Leading pollsters say their jobs are 'getting harder' because people refuse to answer their phones: report
When it comes to the accuracy of polls, two important terms to bear in mind are “margin of error” and “turnout.” Some reporters believe that all polls have a margin of error of 5 percent, and if one sees the phrase “likely voter,” that isn’t the same as “certain voter” or “definite voter” — which means that some of the people polled won’t necessarily follow through and show up on Election Day.
Polls aren’t perfect, and in an article published by the Daily Beast on November 7 — the day before the 2022 midterms elections — reporters Matt Fuller and Roger Sollenberger emphasize that the pollsters themselves are the first to admit that.
“If the pollsters and handicappers end up being spectacularly wrong on Election Night, there’s one group that won’t be too surprised: the pollsters and handicappers themselves,” Fuller and Sollenberger explain. “The 2022 midterms could go exactly as modeled — a 20-some-odd-seat pickup for Republicans in the House and maybe a 51-49 GOP Senate — but the people who watch these races the closest are also warning they might be wrong in decisive ways. In either direction.”
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The Beast reporters continue, “No one really knows because, like every election, pollsters are extrapolating their best guess based on a set of assumptions. But unlike previous elections, the assumptions are getting bigger.”
One of the United States’ experts on political polling is Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report. According to Wasserman, a major challenge that pollsters are facing is the fact that fewer Americans are responding to them than in the past. Or, as Wasserman bluntly put it, “Response rates suck.”
Wasserman told the Beast, “We’re down to 1 percent of people on a good day who are willing to talk to a pollster for free…. We are, in many respects, stumbling through the dark with headlamps and flashlights. And we have a vague understanding of where these races stand, but there are bound to be surprises.”
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Another major polling expert interviewed for Fuller and Sollenberger’s article was Nate Silver, founder of FiveThirtyEight. Silver also finds that responses to pollsters are down from what they were in the past.
Silver told the Beast, “The quick version is that polling is getting harder because fewer and fewer people answer phone calls from unknown numbers, and among those who do, it’s still a fairly big ask to have them complete a long survey at a time of declining civic trust. So, those people who do respond are unusual in some respects, in ways that you may or may not be able to correct for — and there may also be the risk of overcorrecting…. I don’t think this means that polling is irrevocably broken. But we shouldn’t expect pinpoint accuracy, and there is not necessarily a correct, ‘gold standard’ way to conduct polling anymore.’”
The FiveThirtyEight founder added that “even the numbers nerds like me are approaching polling with a bit more skepticism.”
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