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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Update: Gallup’s Ongoing Review of Presidential Election Polling

There has certainly been a great deal of discussion about election polling after last November’s presidential election, more than I recall seeing over the last five presidential elections. Some of that focused on our Gallup Daily tracking program. From our perspective, the goal is to be as accurate as possible in estimating election outcomes. President Barack Obama won the election over Mitt Romney by nearly four percentage points in the popular vote, 51% to 47%, while Gallup’s final estimate showed a statistical tie: 49% for Obama, 50% for Romney. Our final estimate was quite similar to a number of others, and the average estimate for polls using methodology similar to Gallup’s was about +1 for Obama -- suggesting some fundamental issues with this election that affected many polls. Still, our goal is to have our estimates come as close as possible to the final result.

To that end, we launched a comprehensive review of our election polling methods shortly after the election. Dr. Michael Traugott of the University of Michigan joined that effort in December, and is playing an important role in our examination of a number of aspects of the election process. Dr. Traugott not only is an expert in the field of survey practice and methodology, but he led AAPOR’s review of polling in the New Hampshire Democratic primary in 2008 in which virtually all polls inaccurately predicted Obama would win.

Among the elements that have been our methodological focus over the years that we are reviewing in the context of last November are:

  • cellphone sampling and phone status weighting (Gallup used 50% cellphone interviews during the final month before the election)
  • the registered voter screening process
  • the likely voter screening process
  • measurement of early voting
  • the impact of campaign contact and get-out-the-vote efforts on the final voting electorate
  • gender and cellphone quotas within region
  • the impact of within-household selection procedures
  • Gallup interviewing house effects
  • basic representation of demographic categories in our weighted and unweighted national adult samples, including racial and ethnic groups
  • methodological issues involved in daily tracking as opposed to “stand alone” polling
We plan on publicly sharing the results of our review when it is concluded. Meanwhile, our team of statisticians and methodologists regularly fine-tunes our survey procedures to keep pace with cellphone penetration and other changes in the interviewing environment. As a result of this, all of our tracking is now based on 50% cell phone interviewing, and we adjusted a number of weighting and respondent selection procedures in an upgrade of our procedures on Jan. 1.

Also, it’s worth noting that our generic, 2012 congressional vote estimate -- included in the same survey as our presidential polling -- was in fact highly accurate. Gallup’s final estimate of the aggregated congressional vote showed a one-point Democratic advantage among likely voters, 49% to 48%, with 3% undecided. The latest update on the national House vote, as calculated by David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report, also shows a one-point Democratic advantage: 50.5% Democratic, 49.5% Republican. This difference in accuracy between the presidential estimate and the generic House vote estimate is something we are examining. 

We invest in election tracking and report it publicly because we think it provides significant value in understanding the dynamics and nature of the presidential race as it unfolds. We hope our review process adds to that understanding. Of course, we are never far from the next national election, and polling will no doubt continue to evolve by the time those elections -- particularly the 2016 presidential election -- take place.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Public Opinion and Guns

It's clear that the president has made measures to attempt to reduce gun violence a key issue of his new term. President Obama mentioned Newtown once in his inauguration speech on Monday, Jan. 21, but the previous week he much more prominently announced a series of executive actions and proposed new legislative actions designed to reduce gun violence.  More on these measures can be expected in his forthcoming State of the Union speech.

We know that the public is generally behind Obama's proposals. We asked Americans directly on the day after he released his list of proposed new laws if they wanted their representative in Congress to vote for them or against them as a “set.” A majority of 53% said they would want their representative to vote “for” them.

Additionally, using a referendum format, we have new results showing that a majority of Americans would vote “for” all nine of the specific legislative proposals we tested.  Support ranges from 54% for limiting the "sale of ammunition magazines to those with 10 rounds or less" to 91% for requiring "criminal background checks for all gun sales".

These views are very political, ranging from 82% support among Democrats to 22% among Republicans for wanting “your representative in Congress” to vote for the set of proposals. Support for the nine initiatives varies widely by politics as well, with Democrats generally more in favor of each. Still, a majority of Republicans favor most of the proposals.

Despite the broad support, as noted, there is variation in support for specific initiatives designed to reduce gun violence. Generally speaking, support is lowest for banning high-capacity ammunition clips, assault weapons, and armor-piercing bullets. Support is highest for background checks, mental health programs, and more security/training.

This variation is exemplified by responses to a forced-choice question that asked Americans to choose between making major changes to laws on sale of guns and ammunition, and making major changes to school security measures and the mental health system. The latter gets the most support, by more than a 2-to-1 margin, in terms of its efficacy in “preventing future school shootings.”

Still, all in all, as far as the American public is concerned, Obama is generally on pretty solid ground with his proposals. Interestingly, as was the case with reactions to his healthcare plan, there is more support for the specific elements than for the plan as a whole, although the latter still gets majority support.

The remaining issue is priority. Obama wants Congress to act on these laws. Existing data suggest that while Americans support the laws, the entire issue of guns and gun violence is a lower priority for them. Gun and violence issues were infrequently mentioned in Gallup’s most important problem updates in both December and January. Other recent research shows that gun control has a significantly lower priority than other issues, such as the economy. It appears that a key issue for the administration in its efforts to push forward its gun violence reduction agenda -- as far as public opinion is concerned -- is creating a sense of urgency or priority for the proposed new laws.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Gallup and USA Today: 20 Great Years

For 20 years, Gallup has highly valued its partnership with USA Today. We have worked together to collect and report on public opinion data on the most important topics in the news and to share those findings with USA Today’s audience. During this time, the worlds of journalism and survey research have been changing and evolving. Gallup in recent years has increasingly focused its polling and reporting on its unprecedented Daily tracking program, its monthly Gallup Poll Social Series, and its World Poll.  Additionally, has become the major outlet for Gallup’s work, attracting more than 18 million unique visitors in 2012 for our political, economic, wellbeing, and world news. Given these shifts, Gallup and USA Today have made a mutual decision to move in independent directions beginning in 2013, and Gallup will evolve the polling it conducted in partnership with USA Today in some different and new strategic directions. As it has been, will remain the primary source for Gallup polls conducted in the U.S. and around the world.

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