POLITICS
01/27/2016 03:33 pm ET

No, Jeb Bush Probably Isn't In Second Place In New Hampshire

If a poll result is "surprising," it's probably an outlier.

The Twittersphere is abuzz about a New Hampshire poll from the Emerson College Polling Society that shows former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in a “surprising” second place behind perpetual front-runner Donald Trump, who has 35 percent of the vote in the poll.

But before you lose your mind over another poll, heed our repeated warnings: Look at the polling methods and the polling averages.

If a polling number is labeled a “surprise,” chances are it’s what we call an outlier.

As Ariel Edwards-Levy reported just last week:

That's not to say there's necessarily anything wrong with the way [the poll] was conducted. Pollsters vary in how they contact voters and in the assumptions they make about who'll end up turning out on Election Day. But the laws of statistics mean that even survey houses with almost identical methodologies will sometimes end up with results that just don't look like anything else. 

In the case of the Emerson College poll, its methods give us a lot to be skeptical about. The poll conducts interviews using an “interactive voice response” (IVR) system, meaning the phone numbers are automatically dialed and no live interviewers are involved at any point in the process. 

The problem? Because it’s all automated, the poll can only call landline telephones. Nearly half -- 47.4 percent -- of all American households are completely reliant on mobile telephones. The Federal Communications Commission bans IVR or auto-dialed calls from going to mobile phones. So even though Emerson gets its phone numbers from a registered voter list, which has been shown to be better than other methods, there’s a strong probability that they aren’t polling a large portion of the New Hampshire population that could vote in the primary.

There are also rumors of an internal campaign poll showing Bush climbing -- but you should take them even less seriously. Polls that aren’t made public can’t be assessed for accuracy or legitimacy and shouldn’t be given any credence.

Here’s what you should do when you see a new poll from now until November:

  1. Don’t freak out.

  2. Look at the poll’s methods.

  3. Look at the polling averages.

  4. Don’t freak out.

Until more polls show the same pattern, Bush is still sitting at the same 8.2 percent in the HuffPost Pollster New Hampshire average that he was prior to the Emerson poll's release.

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