Skip to comments.Polling - The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Part II - Media Polls
Posted on 10/26/2012 12:17:01 PM PDT by GOPFlack
Part II Media Polls What Are They Good For?
Let me start by drawing a quick distinction that I think is important no one should confuse a public pollster who publishes results like Gallup or Rasmussen with a media sponsored poll that is, of course, made public. So when Im speaking of media polls here Im talking about polls paid for by news outlets. The first and most salient point is that a news outlet could get private polling data for its own edification about a race either from a campaign or on their own. But that would assume two things: 1) that they actually care about the truth, and 2) that they would consume and or pay for information not for dissemination. If any of us believe that after all these years we can stop here.
Back to my point about campaign polling pros in Part I - they will virtually never do media polls. I have seen them do polling for groups who hire them under the assumption that the poll will be released if the data is favorable to the client. But on balance, they will not allow their work to be sponsored and or reported on by a news outlet. Why? Because the media client has only one interest in the poll use it to make news and increase viewers, web hits, or readership. Campaign pros use polls in the Summer or Spring to test messages, probe a candidates or potential opponents weaknesses and strengths across a broad array of metrics. If you have ever seen an actual field poll book, it usually a three to four inch binder with reams of information. Usually, in addition to what are commonly called crosstabs and the actual polling info question by question, there is some sort of topline summary provided by the pollster where he picks out the salient facts that he believes are advantages and or problems for the client, where the opponent is strong or weak (by issue, geography, demography, etc) and any macro trends that might be developing (enthusiasm, issue importance, etc.).
The point Im making is that the campaign pro has a totally different objective than a media outlet he isnt polling until very late in the campaign to see if the client is truly winning he is polling as a means of recon and strategic planning for the campaign and then to see if the battle plan is working and adjust to the opponents counter moves. No one wins until the votes are cast. But you can lose before then if you dont poll accurately and deeply to find your vulnerabilities or the opponents in order to have a battle plan. The media, in contrast wants to excitedly declare who is winning. Even if it is July or August! Any self respecting pollster would never compromise themselves this way - trying to make what is in essence a prediction 4 months before election day. Its like declaring the war over before the first shot is fired. The pros are like are intel officers, analysts and forward observers. The best are also strategic planners as well. So who are the so called pollsters who do media polls?
First and foremost they are people who want or need to get paid and usually arent well thought of enough in the private polling world to get campaign work. Hence they are generally universities, marketing research firms (who usually sell soap to focus groups but want to pick up easy money in an election year), or local guys in states who will do work for a local TV station or paper. The explosion of media polls has also led to an explosion in the number of people who claim they are political pollsters. As with any boom, quality often suffers during the rush to an easy dollar. A real campaign pollster has an interpretive eye toward his data and an experience base to pick up anomalies or trends. He is more than just a recorder and reporter of raw data. Thats why the media polls are so bad on balance they use bad pollsters who are out of their depth in campaigns. In some cases they are just flat out corrupt because they wont bite the hand that feeds them or have an ideological agenda.
Lets dissect this a bit more. My favorite whipping boys in the media poll circle are university polls. My first experience with a university pollster came in my first political race a statewide race in 1986. I was a college volunteer (although there were only 6 of us, the campaign manager and a press person) in a long shot race. The states largest newspaper was sponsoring regular polls from a professor in the political science department where I was a student. He wasnt a bad guy, but my impression was that he, like all my professors, had no clue how politics and campaigns actually worked. Plus, he, like most professors back then, was poor as a church mouse. He showed us consistently behind by large margins all the way through the end even though we squeaked by with a narrow margin in the final tally. Why? I think two factors one he had no clue what was happening on the ground the last 4 weeks of the campaign because he had no ability to properly discern changes in his data that were real. Second, his sponsor had it out bad for the candidate I was working for and was working overtime to defeat him on their news pages.
Put yourself in his place for a second. You are the only pollster in the state being paid by a paper with deep pockets and you are a poor associate professor. Do you really want to give them data that doesnt bolster their agenda and risk that extra income? Its like the global warming racket funded with government grant money today. What professor is going to change their mind and go against the consensus and risk that money? Again, I dont think this professor was abjectly corrupt and partisan (unlike the hack who runs Marist see recent Breitbart piece), but he was absolutely cooking his data. I was told by folks in the department that one night late in the race he threw an entire nights sampling in the trash because he declared it an outlier. It didnt fit the narrative. Now if this was going on in 1986, what do you think is happening now when networks are paying small liberal arts universities millions to produce this stuff? Its worse because of bigger money, publicity, and the over the top ideological agenda of the institutions doing the work and their sponsors. They are so to speak all in.
In addition, they want to show who is winning. As I said that is impossible because that isnt how elections work from the inside out. So, when one of the university boys gets a sample set back that shows Romney actually pulling bigger numbers than Obama in early August, they just adjust the poll back to fit the narrative by reweighting it based upon their guess, or in most cases hope, of the partisan breakdown of the electorate. Their lack of experience in campaigns, the needs of their liberal sponsors, money, and basic ideology make it inconceivable to them that Obamas magic ground game and super smart campaign team wont get those turnout numbers where they want them by election day. Hence, the mystical reweighting magic is applied. This is not polling it is prognosticating. And political scientists are generally the worst prognosticators in the world.
The other polling firms doing media work arent much better. They are usually commercial pollsters who use the election branding of media work to sell additional research in the commercial or policy space. In short, there are too many people who are calling themselves political pollsters who dont have the expertise or experience, and are providing a product that is virtually useless except for its intended purpose drive news coverage and satisfy the agenda of the corporate client.
What can I say about these polls that is good? Well, as is often pointed out, they can detect trends. I dont put much stock in RCP averages because I think the polls they use and the staleness of them is an unsound methodology for predicting final outcomes. But it can show trend lines in the aggregation as a race enters the last month. That is the best I can say about why we should look at them.
One other item in passing, these pollsters dont account for campaign resources and other intangibles that all go into how a candidate will manage and message his or her race. Just because John Doe is losing by 20 in July, it might not account for the fact that he is sitting $25 million to unload on a weak incumbent opponent the last 12 weeks. The race hasnt even been engaged at that point. No media poll can account for these factors.
This ran a bit longer than I intended so I will get to robo polls their utility and limits in the next piece including why PPP is not just a joke, but a warmed over propaganda outfit for the SEIU. And, why I believe Rasmussen has the most integrity of all of them.
Finally, I appreciate all the kind comments and hope this helps. I will be on the softball field all weekend with my daughters travel team unless Sandy pre-empts us so I probably wont get around to the other stuff until Sunday evening if you still want it.
To those of you who wanted a ping
Mark for reading.
Once again, thank you. You are verifying thoughts that I’ve had over this election cycle regarding certain polling organizations.
i don’t know what to believe.. i come here and every thing seems optimistic about Romney... i live in the Central Valley California, and again, optimistic Romney... i come to visit my parents in the Bay Area—San Jose, California, and i listen to the news, and it sounds like Romney has no chance! there is no way he can win... ugh!
Thank you very much..
Will watch for your next installment...very interesting
Your two pieces on polling have been some of the most compelling reading I have done during this election. Polls are so pervasive, yet no one ever looks at the whole polling system. 10 out of 10, and ping me for further installments. Clear, concise and compelling. You confirm many of my suspicions, but also give me insights that I hadn’t even considered. Once again, FreeRepublic draws on the vast experience of our members and shows why we are among the most informed citizens in America.
Thank you for this installment. Please count me in for part 3, and good luck to your daughter’s softball team!
Thank you, please keep me on your ping list. It is nice to know how things work.
Thanks again Flack - happy softball.
Many thanks for these two compelling posts. I imagine the internal polls must be what the campaigns react to. Two weeks out and CA Gov Jerry Brown is at Sac City Community College touting his tax hike proposal....polling out today shows it indeed in trouble. I must say the “Losing Your Virginity” ad from Obama feels the same......if they are trying to light a fire under the most inconsistent voters, what in their data told them to risk that faint reward and face a potential backlash of middle class parents with daughters? Biden, Binders and Bu11$#itter doesn’t seem like they are getting a lot of return on the message polling, but that’s just me.
Please shoot me a ping for part three. Forgot to ask for this one. Glad I saw it!
Thanks for the interesting insight!
Thank you very much.
Please include me on your ping list.
Thank you for taking the time to help educate “the great unwashed” out here across the fruited plain.
Something that has never made sense to me is “weighting” of polls.
If there is a population of 1,000 people, and if 600 of them have one stance on a topic and 400 of them have another stance, wouldn’t calling 100 of them randomly give something like a 6 to 4 result?
If I were to do a poll of that fictional 1,000 people, and I knew about this imbalance but purposely called more of the people who were in the larger group, it seems to me that the result would be incorrectly “skewed” toward that larger group. This would result in something like a 7 to 3 correlation.
Why not just randomly call enough people to get a result within an acceptable margin of error, and let the chips fall where they may, unless there is an ulterior motive to make the poll come to a predetermined conclusion?
Wow a fellow traveler I also really study polling data internals everything I can get my hands on people on FR
they despise polling data unless it agrees with their opinion
this was a really great vanity and I appreciate it
My doctor likes to tell about his daughter playing softball when my brother was the coach. She was playing short fielder - actually a fifth infielder between first and second base - when the batter hit a line drive and she caught it. My brother called, Tag the runner, and she put out the runner off of first base. Then he called, Run to second - and she did so, and the runner off of second was out.
An unassisted triple play - and she still has that softball as a memento. :-)
Please give me a ping when you do the 3rd article.
Excellent read! The poll numbers are all over the place especially when you start looking at the Senate races. Now I know why. They are just trying to sell a narrative. Even the trends are getting hard to see through the crud.
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