Mark Blumenthal | December 31, 2007
Topics: 2008 , IVR , IVR Polls , Push "Polls" , Response Rates , The 2008 Race
Washington Post polling director Jon Cohen reported an easily overlooked but important statistic yesterday, especially to anyone thinking about the reliability of the last round of Iowa polls. Using the Iowa tables here at pollster.com, he determined that public polls in Iowa this year have interviewed nearly 80,000 "likely caucus goer" respondents:
As a ratio of voters polled to expected turnout, this must be something of a record. (In 2004 about 120,000 people participated in the Democratic caucuses, and in 2000 about 90,000 in the GOP contest.)
And it's not just the public pollsters calling. Campaigns have been known to set up a phone bank or two to gauge opinion, solicit support and cajole voters to actually show up and spend hours caucusing in the middle of winter.
A month-and-a-half ago, already deep into the "silly season" but well before the final stretch, eight in 10 likely Democratic caucus goers and nearly six in 10 on the GOP side said they'd been called on the telephone by at least one of the campaigns. And Pew reported the pervasive use of robo-calls (though most Iowans who get such automated calls about the campaign said they usually hang up).
I can add two confirming anecdotes. The first comes from a comment left by "Randy Iowa" here at Pollster just last night:
Is there a Do Not Call list that i can get on? I have received a survey call everyday this week and at least one candidate has called everyday as well.
I emailed Randy, and sure enough, he is an Iowa voter. He says that "80%" of the calls he received were automated. Interestingly, he is also a non-affiliated voter (not registered with a party) registered independent who has never participated in a caucus (though has "voted Republican my entire life"). (By the way, the short answer to Randy is no. Pollsters and political campaigns are exempt from the federal do not call restrictions, though at least one group is trying to change that).
I wonder how many calls those identified as past caucus goers are getting? Here is one possible answer in he form of an email I received about an hour ago from a "help desk" operator at a major residential telephone company. He apparently assumed (mistakenly) that Pollster.com conducts surveys:
Subject: Please stop calling this customer
This customer is getting upwards of 20 calls a day from automated poll services, she lives in Iowa and her phone number is 563-[redacted]. Please stop calling her.
Not surprisingly, the recipient of the calls lives near Davenport Iowa.
Aside from spectacle of the sheer volume of "poll" calls, we might want to think about what all that calling is doing the the response rates the real pollsters are getting. And if pollsters are having a harder time getting voters to respond this week, are those suddenly reluctant voters skewing the results? We may never know, of course, but if nothing else, I would be very nervous were I using an automated (IVR) methodology to collect survey data in Iowa right now. More important: I wonder how many many Iowans have been ignoring their ringing phones altogether the last few days?