Yesterday, WISH TV and Franklin College released the first independent poll of the mayoral election. It had something for everyone–Ballard is polling significantly less than 50%, typically a danger sign for an incumbent. On the other hand, he was ahead of Kennedy. The number of undecideds was huge this late in the race, and the early voters favored Kennedy by a wide margin, suggesting more enthusiasm for the Democrat.
Of course, when a poll has a 4.9% margin of error, any results should be viewed with some skepticism.
Actually, political polling has fallen on hard times. Last year, Brian Vargus–the Political Science Professor who has long been regarded as the local expert on political surveys–came to talk to my class. His message was that most political polling is worthless–that accurate, reliable surveys are prohibitively expensive, and campaigns and media outlets simply don’t do them anymore. That’s why you see such large margins of error.
A good poll will be representative of those actually likely to vote. That means including minority communities that are historically under-polled (Julia Carson routinely polled 15-20 points lower than her vote on election day). It means including younger voters who use cell phones exclusively (and accounting for the fact that they’re less likely to vote). In other words, a good poll requires both accurate sampling and the use of methodologically predictive algorithms.
According to this morning’s news, Vargus raised several questions about the WISH poll, based upon some internal inconsistencies. But even assuming it is reasonably accurate, what it tells us is what politicians have always known: what matters is the poll taken on election day, and that poll depends on who does the best job getting out their vote.
A recent study of 155 elections involving incumbents showed that voters who were undecided two weeks prior to the election broke 80%/20% for the challenger. Evidently, if the incumbent didn’t have them by then, he wasn’t going to get them. That’s good news for Kennedy–if her campaign gets those folks to the polls.
At the end of the day, turnout is the key.