Polls and Tequila: Better with a Few Grains of Salt
12:32 PM, Jul 29, 2008 • By GARY ANDRES
Confused about the array of contradictory polls released in the last few days? You're not alone. First there was the 8-point Obama advantage in Gallup tracking.
But wait: Then there was the 4-point McCain lead in another Gallup poll released the same day.
Mark Blumenthal does a nice job of dissecting the "Berlin Bounce"--or lack thereof at Pollster.com.
This dizzying array of numbers requires a little perspective. First, keep in mind not everyone who answers a poll question holds opinions with the same degree of certainty. Moreover, some people may not have thought a lot about the race yet at all. This leads to survey volatility that's seen in these polls.
Second, there are significant differences among polls measuring the opinions of "adults," "registered voters" and "likely voters." Polls of those three groups will normally yield different results. Frank Newport of Gallup sums up how his organization sorts out the differences here.
Newport also notes that until recently, a higher percentage of "likely voters" in Gallup's 2008 model were Democrats--probably because of the heightened interest in the longer-than-usual primary campaign between Senators Obama and Clinton. But historically, a higher percentage of Republicans fall into the Gallup likely voter category. Newport writes this:
Therefore, McCain now doing better among "likely voters" compared to registered voters is in some respects a return to the historical norm.