Pollsters 2012: Winners and Losers


Voters cast their ballots on November 6, 2012. Photograph by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Nate Silver, as we’ve all reported, got it right.

The statistical brain behind the New York Times’s “Five Thirty Eight”  blog predicted that President Barack Obama would draw 50.8 percent of the popular vote on Nov. 6 — the president won 50.6 percent to Republican Mitt Romney’s 47.8 percent. Silver called all the states, including a virtual tie in Florida that ended with a 74,000-vote margin of victory for Obama with 8.4 million votes counted in the Sunshine State.

Now Silver has published an unforgiving score-card on how the pollsters fared.

He evaluated the work of the two dozen firms that issued at least five surveys in the final three weeks.

The winners: TIPP, a national tracking poll for Investors’ Business Daily that uses phone calls for its surveys came in first, with 11 polls, and an average error ran 0.9. Google Consumer Surveys, which uses the Internet, came in second, at 1.6.

Among the telephone pollsters who conducted a significant number of state-by-state surveys, CNN/Opinion Research scored well, at 1.9.

All these polls were within one point of portraying the party breakdown between Republicans and Democrats.

The losers: The long-venerable Gallup organization sits at the bottom of a list of 23 pollsters, with an average error of 7.2 and a Republican-leaning bias of 7.2. Gallup’s daily tracking surveys had shown a significant advantage for Romney before they were suspended during the storm called Sandy. They resumed shortly before Election Day showing a narrower advantage for Romney among likely voters.

Close behind Gallup: Washington, D.C., and Jacksonville, Florida-based Mason-Dixon Polling and Research, which missed the contest in Florida by several points, portraying a significant advantage for Romney heading into the election there. Obama won by 0.9 percent in Florida. Manchester, N.H.-based American Research Group came in third-to-last. Silver suggests that Mason-Dixon “might be given a pass” with a decent track record — offering no such charity for American Research.  Rasmussen Reports followed fourth from last.

Gallup today shows Obama’s job-approval rating at 52 percent — understandable, considering he won 51 percent of the vote.

A couple of college-based surveys, ones by Quinnipiac University and Marist College, fared about in the middle of the pack.

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