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Tuesday’s Loser: Pollsters

By Greg L | 5 November 2012 | National Politics | 7 Comments

While we’re not quite sure at this point who is going to win the Presidential election on Tuesday, we already know who the losers will be: a set of pollsters.  When one set of polls would show Obama with a pretty comfortable lead in a state, another would show Romney with a slight lead, and this has been happening not only in the national polls, but in battleground state polls as well.  Some outfits, in a desperate effort to make the polls show what the pollsters want them to show, have clearly been cooking the numbers and severely risking their credibility as a business.

For those of us trying to figure out what’s going on, we often look at sites like Larry Sabato’s “Crystal Ball” or RealClearPolitics.com for their take, and that take is almost entirely based on averaging the all the various and highly suspect polls, which on balance always seem to have a skew towards Democrats.  This creates a narrative that “Obama is going to win,” and given the weakness of human character that makes us want to be on the winning side, actually influences a number of people to decide what they’re going to do not based on any reason or logic, but on this faulty narrative.  You’d think journalists and college professors would be smarter than to get roped into this, but I guess those professions aren’t quite what they used to be.  To save their credibility in the future, if what they’re saying turns out to be wrong this time around, they’re going to have to stop listening to obvious partisan bias from certain polling outfits.

It’s not always Democrats and left-leaning polling outfits that have these intentional or inadvertent polling problems.  Last year Republicans working state senate races in Virginia were getting horribly bad information from their pollsters, who predicted Republicans would outright take the state senate with a healthy margin.  Instead we ended up with a tie in the Senate and races that were supposedly close were lost by pretty wide margins.  Both sides use bad methods, have bad turnout models, or otherwise make errors that skew their results.

Here’s the latest polling in Virginia according to RealClearPolitics.  This data is all over the map.  Pollsters like PPP and Marist always skew 3-5 points towards Democrats and others like Rasmussen always seem to favor Republicans by a few points.  A lot of this has to do with adjustments based on the turnout model pollsters use to predict which side is showing up in the polls, and often the Democrats are using pretty fanciful turnout models that don’t pass the smell test.  Still, I’m not ready to assume that all Democrat-leaning polls are wrong, just yet.  I’ll wait for the proof before settling on that conclusion.

Poll Date Sample MoE Obama (D) Romney (R) Spread
NBC/WSJ/Marist 11/1 - 11/2 1165 LV 2.9 48 47 Obama +1
WeAskAmerica 10/30 - 11/1 1069 LV 3.0 49 48 Obama +1
CBS/NYT/Quinnipiac 10/23 - 10/28 1074 LV 3.0 49 47 Obama +2
Purple Strategies 10/23 - 10/25 600 LV 4.0 47 47 Tie
FOX News 10/23 - 10/24 1126 LV 3.0 45 47 Romney +2

This year we’re going to know pretty quickly who is trustworthy and who is not.  Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire are supposedly very close or leaning to Obama according to the poll averages.  If they go heavily for Obama the election is over and Republican pollsters will be proven entirely unreliable.  If Romney wins two of these three by more than a couple of points, PPP, Marist and the mainstream media need to get out of the polling business, because no one will ever have the slightest reason to trust them again.  Pundits that uncritically swallow these polls will have to make a few changes, as the “we were surprised” excuse isn’t going to cut it this year after these obvious problems became clear months ago.

The only thing we are certain to see improvement on after Tuesday is in polling, as the consequences of doing bad work will be harsh, and should be.  As for the rest of Tuesday’s outcomes, because the polling is so unreliable it’s awfully hard to tell.

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  1. me said on 5 Nov 2012 at 1:26 pm:
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    Look at unskewed Poll dot com

  2. Dittyman8 said on 5 Nov 2012 at 8:13 pm:
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    To the immature, petty and vindictive “neighbor” who stole my Romney-Ryan sign, you will not win. Gee, you have to stoop that low, really? I thought you were the people who wanted bipartisanship and get beyond labels. I am glad that I never bought into that. Tomorrow night, you will be crying for your lost cause and I’ll have another sign on my yard plus a lot more.

  3. Ron Godfrey said on 5 Nov 2012 at 9:35 pm:
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    There is little hope for this country when leftists jam their agenda upon we the people. . . I am really interested in only one poll’s results. Agree that those results will put many pollsters in poor light, and that their products are purchased with the goal of influencing the voters.

  4. Bwana said on 6 Nov 2012 at 9:16 am:
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    Interesting comment in the Weekly Standard today. It notes that national polls show a slight lead for Romney, but an aggregate of the state polls shows a slight lead for Obama. The article notes this should not happen, and goes on to hypothesize that somehow the national polls are skewing to one end of the margin of error, while the state polls skew to the other end of the margin.

    Still, when all is said and done, only one poll counts…

  5. Jon Wong said on 6 Nov 2012 at 3:06 pm:
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    See: www.commentarymagazine.com/2012/11/06/its-now-public-editors-rejigger-polls/

  6. Jon Wong said on 6 Nov 2012 at 3:09 pm:
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    You pay…You get to say what the poll results are.

  7. Anon said on 7 Nov 2012 at 8:59 am:
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    Looks to me like the “left bias” polls were actually spot on this time.

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