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Pew: Can We Trust What Polls Say About Obama's Prospects?

Topics: 2008 , The 2008 Race

Against the backdrop of Barack Obama's strong showing in recent national general election head-to-head polls, the Pew Research Center's Scott Keeter and Nilanthi Samaranayake have posted a lengthy analysis of whether polls can be trusted to measure support for African American candidates. They provide data from a series of statewide races pitting black candidates against white in the 1980s and early 1990s in which surveys consistently underestimated support for the white candidates. However, they also show that polls conducted in five races last year generally avoided such problems, while national polls show growing willingness of Americans to support an African American candidacy. Their conclusion:

Taken together, the accuracy of the polling in these five biracial elections suggests that the problems that bedeviled polling in the 1980s and early 1990s may no longer be so serious. This change is not a result of broader improvements in the methodology of election polling; most election polls in the earlier period were competently done and generally performed well in predicting election outcomes.

The experience of the 2006 elections indicates that racism may be less of a factor in public judgments about African American candidates than it was 10 or 20 years ago.

The Pew analysis provides the most comprehensive listing I've seen of how polls have performed in such races and is therefore well worth the click for those scrutinizing the early 2006 horse races results.

 

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