Wednesday, October 15, 2008

One Obvious Reason the Polls Are Biased

I have said and will say again, that the opinion polls this year are simply wrong. They have fiddled with weighting and wording and various pieces of the demographics to create a false impression. You can either believe them or not, but as I have shown in the numbers for weeks now, believing the polls would be naïve at the very least.

But if the polls have been so biased, one may reasonably ask why that is so. I myself have commended groups like Gallup for a very professional job over many years, and even though I strongly disagree with the conclusions published by groups like CBS News, I applaud their open way of reporting at least some of the significant internal data. In fact, it is CBS News which reveals how this bias is operating, and how even well-intentioned pollsters can make major blunders in their assumptions.

I disagree with CBS News because of how it weights its respondent pool. And lately, what I have seen is a trend, verging on the ridiculous, of far too many Democrats in the pool to make any sense at all. This has been happening in both national polls and in state polls. For national polls, I mentioned some weeks back how Gallup managed to show Obama declining or staying steady in every political affiliation group over a week while McCain was steady or gained in every such group, yet Gallup’s headline claimed Obama was gaining support overall, a mathematical impossibility without manipulating the proportionate weights.

For the states, Survey USA’s polls also show a strong pro-Democrat bias, as shown in the following states (2004 and 2006 DRI splits come from actual elections, SUSA’s 2008 split is arbitrary):

Ohio – 2004 DRI split was 35%/40%/25%, 2006 was 40%/37%/23%
SUSA in 2008 is using 46%/33%/20%

North Carolina – 2004 DRI split was 39%/40%/21%, 2006 was 39%/40%/21%
SUSA in 2008 is using 42%/37%/18%

Virginia – 2004 DRI split was 35%/39%/26%, 2006 was 36%/39%/26%
SUSA in 2008 is using 39%/30%/25%

Pennsylvania – 2004 DRI split was 41%/39%/20%, 2006 was 43%/38%/19%
SUSA in 2008 is using 54%/35%/10%

Florida – 2004 DRI split was 37%/41%/23%, 2006 was 36%/39%/25%
SUSA in 2008 is using 40%/42%/16%

Survey USA is using weights which have no historical validity whatsoever in their state polling. “Garbage” is not too strong a word to describe their published results.

So what’s the deal? Something is happening to skew the polling groups’ perception of how they think voters will turn out, and in publishing invalid conclusions as they have, they are – intentionally or not – misleading the public about the election conditions. Since the reputation of the polling group is essential in attracting future business clients, it hardly seems reasonable to consider these blunders to be deliberate. Although I have written that polls fall into the unethical habit of selling a roller coaster story which they know is not accurate, polls do try to stay close enough to be plausible. One must conclude that they have come to believe their own hype, forgetting Heisenberg’s warning that observing a behavioral event not only influences the event, but also affects the observer as well.

So, in looking around for a cause, I found something all major polls have in common. Look at their headquarters locations:

Poll Headquarters
ABC News 77 W 66th St, #13, New York City, New York
CBS News 524 W 57th St, New York City, New York
FOX News 1211 Avenue of the Americas, New York City, New York
Gallup 901 F St NW, Washington DC
Hotline 88 Pine St, 32nd floor, New York City, New York
IBD 12655 Beatrice St. Los Angeles, California
LA Times 202 W 1st St, Los Angeles California
Marist 3399 North Rd, Poughkeepsie, New Jersey
Mason-Dixon 1250 Connnecticut Ave #200, Washington DC
Newsweek 251 W 57th St, New York City, New York
NY Times 1 City Hall, New York City, New York
Pew 1615 L St NW, #700, Washington DC
Quinnipiac 275 Mount Carmel Ave., Hamden Connecticut
Rasmussen 625 Cookman, #2, Asbury Park, New Jersey
Reuters 3 Times Square, New York City, New York
Survey USA 15 Bloomfield Ave., Verona New Jersey
TIPP 690 Kinderkamack Rd, Oradell, New Jersey
WaPo 1150 15th St NW, Washington DC
Zogby 901 Broad St, Utica, New York

All of them deep in “blue” territory, many packed together up on the northeast corner of Obama territory. The only non-east-coast member of this group is the LA Times, located in the most liberal section of California, also solid blue in perspective. This is not a coincidence, all of the major polling organizations are based in locations where liberals are strongest and conservatives weakest, where ‘democrat’ and ‘republican’ take on meanings wildly different from the rest of the country. As a result, it is obvious that the prevailing culture in this limited part of the country has an undue influence on the focus applied by these polling groups. Democrats, especially liberal democrats, are over-represented in the poll reports because the culture of New York and Northeast America over-represents liberals. Republicans, especially conservative republicans, are suppressed in the poll reports because the culture at the polling groups’ headquarters suppresses republican opinion.

I learned long ago, that when a manager displays certain personality traits, they are soon reflected by the employees at that company. A relaxed manager who is confident tends to improve the mood of his staff, while a tense micro-manager creates the same attitude in his employees. Knowing this, it’s not at all hard to imagine the conversations between headquarters and the staff at these polling groups. They like Obama and expect him to win, so – what a surprise! – the polls they control reflect that same attitude.

Polls are useful for investigating trends and movement within a specific demographic, provided the polling group is ethical enough to publish its internals. But trusting them for an honest topline report amounts to trusting Obama’s campaign to honestly report how the election is really going.


Eric said...


Keep it up DJ

Anonymous said...

I sure hope you are right, problem here is they are setting it up as if mcCain wins it was Stolen and this time they can produce riots in response.

on otherhand, they may just be accounting for all the Obama Voter Fraud

Pam said...

I don't care if they say McCain stole the election; they are going to say it anyway. We have to win; turn out, turn out, turn out!

Pam said...

D.J. thanks for your work; the media and Obama camp want to depress up and keep up from turning out. Turn out, Turn out, Turn out!

vnjagvet said...

Has there ever been another Presidential campaign where the party weightings have been so favorable to one party?

T.N.P. said...

DJ, I want very badly to believe you about this. But what about this idea that the Democrats are registering a lot of new voters? See here for example:

I read about how a lot of these are fraudulent ACORN registrations, but I don't know how much credence to give that.

Also, I really think it would be important, to showing that these polls are skewed, to do direct comparisons with polls in previous years. Did the party weightings swing around in them as well?

On the other hand, of course, we shouldn't forget that John Kerry was ahead in the exit polls back in '04. And there was a big drive to register new voters that year too.

Anonymous said...

I have no doubt that these polls are seriously flawed, and I truly believe that a lot of it is intentional. They have a power to discourage McCain voters and to give an air of momentum to Obama. CNN, I must say, is the best purveyor of prognostication based on polls. Even their post-debate polls are totally flawed and given with the intention of always making it out that Obama won the debates.

Look what they did in the primaries to ensure Obama would win. In OH, PA, and CA (the three most prominent and anticipated primaries), a few weeks before the primary, the polls showed Clinton with a strong double-digit lead. Each week, though, the polls would show Obama closing the gap, week after week until about the day before the primary. Then, they said he was either in margin of error or was slightly ahead. She ended up winning all three by around 10 points afterall. It is intentional manipulation.

Let's hope that this literal media conspiracy blows up in their faces. The media is just outrigh DESPERATE for Obama to win, and in the process they are in effect subverting the Democratic process.

Saerise said...

I'm currently taking Business Statistics at my University. My instructor has a particular fondness for hunting for statistical inaccuracies. He told us we could not have picked a better time to take this class. Looking at election polls has helped me more than my homework assignments. ;)

Anonymous said...

The pollsters are using models for Party ID that hasn't actually happened since Watergate. Hopefully its not any worse than 2006 AND the fear of Obama should help son. If they nominated a more centrist Dem they'd easily win.

in NC there has been 700k new voter registrations, many coming from ACORN. These voter registrations and elsewhere are part of what is effecting the Party ID numbers

Eric said...

DJ read This Diary from Redstate

Anonymous said...

The two most problematic flaws in every poll are that the "undecided voter" is not to be tolerated and a question that was first formulated 75 years ago: "If the election were held today who would you vote for?"

The problem,of course, is that until election day the election is not being held today and there is sufficient time two to three weeks out or even a few days out for a person to change his or her mind.

Insofar as undecided voters go, a respondent is always asked a forced choice question: If the election were heldto day....Obama or McCain?"

If someone says he or she doesn't know they are asked who they might be "leaning" towards. Voila! The undecided voter has now moved into the ranks
of a decided voter.

If the first question asked a respondent was "Have you definitely made up your mind yet about the election?" the number of undecideds even a few days away from the election would approach 30%-40%.

The most recent CBS/TImes poll proves this: when asked the standard either/or question, 6% of voters were considered undecided.

When asked if it was "too early to know for sure" who a particular respondent might vote for, approximately 15% of McCain supporters and 15% of Obama supporters (a total of about 30%) answered "yes". Newspapers will never let the true number of undecideds be published. They are paying anywhere between $20,000 and $30,000 for
a rolling three day poll and do not want to pay for ambiguity. Thus, undecided voters are winnowed out from polls to the extent it is possible.

Gary said...

How come every election I hear about biased polls from supporters of the candidate who is losing? Human nature, I suppose. If things were going well McCain would not be campaigning in traditionally red states. Party ID changes in election years - the party ID split in the country right now is very close to 40/30.

The voters are sick and tired of George Bush and his enablers and angry about the direction the country is going. They desperately want change. The only issue is whether Obama is up to the job. The Republicans have thrown everything including the kitchen sink at him, but he has come off as cool (in at least two ways), knowledgeable, and completely unflappable.

The best poll analysis is from which rates the polls by their accuracy and adds a demographic component based on demographic subsets of all polls. This looks even worse for McCain. According to them Obama has a 95% of winning. "Senator Barack Obama now holds states totaling 286 electoral votes outside the battleground zone. We project 78 more electoral votes to go blue on Election Night, for a total of 364 in Obama's column."

Hominid Views, which is purely poll based, has Obama with a 100% chance of winning and still on an upward trend.

DJ Drummond said...

gary, your first error is that you think polls are predictive.

By definition they are not, in the same way that charting a stock's past performance and present price is in no way predictive of its future value;

Next, it needs saying again the the history of polls shows instability and unreliability. The elections of 1936, 1948, 1968, 1976, 1988, and 2000 in particular were very different from what the polls predicted just a couple weeks before the election, sometimes even closer than that;

Also, you mentioned a site which uses aggregates for its projections. The problem for you is that this causes collinearity, which invalidates the conclusions. It's a common error but a significant one;

Further, it has to be noted that neither Obama nor McCain's campaigns are behaving in a manner consistent with the published conditions, particularly with regard to Pennsylvania;

Next, it needs saying that the political affiliation weights being used in major polls in no way match the historical participation at either the national or state levels. Those polls which take reponse levels without weighting to demographic norms create a circular logic which is inconsistent with NCPP guidelines and documented election results;

And finally, conditions this year are so unstable that Gallup, who has longer experience than anyone in opinion polling, has tacitly admitted it has no idea where the race stands, as it has developed no less than three weight models to try to capture a sense of what's going on. However, the fact that each is at variance with the other two to a degree byond their stated margin of error, demonstrates error beyond the boundaries established for the published level of significance (5%), which is to say, the math fails a 2-tailed validity test, and ergo all results are invalid by definition.

DJ Drummond said...

... and if that was too technical for you, I should remind you that a mathematical certainty of any event involving human behavior cannot possibly exist prior to that event.

Casey said...

Oh, my Lord. Are those idiots actually averaging a series of different polls!?

Please, tell me they aren't that dumb...

Anonymous said...

A straight poll doesn't take into account the fact that people screen calls or use cell phones primarily. Non-land line users, they believe, tend to vote democratic. Could be that's where some of the additional weighting comes from. Also there's an enormous amount of interest in this race among the youth and African Americans, two groups that in the past have shown to be "less likely" to vote. It's assumed that these two groups are far more likely to vote democratic, and to vote this year, so they're being give more "weight" than previous years. Whether or not this is true and or whether or not the increasing use of cell phones will make a difference in the polls remains to be seen. Regardless, that's why you're seeing the bias, not because of where the poll-taking is occurring. A lot of the "right" leaning pollsters show the same results as the left leaning pollsters. Remember these people are professionals, and their reputations are at stake (along with jobs), which is far more important to them than any subversive attempt to change the direction of a race. They want to get it right.

The truth of the matter is, having McCain down in the polls is to his advantage. Supporters are more likely to make the effort to get out and vote if they think their vote is needed.

Aaron said...

Gary, Republicans have complained about lop-sided polling for the last half-dozen Presidential cycles in spite of winning 2/3 of them. It has nothing to do with our candidate up or down in the polls. The complaint has to do with the consistent oversampling of Dems and undersampling of Repubs. Even in the two cycles won by Clinton, he didn't win by nearly the margin predicted in the polls.

Anonymous said...

What you're talking about, I think, is the observer effect; or rather, the observer effect as applied to political opinion polling. In this instance, you're saying the results are skewed because the pollsters are unconsciously weighting the queries, either by the content of the question or the more implicit semantic loading of the question(s). I disagree. There is nothing unconscious about it. I believe some or most pollsters are deliberately weighting the queries to skew the results in order to affect the outcome of the election, discouraging McCain/Palin supporters to keep them home on election day and forcing McCain's campaign strategists to misapply resources. The MSM is blatantly biased in favor of Obama even though media outlets and news organizations lose money by knowingly alienating roughly half of their prospective audience. ideology trumps economic self-interest. Why should pollsters be any different?

Anonymous said...

I hope you're right. I just remember reading similar arguments in 2006 and getting my hopes up...

Fingers crossed!

Anonymous said...

Please tell me you are joking about this.

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