Multiple pollsters interviewed for this article on both sides of the aisle agreed that the spreadsheet is a long way from being useful and had concerns about the methodology, including PPP’s use of interactive voice response technology, which uses an automated voice instead of a live caller to speak with respondents.
But concerns aside, polls are not cheap, so why wouldn’t campaigns jump at the chance to get free numbers, particularly when Daily Kos/PPP conducts polls in individual races where partisan pollsters have clients?
“The ‘raw’ data is only useful if you are willing and able to take the time to convert it into something. It would take a lot of work to convert this into something that most people could look at,” another GOP pollster said, agreeing with Anzalone. “It never provides the sort of information that would help to make decisions about how to allocate resources or impact our message.”
When making critical campaign decisions, pollsters always rely on their own numbers.
“At the end of the day, what we do is less about the big numbers, little numbers and vote tallies than it is about messaging and strategic positioning,” Anzalone said.
There is a hope among partisan pollsters that the latest effort by Daily Kos/PPP will force other nonpartisan pollsters to release more information. Media and university polls frustrate campaigns because they can drive the media coverage of a race with little or no consequences for being inaccurate.
“If it weren’t for the impression it left on the media and potential donors, we would ignore this stuff completely,” one GOP pollster said about noncampaign polls. But with the overall cost of polling dropping dramatically, media polls aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
“In the end, I applaud them for releasing the data, and maybe it starts a trend,” Anzalone said.
“I wish it were the beginning of a trend, but I’m not sure how much confidence I have about that,” said Nate Silver, author of the number-crunching FiveThirtyEight blog at the New York Times. “The more detail you release, the more things people may find to criticize: For instance, they may be able to reverse-engineer your likely voter model or your weighting scheme, and pollsters tend to be protective about that stuff.”
Silver was on the front lines of questioning Strategic Vision, which consistently released polling numbers in key races, usually in the South. The polls helped shape the media narrative, but it was unclear who was paying for the surveys. After Silver’s analysis questioning whether polling calls were ever made, the firm stopped releasing numbers.
About the Daily Kos/PPP release, Silver added, “I agree that very few people would actually use the data — but it does contribute to transparency and credibility.”