21st Century Campaings: Polls are for Chumps

Over at MyDD.com, Matt Stoller has been picking apart how polls work, or don't work in the 21st Century.  In his latest installment he looks at how traditional land-line telephone polls are becoming more and more unreliable because of the increasing size of the wireless-only household.  This goes back to my post last month on Technology and the 21st Century Political Campaign.

Graph of Wireless Only Households

More after the jump.

In the MyDD article, Matt references a couple of close congressional elections last cycle:

Candidates like Eric Massa and Larry Kissell came very close, and with DCCC support, could have won their districts.  In the case of Kissell, I've talked to two people in high level party positions - one local to North Carolina and one in DC - who told me the same thing about why they didn't put more into that race.  Polling.  They did polls one or more weeks before the election, and it just looked out of reach by six or more points.  In a case where you are moving resources around the country, it's hard to make a call to support someone like Kissell when your data says otherwise.

Eric Massa ran in New York's 29th CD against freshman Republican, Randy Kuhl and lost 48-52.  Kissell ran in North Carolina's 8th DC against three-term Republican,Robin Hayes, loosing by only 329 votes.

The takeaway fro this then is twofold:  One, traditional telephone polls are becoming less and less accurate.  This is because of overall declining response rates -- people refusing to participate -- and because of the decreasing pool of voters with plain-old-telephone-service (POTS).  Second, the decision-making of the national parties, which depend heavily on polling data will probably miss a lot of pick-up opportunities in grassroots-heavy congressional elections.

Now, more than ever the oft-uttered plea of the insurgent candidate to ignore the polls actually has merit.

  • I think this point has a lot of merit

    The danger is that media hyping of inaccurate polls could make them self-fulfilling prophecies.

    But I think the accuracy of polls has always been overstated. In 2000, almost all of the national polls had Bush winning the popular vote right before election day. That same year, Bush was thought to be leading in New Hampshire, and thousands of people voted for Nader. As it turned out, the margin between Bush and Gore in NH was smaller than the number of Nader voters, many of whom might have voted for Gore had they realized that they were in a closely contested state. 

    • Not self-fulfilling prophesy? Ask President Dean.

      The media had pretty much annoited Dean in Iowa in 04.  The coverage was all Dean all the time, his poll numbers were solid.  But the polls did not tell anyone that his support was soft, that a full 30-40% of that huge lead would not get up off their asses and go down to the schoolhouse for two hours.

       And, as Stoller's post indicates, DCCC polling had Kissel down by 6 points or more and on election night it was nearly a dead heat.

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