How Gallup blew the presidential election polling

On the eve of the last election, the venerable polling firm Gallup predicted that Mitt Romney would beat Obama 49% to 48%.  Actually, Obama won, 52%-48%.  The company has been studying what went wrong.  Despite Republican complaints that pollsters were using methods that were undercounting conservatives, in fact, Gallup, at least, was over-counting them.  After the jump, the mistakes Gallup researchers have identified. [Read more...]

Big test for pollsters

The polling industry faces a big test this election as we will see whether or not they are reliable in this age of cell-phones and the public’s growing unwillingness to answer their questions.  From Robert J. Samuelson:

Among pollsters, there’s fear that changing technology (mainly cellphones) and growing public unwillingness to do interviews are undermining telephone surveys — and that there’s no accurate replacement in sight. A recent study by the Pew Research Center reported its response rate at 9 percent, down from 36 percent in 1997. Put differently: in 1997, Pew made about three residential calls to get one response; now it makes 10.

Beginning with answering machines and caller-ID in the ’70s and ’80s, suspicious Americans have become more selective in screening calls. Robo-calls — automated messages for products, politicians, charities and polls — have deepened the hostility. “The mass of communications coming into people’s homes ends up being a blur,” says Pew pollster Scott Keeter.

Cellphones pose problems because people who use them exclusively — people who don’t have landline phones — are younger, poorer and more Democratic than the general population. By late 2011, 32 percent of Americans 18 and over had only a cellphone, up from 16 percent in early 2008. Among those 25 to 29, the share was 60 percent. Under-surveying these people could distort polls. Many pollsters, though not all, now canvass cellphones. But this is increasingly expensive. By present trends, half of Americans could be exclusive cellphone users by the 2016 election. . .

Less reassuring is telephone polling’s steep and rising costs, which could cause cash-strapped media organizations to balk. Contacting cellphones is expensive, because numbers must be dialed by hand. By contrast, computers can automatically dial landline numbers, making it easier to reach live people. (Congress prohibited this for cellphones to protect people from paying for unsolicited incoming calls.) A typical survey costs Pew from $60,000 to $100,000, says Keeter. That would cover renting tens of thousands of landline and cellphone numbers to produce 1,500 interviews of about 20 minutes each.

The solution seems obvious: switch to the Internet. But technically, that’s hard. Internet users may not be a representative sample of the U.S. population. Does the person behind that e-mail live in the United States? Permanent panels of respondents may act differently from randomly contacted people. Experiments are under way. Meanwhile, pollsters are stretched between a past that’s growing untenable and a future that doesn’t yet exist.

via Robert J. Samuelson: Pollsters’ moment of truth – The Washington Post.

To pick up on some of our earlier conversation, it may well be true that pollsters are undercounting Republicans.  But they are also undercounting those who exclusively use cell phones; that is, younger voters who tend to vote Democrat.  But we shall see what happens on November 6.

God’s approval ratings

The most breathtakingly presumptuous opinion poll of all time:

More than half of U.S. voters approve of God’s job performance, according to a new poll, making God more popular than all members of Congress.

The poll — which was conducted by the Democratic research firm Public Policy Polling (PPP) — surveyed 928 people and found that 52 percent of Americans approved of God’s overall dealings, while only 9 percent disapproved.

Questions about God were asked as part of a larger survey assessing American opinions of congressional leaders in the midst of the ongoing debt ceiling debate in Washington.

God’s approval rating exceeded that of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, as well as both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, with each party receiving only a 33 percent approval rating.

God also polled significantly higher than the scandal-ridden media baron Rupert Murdoch: only 12 percent of those polled viewed him favorably, compared to 49 percent who viewed him unfavorably.

“Though not the most popular figure PPP has polled, if God exists, voters are prepared to give it (sic) good marks,” PPP said in a July 21 press release.

The poll also gauged God’s handling of specific “issues.” When asked to rate God on the creation of the universe, 71 percent of voters approved and only 5 percent disapproved. Respondents were also generally appreciative of God’s governance of the “animal kingdom,” with 56 percent approving and 11 percent disapproving.

Younger respondents were more critical of God’s handling of natural disasters, with those ages 18-29 expressing a 26 percent disapproval rating, compared to 12 percent disapproval among those 65 and older.

The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

via Poll: God has better approval rating than Congress | The Christian Century.

Those numbers are decent at this point in the election cycle, but if God wants to be re-elected to the office of God and avoid a primary challenge, he should work on his appeal to certain demographics.   Oh, wait.  God is a King, not a president.  He elects us; we don’t elect Him.  He has to approve of us; we don’t have to approve of Him.  I know these social scientists were trying to be humorous, but the poll raises the question of whether or not our democratic, consumer-driven, truth-by-opinion-polling culture can long conceive of the God of Abraham and Isaac and the truths of His Word.


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