This is fairly deep in the methodological weeds, as befits a blog whose audience is disproportionately politics junkies, but it is also the kind of reporting that takes a complicated subject and makes it easy to understand. Caputo is to be applauded for helping readers understand why the two polls appeared so dramatically different.
I have long been concerned about the careless way most news organizations deal with polls. I tackled this subject in a CJR report in January, in which I took the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald to task for what I believe was sloppy polling and reporting.
Which begs the question: How did I handle the Quinnipiac poll when I wrote about it for my own site, CrowleyPoliticalReport.com? I chose to focus on the trend numbers rather than the horserace. Trend results are more meaningful and more likely to be accurate. I also provided readers with the entire results of the polls, something very few news organizations do.
I have been a critic of the Quinnipiac poll and the media’s use of polls in general. I continue to be skeptical. (CJR’s Brendan Nyhan has also expressed skepticism about the value of state-specific presidential polls, especially at this point in the campaign.)
But as long as polls continue to drive coverage, I hope that reporters for other news organizations will take the critical eye and in-depth approach that Caputo did. And perhaps it is time for media outlets to rethink their relationship with the business of polling. Has any news organization actually visited any pollster to watch them in action? And how much harm are news organizations doing to their own credibility when they offer viewers and readers two markedly different polls just two days apart with no explanation?