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Trolling The '06 Polling

Longtime Public Eye readers are well-aware of our wary and weary disposition toward political polling. They drive too much of the campaign coverage, are too pervasive and oftentimes suspect. Still, they are an established part of the political process and it won't be long before we start seeing an avalanche of surveys pertaining to the 2008 presidential election.

Too often, though, the polls come and go with relatively little focus on their accuracy. That's why we were pleased to see today's effort from Carl Bialik, the "Numbers Guy" for the Wall Street Journal. In a free online offering today, Bialik seeks to see which pollsters were on their game in 2006:

I crunched the results from pollsters on dozens of races, and found that some did indeed appear to be more accurate than others. I'll share my results later in the column, but before I do, I want to explain why I'm more reluctant to crown a winner than some of the polling firms were in their PR. The science of evaluating polls remains very much a work in progress.
Turns out that it's about as easy to judge accurate polling post-election as it is to explain the methods used in conducting them in the first place. More from Bialik:
While data are now easier to obtain, there remains disagreement about how to calculate accuracy. Is picking the winner enough? Most experts agree it isn't, and focus instead on measuring how close the predictions were to the actual spread -- the difference in percentage points between the two candidates. But what if a poll accurately predicts an election will be decided within a one-percentage-point margin, but incorrectly identified the victor?
It's well worth a read and points to several other sources for judging accuracy. With so many polls and pollsters infiltrating our understanding of political races, the more scrutiny, the better.
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