The indefatigable Alan Abramowitz offers the following comparison of the track records of Gallup and Democracy Corps in the last presidential campaign. The results may surprise you and have some important implications for assessing recent poll results.
What should we make of the huge discrepancy in the results of recent national polls? On the one hand, the prestigious Gallup Poll has George Bush leading John Kerry by 13 points among likely voters. On the other hand, a Democracy Corps Poll released just a few days later shows that the race is a dead heat. Who should voters believe? Most people probably assume that the Gallup Poll is a lot more credible than a poll conducted by a partisan polling organization. After all, Democracy Corps is headed by two well-known Democratic political operatives: James Carville and Stan Greenberg. But if that’s what you’re thinking, an examination of the track record of these two polling organizations during the 2000 presidential campaign might make you change your mind.
On October 25, less than two weeks before the 2000 presidential election, Democracy Corps released a national poll showing Al Gore leading George Bush by 2 points. On the same day, Gallup’s national tracking poll showed George Bush leading Al Gore by 7 points. One day later, the Gallup tracking poll had Bush up by an incredible (literally)
13 points. Score one for Democracy Corps.
Okay, you’re probably thinking, maybe Gallup just had a bad day (or two or three). But six days later, on October 31, Democracy Corps released it’s final pre-election poll showing a tie in the presidential race. Gallup’s tracking poll that day still had Bush leading by 5 points.
Make it Democracy Corps 2, Gallup 0.
In its final poll, Gallup did have Bush’s lead down to only 2 points–still not as good as Democracy Corps’ poll released almost a week earlier.
Now I’m sure that Gallup and its defenders in the polling business would argue that Democracy Corps was just lucky and that the Gallup Poll was actually more accurate all along because it was picking up real shifts in voter sentiment in the final two weeks of the campaign. Maybe Al Gore really did go from a 13 point deficit on October 26 to a small lead on Election Day, maybe there really is a 6 point Republican advantage in party identification among registered voters right now, as Gallup is currently telling us, maybe Iraq will hold free and fair elections next January, and maybe the tooth fairy will pay you a visit tonight, but I wouldn’t count on it. If I had to put down a bet right now on which poll will prove to be closer to the actual results of the 2004 presidential election, Gallup or Democracy Corps, I’d put my money on James Carville and Stan Greenberg.
Oh, and if you’re looking for a backup poll, I’d recommend Fox News/Opinion Dynamics. Their final pre-election poll in 2000, released five days before the election, also showed a dead heat. Their latest 2004 poll has Bush leading Kerry by 2 points, right in line with the new Democracy Corps poll. And I don’t think anyone would accuse Fox News of having a pro-Kerry bias.
Pretty darn interesting. And if reading this has put you in the mood for a little DCorps analysis, you really must check out their latest analysis of “The State of the 2004 Race“. Highly worthwhile.