For the second time in two election cycles, Republican Party pollsters have blown it — in two different directions.
During the 2012 presidential election, Republican poll-takers had Mitt Romney ahead in his race against Barack Obama but Obama won. Republican pollsters had underestimated the Democratic turnout, Politico reports.
During the recent midterms, Republican pollsters may have played it too safe by overcompensating. They had many Republican Senate candidates running neck-and-neck, with eight out of 10 Senate races showing results within the margin of error. In the end, Republicans overwhelmingly trounced Democrats.
"Their pollsters had understated Republicans’ leads in a number of states, causing the RNC and GOP campaign committees to pour money into places where it wasn’t needed and hold money back from places where it might have made a difference — such as Virginia, where Republican Ed Gillespie lost by less than a percentage point," Politico noted.
For example, even though Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had advised the GOP to not pour money into his race against Democrat Allison Lundergan Grimes, the GOP spent over $20 million, in a race that McConnell won handily by 16 points.
In the 2014 election, one Republican strategist told Politico, "I believe there were some pollsters that were holding their data back because of what happened in ’12. I think they were covering their ass."
Democrats, too, had their polling problems, overestimating the Democratic voter turnout in the mid-terms, Politico noted.
Mike Shields, Republican National Committee (RNC) chief of staff, told Politico, "I still believe we have a polling problem in the Republican Party, and I think the work still needs to be done to set standards that all of the polling firms have to follow."
Shields told Politico, "It’s just as bad to be wrong by being too conservative. It’s just as big a mistake to tell a client that you’re only winning by one point when they’re winning by eight. Especially at the party committee level, there are just too many decisions being made. That money can be used elsewhere."
In the 2013 RNC Growth and Opportunity Project,
where the GOP sought to set directions for future elections, the party noted, "Seventy percent of the Republican pollsters surveyed in our task force online survey said that Democratic polling in 2012 was better than our own. Fully 22 percent felt the Democrats did 'much better than the Republicans when it came to accuracy and reliability."
To add yet more concern, the project found that, "There is no consensus on the top problem facing pollsters, according to our survey, though it’s clear that public pollsters and private pollsters of both parties faced several challenges during the 2012 election cycle."
One major problem the report cited was the growth in the number of people, especially young voters, switching from landline to cellular phones, which makes telephone polling more difficult, expensive and inaccurate.
In addition, the report suggest more Spanish-language polling and more emphasis on reaching out to younger voters, likely underrepresented in landline phoning.
The report also suggested a test of whether listed voter sampling or random dialing produced more accurate results, noting, "The Obama campaign and the Democratic Party are moving to listed voter samples and away from random digit dialing. We should address this head-on and seek to develop consensus in our polling community about the path forward."
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