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Editorials

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Furthermore …

Mourdock
Silver

The changing face of the electorate

Nate Silver earned celebrity status for his accuracy in predicting the state-by-state winners for president this year. So when the New York Times columnist and blogger weighs polling methods and firms, you can bet a lot of people pay attention.

In his FiveThirtyEight column Monday (also the name of his blog, referring to the total number of electoral votes), Silver wrote that Gallup – perhaps the nation’s best-known polling organization – was among those most off the mark. The popular Rasmussen Reports didn’t fare well, either. While Republican commentators scoffed at polls in the days before the election, complaining the polls included too many Democrats, Silver wrote that some of the most problematic polls oversampled Republicans.

Scientific pollsters generally prefer live telephone calls over automated calls, sometimes called robocalls. Respondents to an automated call could be 12 years old. But the point Silver made about the robocalls is that they are restricted to land lines only, and people who have only cellphones tend to be younger, more diverse, more urban and of lower income than those with land lines – in other words, people more likely to trend Democratic. Ignore cellphones, and Republicans are oversampled.

Surprisingly, Google Consumer Surveys was one of the most accurate – its last poll put Obama ahead by 2.3 percent points, just three-tenths of 1 percent off the election result.

“Polls that place random calls to land lines only, or that try to estimate who will vote based on models that were developed decades ago, may be behind the times,” Silver wrote.

Mourdock’s methods belie campaign rhetoric

Last Friday, three days after he lost a highly competitive U.S. Senate race, Richard Mourdock sent an email thanking his supporters and expressing his respect for the voting process.

The fifth and last paragraph before his signature was gracious: “My travels around our great state and the people I’ve been able to meet have been incredibly rewarding experiences that I will treasure always. I extend my sincerest thanks to all those who walked this journey with me.”

But it was the postscript that caught our attention:

“P.S. We fought until the polls closed on Tuesday. Unfortunately, this left our campaign in debt. Anything you can do to help us retire our debt is appreciated.”

This from a candidate who wanted a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget and who said his top issue was ending the federal deficit through spending cuts without additional revenue through tax hikes.

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