As Americans’ modes of communication are continually changing, the techniques/methods that produce the most accurate polls are changing as well. At qSample, we have to stay on top of the latest political polling techniques in order to get the most accurate results when election season comes around, which is just around the corner
In 2012’s presidential election, a number of polling firms that conduct their surveys online had solid results. But others, especially those that relied exclusively on calling land lines, performed very poorly, showing a more Republican-leaning electorate than actually turned out.
Up until the 2012 election, the most renowned political polling companies had not adopted online polling. Notably Gallup, which had been known as the gold standard of the industry for the past three decades. According to the New York Times, some of the most accurate firms were those that conducted their polls online, citing internet polling companies like Google Consumer Surveys, Ipsos, Angus Reid Public Opinion and YouGov for producing surveys whose results held up after the election.
Despite stellar results, polling standards, adopted by most all notable media outlets, still do not permit reporting of online polls because it is still estimated that one in five people in America still do not have access to the internet. New York Times policy states, “In order to be worthy of publication in The Times, a survey must be representative, that is, based on a random sample of respondents. Any survey that relies on the ability and/or availability of respondents to access the internet and choose whether to participate is not representative and therefore not reliable.”
Online polls differ from telephone surveys in some fundamental ways. Respondents to Internet polls complete the surveys using their computer, mobile device or smartphone.
Within the field of online polling, there are important differences in the way respondents are selected. This is known as sampling.
Phone polling holds as one of its founding principles the idea of probability sampling; for the universe that is being surveyed, each member has a defined and equal likelihood of being selected to participate in the survey.
When almost every American lived in a household with a landline phone, it was easy to design a representative sampling frame for a basic political survey. Presently, a dual-frame sample, combining landline and cell phones, is considered by phone pollsters to be closest to a true probability sample.
Internet polls, in most cases, use nonprobability sampling. They exclude households without Internet access; these demographics tend to be older and lower-income Americans. Most online polls are also completed by people who choose to participate. Some participants sign up to complete online polls on websites that offer prizes such as gift cards to chain restaurants and movie theaters, giveaways, etc. Others are responding to ads placed on other websites that may or may not be related to the poll’s subject, a technique known as river sampling.
A few news organizations did begin to experiment with Internet polling during the 2012 cycle. CBS News used online methods, partnering with YouGov. But CBS also conducted national live-caller telephone polls, and they partnered with Quinnipiac University for the battleground-state polls. It will be interesting to see if pollsters will begin using more online samples with the results the 2012 election had.
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