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A New Year, And New Polling Challenges

In her new Poll Positions column today, CBS News director of surveys Kathy Frankovic examines the challenges pollsters might encounter when evaluating President-elect Barack Obama's administration.

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
She asks: "Did we learn anything in 2008 election campaign polling that will help us measure the public's assessment of the new administration in Washington?"

Frankovic examines two hypothesis people had about pre-election polls – troubles reaching people who only use cell phones and the "Bradley effect" – and finds good news on both fronts.

Here is a selection from her column:

We do know something about those who ended up voting. And while the wireless-only voters were different, the differences that Pew found in the summer time didn't show up on Election Day. According to the NEP national exit polls, at least 14 percent of all voters claimed they could be reached only on cell phones, and their support for Barack Obama – by a 23 point margin of 61 percent to 38 percent -- made them very different from other voters.

However, much of that difference in cell-phone only voters was because (as we've known) wireless-only people are demographically different: three in four were under the age of 45, and more than four in ten were under 30. On Election Day, they were more likely than other voters to be minority: African-American and Hispanic.

But among those young voters, whether they could be reached only by landline or only by cell phone or by both, there were hardly any differences in voting preference. The same was true for African-American voters. That's an interesting result, as it suggests that the old-fashioned correction for non-representation of those with only cell phones --weighting on demographic qualities like race and age -- would have worked just fine in the pre-2008 election polls when it came to predicting the vote. Special efforts to reach cell phone only households may only have served to exaggerate Obama's lead.

The other 2008 polling discussion with implications for the Obama Presidency is the long-running debate about the so-called "Bradley Effect," the belief that Americans will lie about their support of an African-American politician, saying they will vote for him even when they won't.

Could it possibly affect assessments the public gives about a "President Obama?" There is a simple answer for this: the "Bradley effect" didn't show up in 2008, no matter how much people wanted to talk about it (there are 234,000 Google hits for "Bradley effect" and Obama).

In fact, it was probably the most over-hyped polling story of last year. If there ever was a "Bradley effect," Daniel J. Hopkins demonstrated, it was gone by the early 1990's.

That's good polling news for 2009 and beyond: Voters who were not voting for candidate Obama in 2008 were perfectly capable of reporting that to pollsters; Americans who disapprove of how President Obama handles his job should have no problem saying that, too.

Click here to read the whole column.

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