Front-running Republican presidential contender Donald Trump polls better in online surveys than in those conducted by traditional telephone interviews, a study shows.
The difference is slight but "statistically significant" — and may suggest a "social desirability bias" is in play, according to Dartmouth political scientist Kyle Dropp, the executive director of polling for Morning Call, which posted the results Monday.
"Republicans are more likely to say they want Donald Trump in the White House if they are taking a poll online versus in a live telephone interview," Dropp writes in his analysis.
"And, if you're a highly-educated or engaged Republican voter, it turns out that you're far less likely to tell another human being you want Trump as president."
In the study
, 2,397 registered Republicans and Republican-leaning independents were interviewed over a week in mid-December in a survey online, over the phone or by answering automated questions on the phone.
Study results show among Trump supporters:
- 38 percent tallied their support in the Internet survey
- 36 percent registered support via an automated voice on the phone
- 32 percent supported Trump during a live telephone interview
"That 6-point difference was not seen with other candidates between the different polling methods," Dropp writes.
"Ted Cruz, for example, did about 2 points better on live telephone, as did Ben Carson. Jeb Bush had no difference between the methods."
The study also finds:
- Among adults with a bachelor's degree or postgraduate degree, Trump performs about 10 percentage points better online than via live telephone
- Among adults with some college, Trump performs more than 10 percentage points better online
- Trump polls 8-9 percentage points better in online surveys than live telephone among "engaged" voters compared with general registered voters
"One possible explanation is 'social desirability bias,' or in other words, people being reluctant to select Trump when talking to another person because they do not believe it will be viewed as a socially acceptable decision," Dropp writes.
But polling expert Scott Clement notes other explanations should be considered, "such as different ways respondents hear and read response options or the level of effort respondents give to answering questions with a live interviewer providing motivation vs. an automated or web survey," The Washington Post
"The big question is which mode is 'correct,' or better reflects respondents' true support," Clement tells the Post.
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