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Old 11-21-2012, 10:12 AM
 
755 posts, read 632,389 times
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In the wake of the 2012 Presidential Election, I thought it would be interesting to review recent history and the performance of polling aggregates in the modern era of widespread polling. In so doing, I've gathered poll results from the final week, respectively, before each of the last four Presidential elections. For the last three elections, RealClearPolitics has a nice sample which aggregates all polls in which the entire poll sample was conducted within the last seven days before the election. When a single pollster polled multiple times in that period, only that pollster's final pre-election poll is used in the sample. For 2000, there was no such RealClearPolitics sample, so I created my own using PollingReport. In that case, lacking the information on when each poll sample began, I simply used the final poll from each pollster that concluded its polling within five days of the election. Bear in mind that what national polls directly predict the outcome of the popular vote.

2000
Polling aggregate: Bush +2.1%
Election Day Result: Gore +0.5%
Polling aggregate bias: +2.6% Republican

2004
Polling aggregate: Bush +1.5%
Election Day Result: Bush +1.5%
Polling aggregate bias: none

2008
Polling aggregate: Obama +7.3%
Election Day Result: Obama +7.6%
Polling aggregate bias: +0.3% Republican

2012
Polling aggregate: Obama +0.7%
Election Day Result: Obama +3.3%
Polling aggregate bias: +2.6% Republican

Average Presidential Election polling aggregate bias, 2000 thru 2012: +1.4% Republican

Sources:
WH2000 Trend
RealClear Politics - Polls
RealClearPolitics - Election 2008 - General Election: McCain vs. Obama
RealClearPolitics - Election 2012 - General Election: Romney vs. Obama

Results:
In three of the previous four Presidential elections, the polling aggregate shows a bias in favor of the Republican candidate. In the fourth instance (2004), the pollingaggregate nailed the final outcome perfectly. In one of the three results showing a Republican bias, the bias was very small, a mere 0.3%. This is well within that margin of error even for the enormous sample of many aggregated polls. The other two results, with years 2000 and 2012 each showing a bias of 2.6% in favor of the Republican candidate, are more significant.

What this survey destroys is the meme that polls have a liberal bias. They don't. Every year, many conservatives manage to convince themselves that the polls have a systematic bias towards Democratic candidates. But the actual numbers show otherwise.

Note #1:
When I use the word 'bias' here I use it in a statistical sense, not in the sense that the takers of these polls are either overtly or subconsciously favoring Republicans.

Note # 2::
2.6% is the current margin for President Obama in the 2012 election. Given that most of the precincts that have not yet reported are from heavily Democratic states, it is very possible his margin may tick up another tenth of a percent or more. With that in mind, the current margin suffices for the purposes of this post.
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Old 11-21-2012, 10:54 AM
 
Location: Texas
14,969 posts, read 14,218,645 times
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I don't disagree with your general premise, but I have some points:

1) Bush won by 2.4 in 2004, not 1.5.

2) When you go back to 1996 (as well as 1980...the last two times a Democratic incumbent president was running for re-election), there did seem to be a rather large Democratic bias in the polls.

3) People who remain undecided until the very last minute breaking one way or the other can skew all of this.
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Old 11-21-2012, 10:58 AM
 
Location: NC
10,005 posts, read 9,021,778 times
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The only think I would take issue with is the numbers for this year. In all honesty we have no idea what the final % popular vote will be because their are still a lot of votes that have not been counted yet on the West coast and in the Northeast.
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Old 11-21-2012, 11:04 AM
 
755 posts, read 632,389 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by afoigrokerkok View Post
I don't disagree with your general premise, but I have some points:

1) Bush won by 2.4 in 2004, not 1.5.

2) When you go back to 1996 (as well as 1980...the last two times a Democratic incumbent president was running for re-election), there did seem to be a rather large Democratic bias in the polls.

3) People who remain undecided until the very last minute breaking one way or the other can skew all of this.
1) Point taken -- I misread the RealClearPolitics link.

2) True, but:
a) The further back we go, the less relevant it is to today
b) Compounding a), there is the fact that every year back featured fewer polls than the next year (and so, less data)
c) 1996 featured a major third-party candidacy; such elections are inherently less stable, and thus less useful for comparison to races in which no third-party candidate climbs much above 1%, if that (Perot got 8% in 1996)

3) Didn't you get the memo that undecideds always break for the challenger?
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Old 11-21-2012, 11:05 AM
 
755 posts, read 632,389 times
Reputation: 439
Quote:
Originally Posted by Randomstudent View Post
The only think I would take issue with is the numbers for this year. In all honesty we have no idea what the final % popular vote will be because their are still a lot of votes that have not been counted yet on the West coast and in the Northeast.
I noted that in my original post. And we do have a pretty good idea; most votes are in. As I noted, Obama's margin may creep up another tenth of a percent or so. And that only reinforces the point I was making.
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Old 11-21-2012, 01:39 PM
 
Location: Texas
14,969 posts, read 14,218,645 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mictlantecuhtli View Post
3) Didn't you get the memo that undecideds always break for the challenger?
It is more likely historically than the opposite, but it's certainly not something that should be counted on or expected as this year's results are evidence of.

About 2000 - something to consider is that the Bush DWI story hit the news just a few days before the election.
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