Media Blog

Chris Matthews vs. Rasmussen

Huh?

BACON: I think in Iowa there is some danger of Romney—Romney‘s been leading throughout, but Huckabee is coming up slowly. Huckabee has also entered double digits in national polls too now. So I think his message and—he‘s sort of a very—he‘s a pastor and he has a very appealing message for social conservatives, particularly. So I think he is a threat for Romney in Iowa in particular.

MATTHEWS: You really see him in double digits in a national poll?

Which poll is that?

BACON: I think it was a Rasmussen survey.

MATTHEWS: Rasmussen? Let‘s MoveOn.com here. We‘re not doing Rasmussen polls here. Come on. The polling average in Iowa shows Huckabee trending up. What do you think?

I guess Matthews doesn’t like the Rasmussen poll because of its accuracy. Here’s the WSJ’s 2006 poll roundup. The winners were Mason-Dixon and Rasmussen.

On to the results: In the Senate races, the average error on the margin of victory was tightly bunched for all the phone polls. Rasmussen (25 races) and Mason-Dixon (15) each were off by an average of fewer than four points on the margin. Zogby’s phone polls (10) and SurveyUSA (18) each missed by slightly more than four points. Just four of the 68 phone polls missed by 10 points or more, with the widest miss at 18 points.

But the performance of Zogby Interactive, the unit that conducts surveys online, demonstrates the dubious value of judging polls only by whether they pick winners correctly. As Zogby noted in a press release, its online polls identified 18 of 19 Senate winners correctly. But its predictions missed by an average of 8.6 percentage points in those polls — at least twice the average miss of four other polling operations I examined. Zogby predicted a nine-point win for Democrat Herb Kohl in Wisconsin; he won by 37 points. Democrat Maria Cantwell was expected to win by four points in Washington; she won by 17. (Zogby cooperated with WSJ.com on an online polling project that tracked some Senate and gubernatorial races.)

The picture was similar in the gubernatorial races (where Zogby polled only online, not by phone). Mason-Dixon’s average error was under 3.4 points in 14 races. Rasmussen missed by an average of 3.8 points in 30 races; SurveyUSA was off by 4.4 points, on average, in 18 races. But Zogby’s online poll missed by an average of 8.3 points, erring on six races by more than 15 points.

Zogby’s online polls “just blew it” in Colorado and Arkansas governor races, Chief Executive John Zogby told me. (See Zogby’s scorecard.) In other races, such as the two Senate races I mentioned, “we had the right direction but a closer race than the final.” One explanation, he said, may be that Zogby’s final online polls collected responses one to two weeks before the election, whereas other polling firms were active until the final week. “We have more work to do” to improve online polling, Mr. Zogby said, but he added, “we believe it’s not only the wave of the future, but the future is very close to now.”

“I don’t think there’s anyone out there who did better than us,” Rasmussen Reports President Scott Rasmussen told me. (Read its own scorecard for its Senate and gubernatorial polls.)

Larry Harris, a principal with Mason-Dixon, said of his firm’s numbers: “We had another good year.”

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