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2006 San Francisco Conference

by Floyd Ciruli

The third consecutive PAPOR conference in San Francisco, and the first on a Christmas-decorated Union Square, was a success. More than 60 participants joined panelists of national and international researchers and journalists on topics from the power-shifting 2006 U.S. election to the razor-thin Mexican presidential election.

The annual conference, which is the highlight of the PAPOR year, provides a unique western U.S. focus on politics and policy. The emphasis is on the topical, providing a variety of perspectives and open conversation. The plenary panel assembled a Mexico City pollster, a Mexico-based U.S. journalist and a Berkeley Latin American scholar to analyze the July Mexican presidential election.

Francisco Abundis of Parametria, Rob Collier of the San Francisco Chronicle and Dwight Dyer of UC-Berkeley Center for Latin American Studies described the growth in importance of polling to Mexican politics and media coverage. There were a number of similarities with the close 2000 U.S. Presidential election. For instance, a final decision required more than 60 days of dispute and deliberation (2000 required 36 days).

Elections in Western States
One of the most popular regularly repeated panels is the review of politics and elections in western states. Floyd Ciruli, who chaired the panel, presented an overview of the 2006 election in the west with a Democratic pick-up of a governor (CO), a U.S. Senate seat (MT) and four congressional seats (CA, AR-2, CO). Ciruli argued that Colorado’s shift along the color spectrum from red in 2002 to bright blue in 2006 was a harbinger for Democratic ascendance in the mountain west and not merely a local outlier.

Mark DiCamillo of Field Research Corporation described California Gov. Schwarzenegger’s repositioning and re-election after his poor performance in the 2005 election. This was a personal, not party, victory as Democrats continue to dominate the remaining statewide offices. Californians’ attitudes toward the future and their willingness to support public investment were analyzed by Mark Baldassare of the Public Policy Institute of California. Data from November infrastructure bond initiatives and PPIC polls were used. The methodological challenge of incorporating high levels of absentee voters into exit polls was the focus of Jill Darling, assistant polling director for the Los Angeles Times. Finally, the election was put in perspective by pointed and humorous comments of the dean of California’s political columnists, Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee.

U.S. National Election
Jon Cohen
, new polling director of the Washington Post, chaired a panel on the predicted, but still dramatic, November election results. The depth and breath of the Democratic victory and an electorate that wanted a break from intense Washington partisan wars were described by CBS pollster Anthony Salvanto. A shift in allegiance among military families to the benefit of Democrats was presented by Amy Gershkoff of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. A study of congressional districts where voters on large military bases expressed more concerns about “staying too long in Iraq” than “worrying about cutting and running” explored the potential for a future realignment of defense-oriented voters toward Democrats. Doug Strand of the UC-Berkeley Survey Research Center presented an update of an ongoing data set from the Political Agendas and Citizens Engagement Survey, which has been tracking the national electorate since 2004. The data confirmed that the Iraq War was the dominant influence in voter evaluation of the Bush presidency.

Methodological Panel
The conference methodological panel was organized by PAPOR chair Liz Hamel of the Kaiser Family Foundation. Eric Taylor of Western Wats presented results from an experiment that manipulated four questionnaire design variables and the implications for web-based survey methods. Doug Strand described response-bias impact on comparisons of data from surveys conducted over time. Jon Krosnick of Stanford University described a new approach to constructing national random samples that can then be used for regular on-line data collection. Finally, the importation of cell phones into RDD survey samples was approached from a practical point of view by John Hall of Mathematica Policy Research.

Immigration and Minority Issues
The final conference panel described Latino voters’ impact on the 2006 election after a large build-up of expectation from political action surrounding the illegal immigration issue. Public Policy Institute of California’s Sonja Petek and Renatta DeFever presented the immigration issue and the Latino California vote in 2006.

Short Course
The conference always presents at least one short course. Bill Jacoby of Michigan State University examined the utility of multi-dimensional scaling for analyzing public opinion data. His approach used easy-to-understand examples from public opinion to allow participants to rapidly apply MDS techniques in their own research.

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