## European Identities in the Cloud

As previously reported on this blog, my PhD student and I are doing a CATI survey on European Identities. We opted for queXS (an open source CATI front-end for Limesurvey) and chose a solution hosted by the Australian Consortium for Social and Political Research on Amazon’s network.

## Hosted queXS Is Reliable

Initially, we suffered from a few hick-ups that hit the system while interviewing was in full swing: The form would sometimes simply not open at the very beginning of an interview, which understandably drove our interviewers nuts. Support in Australia fixed the problem quickly, but because of the time difference, we had a somewhat anxious night. Voice over IP connectivity was integrated from Australia but provided by a German company. By and large, that worked well, too. We had one major outage but again, after contacting the ACSPR, that was fixed for good.

PCs and Interviewers not yet Virtualised

## Lousy Response Rate Not a Software Problem

The one element that we did not virtualise were the interviewers. We had hired a large group of student helpers, which, with hindsight, was not necessarily a brilliant idea. queXS makes it very easy to track operator performance, and so we could quickly see that some of them generated very, very high refusal rates. They all received initial training and constant supervision from us, but some of them would barely manage to get one twenty-minute interview per four-hour shift. Others managed four or more. Our star and role model was a guy who attends acting school. If I could clone and upload him to the cloud, I would be a very happy chappy.

You could not possibly make this up. Amidst a legal-constitutional battle over the NPD’s survival, the General Secretary (top executive manager) of Germany’s oldest right-wing extremist party NPD resigns over what is by now affectionately known as the Saarbrücken Penis Cake Affair. The story (as ridiculous as it gets) also involves Miss Nationalist Santa, and a lot of backstabbing hidden behind the moral outrage. Publikative has the full story and the original reporting (in German), whereas Spiegel Online (also in German and apparently a bit lax on the reporting part) has the pictures (if you absolutely have to see them).

The first round of the French local elections created quite a stir, but the second round of the French local elections was not a bad day for the anoraks either. While the initial focus was on the not totally unexpected success of the Front National, most of my correspondents agree that the real news is the annihilation of the governing Parti socialiste. Amongst the many posts, here are the ones I find most interesting:

Photo by Mashthetics

1. Over at the LSE blog, Jocelyn Evans and Gilles Ivaldi, the grand seigneurs of Front National blogging, argue just that: The shock of Sunday’s French municipal elections was the Socialist defeat (this is actually reblogged from their own 500signatures site). The Guardian agrees.
2. For Art Goldhammer, it is the end of municipal socialism.
3. Part of the fallout was the appointment of Manuel Valls as new French PM. John Gaffney thinks that this was a desperate move that will come back to haunt Hollande.
4. But Art Goldhammer links to a source claiming that Hollande actually has been wanting Valls to be PM for a long time.
5. And here is an “interview” on the Monkey Cage – interesting questions/answers on Hollande’s electoral disaster, but in a slightly odd format.

## Survey Accuracy

The accuracy of pre-election surveys is a matter of considerable debate. Obviously, any rigorous discussion of bias in opinion polls requires a scalar measure of survey accuracy. Martin, Traugott, and Kennedy (2005) propose such a measure $Surveybias Version 1.1 for Stata is out$ for the two-party case, and in our own work (Arzheimer/Evans 2014), Jocelyn Evans and I demonstrate how $Surveybias Version 1.1 for Stata is out$ can be generalised to the multi-party case, giving rise to a new measure $Surveybias Version 1.1 for Stata is out$ (seriously) and some friends $Surveybias Version 1.1 for Stata is out$ and $Surveybias Version 1.1 for Stata is out$:

Arzheimer, Kai and Jocelyn Evans. “A New Multinomial Accuracy Measure for Polling Bias.” Political Analysis 22.1 (2014): 31-44. doi:10.1093/pan/mpt012
In this article, we propose a polling accuracy measure for multi-party elections based on a generalization of Martin, Traugott, and Kennedy s two-party predictive accuracy index. Treating polls as random samples of a voting population, we first estimate an intercept only multinomial logit model to provide proportionate odds measures of each party s share of the vote, and thereby both unweighted and weighted averages of these values as a summary index for poll accuracy. We then propose measures for significance testing, and run a series of simulations to assess possible bias from the resulting folded normal distribution across different sample sizes, finding that bias is small even for polls with small samples. We apply our measure to the 2012 French presidential election polls to demonstrate its applicability in tracking overall polling performance across time and polling organizations. Finally, we demonstrate the practical value of our measure by using it as a dependent variable in an explanatory model of polling accuracy, testing the different possible sources of bias in the French data.

@Article{arzheimer-evans-2013,
author = {Arzheimer, Kai and Evans, Jocelyn},
title = {A New Multinomial Accuracy Measure for Polling Bias },
journal = {Political Analysis},
year = 2014,
abstract = {In this article, we propose a polling accuracy measure for
multi-party elections based on a generalization of Martin,
Traugott, and Kennedy s two-party predictive accuracy index.
Treating polls as random samples of a voting population, we first
estimate an intercept only multinomial logit model to provide
proportionate odds measures of each party s share of the vote, and
thereby both unweighted and weighted averages of these values as a
summary index for poll accuracy. We then propose measures for
significance testing, and run a series of simulations to assess
possible bias from the resulting folded normal distribution across
different sample sizes, finding that bias is small even for polls
with small samples. We apply our measure to the 2012 French
presidential election polls to demonstrate its applicability in
tracking overall polling performance across time and polling
organizations. Finally, we demonstrate the practical value of our
measure by using it as a dependent variable in an explanatory model
of polling accuracy, testing the different possible sources of bias
in the French data.},
keywords = {meth-e},
volume = {22},
number = {1},
pages = {31--44},
url =
{http://pan.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/reprint/mpt012?ijkey=z9z740VU1fZp331&keytype=ref},
doi = {10.1093/pan/mpt012},
data = {http://hdl.handle.net/1902.1/21603},
html =
{http://www.kai-arzheimer.com/new-multinomial-accuracy-measure-for-polling-bias}
}

## The Surveybias Software 1.1

Calculating the accuracy measures is a matter of some algebra. Estimating standard errors is a bit trickier but could be done manually by making use of the relationship between $Surveybias Version 1.1 for Stata is out$ and the multinomial logistic model on the one hand and Stata’s very powerful implementation of the Delta method on the other. But these calculations are error-prone and become tedious rather quickly. This is why we created a suite of user written programs (surveybias, surveybiasi, and surveybiasseries). They do all the necessary legwork and return the estimates of accuracy, complete with standard errors and statistical tests.

Those Were the Days

We have just updated our software. The new version 1.1 of surveybias features some bug fixes, a better mechanism for automagically dealing with convergence problems, better documentation, and a new example data set that compiles information on 152 German pre-election polls conducted between January and September 2013.

surveybias comes with example data from the French presidential election 2012 and the German parliamentary election 2013. From within Stata, type help surveybias, help surveybiasi, and help surveybiasseries to see how you can make use of our software. If I can find the time, I will illustrate the use of surveybias in a mini series of blogs over the next week.

## Updating Surveybias

The new version 1.1 should appear is now on SSC within the next couple of days or so, but the truly impatient can get it now. In your internet-aware copy of Stata (version 11 or later), type

net from http://www.kai-arzheimer.com/stata 

net install surveybias, replace

Or use SSC: ssc install surveybias, replace

Enjoy!

Lord Salisbury on the drawbacks of universal suffrage. Cited in David Marquand, Britain since 1918, p. 54

MP, Peer, Secretary of State for India, Foreign Secretary, Leader of the Opposition, thrice Prime Minister of Britain, architect of the Empire and arch-Conservative. Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, third Marquess of Salisbury and colloquially known as Lord Salisbury was not exactly a fan of mass democracy. This is from one of his essays in the Quarterly Review, quoted in David Marquand’s history of Britain in the 20th century. A lovely thing, these dead tree books.

Party system change, illustrated. Germany’s FDP was represented in the federal parliament from 1949 until 2013. During this time, they were part of various government coalitions for more than four decades. In 2009, they managed to attract more than 14 per cent of the vote, their best national result ever. Many voters did not like them, but they served a purpose.

Today, FGW’s monthly newsletter reported public opinion on Russia, broke down by party leaning of the respondents. They could not provide information on FDP supporters, because they did not have enough cases for that.

It’s been a boring three months without any offbeat news on the right-wing extremist NPD, but here is hope. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), still one of Germany’s most respected broadsheets runs the story of the porn-star-and-escort-turned-nationalist-activist Ina Groll (“Kitty Blair”), who apparently is not longer welcome in the NPD (of which she allegedly never was a member). Groll single-handedly (if in doubt: each and every pun on this page is intended) tried to give nationalism a more – shall we say racy ? – image by distributing leaflets wearing a Santa costume that was supposed to be sexy (down that road, madness lies). The party themselves have tried to play that game in the past, with debatable results.

By and large, the FAZ article is a pastiche of older stories from the blogosphere, the social media, and the left-wing press, but the framing is slightly different: FAZ explicitly links the backlash against Groll/Blair within the NPD and the wider right-wing extremist public to the fact that some of her co-stars were black men.

Rassenschande” (bringing disgrace to the Aryan race by having sexual relationships with non-Aryans) was a crime in Nazi Germany and could carry the death penalty. But the quote in the article that mentions right-wingers crying “Rassenvermischung” (mixing races) is not referenced by a link. It is summarily ascribed to an obscure east German right-wing website. Googling that quote, you will find a dozen hits for the exact phrase. Chances are that FAZ copied it verbatim from a blog or an agency report. The right-wing website itself, on the other hand, does indeed brazenly refer to “Rassenschande” further down the page, which is presumably punishable under anti-hate-speech legislation.

I’m not sure what I find more stunning/revealing/whatever: The way the Extreme Right handles their public relations, or the quality of investigative journalism in one of our leading newspapers.

For people of a certain age, it is somewhat hard to believe that Alanis Morissette’s fourth single was released a mere 18 years ago. Moreover, it is a truth universally acknowledged that this single has single-handedly clouded the idea of irony. There is a point, and I will get to it eventually.

## What’s the Matter with German Public Broadcasting?

After the war, the BBC provided the template for the re-organisation of broadcasting in Germany. Broadcasters became public bodies, funded by a licence system and not under the (direct) control of the government of the day. They were to be controlled by an elaborate system of boards on which stake holders such as the churches, the unions, and the political parties had representatives. Moreover, in a bid to create further checks and balances, they were set up at the state level. To the present day Germany’s first national TV channel is produced and aired by the federation of these broadcasters.

But back in the mist of time, the Adenauer government wanted a second national TV channel, preferably with a conservative bent. Following an epic political and legal struggle, Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF) was created in the early 1960s through a “Staatsvertrag”, a quasi-constitutional, legally binding and enforceable agreement between the (then) eleven federal states. Again, insulating the corporation from direct government control was supposed to be a guiding principle.

## What Did the Court Say?

50 years on, the old battles were fought once more. In 2009, the Director General (with support from the SPD) wanted to extend the contract of the broadcaster’s chief political editor, Nikolaus Brender. The CDU opposed the appointment and organised a majority to vote against Brender by leaning on the nominally non-partisan members of the board. Kurt Beck (SPD), then minister-president of Rhineland-Palatinate, went to the Federal Constitutional Court in a bid to have the agreement declared unconstitutional.

## Isn’t It Ironic? No.

Yesterday, the court ruled (entirely in line with everything the have said over the last five decades or so) that parts of the agreement are indeed unconstitutional, because there are too many representatives of the state on the boards: According to the court’s count, about 44 per cent of the members fall into that category. In an not uncommon display of judicial inspiration, they decided that 44 per cent was certainly too much, whereas one third would be ok, and that the federal states will have to modify the agreement accordingly. That leaves the tiny problem that almost anyone representing one of the societal groups (churches, unions, associations of employers) is at least close to a political party and at any rate part of Germany’s corporatist system of interest mediation.1

And moreover, there is the AM moment: Yesterday’s ruling was brought about by two state governments. Kurt Beck, the original plaintiff, was very happy yesterday. He may have retired as minister president, but he still hangs on as chair of the board. That is not ironic in the conventional sense of saying the opposite of what you mean, but … here is a gratuitous bonus video.

## Footnotes:

1

To be fair, one judge made the exact same observation in his dissenting opinion.

Predictably, the Front National has done well in yesterday’s local elections in France, and predictably, everyone is very excited about. Much has been said about the FN’s performance, but not yet by everyone. Here is a bunch of useful links to bring your punditry up to scratch.

1. First, the electoral system for the locals. It is slightly weird (no surprises here). La Jeune Politque has an explainer (not sure how complete it is), and also a map identifying some of the interesting contests. They were also live-blogging the first round of the French locals.
2. EUobserver has a short summary of the results. The Guardian has some additional coverage.
3. Writing ahead of the election, James Shields (over the LSE blog) thinks the FN will remain isolated and hampered by the electoral system.
4. The 500 signatures blog by Messrs. Evans and Ivaldi has forecasts (now backcasts) of the national result as well as background stories on the races in the big three (Paris, Lyon, Marseilles).
5. Euractiv has another short summary and outlook for the second round.
6. Art Goldhammer looks at the (slightly) longer game, i.e. the implications for the Hollande adminstration.

Have I missed something important?

One of my very able PhD students is working on a better instrument for measuring the interaction of national and European identities. Thanks to the generosity of the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung, we can now road-test some of his ideas in a three-wave telephone survey. Fieldwork for the first wave will commence on Monday, and we are rather excited, not least because we are running this survey in our own “studio”, with a large number of student research assistants working as interviewers.

NASA Earth Observatory / Foter / Public domain

In the past, the university had installed the voxco software in a PC lab that was equipped with headsets and landlines. But the program never worked well and became de facto unusable once the service contract waterminated. Looking for alternatives when we moved into a new building, we came across queXS, an open source CATI software that is based on limesurvey. Limesurvey had worked well for us in the past, so we gave queXS a spin and rather liked it. The only remaining problem was that our IT support could not setup the necessary servers and patch them into the university’s voice over ip infrastructure in time (we want to be in the field well before the Euro 2014 campaign takes off in two weeks or so). So we got in touch with ACSPRI, the Australian Consortium for Social and Political Research Incorporated, which offers access to a Amazon cloud-based installation of queXS that can be rented on a monthly basis for a reasonable fee. ACSPRI also helped us to find a German VOIP provider whose network we will use to place the calls.

Now our “studio” is still based in a university PC lab. But this is mostly an issue of convenience, and of easy supervision. In fact, it could be run on laptops or even tablet computers anywhere on the planet. The software is browser-based and hosted in some unknown, unmarked data centre somewhere. Connectivity to German landlines is provided through software in another data centre, and this whole virtualised infrastructure is supported and maintained from the other end of the world. Apart from the headsets, the only tangible part of the studio is a bunch of pen-drives that hold the interviewers’ access codes. Eerie, isn’t it?

The tests went well, but will it work in practice? I’ll keep you posted.