Opinion

Polling firms miss mark in New York primary

Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock

Every election cycle, the most likely thing about likely voter polling is inaccuracy.

The accuracy problems of the likely voter surveys did not begin this year with New York. They began in Iowa, where none of the public-polling firms accurately projected both parties’ caucus results, and reached their zenith in the Michigan Democratic primary, where pollsters projected double-digit Hillary Clinton leads, but Bernie Sanders ultimately won a tight contest. The Ohio polls projected a tight Clinton-Sanders race, but Clinton won by 14 points – 57 percent to 43 percent for Sanders.

In New York last week, only the Baruch poll for NY1 correctly projected Donald Trump to hit 60 percent, while most pollsters underestimated John Kasich (who garnered 25 percent) and overestimated Ted Cruz (who got a mere 15 percent). Meanwhile, the Baruch poll significantly underestimated Clinton’s support, incorrectly projecting her doing better upstate than downstate, when in fact Clinton carried 63 percent of the vote downstate and garnered just 47 percent of upstate votes.

Most of the pre-primary likely voter polling in New York state (Siena, PPP and CBS/YouGov) put Clinton’s lead at about 10 points. With one exception, none of these public polls captured the reality that Mrs. Clinton was heading toward 60 percent in the state (she defeated Sanders 58 percent to 42 percent, in a near record turnout). Only the Marist Poll correctly projected both candidates’ standing when they showed it a 57-40 percent Clinton lead a week before the primary. Interestingly, Marist used the one methodological step that the Pew Research Center has found most improves the accuracy of likely voter sampling: matching it against the actual list of registered voters.

Even the exit polls in New York were wrong on the Democratic side. They showed Clinton ahead of Sanders by only 4 percent when she won by 16 percent. The exit polls underestimated the share of the vote cast in New York City – exit polls had the city’s share of the statewide vote at 48 percent when it was actually 51 percent, with Clinton carrying the five boroughs 63 percent to 37 percent. They also dramatically undercut Clinton’s suburban margin (Clinton carried the four downstate suburban counties by 62 percent to 38 percent, whereas the exit polls put her suburban lead at only 52-48 percent).

Then, in the special election for the 9th state Senate District in Nassau County, the final Siena poll of likely voters projected Republican Chris McGrath ahead of Democrat Todd Kaminsky by 8 points (51 percent to 43 percent), when Kaminsky won 50 percent to 49 percent, with 1 percent going to Laurence Hirsch, the Green Party candidate.

As an aside, the folks at the Siena Polling Institute are smart, transparent and principled, but Siena’s likely voter surveys have suffered a recurring problem over the years. Sometimes the Siena data is spot-on (e.g., the 2013 Nassau County Executive’s race or Brian Foley’s large win over Caesar Trunzo in the 2008 Suffolk County state Senate race) but at other times their samples are fatally flawed (e.g., the 2009 Nassau County Executive’s race and the 2013 mayoral primary in Rochester, where Siena had Lovely Warren losing in a landslide, when she won by a landslide).

Nor is this a problem of recent vintage. In 2009, all the likely voter polls were wildly inaccurate, projecting New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to win a third term in a landslide, when Bloomberg beat Bill Thompson by only 51 percent to 47 percent.

I have great respect for the science of polling. In truth, it's difficult to project primary races in states like New York, where turnout varies dramatically from year to year and where the landslide margins within ethnic, racial and religious blocs are tricky to chart. Nevertheless, it is up to the pollsters to tighten up their sampling methodology if they expect the media to continue presenting their data as authoritative. Until those new methodological standards are in place, the media should present the public polling data as interesting, rather than dispositive.

The time for change in terms of how polling is reported is long overdue. If those changes are not made, another embarrassing “Dewey Defeats Truman” moment awaits both the pollsters and the media.

Bruce Gyory is a political and strategic consultant at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips LLP and an adjunct professor of political science at SUNY Albany.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.