Polls Are Not Created Equal

Quick disclosure: I’m a big fan of the polls at Real Clear Politics. They show you the results of surveys around the country and give you an overall average (RCP Average). It’s the most well-rounded estimate I can find. But with that said, is there really a point to all that polling? Aside from giving the candidates the ability to target their campaign message to a particular group or location, what do polls do for the rest of us? Are you more or less likely to vote depending on your candidates position in the polls? Either way, the polls have been criticized this primary season for missing the target. But the criticism is not completely warranted.

Yes, the pollsters botched the Democratic estimates leading up to New Hampshire and South Carolina. But other than that, they’ve been close. The RCP Average pretty much nailed the Republican contests, only understating the victories. So why the big trouble on the Dems’ side in NC and SC, and new challenges polling elsewhere? This article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from after the NH Primary begins the explanation. The sources in the article point to fewer “land lines” at homes, less response from voters, and the various rules governing different contests, altogether making it tougher to estimate than in years past. It’s not completely that simple, but it begins to explain what happened. And it will help explain any miscalculations on “Super Tuesday,” with a couple dozen or so contests across the country.

Looking at the latest Reuters/CSPAN/Zogby poll from this morning, there are last-minute surges, candidates pulling-away, and others in the midst of come-from-behind wins. We’ll just have to see if we get all the drama that’s being promised.

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