Thursday, June 26, 2008

On Polling

Newsweek laid it out quite well yesterday, using much of the language you've seen here at Centrisity. You know, moment in time, snapshot, outlier, etc.

With the two Gallup polls spread out pretty far, the tracker showing a dead heat (45-45) while the spot poll shows a 6 point Obama advantage (50 - 44), let's take a moment to put June numbers into perspective, and that is exactly what Newsweek did.

You really need to read the whole article, but here is a snippet of the more technical reasons why polls may vary based on methodology:
There are some other, more technical, reasons why the Newsweek poll might differ from, say, the Gallup Tracking Poll. Every polltaker has his or her own theories of how best to do the job. Ours come from Larry Hugick, the chairman of Princeton Survey Research, who has been in the business since 1978, and polling for Newsweek since 1993. Unlike some firms, he explained to me, PSR always asks the "horserace" question first; his theory is that this ensures that answers aren't influenced by the wording of earlier questions.

PSR only calls landlines; Gallup calls cell phones, too. There is a big dispute among the experts as to whether this matters. In fact, according to Hugick, it may mean that Newsweek didn't sample enough voters under the age of 30, who've grown up with a cell phone in hand. If that's true, then Obama did as well as he did in our poll in spite of a cell phone handicap! We also poll in the evening; Gallup does so throughout the day. And our latest poll was taken over two days, June 18 and 19. Gallup's "tracking" poll is a "rolling average" over three days.
I try not to look at one poll and/or jump on favorable results while admonishing or down right ignoring unfavorable ones. However, I do look for trends and movement. And a favorite game of the Right, is to beat down a particular pollster, see MN Poll, so that when they get the result they like, they can stand back and say Look, and that is from the Poll we just got done telling you is invalid. I know, it doesn't make sense.

So have fun with the numbers this Summer, but don't put too much weight into one or the other, be sure to look at them all. Good places to do that are the Polling Report and Real Clear Politics. But always remember, that polls are only a moment in time, and the only poll that really counts, is the one taken by the people on the Tuesday following the first Monday in Novmeber.


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