Quinnipiac pollsters share their challenges gathering information

HAMDEN, Conn. (WTNH) — The Republican presidential candidates are focused on South Carolina for Saturday’s crucial primary, and Quinnipiac University is out with its latest prediction. The head of the polling institute spoke about the challenges facing pollsters these days.

The Quinnipiac University Polling Institute is one of the best around, but even it called the Iowa caucuses wrong. Remember the poll that came out the day of the caucuses? It had Donald Trump beating Ted Cruz by 7 points. Cruz ended up beating Trump by three. That is a ten point swing. Some of the reasons?

“It’s a very low turnout,” explained Quinnipiac Polling Institute Executive Director Doug Schwartz. “In this race, Ted Cruz had a very strong ground operation that really was undetected in the polls.”

Schwartz said that other challenges to polling these days come from technology. It used to be pollsters went door to door talking to people in person. In the 1970s, they just went through the phone book and called people’s houses.

Now, about 50 percent of people own only a cell phone. They don’t own a landline, and they tend to be disproportionately young people.”

Federal regulations prohibit automated calls to cellphones, so it has to be real people calling. The trouble with cellphones is they all have caller ID, and cellphone users are less likely to answer unknown calls. Plus, cell phone users can be driving, working, or doing any number of things that make them say no to answering poll questions. Cellphone-only users tend to be younger and more liberal, so ignoring them can skew a poll. There are polls that people take online. Those skew younger, too

“A bigger problem with online polling is that it’s a self-selected sample – it’s people who volunteer,” explained Schwartz. “The key for scientific polling is that you have to have a random sample.”

It’s tougher, but not impossible, to gauge opinions, and the Q.U. poll agrees with most others that Donald Trump has a big lead going into tomorrow’s primary, maybe as much as 20 points.

The democratic primary is a week later, and right now, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has a clear lead in South Carolina, but nationally, she is in a virtual tie with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.


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