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Newport on Clinton, Obama and the Black Vote


Gallup Guru Frank Newport posted Friday on the issue I had been watching all week: "Clinton, Obama and the Black Vote." He reviews most of the same numbers I did, but adds a few thoughts worth noting. One involves the imprecision of these relatively small sample sizes and some discussion of their treatment by the news media.

[A]ll of these estimates of the black vote are significantly less precise than the typical statistics reported for polls representing the broad population. That doesn't mean that - in the absence of other evidence - they shouldn't be used. It means that we need to be cautious in the conclusions we reach.

Earlier in the piece, Newport notes that Time withheld "specific numbers, a commendable approach based, no doubt, on concerns about releasing exact figures based on small sample sizes." His point brings us back to a question that I asked last week when The Washington Post first put the vote-by-race results in the headline of a front page story. Did that story deserve to be on the front page given the inherent imprecision of the relatively small sample size?

Put another way, if the shift to Obama in the Post/ABC poll is statistically significant, and if a shift to Obama among blacks is newsworthy, why not put it on the front page? Perhaps pollsters are just cautious by nature, but while I would have included those results as part of the story, I would have given them far less emphasis. The problem is that despite all efforts to emphasize the underlying statistical imprecision, specific numbers inevitably take on a life of their. The narrowing of the race among all voters was more modest, and given the other results out last week, the real shift among African-Americans was likely less than the 40 point net shifts measured by the Post/ABC polls. But that did not stop one Sunday talk show I watched (Chris Matthews) from pushing the 40 point shift as it if was the definitive result (no transcript available yet).

PS: Before moving on to other subjects, an update on some overlooked data. In addition to the data I cited last week, two other recent polls provided tabulations among African Americans.

  • The Cook-RT Strategies survey is now two weeks old (Feb. 15-18), but they conducted 70 interviews among African American Democrats and found Clinton leading Obama 45% to 22% (see CPR-7A, p. 16; the margin of error would be roughly +/- 12%).
  • The slightly older Pew Research Center survey (conducted Feb. 7-11) asked a different type of vote preference question. Respondents were asked whether there is a "good chance, some chance or no chance" that they would support each candidate. Among African American Democrats (sample size not specified), "63% reported a "good chance" of supporting Clinton and 50% a "good chance" of supporting Obama.

 

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