THE BLOG
03/05/2007 04:54 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Newport on Clinton, Obama and the Black Vote

Gallup Guru Frank Newport posted Friday on the issue I had
been watching all week: "Clinton,
Obama and the Black Vote
." He
reviews most of the same numbers I did, but adds a few thoughts worth
noting. One involves the imprecision of these
relatively small sample sizes and some discussion of their treatment by the
news media.

[A]ll of these estimates of the
black vote are significantly less precise than the typical statistics reported
for polls representing the broad population. That doesn't mean that - in the
absence of other evidence - they shouldn't be used. It means that we need to be
cautious in the conclusions we reach.

Earlier in the piece, Newport
notes that Time withheld "specific
numbers, a commendable approach based, no doubt, on concerns about releasing
exact figures based on small sample sizes." His point brings us back to a question that I asked last week when The Washington
Post
first put the vote-by-race results in the headline of a front
page story
. Did that story deserve
to be on the front page given the inherent imprecision of the relatively small sample
size?

Put another way, if the shift to Obama in the Post/ABC poll is
statistically significant, and if a shift to Obama among blacks is newsworthy,
why not put it on the front
page? Perhaps pollsters are just
cautious by nature, but while I would have included those results as part of
the story, I would have given them far less emphasis. The problem is that despite all efforts to emphasize
the underlying statistical imprecision, specific numbers inevitably take on a
life of their. The narrowing of the race among all voters was
more modest, and given the other results out last week, the real shift among
African-Americans was likely less than the 40 point net shifts measured by the Post/ABC
polls. But that did not stop one Sunday
talk show I watched (Chris Matthews) from pushing the 40 point shift as it if
was the definitive result (no transcript available yet).

PS: Before moving on
to other subjects, an update on some overlooked data. In
addition to the data I cited
last week, two other recent polls provided tabulations among African
Americans.

  • The Cook-RT Strategies survey is now two weeks old (Feb. 15-18), but they conducted 70 interviews among African American Democrats and found Clinton leading Obama 45% to 22% (see CPR-7A, p. 16; the margin of error would be roughly +/- 12%).
  • The slightly older Pew Research Center survey (conducted Feb. 7-11) asked a different type of vote preference question. Respondents were asked whether there is a "good chance, some chance or no chance" that they would support each candidate. Among African American Democrats (sample size not specified), "63% reported a "good chance" of supporting Clinton and 50% a "good chance" of supporting Obama.

Subscribe to the Politics email.
How will Trump’s administration impact you?