Political pollsters sitting out the holidays in Georgia

The Senate run-offs in Georgia are attracting a lot of attention but pollsters are largely not participating:

Photo by Nate Hovee on Pexels.com

After a disastrous November election for the polling industry, when the polls again underestimated President Donald Trump (who lost regardless) as well as GOP candidates down the ballot, pollsters are mostly sidelined in the run-up to the Jan. 5 Georgia elections, which most observers regard as toss-ups.

The public polls that drove so much of the news coverage ahead of November — and generated tremendous distrust afterward — have all but disappeared in Georgia, and they are set to stay that way:Some of the most prolific, best-regarded media and academic pollsters told POLITICO they have no plans to conduct pre-election surveys in Georgia…

Part of the reason public pollsters are staying away from Georgia is the awkward timing of the races. With the elections being held on Jan. 5, the final two weeks of the race are coinciding with the Christmas and New Year’s holidays — typically a time when pollsters refrain from calling Americans on the phone. The voters who would answer a telephone poll or participate in an internet survey over the holidays might be meaningfully different from those who wouldn’t, which would skew the results.

Most major public pollsters are choosing not to field surveys over that time period, but the four campaigns don’t have a choice in the matter. The closing stretch of the races represents their final chances to shift resources or make changes to the television and digital advertising — decisions that will be made using multiple data streams, including polling.

Trying to reach members of the public via telephone or text or web is already hard enough. Response rates have been dropping for years. New devices have new norms. Figuring out who will actually vote is not easy.

Imagine trying to get a good sample during the holidays. On one hand, more people are likely not working and at home. On the other hand, this is time for family, getting away from the daily grind, relaxing. How many people will want to respond to talk about politics? Add in the post-national election letdown, COVID-19 worries, and this could be an extra challenging task during December 2020.

I know answering the door is not in vogue, even before COVID-19, but I wonder how well a door-to-door strategy for polling in Georgia might work. Such an approach would require more work but the races are limited to Georgia. Given that people are likely to be at home, this could reach some people.

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