one point it makes.
Can faculty members ask students to identify themselves if they are carrying handguns or ask students who carry handguns to take different classes? No. State law grants license-holders the ability to carry handguns to public college and university classes (except those in which high school students are enrolled), and faculty members may not ask license-holders to reveal that they are carrying concealed handguns or in any way discourage them from doing what they are legally allowed to do.
Well, I'm not sure the law prohibits me as a professor from asking whether anyone is packing. It's not as if carrying a legal concealed weapon is a "protected class," like asking for a student's sexual preference or orientation. That said -- and this is important -- a student is under no obligation to answer such a question. Otherwise the list is fairly straightforward and you'd hardly need UGA's crack legal crew to figure out the answers.