While Nate Silver got a lot of attention for predicting the election through poll aggregation and statistics, Public Policy Polling nailed every state through first-hand polling.PPP, a three-man polling firm based in Raleigh, N.C., was one of the only groups to poll a wide swath of states ahead of the election. The firm conducted about 255 polls this election season — including 19 polls in the final four days. It went 50 for 50, and its 50-47 popular vote prediction is coming closer to fruition as all the ballots are tallied. Last week, PPP was rated the election’s most accurate pollster.
“It feels great,” PPP director Tom Jensen told Business Insider. “It vindicates that we are making the right assumptions about the electorate.”
They didn’t do it without receiving their fair share of criticism — because, like Silver, they did not try to hide the fact that they were openly rooting for President Barack Obama to be re-elected.
Washington Post conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin accused the firm of “push polling,” or advocacy polling, in October. And PPP was always a prime target for Weekly Standard columnist Jay Cost, a big promoter of the “skewed polls” theory. The firm received hundreds of angry emails and tweets — sometimes from both sides — after releasing a poll, but Jensen said the team always took the backlash lightheartedly.
How PPP got it right while others, including polling titans Gallup and Rasmussen, got it so wrong goes back to a difference in method for how the firms identify likely voters and how long they conduct a poll.
Rasmussen, for example, conducts most of its polls in one night — a problem, Jensen said, because many of the voters who typically lean Democratic (including African-Americans, Latinos and young voters) are more difficult to reach in a single night. Meanwhile, Gallup uses a complicated screen with numerous questions to determine which voters are likely to turn up at the polls.
Like Rasmussen, PPP uses robocalling to conduct its polls. But its screen is much simpler than either of the other polling firms.
“We have a very simple likely voter screen,” Jensen said, “‘If you don’t plan to vote in this fall’s election, hang up now.’
“What we find is that if you’re someone who’s not willing to take the time to answer a telephone poll, you probably aren’t going to vote. But if you are willing to take the time to answer a telephone poll, you probably are going to vote. So it’s a much less-complicated voter screen than somebody like Gallup or Rasmussen has, but I think that it’s a better barometer of the electorate.”
That method continued to show results that slightly favoured Obama over his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney. In the final days before the election, PPP was one of the only firms left predicting Florida would go blue, and it also differed from many pollsters on the state of the race in Virginia and Colorado.
The discrepancies opened PPP up to more criticism, but Jensen said he made a conscious decision a long time ago to stop caring about what everyone said. One of the most active pollsters on Twitter, he often retweets a lot of the vitriol thrown his way.
“I think probably people at some of the more traditional polling companies think some of the things that we do are inappropriate sometimes,” Jensen said. “But we’re not trying to be a Gallup or a Pew. I think we’re trying to be a different, more modern polling company. Most polling companies don’t attack Jennifer Rubin on Twitter or call Jay Cost an idiot, but if somebody takes a shot at us, we’re going to take a shot at them.”
Jensen had faith in his numbers, and it paid off. And it could have a much bigger payoff heading into the next election cycle.
“We’re already seeing exponential growth in the amount of private business we have,” he said. “I expect with the way we validated our work Tuesday night, that upward trend will still continue.
“I think the poll-obsessed America will continue to be blessed with scabs of PPP polls over the next few years.”