Polls say that Donald Trump is still leading his fellow Republicans in the race for the nomination, but those same polls are also showing than Dr. Ben Carson is catching up. All of this might not be that big a deal because not only are we more than a year away from the election, but also because the polls are less reliable than you think.
There have been recent polling upsets which has called the reliability of polling into question.
The Israeli election back in March was predicted as a tight race for incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but he won a commanding mandate.
Last fall, polls were showing that a majority of Scots would vote “yes” on a referendum on independence, but on voting day, the “no” side won the day.
Here in the United States, polls showed that Mitt Romney would edge out a win against President Obama in the 2012 Presidential election. An election that Obama won, which in the end was not all that close.
What’s the problem? These polling guys are supposed to be experts, right?
Well, one problem is less raw data. People just are not responding to polling surveys like they used to.
“Everyone in the industry is worried about the falling response rate,” said Roger Tourangeau, Vice-President of the research firm Westat.
Cell phones now allow individuals to block or ignore unrecognized callers, never even giving pollsters a chance to get their foot in the door.
This means that polling firms have to spend more time and money to get the data that they need.
“You try them more often. We’ve upped the number of callbacks; we used to do two or three. We now do three, four and five,” said Celinda Lake, President of Lake Research Partners.
In a drive for better accuracy, pollsters are not only pushing harder, but also changing their methods, like the questions they ask.
In last year’s Congressional primary in Viriginia, long-time GOP Rep. Eric Cantor received positive poll numbers when people were asked if they preferred him over his Tea Party rival, but what they did not ask, is if those same people would go out to vote. The result was Eric Cantor becoming the first House Majority Leader in history to lose a primary.
[USA Today] [Bloomberg] [New York Times] [Gallup]