Behind the scenes with a pollster who wants to know who you’re voting for
I Voted stickers sit on a table during early voting for the Nov. 6th election, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012, at the Davenport Public Library in Davenport, Iowa. Early voting for the Nov. 6th election likely will set an Iowa record, as presidential candidates seek to lock-in votes in the battleground state. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
If you’re a registered voter, you’ve probably gotten a call or four from Public Policy Polling asking you to rate the favorability of President Obama and Mitt Romney. The North Carolina polling firm is one of many watching New Hampshire and other swing state’s closely for clues to the outcome of the presidential election.
Founded in 2001, Public Policy Polling didn’t get involved in national politics until 2008 and does only the automated polls, meaning you’ll hear a recorded voice - not a live person - when you take their call. The company has three full-time employees who write their poll questions themselves. And if you think their calls with end on election day you’re wrong. They’re already polling on 2013 and 2014 political races. Right after the election, they’ll add the next presidential race to their list, pitting the winner in November with likely opponents.
We caught up with Dustin Ingalls, the firm’s assistant director, last week to find out how they organize their questions; what Granite State voters are thinking; and why pollsters also seem to call at suppertime.
How do you write your questions to avoid influencing the answer?
Typically we just say do you approve or disapprove of President Obama’s job performance? Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Mitt Romney?
What about the order of your questions. Does that matter?
Yes. When you’re polling, you would first ask about approval rating without mentioning the candidate’s party identification. Then you would say who the candidates are and mention their party identification. It would be, the candidates for president are Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney. If the election was today, who would you vote for?
If you asked that question first and mentioned a candidate’s party identification, it could influence how they voted on approval rating.
So saying the words Democrat or Republican could influence an person’s answer on approval rating in a way that just identifying the candidates by name wouldn’t?
How do you decide who to call?
Different polling firms do it differently. Some do random digit dialing. We buy lists of registered voters (and their phone numbers) and a list of voters who voted in an election within the last three years. That way we are actually calling registered voters. And we call several thousand numbers to get an ultimate sample between 600 and 1,200 people, depending on the state. The number of calls we make also depends on the response rate. That gets better as it gets closer to the election.
So even though people say they are beyond sick of calls from pollsters, more respond now because they are paying more attention to the election?
It seems like there used to be just the Gallup poll. Now it feels like dozens of firms are in the business. Why has it grown so much?
Rasmussen (Reports) was founded in the 1990s and it was just them. Then we came on the scene and there was just a few of us. The cost of live interviewing (where an actual person calls with questions) is still high. But the cost for automated polling has gone down. And you see a lot more automated firms now.
More and more people are giving up their land lines for cell phones. Is that a challenge for pollsters?
It is emerging as a problem. Typically, the younger (voters) have cell phones. And it’s easier to reach an older person for a poll because they have a land line. So, we weight the results to account for that. We don’t just spit out the raw data.
So, if younger voters make up a bigger part of a state’s population than is reflected in your results, you can make up for that by weighting the results by demographic?
Lets talk about New Hampshire.
“It’s definitely one of those really close states. We polled there two weeks ago and Romney was up by one. Before that, Obama had been up by one or two. We haven’t polled there since last week’s debate. We have polled on gubernatorial race too. Maggie Hassan was up to by two points two weeks ago.
Will Granite Staters with land lines hear from you again before election day?
Given that this race is shifting daily, how do you keep your results current?
“We are polling more often. In the month leading up to an election, we poll in two states every weekend. In the last couple of weeks, we’ve been polling in three or four, and now we are polling in six states at least. That means less time between polling. So we are polling every other week or every week.
You are considered a “Democratic” polling firm. Why is that?
When we do private client work, we only work for Democratic or progressive clients. But when we do these public polls for an election, they are neither Democratic or Republican. That is work we are doing on our own.
Why do pollsters call just as I’m sitting down to supper?
We tend to poll several times over a few days to give different people opportunities to answer. Usually we’ll launch an evening call around dinner time. But we also call up to six or seven times at different times of the day.
So, do you answer other firms’s polling calls?
I only have a cell phone, and I don’t pick up unless I recognize the number. So, I’ve actually never been polled.
If you want to see what New Hamsphire voters have told Public Policy Polling in recent polls, visit publicpolicypolling.com and click New Hamsphire on the map.
(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)