Voters Still Trust Gallup Polls More Than Nate Silver

nate silver

Photo: AP

Few would argue that Gallup was more successful in calling the 2012 presidential election than New York Times polling wunderkind Nate Silver, but a survey released Tuesday indicated the American public still trusts Gallup more.The survey, conducted by Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling, showed a plurality of voters, 31 per cent, trust Gallup more than Silver.

Fourteen per cent give the edge to Silver.

Perhaps most tellingly, 55 per cent of voters surveyed aren’t sure who they trust more.

That may speak to the insulated nature of much of American political coverage. While Silver’s forecasts — and, to a broader extent, the polling business in general — became a central focal point during the 2012 horse race, much of the electorate remains unfamiliar with the people and companies involved.

To that end, consider PPP’s other question on Silver, who ascended to star status in many circles for correctly predicting the outcome of the presidential election in all 50 states. The poll showed that 12 per cent have a favourable opinion of him, while 10 per cent view him unfavorably. But a whopping 77 per cent said they aren’t sure about Silver.

Respondents were more familiar with the Gallup poll, long considered a standard-bearer in the data collection arena. 30-two per cent said they have a favourable opinion of it, while 29 per cent who have an unfavorable opinion and 38 per cent aren’t sure.

Gallup’s daily tracking poll showed Mitt Romney with consistently wide leads over President Obama in the weeks prior to Election Day. Those results prompted considerable scepticism toward Gallup for its likely voter screen, which critics derided as too biased toward the most enthusiastic voters.

After the president clinched a second term, criticism toward Gallup amplified, with even senior members of the Obama campaign joining the pile-on. A study by Fordham University rated Gallup as one of the least accurate pollsters of the 2012 cycle.

The post-election backlash was enough for Gallup editor-in-chief Frank Newport to pen a defence of the organisation’s polling. In it, Newport took a thinly veiled swipe at the likes of Silver and other polling aggregators:

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.

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