Adam Davis’ Recommended Read: Pollsters Moment of Truth

Thanks to everyone who attended the ELGL forum with Adam Davis, DHM Research. Kudos to Ben Bryant, Tualatin Management Analyst for coordinating the event at the Tualatin Public Library. We covered a lot of ground from the perception of local government to the future of the community attitudes survey. Adam left us with some homework which is reading the recent column by Robert Samuelson on polling. Always wanting to meet our teachers’ expectation we present you with the aforementioned article.

Calling a winner: The pollsters’ moment of truth

by Robert Samuelson

As the election approaches, it’s not only candidates who face a reckoning. Pollsters, too, confront a moment of truth. The close election could leave many calling the wrong winner. On a recent day, six national polls reported new results. Four had Mitt Romney leading; two had President Barack Obama. The largest victory margin was 3 points (for Romney). The average margin was 2 points. The uncertainty has fueled speculation that Romney could win the popular vote and lose the electoral count.

It’s not just the election. Among pollsters, there’s fear that changing technology (mainly cellphones) and growing public unwillingness to do interviews are undermining telephone surveys — and that there’s no accurate replacement in sight. A recent study by the Pew Research Center reported its response rate at 9 percent, down from 36 percent in 1997. Put differently: in 1997, Pew made about three residential calls to get one response; now it makes 10.

Beginning with answering machines and caller-ID in the’70s and’80s, suspicious Americans have become more selective in screening calls. Robo-calls — automated messages for products, politicians, charities and polls — have deepened the hostility. “The mass of communications coming into people’s homes ends up being a blur,” says Pew pollster Scott Keeter.

Cellphones pose problems because people who use them exclusively — people who don’t have land-line phones — are younger, poorer and more Democratic than the general population. By late 2011, 32 percent of Americans 18 and over had only a cellphone, up from 16 percent in early 2008. Among those 25 to 29, the share was 60 percent. Under-surveying these people could distort polls. Many pollsters, though not all, now canvass cellphones. But this is increasingly expensive. By present trends, half of Americans could be exclusive cellphone users by the 2016 election.