Why Polls Over-Count Democrats

In turns, Republicans and conservatives have been infuriated and worried about the media polls of supposed “likely voters” who are between 5% and 11% more Democratic than Republican. Citizen Pamphleteer and other blogs like Unskewed Polls have been busy correcting these polls as fast as they come out to reflect the reality of a tied electorate as in 2004 and 2010.

This still leaves the question of why the media polling is so biased towards the Democrats. The answer is probably less a grand conspiracy to screw with the minds of Republican poll consumers and more a weighting of their polls to conform to their preconceptions of the racial makeup of the electorate.

In a recent article, Dick Morris explains:

[Telephone surveys have] too few blacks, Latinos, and young people and too many elderly in its sample…because some don’t have landlines or are rarely at home or don’t speak English well enough to be interviewed or don’t have time to talk. Elderly are overstated because they tend to be home and to have time. So you need to increase the weight given to interviews with young people, blacks and Latinos and count those with seniors a bit less.

Normally, this task is not difficult. Over the years, the black, Latino, young, and elderly proportion of the electorate has been fairly constant from election to election, except for a gradual increase in the Hispanic vote. You just need to look back at the last election to weight your polling numbers for this one.

But 2008 was no ordinary election. Blacks, for example, usually cast only 11% of the vote, but, in 2008, they made up 14% of the vote. Latinos increased their share of the vote by 1.5% and college kids almost doubled their vote share. Almost all pollsters are using the 2008 turnout models in weighting their samples…

If you adjust virtually any of the published polls to reflect the 2004 vote, not the 2008 vote, they show the race either tied or Romney ahead, a view much closer to reality.

Actually, the poll weighting methodology is often more skewed than Morris believes. Many media polls like Gallup are weighting their polls using the racial and ethnic makeup of all United States residents in the 2010 census, which includes millions of disproportionately minority residents who should not vote because they are not citizens or have not bothered to register to vote because they have largely checked out of the political system. This thumb on the polling scale creates an electorate even more favorable to Democrats than in 2008.

Weighting according to the census creates a heavily minority and Democrat-leaning electorate of which Democrats (and apparently media pollsters) have often dreamed, but which does not actually exist. Apart from the 2008 election where many white voters stayed home and minority voters turned out in record numbers, every other election including the last cycle in 2010 have substantially higher white and lower minority turnout. For example, the 2008 exit polling showed an electorate of 74% white, 13% African American and 9% Hispanic. Two years later, the 2010 exit polls showed a far more standard electorate of 78% white, 10% African American and 8% Hispanic. In contrast, this week’s Reason/Rupe poll projects a 2012 electorate even more skewed towards minority voters than the 2008 outlier election – 72% white, 11% African American and 12% Hispanic. The Rupe poll’s projected hispanic turnout is 50% higher than just two years ago!

Like most fantasies, this media poll created electorate will not survive contact with reality in November. My Republican friends need not be concerned and my Democrat friends need to treat the media polls like Lucy offering to hold the football for Charlie Brown.

About Bart DePalma

Bart DePalma is a solo country attorney practicing in the mountain town of Woodland Park, CO. Bart publishes the Citizen Pamphleteer blog and his new book Never Allow A Crisis To Go To Waste: Barack Obama and the Evolution of American Socialism was released December 2011.
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7 Responses to Why Polls Over-Count Democrats

  1. Pete Kent says:

    All this talk of how Obama is going to go for Obama is based on false polls that oversample Democrats. The media is in full on Obama assist mode and is trying hard to create an inevitability to his candidacy and in that respect Ohio has become ground zero.

    The media wants Obama to win and to do so it must tamp down enthusiasm in opposition to him and as importantly discourage his fundraising. Making it seem like Ohio is a lost cause is the best means of accomplishing these twin goals.

    Much is made of the Obama bailout of the auto industry. In truth, the bailout has added few direct jobs to the Ohio economy and was simply a bailout of the UAW — crony capitalism writ large. This fact is not lost on the people of Ohio who were among the first to embrace Tea Party conservatism and turn Democrats out from office top to bottom in 2010. Bear in mind that Obama’s hostility to the coal industry which is also an important employer in Ohio is well known and has galvanized opposition to him in the eastern part of the state — a place little visited by the national media and the chattering classes in Washington.

    More than any of this Ohioans know the economy remains at best listless with the American Dream, if not for themselves, then for their children, in peril. Youth and minority unemployment are at the highest levels they have been in generations. These key demographics simply will not turn out to vote in the numbers they did in 2008 and the Ohio electorate will have a much greater Republican tilt this year.

    In my view Romney is most likely ahead in Ohio, as he is elsewhere, the biased polls and Washington’s “amen chorus” be damned.

    @petekent01 on Twitter

  2. Pete Kent says:

    Two recent polls in PA show a close race with Obama up by only a scant 1 or 2 points. The pollster put out a justification, explaining, as Bart does, that the composition of the electorate in 2012 will not look like 2008, and that those polls showing Obama to have big leads in PA are based on faulty methodology.

    Read the analysis here. http://tinyurl.com/br5ubls

    @petekent01 on Twitter

  3. Shiloh says:

    The current Nate Silver “now-cast” gives Obama a 96% chance of winning. I wonder why he isn’t listening to your polling insights?

    • Bart DePalma says:

      Nate’s model relies upon the media polling to shift back to reality just before the election in order to retain some modicum of credibility. However, the media polling failed to do so in 2010 and Nate underestimated the GOP house gains by half.

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