08/04/2014 06:23 pm ET Updated Aug 04, 2014

HUFFPOLLSTER: Two Hawaii Senate Polls, Two Conflicting Results


With less than a week until Hawaii's Saturday primary, two surveys present markedly different outlooks. Americans take a dim view of both Congress' achievements and the prospects for Middle East peace. And most Ohioans don't hold a grudge against LeBron James. This is HuffPollster for Monday, August 4, 2014.

HAWAII SEES ANOTHER SET OF DUELING POLLS - On Friday, a Merriman River Group poll found Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) with an 8-point lead over rival Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii), 49 percent to 41 percent in the Democratic Senate primary. This Monday, a Ward Research survey finds Hanabusa leading by 8 points, 50 percent to 42 percent. Ward and Merriman, both working on behalf of local media outlets, are the only non-partisan pollsters tracking the race, with most other recent surveys conducted for groups backing Schatz. [Hawaii News Now, Honolulu Civil Beat, HuffPollster average]

How the polls differ - Merriman River's polling uses automated phone calls, augmented with live operators who connect with cell phone users, while Ward's polling is conducted using live callers. The surveys also find notably different racial makeups among primary voters -- for instance, 22 percent in the Ward poll identified as Caucasian, compared with 43 percent in the Merriman River poll.

A reminder: Hawaii is notoriously tough to survey - The results are an echo of polling released in February, when Merriman's polling for the Civil Beat found the race tied, and Ward gave Hanabusa an 8-point lead. Steven Shepard, at the time, listed some of the factors making polling difficult: "The Aloha State's complex ethnic melting pot makes finding the right sample composition difficult -- especially important when a Caucasian candidate like Schatz or Abercrombie is facing an American of Japanese ancestry (AJA) candidate like Hanabusa or Ige….[E]ven internal polling is no easy task in Hawaii: In addition to the mix of ethnicities that make up the electorate, the state and other outside groups have done little work to maintain records of voters there that can be mined for information about vote frequency and other characteristics that help pollsters determine whom to call." [National Journal]

Both pollsters have seen past misses - Aaron Blake: "Polling in Hawaii — and especially primary polling — is notoriously unreliable. And we don't mean off-by-a-few points unreliable. We mean often vastly different-from-the-final-result unreliable….The recent history of Hawaii polling is not a happy one, with both of these pollsters showing late surveys whose results were far afield of the eventual margin….Civil Beat missed the final margin in the 2012 Democratic Senate primary by 18 points and the 2010 special election by six points. In the former case, it had former congressman Ed Case (D-Hawaii) leading then-Rep. Mazie Hirono by one point; Hirono won a little more than a week later by 17 points. Star-Advertiser/Advertiser polling differed from the final result in the Democratic primary in the state's 2012 2nd Congressional District by 29 points(!) and in the state's 2002 governor primary by 19 points. In the latter case, it was again Case vs. Hirono. The poll had Hirono up by 20 points; two weeks later, she won by one." [WashPost]

The Civil Beat pollsters explain what they've changed since 2012 - Matthew Fitch and Seth Rosenthal: "[I]t quickly became apparent that the results had systematically underestimated Senator Hirono’s standing among [Americans of Japanese Ancestry] voters….We tested the public voter list (that is to say, the list of voter phone numbers) that we had used in 2012 against a voter list we obtained from a national company that specializes in providing voter information to campaigns and pollsters. The difference in the results jumped off the page....It’s always important to interpret retrospective voting questions with a grain of salt. But these results using the new list were so accurate that, after running this test three times just to make sure, we decided to change permanently to the new list." [Civil Beat]

One final complication: Hurricane Iselle could reach Hawaii just before voters head to the polls. [The Hill]

AMERICANS REMAIN PESSIMISTIC ABOUT MIDDLE EAST, CONGRESS From an NBC/WSJ/Marist poll: "Americans are not confident a lasting peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians is in the foreseeable future. Although Republicans are more likely than Democrats to doubt a settlement can be reached, a majority of Americans, regardless of party, are not encouraged….When it comes to an assessment of the accomplishments of the current Congress, most Americans agree, regardless of party, that Congress has come up short. More than seven in ten believe this year’s congressional output has been abysmal. Nearly half of Americans describe the session as having been very unproductive." [Marist]

A DEFENSE OF 'NON-PROBABILITY' POLLING In a column posted to HuffPost and The Monkey Cage, David Rothschild and Andrew Gelman take issue with the American Association of Public Opinion Research's claim that the new CBS/New York Times/YouGov poll is "rushing to embrace new approaches without an adequate understanding of the limits of these nascent methodologies," writing: "We work with YouGov on multiple projects, so we hardly claim to be disinterested observers, but our experiences in this area make us realize how ridiculous the AAPOR claims are. Many in the polling community, including ourselves, have the exact opposite concern: that, with some notable exceptions such as The New York Times, leading organizations are maintaining rigid faith in technology and theories or 'standards' determined in the 1930s….As response rates fall below 10% probability polls need to make more and more decisions about how to adjust for systematic differences between respondents and the general population....Regardless of the debate on transparency, non-probabilistic polling is going to become a major part of public opinion research at some point in the near future as research and technology makes non-probability polling cheaper and faster (the Internet is a very effective way to reach people) and more accurate (computers can quickly do advanced statistics). And shifting technology makes probability polling more expensive and slower and less accurate (who is going to have a landline or even a cell phone in 2024?). It is time for AAPOR to embrace the future or risk watching innovation pass it by." [HuffPost]

More online polling on the midterms - David Nir: "A new poll from Daily Kos, conducted using Google Consumer Surveys, finds Sen. Pat Roberts holding a 53-39 lead on challenger Milton Wolf in Tuesday's Republican primary in Kansas. The poll of 1,002 likely voters was conducted entirely online on Aug. 4….An intense debate still rages over the merits of online polling, recently fueled by the New York Times' decision to commission a large nationwide poll from another Internet pollster, YouGov. But while some hidebound institutions refuse to accept that the polling industry must change, innovators continue to forge ahead. Traditional phone polling is dying—getting people to answer phone calls from strangers is just getting harder and harder….That's why we're working with Google. We've commissioned polling from them in the past, and you can expect to see more polls emerge from this collaboration this cycle." [Daily Kos]

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MONDAY'S 'OUTLIERS' - Links to the best of news at the intersection of polling, politics and political data:

-Peyton M. Craighill and Scott Clement review AAPOR's criticism of the New York Times. [WashPost]

-Nate Silver sees the GOP as "slightly favored" to win the Senate. [538]

-Nate Cohn doubts the House vote on deportation will hurt the GOP. [NYT]

-Most Republicans don't want Rick Perry to run for president in 2016. [YouGov]

-61 percent of Ohioans forgive LeBron James for leaving Cleveland. [Quinnipiac]