This guest pollster contribution from Stan Greenberg is part of Pollster.com's week-long series on his new book, Dispatches from the War Room. Greenberg is chairman and CEO of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner.
Charles Franklin rightly begins his comments by putting up my quote on page 58 that "the endgame in presidential campaigns brings out all sorts of irrationalities, starting with the media polls. Many are criminally bad." One of the problems in writing a book and a memoir is living with your words and thoughts, particularly when as unnuanced as those.
In retrospect, I might have been more nuanced. First, I made the comment in the context of the Clinton presidential campaign when the statement was clearly true, as described in the book. Second, it reflects my experience during the final weeks in campaigns in Britain and Israel and in Latin America, even very recently. But because of sites like Pollster.com, there is more transparency and exposure of shoddy methods, and despite strong budget pressures, the national media organizations in the US produced very credible polling programs in this last election. But as recently as 2004, there were stark examples of volatile polls without political weighting conducted by Gallup and aired on CNN, along with commentary on how fickle were the voters. The challenge will be what happens with media polls, as there is more upheaval in the industry and need for more costly multi-modal methodologies and greater use of IVR.
This is a very different matter when one goes down to the state and congressional level and when you are in lower turnout elections and primaries. The media polls, as well as polls conducted by universities and institutes, are often out of line with the campaign surveys, as they are less likely to screen or filter for likely voters, factor-in historic turnout patterns and consider use of exit polls, as well as CPS. That one in four state polls in 2008 were conducted one day suggests we are dealing with a genuine issue.
I Amen, Franklin's Amen. The biggest problem is the reporting, not the polls themselves. It is the "outlier" poll -- not the boring average that gets headlines. But it is even worse in the war rooms I'm writing about that are poised to explode in the closing week of the campaign. It is the errant poll, not the average, that sets off the sparks in the war room and gets the attention of the candidate.