Top pollster Gallup will not be conducting presidential horse race polls during the 2016 primary season and may also abandon them for the general election. Instead, the company will focus on polls that test voters’ opinions on key issues.
According to Politico, the shift in priorities follows Gallup’s poor 2012 polling performance in which its polls overestimated Mitt Romney’s level of support. Politico’s Steven Shepard characterized Gallup as “the country’s gold standard for horse-race election polling ever since its legendary founder, George Gallup, predicted Franklin Roosevelt’s landslide reelection in 1936,” emphasizing the historic nature of the company’s current transition, which comes as many top pollsters question the usefulness of modern presidential horse race polls for applications such as narrowing down the participants in presidential debates.
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Gallup editor-in-chief Frank Newport said that “to date” his company has decided to abandon presidential primary horse race polling for the 2016 season and it has not yet decided whether to do them for the general election. “We believe to put our time and money and brainpower into understanding the issues and priorities is where we can most have an impact,” said Newport.
The New York Times notes that Newport told a gathering of reporters and pollsters in June of 2013 that “there is something going on in the industry, and Gallup was at the bottom of that [in 2012],” referring to the changing nature of polling as voters shift from using land lines to smartphones and web technology at varying rates across different demographics.
Though Gallup is reportedly beginning to experiment with internet and smartphone-based polling, questions remain about the effectiveness of such methods. Consequently, Newport said that for this election cycle the focus will be on “understanding where the public stands on the issues of the day, how they are reacting to the proposals put forth by the candidates, what it is they want the candidates to do, and what messages or images of the candidates are seeping into the public’s consciousness.”
Pew Research Center also appears to be shifting away from horse race polling, as the nonprofit pollster has not conducted a traditional horse race poll so far during this presidential cycle. Carroll Doherty, director of political research at Pew Research Center, confirmed the change and said, “We’re not going to track the horse race in the same way we have in the past.”
Rutgers professor and former American Association for Public Opinion Research president Cliff Zukin told Politico, “In this case, the problem is both cause and effect. The difficulty in doing this well has caused major players to not participate. That means there’s even less legitimacy [in presidential horse race polling] because people who know how to do this right aren’t doing it.”
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