Accusations of skewed presidential polls fly in election years
Political polls don’t just test the waters – often they can tip the scales. If a candidate is behind, they are likely to keep falling behind, since nobody wants to pick a loser.
The most recent Gallup poll put President Obama anywhere from three to nine percent ahead of Gov. Romney (50 percent to 44 percent, with a margin of error of three percent.)
Bologna, say Republicans.
“There are a few instances where I see the polls as being very skewed to the extreme, and in that case I think they’re either incompetent at putting together a proper sample, or in some instances they just may be biased,” political blogger Dean Chambers told National Public Radio’s David Flokenflik Tuesday.
However, eight years ago, the Left was criticizing polls that put Bush 2.0 ahead of John Kerry. So what is happening here? Why have both sides, at different points in recent history, called polls into question?
Basically, polls like Gallup are being accused of stuffing the box with too many respondents from the other side of the aisle.
They work by randomly generating phone numbers and asking adults living in the United States the same set of questions. Then the responses are weighted to reflect the country’s actual population.
Responses are set to the same proportions as the most recent U.S. Census data – the same ration of men to women, young to old, etc.
The beef from both political camps comes from the fact that Gallup doesn’t weight political affiliation. They don’t re-proportion the responses to reflect the number of Dems to Repubs in the country, that is.
But as Gallup Editor-in-Chief Frank Newport pointed out on NPR, why should they? Party affiliation is much more fluid than say, age or origin. Plus, people rarely affiliate with one party and vote for another’s candidate, so the question “Who are you planning on voting for?” already covers party affiliation, in a way.
Can math be used as an insidious tool to mislead the public and negatively skew history? Oh, absolutely. Is this the case with the Gallup poll? Nope. The lesson? Pundits and political sore losers will always call shenanigans when polls don’t go their way. But a closer look at the math reveals that it is, indeed sound.