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Why Presidential Polls Are Wrong

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« on: January 10, 2008, 09:44:54 pm »

                                               Why Presidential Polls Are Wrong

Robin Lloyd
LiveScience Senior Editor
Wed Jan 9, 2008
Blame bad timing and bad media practices for the surprise in the New Hampshire primary on the Democratic side, two political watchers say.

Hillary Clinton's popularity resurged quickly after her defeat in the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, so it was difficult to measure in the four days running up to Tuesday, said Dick Bennett, president of American Research Group, based in Manchester, New Hampshire.

ARG's final results prior to the primary put Barack Obama ahead by 9 percentage points. Similar results were predicted by pollsters Reuters/C-Span/Zogby, Rasmussen, CNN/WMUR/UNH, Marist and CBS News.

Bennett says Clinton, who won the primary with 39 percent of the vote compared to 37 percent for Obama (with 96 percent of precincts counted), got a surge of support as a result of her witty response to a question about her "likability" compared to Obama from co-moderator Scott Spradling of WMUR-TV during a televised ABC News/Facebook Democratic candidates debate on Saturday. Her "teary" response to a campaign stress question during a Monday stop in Portsmouth, NH, also didn't hurt.

Timing problem

Bennett had 30 staffers making phone calls the day before the primary. ARG was one of the few polling groups to see Clinton trending up among voters in the days between Iowa and New Hampshire, but "we didn't know the extent of it."

"The 'emotional moment' thing was played extensively, and it was played negatively. And they played it a lot. And everybody saw it and it rallied women, and she went back to where she was in the middle of December. She wasn't breaking any new ground. They left her because of Iowa. It was a timing thing," Bennett said.

The "emotional moment" story had an impact and was reported the night before the primary, he said. "We were in the field for [only] three hours after the story broke. That's not a polling problem, that's a timing problem," he said.

Bigger polling problems

The larger problem with many of today's political pollsters is that surveys are conducted in affiliation with media organizations, said Shawn Parry-Giles, a political communications professor at the University of Maryland who camped out in New Hampshire prior to the primary to make observations.

"Media aren't going to be self-reflexive about their poll," Parry-Giles said. "The journalists themselves just bought into the fact that [Obama] was so far ahead and it was inevitable. I was stunned by the coverage."

The media should stop treating polls as if they are factual information, she said.

"This is about what the voters say and do, and media has to be very careful about how they frame the polls," Parry-Giles told LiveScience.

One poll by CNN/WMUR/UNH on the anticipated results in New Hampshire had a relatively small sample size (which cripples a survey's accuracy) and a fairly large margin of error, but it was reported as accurate and went unquestioned, she said.

Other factors

An additional factor: New Hampshire voters pride themselves on being contrary.

"As you go from event to event, voters talked about 'how we're going to set our own trend. The country is going to follow New Hampshire, not Iowa,'" Parry-Giles said.

In general, voters trust polls too much, Bennett said.

"We've fallen into the trap that a poll, which relies on linear math, can explain a very complex system," he said. "And it can't, but we're lucky that we can get close enough."
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« Reply #1 on: January 10, 2008, 09:48:49 pm »

                                         What Happened to Polls In New Hampshire?
Thu Jan 10, 2008
Hillary Clinton's victory in New Hampshire was a shock to anyone who followed the pre-election polls. At Rasmussen Reports, our final numbers suggested a 7-point victory for Barack Obama. In the end, Clinton won by three. Other polls also foreshadowed a solid victory for Obama, some projecting a double digit margin. The campaigns themselves expected a significant victory for Obama (the Clinton campaign was even saying that anything less than a double-digit loss would be a victory of sorts for their candidate).
It is hard to remember a time when the polling and expectations were so universally different from what really happened. At the same time, It is worth remembering that polling was generally on target for the Republican race. John McCain won, as expected, by splitting the Republican vote with Romney and winning big among Independents. Independents accounted for 37% of the Republican Primary voters, a bit higher than projected.

So what happened with the polling on the Democratic race? There are several possibilities.

First, there may truly have been very late changes in the race. Hillary's tearing-up moment may have played a role (another powerful moment came in the debate on Saturday night where the only woman in the race reminded everyone that she embodies change). There is some evidence to support this theory, even if we only recognize it in hindsight.

In Rasmussen Reports polling, our final trend was in Clinton's direction‚€”our tracking poll showed Obama's lead declining from 10-points following the Sunday interviews to seven points after the Monday night calls. Extrapolating that trend another day would have pointed to a much closer race. Additionally, the Rasmussen Reports surveys showed that Clinton supporters were somewhat more certain that they would stick with their candidate than supporters of Obama or Edwards. If this is the case, why didn't the late trend get more notice? Perhaps because few other firms polled on Monday night. So, the last polls reported by many continued to show an uptick for Obama.

Further support for this theory comes from Exit Poll data showing that an astonishing 38% of voters made up their mind in the final three days of the race (after Iowa). Of these, more than a third ended up voting for Clinton. These last minute decisions gave Clinton 14% of the vote overall (more than a third of her total vote). It's easy to imagine that many of these voters had been leaning towards Clinton before Iowa, were impressed by Obama during his weekend "wave," but came back to Clinton by Election Day.

Another possibility is that the polls simply understated Clinton's support. At one level, Clinton's campaign organization may have been great at getting out the vote. One analyst noted that "The Clinton turnout operation in Manchester their strongest area, was very good, and turnout soared 33% over 2000. In Rochester-Dover-Somersworth, another strong Clinton area, turnout was up 94% from 2000." That could account for a several percentage points, but not the ten point gap between our final poll and the actual results.

The problem may also have resulted from the greatest challenge in polling--determining who will actually show up and vote. This is especially difficult in a Primary Election. It is possible, perhaps likely, that the polling models used by Rasmussen Reports and others did not account for the very high turnout experienced in New Hampshire. Rasmussen Reports normally screens out people with less voting history and less interest in the race. This might have caused us to screen out some women who might not ordinarily vote in a Primary but who came out to vote due to the historic nature of Clinton's candidacy. The final Rasmussen Reports poll anticipated that 54% of the Democratic voters would be women while exit polls showed that number to be 57%.

A third possibility is that John McCain may have taken some independent voters away from Barack Obama. On Tuesday, Rasmussen Reports noted this two-front challenge but at the time thought it might represent a greater threat to McCain than Obama.

Given the fact that everyone was surprised, it's likely that no one factor can explain why. It is quite possible that each of the factors mentioned above‚€”and others‚€”may have played a role.

Rasmussen Reports is an electronic publishing firm specializing in the collection, publication, and distribution of public opinion polling information
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« Reply #2 on: January 10, 2008, 09:51:26 pm »

H O R S E F E A T H E R S !!!
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Your mind understands what you have been taught; your heart what is true.
Lady Justice
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« Reply #3 on: January 10, 2008, 10:10:51 pm »

No one has a single explanation, but Hillary led in New Hampshire for much of the year, and, per the polls Barack Obama only started to lead for the first time last weekend.  He got a "bounce" but not enough. New Hampshire voters had already made up their mind, the polls just got it wrong. They pride themselves on making up their own minds up there, irrespecive of anyone else's decisions.
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« Reply #4 on: January 10, 2008, 11:20:13 pm »

These Primaries are turning out to be just as comical.
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