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When “likely voters” lie

Tuesday, Dec 20, 2011 - Posted by Rich Miller

* After the 2008 election, a Democratic polling firm named Greenberg Quinlan Rosner went back and compared the names of 12,979 people who had answered polls that year and compared them to a voter file. Here’s what they found

Eighty-seven percent of those who described themselves as “almost certain to vote” that November had done so, compared to 74 percent of those who said they “probably” would. […]

They also looked up the records of those who had said they “will not vote,” an answer that prompts the operator to politely end the call and dial someone else. Greenberg Quinlan had excluded those people from their surveys, but Aida and Rogers found they were lying too, and at a higher rate than those who identified themselves as certain voters. Despite claiming they would not cast a ballot, 55 percent had. More than half the people whom Greenberg Quinlan call-center operators kicked off the line should not have been.

In other words, the “likely voter” screen used by just about every “public” media pollster doesn’t work very well. People lie, especially those who tell pollsters that they aren’t voting.

* The pros who work for campaigns (and, therefore, have much bigger budgets) don’t usually trust self-identification. Instead, they use voter file lists and other data to make sure they’re calling the likeliest of voters. And it works out better…

Among respondents who had voted in both of the previous two elections, 93 percent of those who said they would vote did so; only 24 percent of those who said they would not vote actually failed to vote. (A similar pattern held among those who had not voted in the past two elections.)

* So why do people say they’re not voting? Maybe they just don’t want to participate in the poll, or…

One possible reason that regular voters might consistently declare their lack of interest in voting, Aida and Rogers speculate, is “to convey disaffection toward the political process rather than a sincere lack of intention to vote.” The question of whether it’s better to include such people in a poll or just leave them out altogether remains open. “If I can’t trust them to be honest about whether they’re going to vote or not,” asks McHenry, “how can I trust them on all the other questions I want to ask them?”

* Meanwhile, US Sen. Mark Kirk and Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady talked to ABC7 about the failure of the court challenge to the Democratic-drawn district map

“The map has worked out far better than the other side thought because of how unpopular the governor is and now the growing unpopularity of the president,” Senator Mark Kirk, Republican, said. […]

“Even the court in its ruling said it was a blatantly political map. For legal reasons they said they couldn’t overturn it, or set up a new map, so we’re just gonna keep doing what we’ve been doing… setting up the campaigns,” Pat Brady, Illinois Republican Party, said.

* Roundup…

* ADDED: Judge rejects plea to stop toll hike

* State pardons — some swift, others stall

* Editorial: Lawmakers shrug off those who can’t lobby

* Measure that prevents layoffs is signed into law

* Cross: A realistic plan to create jobs for Illinois families

* ‘He knows the ins and outs’: Group admits Sen. Clayborne helped on inmate deal

* Quinn stays quiet on future of Chicago speed cameras

* Rep. Walsh on crusade for Christmas, Hanukkah mailing

* Long expected but no less dreaded, shutdown of 32 US power plants to cost towns jobs, taxes

* Elmhurst native trying to get on track for NASCAR Hall of Fame


  1. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Tuesday, Dec 20, 11 @ 1:42 pm:

    Dear Congressman Walsh -

    You cant whine about prohibitions against using taxpayer dollars to mail your Christmas cards and still call yourself a fiscal conservative.

    Happy Christmas,


  2. - Shore - Tuesday, Dec 20, 11 @ 1:43 pm:

    you probably know this but, stan greenberg is married to congresswoman rosa delauro, their basement renter between 2003 and 2009 was rahm emanuel, he’s not a nobody and is a “pro”.

    The spin from Kirk and Brady is nice but the party lost a gubernatorial race it should have won, couldn’t take a house of the state legislature-even new york republicans control their state senate, and so 1-5 republican house members aren’t going back to congress and will face an uphill fight to retake those lost seats. Even to republicans like myself the post court case spin sort of falls flat.

  3. - JN - Tuesday, Dec 20, 11 @ 1:58 pm:

    ==Long expected but no less dreaded, shutdown of 32 US power plants to cost towns jobs, taxes==

    No link in this roundup item…?

  4. - PublicServant - Tuesday, Dec 20, 11 @ 2:03 pm:

    I never respond to pollsters questions. To me it’s intrusive, and none of their business. We have a secret ballot for a reason. Secondly, just because they tell me their independent pollsters, how do I know that? Our poor precinct captain has been coming to my door for years asking if they can “count on my vote” for their candidate. I say, sorry, can’t answer that.

    Funny thing though…then my garbage doesn’t get picked up for a week or two. Must just be a coincidence, I’m sure.

  5. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Dec 20, 11 @ 2:05 pm:

    Kirk today:

    –“The map has worked out far better than the other side thought because of how unpopular the governor is and now the growing unpopularity of the president,” Senator Mark Kirk, Republican, said. […]–

    Bloomberg yesterday:

    –Forty-nine percent of Americans approve of how Obama is handling his job, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released last night — the highest figure for the survey since March, with the exception of a short-lived bounce in May that followed the death of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.–

    Rasmussen, Dec. 1:

    –Ratings for Congress now match the lowest levels ever recorded and a solid plurality continue to believe that most Members of Congress are corrupt.

    –The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just six percent (6%) of Likely U.S. Voters rate the job Congress is doing as good or excellent. Sixty-eight percent (68%) view Congress’ job performance as poor. (To see survey question wording, click here.) –

    Ratings for Congress now match the lowest levels ever recorded and a solid plurality continue to believe that most Members of Congress are corrupt.

    The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just six percent (6%) of Likely U.S. Voters rate the job Congress is doing as good or excellent. Sixty-eight percent (68%) view Congress’ job performance as poor. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

  6. - Carl Nyberg - Tuesday, Dec 20, 11 @ 2:12 pm:

    I don’t put much stock in what’s going on in Mark Kirk’s head. He has some issues in this department.

    I’m pretty sure Democrats can live with Mark Kirk believing the map isn’t working, if, when votes on counted after the election, the Democrats win the districts they are hoping and expecting to win.

  7. - Because I say so... - Tuesday, Dec 20, 11 @ 2:28 pm:

    I had a political science professor in college that always told his students to lie to pollsters.

  8. - Cassiopeia - Tuesday, Dec 20, 11 @ 2:31 pm:

    The people who make a living off of polling and the political organizations who have developed a reliance on polls have been trying to keep their polling methodologies relevant but I think they gloss over the true problems in achieving randomness tied to actual voters. Too many unlisted land numbers—almost 50% in Chicago metro. Combine this with the huge numbers of cell phones, especially those with an area code that doesn’t match the voters residence.

    But they keep the myth alive because they are either getting paid to conduct polls and/or they haven’t figured out what else to do.

  9. - Ray del Camino - Tuesday, Dec 20, 11 @ 2:32 pm:

    And yet, somehow, the polls conducted near the end of election campaigns systematically do a very good job of mirroring the actual result. The good ones also tend to have very similar results when compared with each other over time.

    Perhaps the lying does not have a systematic bias; rather it balances out.

    Polls aren’t perfect, but they’re the best we’ve got.

  10. - Ray del Camino - Tuesday, Dec 20, 11 @ 2:34 pm:


    Random-digit-dialing gets unlisted numbers for the pollsters; many are including cell phones in their samples these days.

  11. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Dec 20, 11 @ 2:37 pm:

    Ray, I’m not sure how well that works in smaller districts, like legislative and even some urban congressional districts.

  12. - Cheryl44 - Tuesday, Dec 20, 11 @ 2:51 pm:

    Dear Senator Kirk:

    Shut up.

  13. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Dec 20, 11 @ 3:03 pm:

    Carl, for a guy who portrays himself as a deep thinker, Kirk says some very strange things.

    Here’s a doozy from today’s Trib on what he calls Ron Paul’s “isolationist” foreign policy.

    –”I do not think the United States should adopt a new 21st Century policy of isolationism. I think the 20th Century has two painful examples of what isolationism leads to for the United States—that’s Pearl Harbor after the isolationism of the 1930s and Sept. 11, after we pulled out of Afghanistan,” said Kirk. “We realized that isolationism can’t work and I don’t think it can work here.”–

    First of all, it’s unclear how “isolationism” provokes attacks.

    Secondly, while there was a strong isolationist movement in the 1930s, American policy toward Japan hardly reflected that.

    By Pearl Harbor, the United States had been arming and advising the Chinese nationalists, had moved McCarthur and more troops to the Phillipines, had moved the Pacific fleet forward from San Diego to Pearl Harbor and had instituted an oil embargo against Japan.

    Hardly isolationist.

    As to what he’s talking about regarding “isolationism” and 9/11, I can’t begin to understand.

    I don’t recall “pulling out of Afghantistan” in the 20th Century. Perhaps he’s referring to the lack of diplomatic relations with the Taliban after they took over.

    The U.S. had and has its hands in virtually every spot on the globe since WWII.

    Bin-Laden said the attack was to drive United States forces and influence out of Muslim countries, specifically Saudi Arabia.

    Hardly isolationist.

  14. - And I Approved This Message - Tuesday, Dec 20, 11 @ 3:04 pm:

    Mike Royko regularly told readers to lie to exit pollsters. It would be, he once wrote, “a good lie, a worthwhile lie, a lie that will put a bounce in your step and a giggle in your voice and make you feel wonderful.” Great stuff.

  15. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Dec 20, 11 @ 5:05 pm:

    Dear Mr. Kirk:

    Time for another tweet! They’re almost hitting the obnoxious level and questionable topics your press releases hit during your campaign. Don’t slack off now!

  16. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Dec 20, 11 @ 5:07 pm:

    Sorry, that should have read “…QUALITY of questionable topics….”

  17. - just sayin' - Tuesday, Dec 20, 11 @ 5:30 pm:

    Pat Brady says he’s gonna keep “doing what we’ve been doing.”

    So basically, a huge bunch of nothing. Seriously, why is Pat Brady still IL GOP chair? He’s clearly clueless and way over his head.

  18. - Wilson Pickett - Tuesday, Dec 20, 11 @ 6:01 pm:

    Regarding “State Pardons–some swift, others stall”—-There is something about pardons by an Illinois politician that is just “unsettling” to me. This lady in the story seems to regret having killed a man and perhaps it was a justifiable killing done for her own self-defense. But, it somehow seems to me (and I’ll bet quite a few others) that “a truth” or “a factual event” that once did occur was suddenly swept under a rug. Why? It was because one man (Pat Quinn) decided that “it was his legal right” (not his Moral right)to change history in the history books and “try to hide a truth”.

    Then, (to make it even more creepy or strangely unsettling), the uplifting story above it tells readers how three people (who committed an evil and ghoulish act in 1995 pertaining to Eli Evans and his deceased mother Debra Evans)have had their death sentences commuted by an act of a convicted felon/politician named George Ryan (who just happens to be sitting in prison himself).Sorry, Rod.Didn’t mean to pick on a Republican political felon rather than beat up on a Democratic political felon since I consider you all to be “God’s creatures & equally corrupt”. Governor Quinn could possibly commute the sentences of these three animals (for political reasons or his normal political grandstanding and playing God)and release them from prison at any time. With these state gubernatorial pardons it is, “Poof!Now you see it-now you don’t!” I decree that it didn’t happen. In this other woman’s case (who admitted killing her husband with a knife), Quinn is acting as “Pat Quinn-The magical “stain remover” for cleaning off people’s souls. Personally, I feel no one individual (especially an Illinois politician) should have the power overturn a sentence. What happened is actually “a fact” and not a supposition-it happened-a pardon does not make what happened go away (except on paper).
    Neither a Governor or President should be able to re-write history or grant pardons when they feel like doing so.

  19. - Retired Non-Union Guy - Tuesday, Dec 20, 11 @ 6:38 pm:

    Between letters and actual face time, the politicians I support know what I think and how I will likely vote. I never answer phone calls from unknown numbers; they can leave a message. I don’t talk to pollsters. If one accidentally gets through, I usually hang up … unless I’m in the mood to play games and lie like crazy when answering their questions.

  20. - CircularFiringSquad - Tuesday, Dec 20, 11 @ 6:42 pm:

    Capt Fax
    Thanks for linking to the Fred Lorezen NASCAR Hall of Fame story. Here is another piece. IL NASCAR fans might want to spend a moment emailing friends to help this effort grow. The state needs more HOF inductees and this may be our only NASCAR entry

  21. - Rich - Tuesday, Dec 20, 11 @ 11:39 pm:

    Has it occurred to anyone that many, if not most of the respondents might not be lying? The very act of polling people might plant a seed that ends up with them voting, and certain-to-voters might be undecideds who end up not voting because they never end up deciding. They could also be like people who start a diet: they absolutely mean to eat less and exercise, but a week later it’s chips and dip while watching The Biggest Loser. That’s not lying, it’s failure.

  22. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Dec 21, 11 @ 12:53 am:

    =Has it occurred to anyone that many, if not most of the respondents might not be lying?=

    Please press 1 if you have absolutely no opinion simply because you don’t want to participate in the development of more “effective” messaging designed to change your mind to meet OUR specific needs, which are probably in direct conflict with YOURS.

    1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1

    This ends our survey at this time. Thank you.

  23. - Marty - Wednesday, Dec 21, 11 @ 6:26 am:

    Asking someone about an event some weeks or months in te future and getting:

    Almost certain = 87%
    Probably = 74%
    Probably not = 55%

    I don’t see any great intent to deceive, here. Pollsters should just adjust how they treat these respondents. Ask those “probably nots” a few followup questions. Weight the responses for this. The problem isn’t the people, its the polls.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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