Gallup In The Tank?

Back in 2004, I jumped pretty hard on John Zogby. Zogby did two things which I considered, and still do, to be unacceptable conduct for a pollster. First, was that Zogby flat-out called the election for Kerry back in May of 2004, a prediction he hung onto through the rest of the campaign. The second reason was that Zogby started mixing results from his telephone polls with his online polls, which invalidates the results from both methods. I would also point out to the reader that in 2004 and 2005, I was unhappy with political affiliation weighting at the time, and had adjusted my own expectations by reversing the bias from polls. My point is that even four years ago I was challenging poll methodology when it deviated from NCPP guidelines, and even if Zogby is publishing prettier headlines now, that does not change my wariness from past experience. I will challenge any behavior at odds with valid practices.

This year, all of the major polls show Obama ahead in the presidential campaign right now, some saying he is well ahead. I found serious problems in their fundamental assumptions, not the least being the heavy weighting of democrats in the polls (and let’s not mince words – any poll weights by party affiliation, the ones which simply accept what is called in are just accepting the raw data as demographically accurate, which is just as absurd in terms of party affiliation, as it would be if they assumed that race, gender, age, or educational demographics did not need to be reweighted). I have wondered two things as the campaign moved along – what would I say if I turned out to be completely wrong, and what would these polling groups say if I turned out to be right and they were the ones who blew it? For my case, I intend to review the election from a statistical standpoint, and if Obama wins in a landslide because the nation really did decide it was 48-25-27 DRI, then I will admit it plainly and take my lumps. I suspect the polling groups will have a harder time being forthright if my argument turns out to be correct. One reason for that is today’s polling discussion from Gallup.

Gallup has noted the strength of early voting this year. The most significant points from that article are these; early voting is stronger than expected this year, and so far republicans have been just as eager to vote early as democrats. The third point is the most important signal of all. Says Gallup; “Early voting ranges from 14% of voters 55 and older (in aggregated data from Friday through Wednesday) to 5% of those under age 35. Plus, another 22% of voters aged 55 and up say they plan to vote early, meaning that by Election Day, over a third of voters in this older age group may already have cast their ballots.”

The last two statements are very good news for McCain and bad news for Obama. This is because it demonstrates that enthusiasm to actually vote by republicans is equal to enthusiasm to vote by democrats. This runs directly against claims made in polling up to now, demonstrating that participation in polls is not directly related to voting this year. Second, the higher participation by senior voters and weaker participation by younger voters is directly in line with historical norms, again running against the poll expectations that this year would see a wave of young people voting but seniors staying at home. Gallup’s own data proves this is not happening as they predicted, and the polls are therefore invalid in those respects, in addition to obvious flaws in the party weighting. The reasonable expectation from these facts, would be for Gallup to back down and correct its weighting to match the observed behavior. As of yet, Gallup has not taken that step. They did, I note, tacitly admit that the “expanded voter” model they introduced this year is invalid, but now they are running no less than three models of polling, which makes me wonder if they are going to wait to see which one comes out the closest (or the least embarrassing) and call that one their ‘official’ call – when a major polling group throws out three guesses instead of just one judgment, you can be sure they have lost confidence in their system.

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