Friday, February 1, 2008

Primary Polls

So, why have political polls been so wrong? I get asked this from time to time. Well, it is a complicated answer. First, we must address which polls have the problems. The first type of polls, (the ones that seem so wrong) are the pre-voting polls that are taken weeks or days prior to polling. The second type, the exit polls, is taken directly after the voter has voted. Obviously, this one is much more accurate (although the last two elections, even these are failing much more frequently.)

Let’s focus on the pre-voting polls. These polls are taken months, weeks, and days before the vote. To keep things simple, people from a particular demographic are sampled and polled about who they would vote for in the upcoming primary. In the recent primaries, they have been WAY off. Why? Well, it can be quite complicated, but I think there are several things at play. First, the models are broken. Many people are still living in a world where they think that the old social model is still in existence. This is not true. No longer can we typecast people according to strict demographics. Where you could once count on a particular demographic to react or vote one way, you can no longer do so. Why? People have so much more information at their finger types due to technology. In years past, people would get their information from regional and perhaps one national news source and they could be swayed easier since they only got a couple of views. Now, people are inundated with news 24 hours a day 7 days a week. They also no longer have to count on social networking with people in their vicinity, but rather can converse with people from all across the world who actually hold many of their views, creating micro-groups of people with the same thoughts. One-person on an island no longer exists. In other words, the old models are no longer accurate. This leads to the second issue which is sampling. If the models are broken, surely the sampling is as well. When you rely on asking a few people to predict the whole, you must have the correct samples in place. Because of what was stated above, undoubtedly the samples are wrong. How can you tell? Look and see how fast the same polls are changing from week to week or in some cases day to day. One polling center can have wild swings. This is no fluke. If your sample is not accurate, this can happen anytime you are attempting to predict. Furthermore, when polling a primary, you may be asking people who have no plan on voting in the primary. Another reason for the wild swings? Because of the information explosion, people tend to change their mind much quicker than before. We are a society of instant news and change, which makes it that much harder to predict.

So, what to look for with Super Tuesday coming up? Well, certainly do not look too far into the polls to tell you what is going to happen. Only way to be for sure on who will come out ahead is by watching the actual results come in.

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