Obama gets a boost after Gallup tweaks polling methodology
By Jonathan Easley - 10/11/12 12:12 PM ET
President Obama’s job approval rating spiked this month, according to Gallup’s daily tracking survey, but the jump may be the result of a shift in the polling outlet’s survey methodology.
Since late 2011, President Obama has held steady at just under 50 percent saying they approved of the job he was doing and just under 50 percent saying they disapproved.
Earlier this month, the trend line moved in favor of the president, and on Thursday it sat at 53 percent positive and 42 negative — a greater job approval rating than Obama enjoyed after the assassination of Osama bin Laden.
However, this movement may have been provoked by a change in the pollster’s methodology, without which the president may have seen no change in job approval.
“As we began this election tracking program on Oct.1, our methodologists also recommended modifying and updating several procedures,” Gallup CEO Frank Newport wrote on Wednesday.
Gallup increased the proportion of cellphones in its tracking survey from 40 percent, and now splits its calls to cellphones and land lines evenly. Newport defended the switch, saying it was an attempt to “stay consistent with changes in the communication behavior and habits of those we are interviewing.”
“Gallup switched primarily to telephone interviewing a few decades ago based on the increased penetration of phones in American households and the increased costs of going into Americans’ homes for in-person interviewing,” Newport wrote. “Now we know, based on government statistics (and what we observe around us), that Americans are shifting rapidly from reliance on landline phones to mobile devices.”
Still, the timing of the change — one month out from the presidential election — has some on the right exasperated.
“What I can say is that it's problematic to alter one's methodological approach to polling elections just five weeks before the biggest election in a generation,” writes Jay Cost, polling analyst for the conservative Weekly Standard. “In fact, I think this is a highly inopportune time to make such a change; do it in the summer of 2012 or the winter of 2013, but for goodness sake not the fall of 2012!”
The controversy will likely be fuel for those conservatives who claimed polls from earlier in the cycle were skewed in favor of Democrats.
The Romney campaign and other Republicans said polls showing Obama with a significant lead over their candidate were inaccurate.
They argued many mainstream polls skewed in Obama’s favor because of sample sizes that base 2012 turnout projections on 2008, when Democrats — as well as Hispanics, blacks and young voters in particular — turned out in record numbers.
“I don’t think [the polls] reflect the composition of what 2012 is going to look like,” Romney pollster Neil Newhouse told The Hill in an interview.
Democrats countered that the sample sizes used in polls are accurate because there is no reason to think the makeup of the 2012 electorate will be proportionately different than in 2008.
They also point to census data that shows minorities making up a greater share of the population, something driven by the surging Hispanic population. In addition, they argued that pollsters called a disproportionate number of land lines, saying that cellphone users tend to lean Democratic.
Of course, with Romney’s recent spike in the polls, the argument cuts both ways. Some on the left are now pointing to the party identification sizes in polls such as Pew Research’s latest, where the number of Republicans surveyed surged to outpace Democrats.