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In a post published Friday defending Gallup’s lackluster polling record this election, the firm’s editor-in-chief Frank Newport appeared to take a shot at the New York Times’ Nate Silver.Buried in the post’s final four paragraphs, Newport writes:
We have a reverse law of the commons with polls. It’s not easy nor cheap to conduct traditional random sample polls. It’s much easier, cheaper, and mostly less risky to focus on aggregating and analysing others’ polls. organisations that traditionally go to the expense and effort to conduct individual polls could, in theory, decide to put their efforts into aggregation and statistical analyses of other people’s polls in the next election cycle and cut out their own polling. If many organisations make this seemingly rational decision, we could quickly be in a situation in which there are fewer and fewer polls left to aggregate and put into statistical models. Many individual rational decisions could result in a loss for the collective interest of those interested in public opinion.
This will develop into a significant issue for the industry going forward.
Newport’s point is valid: If no firm had the incentive to conduct its own polls, then there would be nowhere for other organisations or individuals — like Silver — to aggregate from.
Silver fired back today on Twitter, saying that Gallup “needs to hire better statisticians.”
Gallup has taken its fair share of heat for its election polling. It ranked 24 out of 27 in Fordham University’s list of the most accurate pollsters, and Silver himself rated Gallup the worst of any major organisation this campaign. Silver found that Gallup’s polls favoured Mitt Romney by an astounding 7.2-point lean during the final 21 days of the campaign.
Newport didn’t give much of an explanation as to why Gallup’s polls were so wrong in his blog post, writing that its final estimate — Romney 49, Obama 48 — gave a “broadly accurate picture of what was, in fact, a very close popular vote.” Newport added that Gallup would continue to review all polling procedures and its likely voter model.
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