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Post Partisan
Posted at 02:22 PM ET, 03/19/2012

Hey, reporters! Watch out for polling outliers

Oh, c’mon. It’s one thing for someone to overreact to a single poll the day it appears — but several days later?

Josh Huder had a great catch yesterday after watching ABC’s “This Week.” Remember that big polling dip for Barack Obama last week that never happened? In case you don’t, a couple of high-profile polls last week showed drops in Obama’s approval rating, including a New York Times/CBS survey that had him dropping to 41 percent approval. Yet several other polls showed Obama staying in the same general range as before, or even gaining; overall, it was clear that the NYT/CBS poll was an outlier.

And yet when Haley Barbour brought up the 41 percent poll on “This Week,” here’s how guest host Jonathan Karl handled it:

And yet, I mean, you think this should be a high-water mark for the president, the economy is coming back, Republicans, I mean, Haley, it couldn't have much worse a few weeks for Republicans, look at his approval ratings, David, 43 percent in one poll, 41 percent in another this week.

The panel then went on to discuss why the president was polling so poorly — ignoring that other polls last week had him at 46, 47, 47, 48, 50 and 50 percent approval.

This is really sloppy work. It’s one thing to have overreacted to the Times poll when it was released on Monday — that’s bad enough — but there’s no excuse for missing all the other polls by the end of the week.

Hey, reporters and pundits! Always, always, use the excellent polling averages provided by Pollster (currently 47.7 percent approval) and/or Real Clear Politics (currently 47.5 percent). Both of them have convenient charts showing current trends, and lists of recent polls so that one can see at a glance how a particular survey fits in with the overall pattern.

Hint: If the poll you think indicates new changes, you might want to first check to see if it’s even the most recent in the field. We’re going to be hit with a gazillion general-election polls in the coming months, which means that about one-twentieth of that gazillion is going to be an outlier even if everyone is doing their best work. Be prepared for those outliers, and be ready to discount them rapidly. Anything else is just bad reporting.

By  |  02:22 PM ET, 03/19/2012

 
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