Brian Schaffner | November 4, 2009
A friend sent me a couple of links earlier pointing to pundits and pollsters who are taking last night's results as evidence for the merits of IVR polling. First off, as Mark noted earlier, it is a bit too early to be making such comparisons. With regard to the claims being made about IVR polling in particular, I would add the following points:
First, there is no way to control for other reasons that these polls might have generated different results, including different approaches to screening for likely voters and how undecideds are dealt with. With regard to the latter issue, it is important to note that the pollsters using live interviewing in New Jersey were showing more than twice the percentage of undecideds as those using IVR.
This leads to a second important point (related to the first): comparing these pollsters based on the final result presupposes that each pollster that has been entered into this fictitious competition was actually trying to get the final result correct in the first place. If that was the goal, then it seems as though each polling firm would have allocated all of their undecided respondents into one camp or another.
Third, one of the reasons for concerns with IVR polling is that citizens with only a cell phone cannot be reached by these pollsters and these citizens now comprise at least one-fifth of the population. Yet, while the cell-only problem may generally be an issue for IVR technology (and for live interview pollsters who aren't calling cell phones), it is less of a problem for polling on elections, and particularly in low turnout elections. This is because the types of people that do not have landlines are less likely to be voters (and particularly less likely to be voting in low turnout elections). Ultimately, an off-year low turnout election may actually be less of a challenge for IVR-based polls because the non-coverage bias should be smaller for these contests. Where these polls may run into greater challenges is when they attempt to make inferences about the American public rather than registered (or likely) voters.