There’s No Gold Standard for Polling Anymore

Huffington Post: “When you take a closer look at the way various polls are conducted, there’s no one method that stands out as inarguably better than all the rest. Some people in the polling industry like to claim that polls done by live interviewers using randomly selected phone numbers are more accurate than surveys that use automated telephone technology or surveys conducted over the Internet. But research shows that’s not necessarily true.”

Do Trump Supporters Lie to Pollsters?

Harry Enten: “Trump did worse than the polling forecast in 19 states; he did better in 15 states. That hardly suggests that Trump outperforms his polling. Still, the difference isn’t so great that we can say Trump usually underperforms his polling. It’s a fairly even split, with Trump missing his average poll by just 1 percentage point in the median state. Two of Trump’s worst performances relative to the polls were in Kansas and Iowa — both states held low-turnout caucuses, which Trump won’t have to deal with in the general election. Overall, Trump’s percentage of the vote versus the polls is about what you’d expect of the average politician.”

For members: How Many People Don’t Admit They Support Trump?

The Most Newsworthy Polls are Often Wrong

Norm Ornstein: “In this highly charged election, it’s no surprise that the news media see every poll like an addict sees a new fix. That is especially true of polls that show large and unexpected changes. Those polls get intense coverage and analysis, adding to their presumed validity.”

“The problem is that the polls that make the news are also the ones most likely to be wrong. And to folks like us, who know the polling game and can sort out real trends from normal perturbations, too many of this year’s polls, and their coverage, have been cringeworthy.

National Polls More Important Than State Polls

Harry Enten: “You’re going to hear a lot about the Electoral College this cycle. At various points, one state or another will be declared pivotal. But stay calm, especially with so long to go until Election Day. It’s too early to take any poll too seriously. We’ll have plenty of time to get into the weeds of different Electoral College scenarios in the months to come.”

“For now, if you’re interested in whether Trump or Clinton is likely to be our next president, I’d pay attention to the average of national polls. Let’s wait until we’re closer to the election and we have a lot more state polling before we zoom in closer than 30,000 feet.”

How Many People Don’t Admit They Support Trump?

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General Election Polls are Now Worth Looking At

Jonathan Bernstein: “Political scientists have found that, historically, polls on potential general-election matchups don’t become more reliable in a steady, gradual arc as the months and weeks go by. Instead, after starting off as essentially meaningless, they ratchet up sharply in two steps.”

“We are just nearing the end of the first stage, when primary and caucus voters first learned about the candidates and formed opinions about them that can be reflected in the November matchups. The second phase occurs at roughly 100 days before the election, corresponding to the parties’ conventions. Once the nominees are known and the general-election campaigns begin, polls do a good job of predicting the outcome.”

Why Pollsters Should Poll Until the End

Carl Bialik: “Most Iowa polls showed Donald Trump winning the state’s Republican caucuses. He didn’t. Some Iowa polls showed Hillary Clinton winning Iowa easily. She didn’t. It’s notoriously hard to poll Iowa, but what can pollsters learn from Monday night’s results to improve their work over the next few months — and for the 2020 caucuses?”

“One of the biggest lessons was a simple one: Keep on contacting voters as late as possible.”

Iowa Polls Were Way Off on Trump

Nate Cohn: “Mr. Trump was at 31 percent in the final polls, but finished with just 24 percent. In our data set of early primary polls from New Hampshire and Iowa since 2004, no candidate underperformed the final surveys by as much as Mr. Trump. Mrs. Clinton, for instance, mainly beat Mr. Obama by outperforming her polling, not because Mr. Obama fell short.”

“It’s always hard to figure out why polls are wrong, but this time the stakes are higher. Republican strategists have hoped for months that Mr. Trump’s lead was an illusion. The results in Iowa at least raise the possibility that they’re right — which would call into question Mr. Trump’s advantage elsewhere.”

“This time there is evidence to support one of two possibilities for why polls overestimated Mr. Trump: Voters broke strongly against Mr. Trump in the final days or the electorate was more conservative and more religious than polls anticipated.”

In Defense of Iowa Polling

Sam Wang: “There seems to be a persistent meme that polls are in trouble. There was no evidence for this. Primaries and caucuses are volatile situations – this is a well-known fact. I have been assuming that home-stretch polls can be off by an average of 5 percentage points. Any fuss tonight is based on the fact that in Iowa, with its tiny turnout and odd voting procedure, Trump was polling 3 points ahead of Cruz, and ended up losing by 3 points. It would be a mistake to conclude that Trump’s support is illusory in other states. Quite the opposite. A 6-point error would not affect his ranking anywhere else. For now.”

Politico: “According to calculations from the website FiveThirtyEight back in 2014, the average polling error in presidential primary and caucus polls in the final three weeks before an election has hovered between 7 and 9 percentage points.The results for the Iowa GOP caucuses fall within that error range.”

The Most Important Poll Is Coming Tonight

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Likely Voter Models Are Failing

Pew Research: “In recent years, polling has missed the mark in several high-profile elections, drawing particular attention to the difficulties inherent in using surveys to predict election outcomes. These failures typically result from one or more of three causes: biased samples that include an incorrect proportion of each candidate’s supporters; change in voter preferences between the time of the poll and the election; or incorrect forecasts about who will vote. While not a new concern, the third of these – the difficulty of identifying likely voters – may be the most serious, and that is the focus of this study. Election polls face a unique problem in survey research: They are asked to produce a model of a population that does not yet exist at the time the poll is conducted, the future electorate.”

Pollsters Say Their Reputations Have Suffered

Carl Bialik: “No votes have been cast yet in the 2016 election, but there may already be one set of losers in the campaign: pollsters’ reputations. And that’s according to the pollsters themselves.”

“We asked people working at some of the nation’s most prominent polling outfits whether pollsters’ public image has improved or declined since the 2012 election. Of the 21 who answered, none said their public image had improved, and two-thirds said it had declined.”

Paying Survey Respondents Could Mean Better Answers

New York Times: “When survey respondents were offered a small cash reward — a dollar or two — for producing a correct answer about the unemployment rate and other economic conditions, they were more likely to be accurate and less likely to produce an answer that fit their partisan biases.”

“In other words, when money was added to the equation, questions about the economy became less like asking people which football team they thought was best, and more like asking them to place a wager. Even a little bit of cash gets people to think harder about the situation and answer more objectively.”

An Explosion of Polls

“The number of polls of Republican voters in the first three primary and caucus states — Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina — has skyrocketed nearly 90 percent compared with the 2012 GOP primary,”: according to a Boston Globe review of polls.

“The trend toward saturation polling shows little sign of abating, with online polls now cheaper than ever and polling firms and universities competing to satisfy an insatiable media appetite for the latest upticks and downturns, the trends in the minute-by-minute drama of the contest.”