Did USA Today Dump Gallup?

Late last week USAToday and the Gallup organization announced, as Politico‘s Dylan Byers reported, “a mutual decision to end their 20-year partnership.” As anyone familiar with decisions to dissolve everything from marriages to employment contracts knows, however, what the parties announce as “mutual” often really isn’t.

At TNR today, Nate Cohn, without asserting a lack of mutuality, does make the case for why the newspaper might have actually dumped the famed and venerable polling organization: its less-than-sterling recent record of accuracy in major elections:

If USA Today pulled the plug because it was dissatisfied with Gallup’s polling, then the paper made a wise move. Even though Obama comfortably won reelection by 4 points, Gallup’s final poll showed Romney ahead by 1 point and consistently found Romney winning by a wider margin—as much as 7 points—over the final few weeks of the campaign. The final USA Today/Gallup swing state poll was off by a similar margin, finding a tied race even though Obama easily won 11 of Gallup’s 12 swing states by a combined 4 points. It is worth noting that no other live interview survey contacting cell phones found Romney ahead heading into Election Day. And Gallup’s 2012 failures were not anomalous. Heading into the 2010 midterms, Gallup showed Republicans leading the generic congressional ballot by a staggering 15-point margin, far greater than their eventual 6-point victory. In 2008, Gallup found Obama winning by 11 points, again missing Obama’s 7-point victory by 4 points. In comparison, Pew Research survey struck within one percentage point of the final outcome in the same three elections.

Nate doesn’t mention the outsized emphasis often placed on Gallup findings by those–most often Republicans of late–favored by them, or the occasional perceived arrogance of Gallup’s pronouncements, particularly its suggestions that the money it spends on surveys makes its work vastly more valuable than that of newer and smaller firms who seem nonetheless to get more accurate results–much less the “analysts and aggregators” (e.g., Nate Cohn and Nate Silver) who make more accurate predictions.

Gallup will apparently handle its own marketing going forward, and it appears USAToday will find another polling partner. But the latter doesn’t have the country’s oldest reputation in its profession on the line, and the former needs to face facts about its recent performance.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.