The Blog

Richelieu: Poll Madness

1:54 PM, Dec 20, 2007 • By RICHELIEU
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Beware the false Gospel ... of heathens and worse yet ... bad polls. The new ARG polling out today on Iowa and N.H. looks off because it near-certainly is. How can polls be wrong? It's easy, and more likely in a crazy environment like the present. First, some polls - rarely - hit a bad sample. Second, polling in primaries and caucuses is not easy, since voters are relatively rare and thus hard to find and poll. Third, polling right now in Iowa and New Hampshire is a technical nightmare. Every three minutes the average voter's phone rings with somebody coaxing them to trudge out into the snow and attend an Edward's meeting, go to a coffee with one of Romney's sons, or sign up for a Huckabee prayer circle. Not to mention the endless pre-recorded "robo-call" phone messages from various crank interest groups grinding their axe on some issue. With your phone ringing two dozen times a day with a political call, it is not easy for the 35 different media and private pollsters each trying to get a sample done each night.

Voters don't answer the phone or refuse to play along when they do answer. Which means response rates go way down, samples tilt away from a statistically reliable random frame of the population, and results go bad. (Imagine the fun the campaigns are having each night with their bouncing tracking polls.) Another reason why most campaigns and those who cover them benefit in the final days from using less polling and more good common sense to figure out what is going on.