The 2014 Polls And The 2012 Exit Polls


2014 was, as you have probably heard by now, not the best year for polling; even Nate Silver concluded not only that the polls were skewed to overstate the performance of Democrats, but that it was, on average, tied with 2002 as the second-worst polling year for Senate races since 1990 (the worst was 1998). That couldn’t be predicted before the election, but a major reason why it might be true was: that too many pollsters were still using a 2012 turnout model, and were afraid that departing from that would open them to criticism of “unskewing” the electorate, undercounting non-white voters and underestimating the Democrats’ vaunted turnout operation. And there was a particular operational reason why, as Erick explained about 10 days before the election:

[A]ll the states I have noticed that have wildly fluctuating polls are also states that had no exit polling in 2012. The national consortium decided they did not need to poll those states and could save money.

Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming had no exit polling.

…I remember enough of the problems from 2012 and the analysis thereof to wonder if not having a 2012 baseline from the exit polling is making a difference. Pollsters are having a harder time figuring out the composition of the electorate. And, if they use outside surveys from 2012, the only good ones were from left-leaning partisan groups. Their turnout models were well done, but also agenda driven showing more Democrats than actually showed up.

…[N]o one knows who will show up and the most cautious pollsters are desperate to not turn into a Rasmussen or Gallup 2012.

In retrospect, it seems that this may be precisely what happened:

A senior Republican strategist who helped direct the GOP’s midterm strategy speculated that media outlets weren’t willing to spend enough on their polls to produce a product that was as detailed as the private, more accurate partisan surveys. This Republican also believes that public pollsters in general were “vulnerable and susceptible” to the arguments Democrats were making about expanding the electorate, given what the party achieved in 2012.

“The Democrats kept telling us they had a gold-plated ground game,” added Republican pollster Wes Anderson, who worked on Sen.-Elect Rep. Tom Cotton …read more    

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