Polling the Pollsters

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

(from sneed/flickr)

The post-primary polls concerning the New York gubernatorial race left everyone confused.

The first one to come out, by Quinnipiac University, shocked most New Yorkers by presenting Cuomo with only a six point lead over controversial Carl Paladino.

A few days later, the Siena Research Institute released their own poll, showing Cuomo with a comfortable 33 point lead.

Then the Marist Institute for Public Opinion (MIPO) came out with their own...showing Cuomo with a moderate 19 point lead.

WNYC's Azi Paybarah delved into the soup last week--and today the three pollsters were guests on The Brian Lehrer Show to discuss their different numbers. Maurice "Mickey" Carroll, the Polling Institute Director of Quinnipiac University;  Dr. Don Levy, Director of Siena; and Lee Miringoff, Director of Marist.

How could basically the same question asked of basically the same number of New Yorkers over basically the same few days produce such different results?

The pollsters basically said the devil is in the details. The wide gap between Siena and Quinnipiac's numbers came from differences in terminology: Siena polled "registered voters" while Quinnipiac and Marist polled "likely voters." The "likelies" are a subgroup based on a winnowing process of filtering registered voters through the sieve of questions like "How much do you care?" "How much do you support your candidate?" "How likely are you to vote?" and then putting all the data in an algorithm that spurts out a number.

Miringoff said "likely voters" polls are a more accurate measurement of the probable electorate, even if it's not entirely crystalized yet who those likely voters actually are. But, he warned that researchers should not switch from "registered" to "likely" polls too close to the general election date, because the public may mistakenly interpret the new numbers as a swing in opinion, when they really just signify a change in the polling recipe.

The other big difference in these three polls was "The Lazio Effect." Quinnipiac didn't include Lazio (who at that point was still in the race), while Siena and Marist did. If you assume Lazio supporters will all now support fellow Republican Paladino, that gives Paladino a much bigger edge.

Carroll, Miringoff and Levy also discussed the "enthusiasm gap": 51 percent of registered Republicans say they are very enthusiastic about voting in the New York state election, but only 34 percent of registered Democrats say they are.

In the end, Carroll presented some clarity: "What all these polls say is that this is a real election, which we hadn't thought before!"

What do you think? How much weight do you give polls? What do you think about the media's coverage of the numbers? Have you ever been part of a poll? 


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Comments [11]


I'm registered as a democrat, but I don't know if I'd answer that I identify as a democrat if there was a choice to say other. I only registered as a democrat so I could participate in primaries, but I'm farther left than the democratic party.

Sep. 29 2010 12:21 PM

The results from the pollsters are actually motivating me to make a change towards making sure to vote. I am so tired of those who CLAIM to be small business owners, like Joe the Plumber who never owned his own small business or the very wealthy businesses that set up an umbrella for all their so-called small businesses. My husband and I are the ultimate small business owners (with employees of one each -- ourselves). My biggest issue is STILL health insurance reform. We pay $22,000 a year in health insurance and now our health insurance was raised by $700 a month in the same sort of price gouging maneuver used by the credit card industry before reforms. I am not a "so-called angry white male" I am female and I am starting to get very angry about the media wonks who never ever talk about self-employed women when they talk about small businesses.

Sep. 29 2010 10:35 AM

OK -- you have spent nearly 30 minutes on polling. Not actual issues but process -- which as we all know is so much more interesting. And this poll was taken before most voters have even started to focus on the reality of the upcoming election. Bring them back a few days after the election to see how they did and how they rationalize their results.

Sep. 29 2010 10:27 AM

Question - How do you get in touch with cell phone users (no land lines)?

Sep. 29 2010 10:25 AM
Susan from NY

I think that pollsters poll people who agree with their organization's viewpoints. Time and time again, the polls are wrong. There is no such thing as an independent. Independents are generally people who don't want to be tied to the leadership of either party, but generally have very specific viewpoints.

Sep. 29 2010 10:25 AM
carmel maseng from Forest Hills

Perhaps it's time to stop thinking that polling is somehow scientifically disconnected from politics. It's a pretty safe bet that many Democrats thought that Paladino is so far out there, that he is no threat. The narrow gap can actually make them go to the polls. These things can creat or kill momentum

Sep. 29 2010 10:25 AM
Henry from Katonah

What is this "likely" voter stuff ? Are you taking the subject's word for whether s/he will vote? Have you ever studied how true this is? How would you?
Sounds like the loudest people have the biggest effect. Polls affect behavior - - sometimes people don't vote for the candidate they favor if they believe the candidate has no chance.
People, remember the only poll that really matters is the one on election day!

Sep. 29 2010 10:22 AM
Rick V from Livngston NJ

The media's poll coverage is rudiculous and misleading. Its simply for the sake of making news.

Look at Paladino has a projected 3% chance of winning. Why doesn't the news channels report that? Because they rather hype up that the race is closer than it really is. Again, its purposely deceiptive.

Sep. 29 2010 10:20 AM

All this discussion just points up why it is so ridiculous that most of the mainstrem media reports on elections like horse races. Get back to issues, not highly variable (and dubious) polling numbers.

Sep. 29 2010 10:19 AM
Tom from Upper West Side

Why do we poll?...and who benefits (besides campaign strategists)?

Sep. 29 2010 10:19 AM
Terrence from Manhattan

Here we go with Brian sniping at Paladino once again. This is getting old.

Sep. 29 2010 10:10 AM

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