Monday, December 11, 2017


Nate Silver has published a long piece on the Alabama Senate polls, which are predicting everything from a Roy Moore blowout to a Doug Jones blowout. But I remain pessimistic, because of this:
Most polls of the state have been made using automated scripts (these are sometimes also called IVR or “robopolls”). These polls have generally shown Moore ahead and closing strongly toward the end of the campaign, such as the Emerson College poll on Monday that showed Moore leading by 9 points. Recent automated polls from Trafalgar Group, JMC Analytics and Polling, Gravis Marketing and Strategy Research have also shown Moore with the lead.

But when traditional, live-caller polls have weighed in — although these polls have been few and far between — they’ve shown a much different result. A Monmouth University survey released on Monday showed a tied race. Fox News’s final poll of the race, also released on Monday, showed Jones ahead by 10 percentage points. An earlier Fox News survey also had Jones comfortably ahead, while a Washington Post poll from late November had Jones up 3 points at a time when most other polls showed the race swinging back to Moore. And a poll conducted for the National Republican Senatorial Committee in mid-November — possibly released to the public in an effort to get Moore to withdraw from the race — also showed Jones well ahead.
So polls in which respondents talk to a live caller are favoring Jones. That suggests to me that some Republican voters don't want to tell a live human being -- quite possibly someone who sounds like a Yankee -- that they're voting for Roy Moore, whereas they're more willing to acknowledge that in a robo-poll. Silver notes that in recent elections we haven't seen evidence of "shy voters," but media reports are telling us that Alabamans are acutely aware of how the rest of the country is judging them. If there are going to be "shy voters" in any election, I think it's going to be this one.

I could be wrong, but reluctance to talk to a live pollster might explain the surprising Democratic skew in the two recent Fox polls I've expressed doubt about. It could also be that some Republicans just don't want to participate at all in this election, but in that case I think you'd see Jones doing better in other polls.

Automated polls have their own biases, as Silver notes -- they can't legally call cellphones. It's my understanding that older people are much more likely to have landlines than the young (and older people are more likely to favor Moore). But older people vote more, too, so I'm not ure how much that's skewing the results.

My conclusion is that Moore's going to win -- unless apparent "shy voters" shy away from the polls altogether.

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