Bland: Political Pollsters Still Don’t Know What They’re Doing.
Political pollsters who were deadwrong about the 2012 elections are gearing up for 2014, but why should we believe them? Scott Bland weighs in at National Journal.
Few polls have signaled Democratic peril this year quite like those in Colorado, the purple state that twice helped push Barack Obama into the White House. Just look at Quinnipiac’s surveys throughout 2013. They’ve found Obama’s public approval in Colorado ranging from the low 40s to the mid 30s; formerly high-flying Gov. John Hickenlooper in statistical dead heats with some flawed GOP opponents; and Sen. Mark Udall well short of safe in his first reelection bid. And, looking out to 2016, the statewide polls have Vice President Joe Biden badly trailing in a match against one of the most polarizing Republicans in America, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
Clearly Democrats have a problem in this swing state. But a bigger problem for Democrats and Republicans alike is polling itself. It’s not that pollsters are failing to accurately measure what people really think. They are still quite good at that. The recurring and increasingly disruptive problem is that the polling industry sometimes struggles to reach the right mix of people.
This could be the case in Colorado, where the surveys have a very different makeup than what exit polls suggest is the typical Colorado electorate. In Quinnipiac’s Colorado surveys, whites without a college degree outnumber college-educated whites as a share of the electorate—43 percent to 35 percent in the most recent poll. But the exit polls that measured who actually voted in recent state elections have consistently found more degree-holders than not among white voters. Those exits, which have varied, put the gap at 40 percent with degrees to 37 percent without in 2012 and as high as 56 percent with and 25 percent without in 2010.
What this means is that the polls in Colorado appear to be putting too much weight on the views of Republican-leaning voters, and thus exaggerating Democrats’ struggles in the state.
…in a political era when turnout is so important, slight changes in poll samples can dial up or down the degree of that backlash. Across the nation, and in Colorado, pollsters will struggle with how to calibrate this dial.