Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Presidential State Polling--Aug 23

Several new state polls are out today for the Trump-Clinton presidential election. If one can take them at face value, they are stunning. On the one hand, what is unsurprising is that Trump leads in Utah, by what sounds like a yuuuuge margin, 20%, according to a Saint Leo University poll. However, the size of that lead is actually bad news for Trump--Romney beat Obama in Utah by almost 50% in 2012. Worse, that number drops to a 15% lead for Trump once you add in the Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson, who seems to be on the ballot in all 50 states (feel free to correct me if this is wrong).

Similarly, it is unsurprising that Trump is ahead in Missouri, according to a Monmouth University poll, but only by 1%. Again, in 2012, Romney beat Obama by almost 10%. Trump's 1% lead is well within the margin of error, so actually a statistical tie.

Here is where things get stunning, in case the 'more than halving' of Romney's lead in Utah wasn't enough--Roanoke University shows Clinton ahead by 19% in Virginia, and Saint Leo's shows her ahead in Florida by 14%! The former, Obama won by barely 4% against Romney in 2012, and the latter was close to a tie in 2012, with Obama beating Romney by less than 1%. Let's say you cut these leads by 1/2, or even 2/3--they are still outside of the margin of error, and they would still be larger wins than Obama got in 2012.

Last week I showed that the early August polling (Aug 1-20) was extremely predictive of who actually won that state, with a correlation value of r > 0.9. To put that into context, social scientists typically get excited about r > 0.5, with 1.0 being the highest possible value. I haven't looked back to see if late August polling gets worse or better. But I can't imagine these new polls are anything but disastrous not only for Trump's prospects for presidents, but also for the down-ballot races.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Anti-Gay Church Moves into the Gayborhood

The IndyStar recently had an article about Traders Point Christian Church (TPCC), which has purchased a large facility in downtown Indianapolis, and has already started holding religious meetings. The exurban-style megachurch has a long history in Whitestown, in Boone County, but recently expanded to Carmel, and now to the near-northside, on North Delaware. While there is no true "gayborhood" in Indianapolis, like Castro in San Francisco, Chelsea in New York, and West Hollywood in Los Angeles, the area around Massachusetts Avenue is about the closest there is, with a history of a number of gay-owned, gay-themed businesses, as well as a high concentration of openly gay residents. This is the neighborhood where, just last year, an anti-gay bakery had a short-lived existence--opening shop, refusing to make a gay wedding cake (whatever a "gay wedding cake" is), and then closed due to an abrupt end to their customer base. This is where TPCC has decided to open its own shop.

The United States has a long history of using religion to persecute various minorities that it deems morally unacceptable, or just plain inferior. Let's ignore the way that Christianity was used to approve and solidify the legal standing of slavery for Black Americans, Native American massacres, "witch" massacres, and the subordination of women. I doubt TPCC would, today, support any of these positions. In fact, the Stone-Campbell movement, of which TPCC is an offshoot, has a history of anti-racism here in Indianapolis. Ovid Butler, founder of North Western Christian University, which later became Butler University, was a strong opponent to slavery. He worked with a Stone-Campbell church, Second Christian Church, which, according to Emma Lou Thornbrough (the late historian from Butler University), was "founded during the Civil war as a mission church for freedmen, ... [and] was one of the most influential black churches in Indianapolis" (p 18). Butler University itself originally had a seminary feeder for the Stone-Campbell movement, until that department broke off to form it's own separate entity, which continues as a Disciple of Christ institution, Christian Theological Seminary.

However, that history is for the "liberal" branch of the Stone-Campbell movement (the Disciples of Christ). TPCC is from the middle-branch, not the most conservative of the branches (that title belongs to the non-instrumentalist congregations), but still theologically very conservative. Many theologically conservative churches continue our country's ideal of a separation of church and state, holding to Augustine's "two cities" paradigm (secular institutions are fundamentally different from godly institutions), as well as Tertullian's famous rhetorical question, "What has Jerusalem to do with Athens?", which was always the Evangelical approach to politics until around the 1970s. However, with the religious-political movement known as the Religious Right, the "Christian Churches/Churches of Christ" (the "middle" branch of the Stone-Campbell movement) has largely been far more active in trying to impact the political system, with a goal of reshaping secular, pluralistic life into their religious vision. TPCC is no exception to this.

On the one hand, TPCC has every right to teach and preach in its churches whatever it deems theologically appropriate, and it does so. For example, on their "Resources" web page, they sell two books (one wonders what Jesus would think about this) that affirm and explain their anti-gay theology in detail, one by Kevin Deyoung, who believes that LGBTQ people are the moral equivalent to pedophiles and people who have sex with animals (engage in bestiality), and another by Sam Allberry.

Similarly, on their "Beliefs" page they specifically highlight an anti-gay paragraph about what they think God's intent for marriage is:

We believe that the term “marriage” has only one meaning: the uniting of one man and one woman in a single, exclusive union, as described in Genesis 2:18-25. We believe that God intends sexual intimacy to occur only between a man and a woman who are married to each other (1 Corinthians 6:18; 7:2-5; Hebrews 13:4). We believe that God has commanded that no intimate sexual activity be engaged in outside of a marriage between a man and a woman.
While many contemporary churches would consider private beliefs about sexual orientation to be part of an individual's conscience, much like beliefs about capital punishment, war, guns, etc, this church believes so strongly in their anti-gay theology, that it has become part of their core theological system, from which they allow no deviation. In many areas of the country, perhaps even Whitestown, IN, this dogmatic position may be acceptable. However, when moving into a largely pro-gay community, this level of anti-gay dogmatism is unlikely to be received well.

What will also not likely be well-received is their promotion of the long-ago discredited "ex-gay therapy." In fact, in 2007, TPCC hosted a national "Love Won Out" conference. The history of this organization is somewhat complicated. Early on it became an arm of James Dobson's organization, Focus on the Family, but was then taken over by Exodus International, an ex-gay support network. The LWO conferences were designed to encourage gay people to "become straight," to encourage participants to engage in anti-gay activism, and trained parents how to tell if their children were gay so they could send them to Christian therapists to be "fixed." All of the licensing mental health organizations, as well the primary licensing medical organizations had, by 2007, issued institutional statements clarifying that not only was "ex-gay therapy" not effective, but that it was largely harmful, for example the American Psychological Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Counseling Association. This type of "therapy" has been banned in several states.

However, all of the preceding discussion is what they do inside their church walls. What is far more problematic is their secular political activism on this issue. Specifically, the church's relationship with Curt Smith, a current "team leader" for the Indiana Family Institute, and IFI's former president. At issue is the core part that Smith has played in both of these institutions. In addition to his activities with IFI, Smith "attends Traders Point Christian Church in northwest Indianapolis, where he served as an elder for 14 years and was Chairman of the Board from 2005 until 2008." His past and present relationship with TPCC is not trivial, nor is it coincidental. The church has anti-gay theology as one of its core beliefs, which is also one of the three core beliefs of the IFI. But more than just holding and promoting a system of religious beliefs, the IFI's primary mission is to create political change, shaping our pluralistic society into their own theological vision.

A primary example is their participation in the recent Indiana "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" debacle. In this image, governor Mike Pence is shown signing RFRA, surrounded by many of the state's religiously-affiliated anti-gay activists. Smith is in the back row, representing the IFI, one of the key actors in this statewide (and later national) drama.

While the strength of the backlash eventually caused Pence and the legislators to add a "fix," reducing its enforceability, Smith opposed any changes to the law they originally passed. In fact, in a recent book about Evangelicals' requirement to engage our society to a move towards theologically conservative political & legislative changes, he implies that Mike Pence is a New Testament Judas, selling out those religious-political activists who spent a significant amount of time, money, and political capital to get the original RFRA passed, yet Pence signed the "fix." Like the author of the anti-gay books sold on the TPCC web site, Smith also believes that gay people are the moral equivalent to pedophiles and supports the banned ex-gay "therapy."

Similarly, not satisfied with keeping their political beliefs inside the walls of their congregation, pastors at the church advocate for political opposition to basic gay civil liberties. For example, here, and here, the lead pastor, Aaron Brockett, tweeted links to anti-gay news articles. The downtown congregation will have a their own pastor, Petie Kinder, with a similar penchant for tweeting anti-gay articles, for example, here and here. Again, while this type of rhetoric may bring in the politically-conservative residents of Boone County, my guess is they will have an uphill battle bringing an anti-gay message into the gayborhood around Mass Ave, and may go the way of the anti-gay bakery.

Finally, on a slightly different note, all of this came to my attention by way of a discussion on NextDoor, when one of my neighbors posted about the fact that the church had purchased one of the old buildings for its new church plant. When I posted about the irony of the anti-gay church moving into this particular neighborhood, my post was flagged as inappropriate and deleted. It started an interesting conversation that seemed to contain three types of people--one that was concerned about the "outdated" theology the church was propagating, another that agreed with the church's theology and welcomed them, and a third that was annoyed by any talk of the theological, but were simply excited about the economic impact of a megachurch moving into a building in their neighborhood (perhaps they will put a Starbucks in the lobby?). After my post was deleted, I appealed the decision to the company, who affirmed that my contribution was unacceptable. I promptly deleted my account with NextDoor.

[Edit: In a previous version of this, I mistakenly associated online anti-gay sermons by Jeremy Paschall with Traders Point Christian Church, when in fact, he is associated with Traders Point Church Of Christ. I have deleted this reference]

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Presidential Election & Polls: Mid-August Update, Battleground States

In early July I posted a 2012 presidential election analysis, comparing state-level outcomes of the election for the "battleground states" with polling from May-July 15 of that year, and found that polling even that early was an excellent indicator of who would win that state: looking only at PPP polling, they correctly predicted 13 of the 15 states, and by taking an average of just 3 polls from that time period, you could correctly predict all 15 states. This post updates a look at the polls from those same 15 states from a post two weeks ago, which looked at the polls up through Aug 5. At that point Clinton seemed to be in a good position. Now she looks even better.

Looking again at the 2012 presidential election, I broadened the number of states included in the analysis, from the original 15, now to 23. Originally I only looked at states that were won with a 10% margin, now I include states won with a 15% margin. Averaging all polls that only included "likely voters" (and PPP, which uses "registered voters", but is a highly reliable pollster) that were administered from Aug 1-Aug 20*, produced the results in Table 1. Comparing those averages with the actual win margin for either Romney or Obama produced a staggeringly high correlation: r=0.93. Usually social scientists get excited with r>0.5, and ecstatic for r>0.7. What r=0.93 indicates is an incredibly strong reliability between the August polling and the margin of the win. For example, the only poll on record for Montana for early August gave Romney a 17 pt win, and he won by 14%. Similarly, the only poll for Washington gave Obama a 17% win margin, and he won by 15%.

In the current election, various problems have arisen with the Trump campaign--largely because of continued inflammatory statements by Trump himself. While Clinton has some of the lowest "favorability" ratings of presidential nominees, she is still far ahead of Trump in the polls, and she is particularly cutting away at the leads that Trump needs to have in these battleground states. The data from current polls can be found in Table 2, which represent an average of all of the polls from Aug 1-Aug 18 for these states, where polls are available for this time frame. Polls were retrieved from RealClearPolitics and 270ToWin.

At a baseline, Trump needs to win all of the states that Romney won in 2012, plus more, in order to beat Clinton. In the table, I have highlighted in red the states that Romney won, and in blue the states that Obama won. Column 3 is the win margin for either candidate. The last column is the average of all August polls ("likely voters" only). Several states do not have any August polling yet, designated with "NA". In that column, I have highlighted in red those states where Trump leads with more than 5%, and in blue those states where Clinton leads with more than 5%. Green are those states with less than 5% win for either candidate. Recall that the 2012 August polling was highly predictive not only of who would win that state, but of the win margin. So even though the states here highlighted in green are largely within the margin of error, going by the 2012 results, they might still be predictive.

The problem for Trump at this point is that he is under water, and not just by a little bit. He is only winning one of these 23 battleground states by more than 5%, Indiana, based on just one poll. However, for what it's worth, a Democratic internal poll for Indiana actually shows that Clinton and Trump are tied. Clinton is winning seven of these states by by more than 8% according to these polls. Even a state like South Carolina, which has Trump in the lead by 2%, Romney won by more than 10%. Arizona has Clinton with a tiny lead, which Romney won by more than 9%, and he is tied with Clinton in Georgia. In Georgia!

While pundits have got this election wrong for the last year--mainly in predicting that Trump would never get as far as he did--none of those predictions were based on data (unless you count historical wisdom as data). In this case, polling is clearly on the side of Clinton, and at least in the 2012 election, it seems that the voters in these states had already made up their minds as of August, and polling detected it quite accurately. If pollsters are doing a similarly good job this year, and if voters are on the same cognitive-political timeline as in 2012, then Hillary should start measuring for White House drapes, unless the old ones are still in storage.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Presidential Race--Early August Polling

Edit: I have included Florida in the analysis below, released Aug 5. This time last month I posted an analysis of the 2012 election polling (Romney vs Obama) for the 15 most likely "swing states"--those states that were eventually won by less than 10% by either candidate. I compared the 2012 late May-early July state-level polling to who actually won the election in November, concluding that even 4 months out, these polls were strongly predictive of the winner. Now that we are passed the conventions, a few new polls have come out, and things do not look good for Republican presidential chances, ie, Trump, which may also have a profound impact on down-ballot races. If the current trend holds, the GOP are likely to lose the Senate, and their hold on the House will significantly narrow not to mention state races. The Kansas primary has already shown that conservatives have lost their state-level seats to moderates.

Of the fifteen "swing states" from 2012, seven August polls have been released: Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Florida & North Carolina. So far, all of those states are going in the same direction they did in 2012, with North Carolina being the only state so far going for Trump. However, what should be very disturbing for the Trump campaign, and all Republicans hoping to win down-ballot races, is that the Pennsylvania & New Hampshire polls are blow-outs for Clinton. In 2012, Obama won Pennsylvania by 5.4%--polling now has Clinton with an 11% lead, well above the margin of error. Even more devastating, in New Hampshire, where Obama won in 2012 by 5.6%, Clinton is leading by a whopping 17%. We'll see if these leads hold as we approach the elections. But both of these polls are of "likely voters," one of the best polling predictors to measure.

The North Carolina lead for Trump gives him a 4% advantage. This is within the margin of error, and North Carolina was also the closest state for Romney in 2012--he won by just 2%. What should be more disturbing for the Trump campaign are the Georgia & Florida polls. The former has him tied with Clinton*, and the latter have Clinton up by 6%. Romney won Georgia with an almost 8% margin, and lost Florida by less than 1%. These numbers can change quite a bit by November, but if Trump has a reasonable chance to win the key swing states, he needs to have far better numbers than a post-convention, August 'tie in Georgia' & significantly down in Florida. Michigan, which Trump strategists claim is in play because of Trump's appeal to working class voters, is currently polling for Clinton at 9%, the same margin by which Obama beat Romney.

If there is a narrower set of "swingier swing states," it is likely to be eight: North Carolina, Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Iowa & Colorado, based on states from 2012 where the margins were won with less than 6%. Politico includes Michigan & Wisconsin on this list, although Obama won both with 7% or greater margins in 2012. While many of these states do not have August polling, those that do, combined with July polling, put all of these states in the same partisan hands as 2012. This, when one considers the absurdly substantial leads that Clinton has in the PA & NH polling, does not bode well for Trump. *Edit, Friday, Aug 5. Three Georgia polls have come out this week. One has Trump tied with Clinton, a second has Trump up by 4%, and a third has Clinton up by 4%. All three polls are within the margin of error, so all three represent a statistical tie.