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
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

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

  • 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.

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