Gallup’s editor-in-chief, Frank Newport, is defending the organization’s polling, which showed Mitt Romney leading President Obama in the 2012 election race in the final few weeks of the campaign. Newport said that Gallup’s numbers were close enough to fall within the margin of error, and took a shot at blogger Nate Silver when he criticized people who “focus on aggregating and analyzing others’ polls.”
Newport argued that Gallup’s final pre-election poll reflected what eventually came to pass on election day.
“In the end, Gallup’s national popular vote estimate was that the popular vote was too close to call, a statistical tie — 50% for Mitt Romney, 49% for Barack Obama. When the dust settled, Romney got 48% of the popular vote and Obama received 50%, meaning that Gallup’s percentage-point estimate was within two percentage points for Romney and within one point for Obama.”
He acknowledges that changing trends may force pollsters to try different methods, and predicts that in 2016, there will be significantly fewer polls conducted, as a result of budget cutbacks and “a shift to the use of other technologies for assessing public opinion in the future.”
However, Newport also gets in a swipe or two at Nate Silver, albeit indirectly. Silver did some calculating with polls released by groups like Gallup and ended up correctly predicting which presidential candidate would win each of the fifty states. Newport dismisses what Silver does as mere aggregation of poll results.
It’s not easy nor cheap to conduct traditional random sample polls. It’s much easier, cheaper, and mostly less risky to focus on aggregating and analyzing others’ polls. Organizations that traditionally go to the expense and effort to conduct individual polls could, in theory, decide to put their efforts into aggregation and statistical analyses of other people’s polls in the next election cycle and cut out their own polling. If many organizations make this seemingly rational decision, we could quickly be in a situation in which there are fewer and fewer polls left to aggregate and put into statistical models.
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