DiscoverMake Me SmartThe good, the bad and the ugly of election polling
The good, the bad and the ugly of election polling

The good, the bad and the ugly of election polling

Update: 2024-06-05
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Digest

This episode of Make Me Smart delves into the world of polling, exploring its capabilities and limitations. David Dutwin, Senior Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at NORC, a research organization at the University of Chicago, and former president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, sheds light on the nature of polls, emphasizing that they capture the electorate's sentiment at the time of polling, not necessarily predicting future outcomes. He highlights the importance of probabilistic methods in polling, ensuring a random and representative sample, and cautions against non-probability polling, which relies on convenience and can lead to skewed results. Dutwin also emphasizes the significance of transparency in polling, encouraging organizations to disclose their methodologies for greater reliability. The episode further discusses the accuracy of polls, acknowledging that while polling error has remained relatively consistent over time, a single poll should not be considered definitive. Instead, it's crucial to consider a poll within the context of other polls and understand the margin of error. The episode then explores the challenges of capturing certain demographic groups in polls, particularly young voters, Spanish speakers, and those with lower levels of education, which can impact the accuracy of poll results. The episode concludes with a discussion on the importance of immigration as an issue in the upcoming election, highlighting the growing concern among Republicans and even some Democrats about the issue. The episode also touches upon the Biden administration's recent actions on immigration, including the potential for border closures, and the potential for this to become a political talking point in the campaign.

Outlines

00:00:00
Introduction and Guest Introduction

This Chapter introduces the topic of polling and introduces David Dutwin, Senior Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at NORC, a research organization at the University of Chicago, and former president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, as the guest expert.

00:01:10
The Nature and Limitations of Polls

This Chapter delves into the nature of polls, explaining that they are designed to capture the electorate's sentiment at the time of polling, not necessarily predict future outcomes. It highlights the importance of probabilistic methods in polling, ensuring a random and representative sample, and cautions against non-probability polling, which relies on convenience and can lead to skewed results.

00:22:04
Immigration as a Key Election Issue

This Chapter discusses the growing importance of immigration as an issue in the upcoming election, highlighting the increasing concern among Republicans and even some Democrats about the issue. It also touches upon the Biden administration's recent actions on immigration, including the potential for border closures, and the potential for this to become a political talking point in the campaign.

00:24:43
Economic News: Job Openings and Labor Turnover

This Chapter discusses the latest Job Opening and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) report, highlighting the good news that there are fewer job openings in the economy, which is what the Federal Reserve is looking for to help control inflation. It also mentions the upcoming release of the May monthly and a plumber reports, which will provide further insights into the labor market.

00:26:30
Listener Mail: Big Food and Historic Day

This Chapter features listener mail, including a call from a retired Navy submarine officer who is building a flour mill on his family farm to counter the influence of big food. It also includes a discussion about the correct usage of the word "historic" and the debate surrounding the pronunciation of the word "historic".

Keywords

Polling
Polling is a method of collecting data from a sample of individuals to estimate the opinions or characteristics of a larger population. It is often used in political campaigns to gauge public opinion on candidates and issues, as well as in market research to understand consumer preferences.

Probabilistic Methods
Probabilistic methods in polling refer to sampling techniques that ensure a random and representative selection of individuals from a population. This is crucial for ensuring that the results of a poll accurately reflect the opinions of the entire population.

Non-Probability Polling
Non-probability polling refers to sampling techniques that do not involve random selection. This can lead to biased results, as the sample may not be representative of the entire population. Examples include convenience sampling, where individuals are selected based on their availability or accessibility.

Margin of Error
The margin of error in polling represents the range of uncertainty around the results of a poll. It is typically expressed as a percentage and indicates the potential difference between the poll's findings and the actual opinions of the population.

Immigration
Immigration is the movement of people from one country to another to live permanently. It is a complex issue with significant social, economic, and political implications. In the context of the United States, immigration has been a major topic of debate for decades, with different perspectives on the benefits and challenges associated with it.

NORC
NORC at the University of Chicago is a leading research organization that conducts surveys and studies on a wide range of topics, including public opinion, social trends, and health outcomes. NORC is known for its rigorous research methods and its commitment to producing high-quality data.

American Association for Public Opinion Research
The American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) is a professional organization for researchers and practitioners in the field of public opinion research. AAPOR promotes ethical standards and best practices in polling and survey research.

JOLTS Report
The Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) is a monthly report published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that provides data on job openings, hires, separations, and other labor market indicators. It is a valuable resource for understanding the health of the labor market and for making informed economic decisions.

Federal Reserve
The Federal Reserve, also known as the Fed, is the central bank of the United States. It is responsible for setting monetary policy, which includes controlling interest rates and the money supply, to promote economic stability and growth.

Q&A

  • What are the key limitations of polls, and how can we ensure their accuracy?

    Polls are designed to capture the electorate's sentiment at the time of polling, not necessarily predict future outcomes. To ensure accuracy, it's crucial to use probabilistic methods, which involve random sampling, and to avoid non-probability polling, which relies on convenience and can lead to skewed results. Transparency in polling methodologies is also essential for building trust and reliability.

  • How does the margin of error affect our interpretation of poll results?

    The margin of error represents the range of uncertainty around the results of a poll. It's important to consider this range when interpreting poll findings, as it indicates the potential difference between the poll's findings and the actual opinions of the population. For example, if a poll shows a candidate with 52% of the vote with a margin of error of plus or minus 3%, the actual vote could be anywhere between 49% and 55%.

  • What are some of the challenges in capturing certain demographic groups in polls, and how are pollsters addressing these challenges?

    Pollsters face challenges in capturing certain demographic groups, such as young voters, Spanish speakers, and those with lower levels of education. These groups may be less likely to participate in polls, which can skew the results. Pollsters are working to address these challenges through various methods, including statistical adjustments and outreach efforts to encourage participation from underrepresented groups.

  • How is immigration shaping the political landscape in the upcoming election?

    Immigration is emerging as a key issue in the upcoming election, with growing concern among Republicans and even some Democrats about the issue. The Biden administration's recent actions on immigration, including the potential for border closures, are likely to become a political talking point in the campaign.

  • What are some of the key takeaways from the latest JOLTS report?

    The latest JOLTS report indicates that there are fewer job openings in the economy, which is a positive sign for the Federal Reserve as it seeks to control inflation. This slowdown in hiring is occurring across various sectors, suggesting a broader trend in the labor market.

Show Notes


With the 2024 election only five months away, polls abound. But since 2016, polls have had somewhat of a bad rap, and many Americans have become skeptical of their reliability.


David Dutwin, senior vice president of strategic initiatives at NORC at the University of Chicago, said we’re thinking about polls all wrong. On the show today, Dutwin explains what polls can and can’t tell us, how to spot a high-quality poll and what kind of role polling should play in our understanding of elections. Plus, what’s keeping pollsters up at night.



Then, we’ll talk about how the Joe Biden administration is addressing an issue that’s top of mind, according to a new Gallup survey: immigration. And, a Half Full/Half Empty update on the job market.


Later, one listener’s small-scale solution to the Big Food problem, and a divisive grammar debate. Plus, a listener was wrong about the meaning of “vibecession.”


Here’s everything we talked about today:



We love to hear from you. Send your questions and comments to makemesmart@marketplace.org or leave us a voicemail at 508-U-B-SMART.

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The good, the bad and the ugly of election polling

The good, the bad and the ugly of election polling

Marketplace / Kai Ryssdal and Kimberly Adams