Overweighted with Democrats and seriously unrepresentative.
This post went up yesterday at Watchdog.org with a different title and slight revisions.
On Sunday, the Columbus Dispatch published the results of its latest mail poll purporting to show that Democratic Party incumbent Barack Obama has a nine-point, 51 percent to 42 percent lead in Ohio over Republican nominee Mitt Romney in the presidential race.
The paper claims that:
- “(The) poll echoes four others that show Romney behind by at least five points in Ohio.”
- “[I]t appears the former Massachusetts governor (Romney) first must turn around his own campaign.”
- “A surge of Democratic support for Obama has transformed the race since the first Dispatch Poll had the two dead-even at 45 percent just before the Republican National Convention in late August.”
The only thing that has “surged” is the Dispatch’s disingenuousness in describing the results of its own polls. Meanwhile, there is an important factor apparently affecting nearly all surveys which pollsters are choosing to completely ignore at their serious peril.
Reporter Darrell Rowland didn’t name all of the other polls showing a five-point or more Obama lead, citing only the Washington Post and Fox News. One poll Rowland conveniently forgot to note came from Gravis Marketing covering September 21-22. Despite weighting the poll with 41.4 percent Democrats and 31.1 percent Republicans, it showed Obama barely clinging to a 0.9-point lead.
The poll the Dispatch conducted a month ago has far more validity. Rowland himself told us why:
In August, almost exactly the same number of Democrats and Republicans responded to the Dispatch Poll. But after the mail-poll ballots went out this time to registered Ohio voters chosen exactly the same way — at random by a computer — more Democrats returned the poll forms than did Republicans. The breakdown: 43 percent Democrat, 35 percent Republican.
In other words, eight points of the nine-point swing from the Dispatch’s dead heat in August is due to the change in party makeup of its late-September sample. Though it’s difficult to peg exactly, Ohioans’ party preference breakdown is more than likely somewhere between the four-point Republican edge Rasmussen found in early September and the four-point Democratic edge Gallup reported in late September. In other words, the most defensible conclusion one can reach right now is that the Buckeye State’s presidential race is in a statistical dead heat.
A May Pew Research report cited an important reason why the credibility of political polls should be questioned as never before. As briefly summarized by blogger “Zombie” at PJ Media on the same day as the Dispatch poll’s release: “Out of every seven people contacted by pollsters, only one will answer the polling question, while the remaining six refuse to answer.” And before getting to that point, one must recognize that pollsters aren’t even able to make contact with 38 percent of those they attempt to reach — up from only 10 percent in 1997.
Pew reported that, when all is said and done, “the response rate of a typical telephone survey was 36 percent in 1997 and is just 9 percent today.” It was 21 percent just six years ago. Since the 2008 presidential race, the poll completion rate has probably dropped by almost half, from an interpolated 17 percent to its current 9 percent. Based on this information, it seems extremely dangerous to believe, as pollsters clearly must, that there is little difference between the views of the tiny remaining minority who complete their surveys and the over nine-tenths of the population who either won’t talk with them, can’t or won’t complete the surveys after trying to get through them, or cannot even be contacted in the first place. A perfect storm of pollster embarrassment may be in the works.
Though the Dispatch’s survey was done by mail, Pew further asserts that “The general decline in response rates is evident across nearly all types of surveys, in the United States and abroad.” It’s hard to believe that the surveys done by Columbus’s only daily newspaper are exempt from this trend. No one should take its latest production as presumptively reflective of where Ohioans really stand.