The great Alabama polling Gamble. Robo calls v human interviewers

The great Alabama polling Gamble. Robo calls v human interviewers


Above is the latest polling table from Real Clear Politics with surveys on today’s special senate race in Alabama where the Republican candidate is Roy Moore – the man who has been accused of sexual abuse against girls as young as 14.

As can be seen the surveys give a totally mixed view of what is likely to happen ranging from Moore 9% ahead to the astonishing Fox News poll that came out yesterday afternoon with a Democrat lead of 10%.

Looking a bit deeper the huge variations in the numbers can be put down to polling methodology. This is Nate Silver on his 538 site.

“..Most polls of the state have been made using automated scripts (these are sometimes also called IVR or “robopolls”). These polls have generally shown Moore ahead and closing strongly toward the end of the campaign, such as the Emerson College poll on Monday that showed Moore leading by 9 points. Recent automated polls from Trafalgar Group, JMC Analytics and Polling, Gravis Marketing and Strategy Research have also shown Moore with the lead.

But when traditional, live-caller polls have weighed in — although these polls have been few and far between — they’ve shown a much different result. A Monmouth University survey released on Monday showed a tied race. Fox News’s final poll of the race, also released on Monday, showed Jones ahead by 10 percentage points. An earlier Fox News survey also had Jones comfortably ahead, while a Washington Post poll from late November had Jones up 3 points at a time when most other polls showed the race swinging back to Moore. And a poll conducted for the National Republican Senatorial Committee in mid-November — possibly released to the public in an effort to get Moore to withdraw from the race — also showed Jones well ahead..”

The big difference between automated polls and those where live interviews are used is that the former are prohibited by law from calling voters on their mobiles. Research has shown that those voters with landlines are older than the average voting population and the more likely to be white – characteristics which correlate strongly with voting Republican.

    One statistic from the Fox News poll that stands out is that amongst those within the sample who were contacted on their mobiles the Democrats have a 30% lead. The same poll found that support amongst the landline the part of the sample had a very balanced response between the Republicans and the Democrats.

The betting has been bouncing around particularly in the immediate aftermath of the Fox News data. It then swung back to the Republicans when other surveys more favourable to GOP came out.

The hardest thing to judge in this election is turnout and how many Republican voters might follow the lead of the senior senator in the state who has announced that he is not supporting Mr. Moore. There’s also an expectation that GOP women might be less inclined to back Moore.

As I’ve been saying for the past week or so this race is wide open and that the value has been on the longer odds option – the Democrat.

Mike Smithson

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