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How to get the poll results you want

Posted by Richard on April 23, 2014

In every poll, the Arkansas Senate race has been extremely tight, with most showing challenger Tom Cotton (R) with a slim lead over incumbent Mark Pryor (SD). Until now. A new New York Times/Kaiser Family Foundation poll shows Pryor leading by 10 points. Bill Kristol looked beyond the headline at the polling questions, and discovered something interesting in question 12.

That question asked poll respondents if they voted for President in 2012 and if so, for whom.  32% didn’t vote, 26% voted for Obama, 27% voted for Romney, and the rest voted for someone else, didn’t know, or wouldn’t say. Kristol explained the significance:

In other words, the Times and Kaiser have produced a sample in Arkansas that reports they voted in 2012 for Romney over Obama–by one point. But Romney carried Arkansas in 2012 by 24 points. …

The whole point of question 12 is to provide a reality test for the sample. That’s why they ask that question–we know what happened in 2012, so the only thing to be learned by asking the 2012 question of the sample is to ensure that it’s a reasonably accurate snapshot of voters in the state. Of course there’ll always be some variance between reality and the sample’s report of its vote a year and a half ago–but not a 23 point variance.

A reputable news organization would have looked at question 12 and thrown the poll out. But then again, it was the New York Times.

It’s entirely possible that they paid a great deal of attention to question 12 — to ensure that the sample was not a reasonably accurate snapshot of the voters.

Heck, if they really wanted an accurate snapshot of the voters, a third of their sample wouldn’t be non-voters in 2012.

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