I reached out to the Post polling unit -- Scott Clement and Emily Guskin -- to see if they'd be game to answer the critiques of Trump and Gingrich as well as a few lingering questions I had. They agreed! Our conversation, conducted via email and edited only for grammar, is below.
FIX: Newt Gingrich says that The Post should have retracted its latest poll because it showed Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump tied among men. Can you explain our findings and how they match up to what we know about how men have historically voted for president?
POLL TEAM: Our Post-ABC poll found Clinton and Trump tied at 45 percent among male voters. Trump’s support among men was down from 56 percent in May, but his current standing is statistically insignificant from 48 percent in March. The shift among men resembles the overall dynamic of the poll, with Clinton regaining ground lost after Trump became the Republican presumptive nominee.
It’s not unheard-of for a Democratic presidential candidate to split the male vote. In fact, it happened eight years ago. The network exit poll conducted by Edison Media Research found Obama narrowly topped McCain 49-47 with men, while Obama won women 56-43. In 1996, Bill Clinton lost men by a single percentage point to Bob Dole, and won men by 3 points over George H.W. Bush in 1992.
Trump is significantly more popular among men than women, though they still view him negatively on balance. Our latest poll found 64 percent of men saying they are “anxious” about the idea of Trump as president, and our surveys since last year have consistently found a majority of men with unfavorable views of Trump.
FIX: Donald Trump himself blasted the poll as “heavy on Democrats." What was the party ID split in the poll, and how do we determine how much of the sample should be Democrats, how much Republicans and how much independents?
POLL TEAM: Our poll found 36 percent of adults identifying as Democrats, 24 percent Republicans the rest independent, another party or having no opinion. Democrats’ 12-point margin was a bit larger than the 8-point margin in May (33-25), but was quite close to the 11-point Democratic edge in January and 10-point advantage in December.
As we noted in our main story on the poll, these fluctuations in party loyalty accounted for less than half of Trump’s drop-off in the presidential vote choice since May. The bigger cause was the shifting views of political independents, as well as greater Democratic loyalty toward Clinton and less Republican loyalty toward Trump.
The party split in our polls reflects how national samples of adults answer our surveys -- since this is an attitude question rather than a fixed attribute like as age, education or party registration. The fact that partisanship is the most predictive attitude in voting [means] we need to track it regularly in polls, and while it tends to be stable from year to year, it also has the propensity to shift, including during political campaigns. The survey was weighted to match Census demographics, as described in our methodology.
Our latest poll does show a sizable advantage in party identification for Democrats, though the existence of a Democratic edge is nothing new. In every election year since the 1950s, the National Election Studies has found more Americans identifying as Democrats than Republicans. The margin fluctuates over time, underscoring the importance of continued tracking. Successful Republican presidential candidates have overcome the deficit in party identification by turning out supporters at higher rates, winning a greater share of independents and sometimes peeling off a greater portion of Democratic support.
FIX: On Sunday, our poll showed Clinton ahead by 12 points. An NBC-WSJ poll released at the same time showed her ahead by five points. Digging into the data, what are the big differences between the two polls that produce such different outcomes?
POLL TEAM: It’s easy to over-analyze differences in two surveys early in the election campaign, and we chalk these differences up to natural variation in samples from two quality surveys. (As an independent evaluation, Nate Silver recently gave the Post-ABC poll an A+ grade and NBC/WSJ an A-.)
That said, party ID is certainly one difference in what the surveys found. One other difference in the surveys are political independents; the Post-ABC poll finds Trump and Clinton essentially even (45-43), while NBC/WSJ found Trump up 10 points. Both polls agreed on several substantive conclusions about the current race – Clinton has a lead, driven in part by greater unity among Democrats than Trump has among Republicans, and President Obama’s approval ratings are in positive territory.
FIX: Our poll has moved around a lot of late. Last month we had Trump ahead 46-44. This month, Hillary +12. Why the amount of movement?
POLL TEAM: A great deal of what is occurring is shifting attitudes within partisan groups, which is to be expected at the end of primary contests as each party tries to unite supporters around the likely nominee and independents begin to tune in.
Trump received about as much support among Republican voters (85 percent) as Clinton did among Democrats (86 percent), but this month Clinton’s level of party unity hit 90 percent, compared with 77 percent for Trump. Political independents also shifted from favoring Trump by 13 points to only a 2-point edge.
FIX: Finish this sentence: The single most misunderstood aspect of media polling on politics is _______. Now, explain.
POLL TEAM: The single most misunderstood aspect of media polling on politics is the motivation for conducting polls.
Judging by the response we’ve received to both polls showing Trump doing well and doing poorly, some people think news organizations conduct polls to prove one candidate or another is leading in a race. That motivation is quite the opposite for us and the vast majority of professional pollsters, who are intensely focused on using rigorous survey research methods to find out who voters support and (even more importantly) why they are motivated to support a candidate.
We had no hesitation about reporting Trump’s big leads in Post-ABC polls of Republicans throughout the primary campaign and exploring in-depth what motivated his support, and we won’t hesitate to publish what our polls show going forward in the race, regardless of who’s ahead or behind.