Politics & Policy

Under-surveying of Cell Phone Users, Hispanics Cause Skewed Polls

Something went wrong with the methodology in a series of Mason-Dixon polls commissioned by the Las Vegas Review-Journal/8 News Now in the two biggest Nevada races, as acknowledged this week by RJ publisher Sherm Frederick.

“We pay for the poll, and we expect accuracy,” Frederick told Patrick Coolican at the Las Vegas Sun. “We obviously didn’t get the kind of accuracy we expected, and we’re going to have to ask some questions about where the breakdown occurred.”

The last Mason-Dixon senate poll, published October 29, showed Sharron Angle beating Harry Reid by five points (49-44). On election day, Reid won by five points (50-45).

The last NV-3 poll, published October 31, showed Joe Heck beating Dina Titus by ten points (53-43). On election day, Heck won by less than a single point (48-47).

 

The story going into election was that Republicans were poised to easily win both races. The after-story was that Reid beat Angle by nearly six points, and Heck just barely defeated Titus.

Pre-election polls conducted by CNN, FOX and Rasmussen were wrong as well. Each showed similar results to the Mason-Dixon survey.

The Sun story said one reason for the skewed numbers may be that pollsters rely on random dialing to land lines and do not account for voters who only have cell phones. A recent Pew Research Center report revealed that 25 percent of Americans can be reached only by cell phone. These people tend to be younger, a demographic that leans heavily Democratic. 

In addition, polls tend to under-survey Hispanics, who are reluctant to participate in polls and also tend to vote Democratic.

The Review-Journal publisher denied any intentional bias his newspaper’s polls and told the Sun he was open to the possibility that cell-only and other demographic problems had rendered a flawed result. He also noted that Nevada may not be a reliably Red state any longer:

“Maybe Nevada is changing,” Frederick said. Indeed, once a reliably Republican state, Nevada is home to 60,000 more Democrats than Republicans, and its school population has more minorities every year.

Frederick denied bias in the polls. “Contrary to the opinion of our enemies, we don’t try to juice these polls,” he said.

Still, some pollsters got it right.

Republican pollster Glen Bolger, commissioned to conduct a survey for the Nevada Retail Association in September, showed Reid leading by five points.

The Reid campaign this week also released data from its internal polling showing Reid winning by five percent for most of the general election season.

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