Are Presidential Polls Weighted Correctly?

11:16 PM, Sep 25, 2012   |    comments
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  • Courtesy USA Today

High Point, NC -- While President Obama seems to be pulling ahead in the polls, some conservatives claim the polls are skewed.

One look at and you'll see the latest polls released show President Obama has taken the lead.

The Rasmussen poll from Sept. 22-24 and the Associated Press poll from Sept. 13-17 are just two of the polls that show the President has the lead over Governor Mitt Romney.

But, is that accurate?

Some conservatives say the polls are skewed because pollsters are assuming the same people who voted in 2008, will vote this year. So who's right?

According to Dr. Martin Kifer, who runs the poll at High Point University, to understand the debate, you have to understand what the term "weighting" means.

Kifer said weighting is the process of looking at the population and making sure the people you interview for a poll look like that.

In other words, weighting is the method in which pollsters choose their sample.

Kifer said when pollsters sample all adults, they can use census numbers to make sure they match the population.

When they sample registered voters, they can go to the Board of Elections to make sure their data matches.

However, when they're polling "likely voters", that's where there's room for debate.

"With likely voters, it gets a little more controversial because you're really trying to make, to some extent, predictions about who's going to get out and early vote, who's going to get out to the polls on November 6th of this year," said Kifer.

Pollsters rely on what they know about the likely voter population like gender, race, ethnicity and age. Then, they choose people for their sample that are representative of that.

While Kifer can't say whether pollsters are actually using data from the 2008 election to paint a picture of likely voters this time around, he can say with confidence they all want to be as accurate as they possibly can.

Of course, no one knows for sure who will cast a vote come November.

That's why Kifer said pollsters need to be transparent about their polling process. But, he also has advice for all of us watching them.

"Look very carefully at these assumptions. One thing, maybe you don't hear pollsters say enough, is take seriously the margin of sampling error. And take seriously the other limitations there are on the claims that we make," said Kifer.

The real test of whether the polls are right or wrong will be on Election Day. However, according to Kifer, as a whole the polls have a pretty good track record.

Here are the latest poll results from High Point University:

Forty-six percent of North Carolina registered voters who participated said they would vote for President Barack Obama if the election were held today, compared to 43 percent who said they would vote for Governor Mitt Romney.

The margin of sampling error is 4.7 percent.


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