How pollsters hurt pundits
The Washington Post's resident poll expert Jon Cohen explains why there's so little good information on what the Massachusetts election "means."
Everyone has a theory. But there is precious little in the way of concrete data to support any particular explanation -- because few polls of the more than a dozen polls of this race have even sought one -- suggesting that what's about to happen in Massachusetts is still difficult to understand, and likely to remain so.
Only one of Monday's five publicly released Massachusetts Senate polls asked prospective voters anything beyond their ballot preference, opinion of the candidates and a few demographics.[...]
Good survey research clarifies, providing data about "why" prospective voters make choices, both in terms of whether they will vote and how they will cast their ballots. Producing a solitary horse-race number is essentially a publicity stunt. That number may end up hitting the mark, but without any explanatory information behind it, it's of no value to understanding the election.
Analysis of the battle for Massachusetts is hampered not only by the shallowness of many of the pre-election polls, but also because there is no Election Day exit poll. Without these analytical mainstays, pundits of various stripes are free to spin to their hearts' content about what this election means.
He says that like it's a bad thing. Sounds to me like pundits should be paying pollsters to stay out of these races.
Photo credit: Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press.
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