Pollsters Duck NH Questions, Polling Loses

Ten days ago, the American Association for Public Opinion Research, a major polling industry group, released its long awaited report on the 2008 New Hampshire Primary polling meltdown. While the report came to some hesitant conclusions about the mistakes and conditions that led to the polls suggesting a clear Obama win in the face of the actual results—a relatively narrow Clinton victory—the authors were frustrated by a lack of cooperation in disclosing data and methodologies from many polling outfits.

Sadly, news organizations—Ebony, Jet, The Los Angeles Times, Politico, CNN, McClatchy, MSNBC, FOX News, WBZ, WHDH, Reuters and C-SPAN—were among the sponsors of polls that did not provide requested information to AAOPR’s New Hampshire committee.

Mark Blumenthal, former “Mystery Pollster” and proprietor of Pollster.com, has a deep-diving post up today explaining how this lack of disclosure hampered the inquiry.

His conclusion:

Just after the primary, I let myself hope that the pollsters of 2008 might follow the example of the giants of 1948, put aside the competitive pressures and open their files to scholars. Fortunately, the survey researchers at CBS News, the Field Poll, Gallup, Opinion Dynamics, PPIC, SurveyUSA and the University of New Hampshire (and their respective media partners) did just that. For that we should be grateful. But the fact that only 7 of 21 organizations chose to go beyond minimal disclosure in this case is profoundly disappointing.

The AAPOR Report is a gift for what it tells us about the state of modern pre-election polling in more ways than one. The question now is whether polling consumers can find a way to do something about the sad state of disclosure this report reveals.

“Polling consumers”?

That, as far as public election polls go, means news organizations. So the ball is now in the media’s court.

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Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.