Gallup Comes Clean

An organization that did nearly as badly last November 6 as the Romney-Ryan campaign was the Gallup Organization, or at least that part of the organization responsible for presidential polling. And it wasn’t some outlier performance, either, as Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight noted at the time:

In late October, Gallup consistently showed Mr. Romney ahead by about six percentage points among likely voters, far different from the average of other surveys. Gallup’s final poll of the election, which had Mr. Romney up by one point, was slightly better, but still identified the wrong winner in the election. Gallup has now had three poor elections in a row. In 2008, their polls overestimated Mr. Obama’s performance, while in 2010, they overestimated how well Republicans would do in the race for the United States House.

Harry Eaten, among others, noted that the problem seemed to come from Gallup’s “likely voter” screen, since its numbers for registered voters were much closer to its rivals (and to the actual results).

And that’s where Gallup’s own internal review, being conducted, to its credit, in public, is now pointing as well. But there were some other factors, too, that Gallup is turning up, notes Slate‘s Jeremy Stahl:

Those four areas were as follows: how they weighted likely voters, underrepresentation of the East and West coasts in geographical controls, underrepresentation of nonwhite voters based on how Gallup determined ethnic backgrounds of survey respondents, and issues in how it contacted landlines that resulted in an “older and more Republican” survey sample.

In any event, the skew mainly mattered because of Gallup’s venerable reputation that made its findings more influential to journalists (and to Romney campaign hacks and flacks) than those of its less heralded rivals. That reputation has now been severely damaged, so it’s unlikely, notwithstanding Gallup’s admirable (if overdue) repair effort, that it’s going to be the Big Dog of polling operations going into 2014.

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.