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Morning Jay: Special “Gallup Versus The World?” Edition

6:30 AM, Oct 19, 2010 • By JAY COST
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And remember to always be an informed consumer of polls!  Bookmark the 2008 (a great Democratic year), 2006 (a good Democratic year), and 2004 (a slightly good Republican year) exit poll sites -- and before you accept any poll, cross-reference what it predicts the electorate will be with what it was in those past years. This is so important this year because I think polls are increasingly being used to move public opinion rather than to inform us about it.

Second. While Gallup shows a larger Republican lead, it also has fewer undecided voters.  This could help explain why it’s showing such a bigger than normal Republican result.  Compare the two latest Gallup numbers to the other polls currently in the RealClearPolitics average.

While Gallup has the highest number of Republican supporters, it also has the lowest number of undecided voters (other than CNN).  These two factors could be related.  If the undecided voters in the other polls are actually leaning softly to the GOP, and Gallup is pushing them to name a preference, then the outsized Republican advantage might not be that far from the norm.

To appreciate this, let’s do two things.  Let’s drop the GOP’s best and worst polls from the average – the Gallup high turnout model poll and the Bloomberg poll.  This will just give us the seven central polls.  Also, let’s allocate the undecideds proportionally, i.e. let’s assume that the voters yet to decide will break the way the pollster thinks the decided voters broke.  In that scenario, we get this.

In this scenario, Gallup is not far from the average result.  It’s on the high end, sure, but it’s not any higher than Reuters/Ipsos is low.

Conclusion.  Let’s put aside the wonky considerations, and note some pragmatic points. I think there are two. The first, as I mentioned, is that the partisan composition of the electorate remains the critical unresolved issue of this cycle. Every pollster is making a guess as to what the electorate will look like, and these guesses are at least as important as their final numbers. Be aware of this.

The second point is that this could be a cycle that ends up confounding the pollsters. The fact that Gallup – the oldest and most respected public polling firm in the country – is offering two likely voter models (with just two weeks to go, no less!) is a sign that there is as yet no consensus on what the final electorate will look like.  So, it is especially appropriate this year to be a cautious and judicious consumer of public opinion polling.

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