Thursday, March 18, 2010


Polling Standards at the New York Times?

When I visited the Daily Kos blog this afternoon, I was greeted by the following headline "Chamber of Commerce Skews Polling in Dem Swing Districts" linking to a New York Times blog piece. In the Times piece, author Robb Mandelbaum explains that the Times cannot publish results from the partisan Chamber surveys because

Instead of randomly selecting their respondents, the Chamber of Commerce sampled from voter lists, a practice The New York Times and many other media pollsters do not endorse because the lists are often outdated and are generally not representative -- they do not include unlisted telephone numbers, for example.

In other words, the New York Times claims it will not publish polls conducted using registration based list sampling (RBS).

As I am not familiar with the New York Times' "stringent standards" for publishing poll results, I was admittedly perplexed when I read about the New York Times' opposition to RBS polling. Why? Because I had seen them publish polls in the past that use RBS.

Just today, in fact, the Times published an RBS result in an a blog discussing Senator Barbara Boxer's bid for re-election:

'A new Field Poll shows that the three candidates hoping to unseat Senator Barbara Boxer have gained ground. Senator Boxer, who is in her third term, trails Tom Campbell, a former congressman, 44 to 43 percent, and leads Carly Fiorina, the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, 45 to 44 percent.'

The Field Poll, one of the oldest and most widely respected polling firms in California, uses RBS technology "when conducting surveys of the state's registered voter population". A search of the New York Times' archive reveals 20 mentions of the Field Poll in the last 12 months.

The Field Poll is not the only firm to use RBS technology. The vaunted pre-caucus Iowa Poll conducted by Ann Selzer rode RBS to being the only poll to predict a Kerry/Edwards 1-2 finish in the 2004 Democratic Iowa Caucus, and it accurately projected Obama and Huckabee victories in the 2008 Iowa Caucuses. The New York Times has quoted Selzer's pre-caucus polls.

Of course, I would still be somewhat suspicious of the Chamber of Commerce sponsored polls, and Mandelbaum implies the Times is too. They are after all polls conducted by a Republican leaning firm for an organization against the current healthcare reform bill. But for the New York Times' to claim they never publish RBS polls is laughable.

Indeed, It appears that the Times accepts list based samples in some instances but not others. So what is the New York Times' standard for publishing RBS polls?

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