National Climate Favors Big GOP Gains in Congress

Posted on April 22, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized |

The political environment at the national level clearly favors the Republicans making gains in the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate.

The first and most important indication is President Obama’s poor national approval rating, which is at 43%, while a majority of Americans – or 52% – disapprove of his job performance, according to national poll tracking websites.  In fact, the president hasn’t had a 50% job approval rating since before last August, and has failed to hit fifty percent in more than 100 polls conducted by all sorts of bipartisan and partisan leaning firms in the last 6 to 8 months.

Add to this the fact that by a 62 to 29 margin, most Americans say the country is headed in the wrong direction, an ominous trend that hasn’t changed much in the last two years and a clear indication that most people are not happy with the President’s stewardship of the economy or the country.

So why is the president’s low popularity likely to have an impact on the Congressional races this November?

The first reason is his low popularity will affect his ability to either help Democrats in competitive districts or galvanize turnout with the kinds of coalitions that typically turn out in presidential elections. These groups include “millenials” or young voters which voted for Obama by a 62:38 margin in 2012, and minorities like African Americans and Hispanics who the President won with between 65 and 90 percent of the vote.

A good recent illustration of how Republicans are likely to benefit this November is a special election held in mid-March in a Florida swing district where Republicans were victorious.  Centrally located in Pinellas County along the state’s Gulf border, the district  is really one of the premier bellwether districts in the state because it voted for both former President George Bush but then swung to Obama in both 2008 and 2012.  It is even divided between R’s and D’s so competition is always ripe between parties. The Republican nominee, David Jolly, tied the Democratic candidate, Alex Sink, to Obama care and made the election a referendum on Obama’s policies. Sink, who was also an unsuccessful candidate for governor four years ago but actually carried Pinellas County in this prior campaign failed to get the separation she needed from the president despite her strong popularity as a former statewide elected official. Further supporting this point, Kim Strassel from the Wall Street Journal even penned an editorial about the implications of this election for Democrats in November.

The only good news for Democrats perhaps is that national polling also shows the image of the Republican-controlled U.S. House at historic lows, and Americans are evenly divided on which party they want to control Congress.  Nonetheless, based on historical patterns which almost always show the party out of power makes gains in mid-term elections, especially the 6-year mark of a president’s second term – all evidence points to a big year for the GOP this coming fall.

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Online Research Panels: How SP&R is Helping Clients

Posted on March 31, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

It’s easy to get consumers to talk about a company, product, service or message. It’s more challenging to get consumers to talk with a company —and SP&R is the leading firm in Pennsylvania helping to get the conversation started.

Many companies and organizations are now tapping into “online research communities” as a way to communicate with consumers on a host of topics. It’s a win-win for both companies who get valuable, instant data to improve strategic planning efforts, and consumers who receive some sort of incentive such as gift cards or redeemable points for giving their time. The growing trend is changing the scope of consumer research—including the types of services SP&R is offering.

SP&R is in the process of creating online panels for a variety of clients, each with a different purpose.  Our most high profile example is an online panel recruitment for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.  Panelists, or motorists who drive the Pa Turnpike, are offered financial rewards for their participation in periodic surveys.  The Pennsylvania Turnpike will use this feedback to better understand the attitudes of the driving public, and to respond to their needs on issues like road safety and the transition to All-Electronic Tolling.

The beauty of online panels is how customizable they are for various needs and lengths of time, which is why SP&R is working with other health care, engineering and PR clients to better utilize this innovative research tool.

SP&R is also building its own statewide online panel of registered voters, who can be contacted via email to participate in future surveys. Clients such as candidates for public office, political consultants and special interest groups will have immediate access to a statewide online audience of registered voters for feedback on testing messages, previewing TV ads or tracking opinions on current issues.

SP&R is uniquely qualified to offer this service to clients in the near future, so stay tuned for more details coming soon.



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The Benefits of Big Data: How SP&R Helps Clients “Tap” its Potential

Posted on October 30, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

In the past decade, the rapid growth of technology has exponentially increased the amount of searchable data that people generate. In fact, experts estimate that people generated more data in the year 2012 than accumulated in all of human history through 2010.

This vast storehouse of data produced from online shopping, social network interaction, smart phone GPS location, and digital content downloading acts as a diamond in the rough– offering new opportunites for market research and analysis if one is willing to sift through layers of web data to harvest kernels of truth about the consumer. It’s known as Big Data and SP&R is actively engaged in helping its corporate clients use it to learn how to be profitable in a rapidly exploding Internet-savvy world.  

The healthcare industry is a good example in which SP&R is actively engaged in helping its clients use market research services to better understand Big Data.  In a changing health care arena, hospitals are under enormous pressure to be more responsive to patients while also remaining profitable. That’s why it’s critical for hospital administrators to not only understand which surgeries and procedures are money-makers, but also which ones the public and even its own physicians and employees agree represent the best avenues for future growth.  Plus, identifying competitor hospitals that have captured “market share” through the use of hospital ratings reports must be taken into account as well – all of which cannot be accomplished without blending Big Data with reliable consumer research.

Another example of how SP&R is helping clients to use Big Data is in the transportation industry.  SP&R continues to be engaged with the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission helping it understand how its transformation to All-Electronic Tolling (or AET) will impact not only its “cash” customers but its own employees. This process involves a myriad of techniques including surveying Turnpike users and employees as well as capturing Big Data like sales receipts from actual interchange points to fully analyze market barriers to future growth.

Where Big Data can be helpful is by enhancing the quality of market research on the front end, while simultaneously maximizing results and analysis on the back end to help clients be more competitive by better understanding customers, lowering operating costs and helping to grow business-segment revenue streams.



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Is Brand Really King? What PA Consumers Said in SP&R’s First Keystone Consumer Insights Survey

Posted on October 25, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

           It seems to be the favorite word of marketers—a company’s brand. The buzzword is often accompanied by a slew of commonly quoted phrases, including: building your “brand image”, establishing “brand presence”, keeping your “brand promise”, creating “brand ambassadors”. According to Advertising Age, the 100 Leading National Advertisers spent an estimated $104.5 billion on U.S. advertising in 2012. The world’s biggest advertiser, Procter & Gamble, Co., spent $9.3 billion on global advertising in 2012, about 11.7% of net sales. Also on the list of advertising key players is General Motors Co., Comcast Corp., AT&T and Verizon Communications, to name a few. Forbes cites that brand matters because with a well-established brand, you have a sense of what you’re getting.

            But what if brand isn’t everything? SP&R’s first-ever statewide Keystone Consumer Insights Survey suggests that brand may not be the deciding factor after all. When asked if respondents purchase products based on loyalty to familiar brand names or whether pricing and quality are more important regardless of the brand, 77% opted for pricing and quality versus brand name loyalty, chosen by 15%. The survey, conducted from Sept. 24th to Oct. 1st, included statewide live and automated interviews with 813 PA consumers and “primary” decision-makers. The poll has a margin of error of +/-3.4%.

            These results present an interesting clue into the mind of the consumer—and an intriguing road map for marketers who have invested countless hours and billions of dollars concocting the ideal brand archetype. Results suggest that brand may not be a company’s alpha and omega and generic products may be in the running if made with good quality and priced to meet consumer price points.

            Consumers seem to want to know what they’re getting for their money, and in today’s tough economy, shoppers are increasingly cost-conscious, with buying habits based on a variety of factors rather than a singular one. Respondents of our poll would be an indication that branding efforts—no matter how prevalent—may not surpass more basic qualities of a product when making a purchasing decision and that an effective campaign will account for all elements in its strategy.

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More Wave Goodbye to Landlines: How SP&R’s Methods Continue to Evolve with Changing Trends

Posted on October 22, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

According to Census Bureau statistics, more than a quarter of U.S. households have ditched their landline phones in recent years. This phenomenon is fueled mainly by younger adults relying exclusively on cell phones, to the point where now a record low of 71% of households reported having landlines in 2011, the most recent year figures were available.  Meanwhile, cell phone ownership has reached more than 90%, up 300% more than 10 years ago.

Any researcher in the industry who specializes in telephone-based research needs to worry about this trend, and take the necessary steps to ensure that cell phone-only households are being included in probability-based sampling techniques.

At SP&R our methods are continually evolving to ensure we do not overlook or under sample harder-to-reach households, whether they involve cell phone-only households, or non-English speaking citizens.   Coverage bias, or the failure to reach certain types of households that cannot otherwise be reached by traditional telephone methods, is a problem that affects what’s known as “external” validity of a research project, and ultimately calls into question the accuracy of its results. 

We have taken several steps to account for coverage bias.  First, all SP&R’s scientific telephone-based polling now includes a blended sample frame of both landline and cellular-only households.  This is hugely important for many reasons. For instance, in a typical survey, the percent of interviews conducted with cell phone-only households will vary from as little as five to as high as twenty percent of all interviews, depending on factors like the nature of the study, the amount of cell phone records available and whether the study is a probability or non-probability-based sample.  Moreover, it’s important that a higher concentration of cell phone respondents come from younger adults mainly in the 18-34 age range, given that “millennials”, or those born in the early 1980s, are the ones least likely to own a landline. 

When it comes to our automated/IVR (Interactive Voice Response) software, commonly known as “robo” or “push button” type surveys, we now augment surveys conducted via our automated software with interviews conducted using “live” telephone agents from the same survey script. This is critical considering it is illegal under federal law to use automated software to contact people via cell phones. Using live agents to conduct these surveys via cell phones is therefore crucial to the accuracy of results.  Due to the quick and relatively seamless nature of obtaining automated responses, there are many automated polling vendors springing up in the Harrisburg market.  Some of these firms claim to be experts in polling and are tied to otherwise reputable political consulting firms, or trade associations that offer other services.  However, few of them have methods sanctioned by the polling industry’s most commonly-used guidelines or best practices. At SP&R, we participate in annual gatherings of polling experts through associations like AAPOR (American Association of Public Opinion Research) and incorporate the latest polling methods into our research. Placing a great emphasis on the means by which we obtain results, we also adopt guiding principles from real task force experts and account for hard-to-reach members of a sample in all of our research.


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Summary of Results: 23rd Annual Pennsylvania Economic Survey, on behalf of the PA Chamber of Business & Industry and Elizabethtown College

Posted on September 25, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

SP&R was proud to play a role in the 23rd annual Economic Survey for the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry and the S. Dale High Center for Family Business at Elizabethtown College this year. In a press conference held on September 25, 2013 revealing the results of this year’s poll held at the state Capitol, SP&R president, Jim  Lee, gave a summary of the methodology and findings. Conducted with Pennsylvania employers, this year’s poll showed that while there is positive growth in business, employers still have a ways to go.

Read Jim Lee’s remarks from the press conference below:

This year’s annual survey was conducted August 6th through August 23rd with 650 employers across Pennsylvania.   This includes telephone interviews with 350 Chamber members and 300 additional interviews with non-members as part of a separate random, representative sample of the broad employer community across the Commonwealth.   Interviews are carefully monitored to ensure a representative sample of the business community is achieved by company size as measured by number of employees, by type of industry, as well as a proportionate distribution of surveys based on geographic location in the Commonwealth.   The margin of error for a sample size of 650 interviews is +/-3.8% at the 95% confidence level, or approximately +/-5% when referencing the findings of subgroups of respondents like interviews specifically with Chamber members or non-members.

This year’s CEO-survey with Pennsylvania employers shows some positive indications from job creators, but still a long way to go to get back to the kinds of figures we saw in surveys conducted prior to the latest recession. For instance, nearly one in four employers (or 24%) believes the business climate in the Keystone State has gotten better in the past 12 months, up slightly from 20% last year.  This represents the highest level reported in more than six years since before the 2008-‘09 recession began.  Conversely, the percent of employers who say the economy has gotten worse is down from 32% last year to 22% in the current survey.  This represents a huge drop from the peak of the recession in 2009 when 67% of employers said the economy was worse off.

This year’s survey also shows some bright spots in terms of sales growth both in the past 12 months and future projections as well.  For instance, more than one third of employers, or 35%, report that their sales increased in the last twelve months.  Although this might not seem like a lot, it is technically the highest percentage of employers reporting increases in five years.  Moreover, 38% of CEO’s anticipate their sales will increase in the next 12 months, which is a slight gain from last year and also a new five-year high. These higher levels of optimism are consistent with national employer studies showing small business confidence, as measured by a confidence index, also reaching new peaks not seen since prior to the recession.

However, despite the slightly higher levels of optimism in sales growth, most employers do not report robust hiring or increases in their workforces in the last 12 months, nor do many employers expect things to change much in the next 12 months.   For instance, only one in five or 20% report increases in hiring the last 12 months, virtually unchanged from 21% last year.  These figures are still below the high water mark set in 2006 when more than four in ten employers reported hiring more workers.   Moreover, only one in five employers say they expect to hire more workers in the next 12 months. This is a modest gain from 17% last year, but still far below a 4-year average of one in three employers who reported hiring more staff from 2004 to 2007 prior to the start of the recession.

Employer reports of investments in new technology, equipment or machinery also continues to be far below pre-recession levels.   In the current survey, fewer than one in four employers report making “major” investments in technology or machinery the last 12 months, virtually unchanged from last year’s survey.  And only slightly more than one in ten employers, or 13% expect to make major investments in their companies in technology or new equipment in the next 12 months, while only an additional 30% expect to make at least some type of “minor” investments.   To better understand how far these figures are off from pre-recession levels, this means that while a combined 43% expect to make some kind of investments, this leaves more than fifty percent of employers who expect to make absolutely no investments in technology or equipment over the next 12 months.  In comparison, in years prior to the start of the economic slowdown it was not uncommon for close to 90% of employers to say they planned to make at least some kind of investments in their companies, a figure that has plummeted by more than 300% in a span of less than ten years.

In conclusion, this year’s survey shows some positive signs that employers are moving the needle in making modest gains in sales growth, and even future projections in sales for the upcoming 12-month cycle.  But it seems even these modest gains in sales growth haven’t given CEO’s the confidence they perhaps need to hire more workers, or make firm commitments to hire more in the future, or make even modest capital improvements in their companies.

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Corbett’s Prospects for Reelection Hinge on Many Factors

Posted on May 18, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

An incumbent with a record of questionable bipartisan accomplishments in his first term, a dubious job approval rating and one who has a reputation as a polarizing figure gets reelected despite all the odds.   If you think I’m describing Tom Corbett you would be wrong. Rather, the scenario just described is that of Barack Obama in 2012.

So the political prognostications have begun in earnest with many saying Republican Governor Tom Corbett could be the first governor in history to lose reelection in 2014 and break the Commonwealth’s 8-year cycle of electing  Republican and Democratic governors.

Corbett certainly looks like an endangered incumbent based on what we know today.  His job approval rating in our February Statewide Omnibus poll conducted 2/15-2/18 was only 39%, while 52% said they disapproved.  This is not where Corbett should be after two years in office and two state budgets delivered on time and without any new state taxes.

But a closer look at the numbers shows he’s not really that different than where former Gov. Ed Rendell was at the same mid-way point in 2005 one year before his first reelection.  Why?  Because when we look at their job approvals with voters of their own parties, Corbett and Rendell have basically the same level of popularity with their respective bases.  Republicans approve of Corbett’s tenure (58%) at nearly the same levels that Democrats approved of Rendell at the same time (64%).  The difference is that Corbett is weaker with Democratic voters (14 points behind where Rendell was with voters of the opposing political party), while Rendell had more popularity with Republicans due to his popularity in the Southeast among moderate Republicans.

So if Corbett can win back many swing Democrats between now and 2014, he will surprise many who think he’s looking at defeat.  This is why his Democratic challenger will be so important.  And this is why the similarities between what Obama did to Romney last year, and what Corbett may have to do to defeat his Democratic challenger next year are relevant.  In the last presidential election, the Obama campaign presumably decided early on that the best pathway to getting reelected was to discredit Romney.  The Corbett campaign is probably weighing a similar strategy, and whoever Democrats nominate to run against Corbett will be very important.

If it’s someone like liberal Philadelphia congresswoman Allyson Schwartz , then mainstream conservative or “swing” Democrats, who tend to vote in higher numbers than liberal or urban Democrats in gubernatorial elections, will now face a choice between a fiscal and social liberal, or someone like Corbett who not only shares their values and concerns on social and cultural issues, but has a record as a fiscal conservative on taxes and spending issues.  This means if Democrats nominate someone who is too liberal, or has a record that can be easily attacked as out-of-sync with mainstream voters, then voters are likely to take a fresh look at Corbett.   This fresh look at Corbett might be precisely what the doctor orders if the alternative is a Democrat who can be defined as someone who will return the Keystone State to the same tax, spending and borrow policies of the Rendell years.  But if the Democrats nominate a relative newcomer, or someone who lacks a record in public and is therefore harder to attack, then Corbett could be in a more difficult position to win.

And there is ample precedent for a Corbett comeback.  Former Gov. Rendell suffered from a poor public image in September 2005 one year before his reelection due to fallout from the ill-fated pay raise law he signed into law that same summer.  His job approval rating at the time was a humbling 43%.  But only a year later Rendell went on to defeat his GOP challenger Lynn Swann by 20 points in what became a “wave” election year for Democrats.

Corbett may also benefit from the national political environment, which at the time seems to benefit the GOP.  The growing IRS scandal, continued implementation of Obama care and the natural blow back we tend to see in mid-year elections against the party in power in the White House could end up producing a “perfect storm” for the GOP in 2014.  As one example of this, our recent polling on Obama care showed that 60% of Pa voters say that once Obama care is fully implemented in 2014, it will lead to higher insurance costs.  And 53% said this law will have a negative, rather than positive, impact on the economy.   This is quite startling since these are the same voters who gave Obama a 5-point margin just last year.  So this could be a little bit of early buyer’s remorse, and confirms that the president is clearly more personally popular than are his policies.  So without Obama on the ballot in 2014, if the GOP does a good job running against the Obama policies, it’s not a stretch to say we might be looking at a wave election for Republicans with a little bit of luck.  Based on this, Corbett could wind up running for reelection with a small tail wind at his back instead of a strong headwind.





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James Lee: What President Obama must do in his second term By: Penn Live 1/17/2013

Posted on January 17, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

James Lee, president of Susquehanna Polling and Research Inc., shares his thoughts on the president’s second term. Click here to view the article: http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2013/01/james_lee_what_president_obama.html#incart_river_default

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The Particulars of Polls By Real Clear Politics Reporter Michael Barone

Posted on October 2, 2012. Filed under: General Surveys, In The News, Uncategorized |

Much has been written lately about SP&R’s polling showing a close election for President in the Keystone State, and in the article below SP&R’s methodology is cited as an example of polling that better reflects likely voter turnout this November 6th.


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Why Our Recent Polling In PA (Is Accurate) and Shows a Close Election for President

Posted on September 24, 2012. Filed under: General Surveys, In The News, Uncategorized |

Recently two polls conducted by our firm showing President Obama narrowly leading Mitt Romney in the Keystone State by 1 point (48% to 47%, sponsored by the Republican State Committee of Penna.), and a second released by the Pittsburgh Tribune Review on Sunday, September 23 showing Obama leading Romney by 2 points (47%-45%).  Both margins conflict with other surveys conducted recently including one by the Philadelphia Inquirer (Obama +11) and Muhlenberg College (Obama +9).  Following are answers to questions about our survey methodology as well as our basis for predicting a close election.

Our vote model for gauging the number of interviews conducted with voters of different demographic groups (things like party affiliation, racial background and age range, etc.) is a blend of turnout models from both the 2008 and 2004 presidential elections, but leans more towards 2004 VTO and is predicated on the belief that turnout this November will not be anywhere near ’08 levels when 5.9 million votes were cast. 

First, our ratio of interviews conducted with Republicans and Democrats in our recent polls (49D – 43R) gives Democrats a 6-point advantage based on the fact that Democrats outnumber Republicans in actual registration.  However, this ratio is slightly more Republican based on both national and state polling showing that Republicans are more likely to vote than Democrats this year given high intensity among Republicans who strongly disapprove of the President’s job performance.  Nonetheless, this +6 Democratic advantage is only one point less Democrat than the 7-point advantage these same exit polls gave Democrats in the 2008 presidential election.  Besides, simply conducting more surveys with Democratic voters (as some have suggested) doesn’t necessarily translate into more votes for President Obama when you consider that Mitt Romney is winning Democratic-leaning counties in Western Pennsylvania by ten or more percentage points.  Nonetheless, it is entirely appropriate to sample Republicans one or two points higher than in 2008 if you believe as we do that voter turnout this November will have little resemblance to the last presidential election. 

Second, our ratio of younger to older voters reflects turnout that is likely to be slightly higher with older voters given the lack of enthusiasm from younger voters.  In our surveys, 18-44 yr. olds make up 30% of all interviews and voters 45 years of age and older represent the remaining seventy percent.  For instance, according to 2008 exit polls voter turnout among 18-29 year olds peaked at 18%, but national and state polling proves interest among younger voters down sharply this year due to higher unemployment with younger voters and college graduates in particular.  So conducting approximately ten percent of surveys with 18-29 year olds is a reflection of this lower anticipated turnout among these less-enthusiastic voters.  Besides, the fact that Obama backers have suggested that over sampling older voters skews results in favor of Mitt Romney is a striking revelation in a state like Pennsylvania known for having the 5th largest population of senior citizens in the country.

Third, recent polls showing a double-digit lead for Obama are not believable, and are probably using the 2008 voter turnout as the basis of their survey model.  It is simply unrealistic to think Obama can or will win the Keystone State by the same double-digit margin he won by four years ago when you consider that most state and national polls continue to show most voters unhappy with the direction of the country after two straight years of unemployment at 8% or higher.  This is why our statewide polls conducted every month since the primaries shows the President failing to hit fifty percent in most key measurements like favorable name ID, job approval and his ballot score.  Plus, polling we have conducted in dozens of state senate and house races on behalf of incumbent legislators and other candidates, PACs and other special interest groups shows Obama’s support down an average of seven percent when compared with his vote margins in these same districts four years ago.  We estimate this 7-point drop off could mean up to 434,000 fewer votes cast for Obama this November, leaving a margin of less than 200,000 votes between the candidates.  Based on this, perhaps the Phil’ Inquirer poll showing Obama winning by a bigger margin than he won by four years ago is the real outlier.

For these reasons and others we fully stand by our results, and all indications are that the upcoming election will be closer than many others suggest.

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