Poll data access is stone-age
November 4, 2012 6 Comments
Given the importance of state polls in
fiddling around with modeling the electoral-vote outcome, I’ve noticed a somewhat shocking gap in news coverage:
It’s kinda hard to get actual state poll data by pollster. You know, something HIGHLY ADVANCED like
but with all the most up-to-date numbers filled in.
You can go to RealClearPolitics and get their ‘averaged polls’. I don’t know which pollsters they average. I don’t know when/how often they update the averages. And they seem to pick and choose which states they feel like showing and which they don’t bother showing because they’re ‘safe’.
You can go to Rasmussen and hover your mouse over a map of the US. If you’re careful and have good hand-eye coordination, some numbers will pop up. To one digit (like “Romney 50 – Obama 47″). I guess you have to do this 51 times to populate the whole table manually. (?!)
I assume you could go to other pollsters one by one and do something similar. Scrape out data manually, often state by state (each state on its own separate page for your added convenience!).
But where can you go just to freaking get all the raw data at once?
You can read news articles with 7 paragraphs of fluff and two quotes, whose actual content is basically just ‘Gallup, updated poll, state XX, Obama Y% Romney Z%’. The actual numbers being reported in paragraph 5.
You can go to a major commercial news site and they might have a map with flash animation and some graphs. They might arrange states into ‘safe’, ‘leans’, ‘tossups’ based on averaging whichever polls they’ve decided to average, and show a big red/pink and blue/light blue bar fighting each other.
But where’s just the raw data?
If election reporting weren’t in the stone age, every major news site would have a page, just one click away from their front page, showing nothing but the table above, with numbers filled in. Yes, there probably needs to be an extra column (or hover-over data) per cell to show the Date Of Last Update, since these pollsters come out with their polls at all different times and these numbers can quickly become stale.
But c’mon. It’s really not that hard. I guess if this were something really important like some obscure stock’s intraday quotes, it would all be available, with add-ins and APIs so you could pull in realtime data effortlessly. But, this stuff isn’t important; it’s just a Presidential election. Whatever, right? So, like, RealClearPolitics averages it is.
If I had easy access to this data, after a couple minutes of number-crunching I could fill out the rest of this table for you, to finish up my Sonic Charmer Electoral Model™ reporting & close the chapter on my Silverbating™ odyssey:
This would even help prove a point, that to some extent there are duelling-pollsters in this election, and they are actually predicting a wider range of outcomes than mainstream reporting might lead one to think. Again, I’m not sure it’s fully been grasped by anyone that as of this moment Rasmussen is implicitly predicting a Romney victory. This also illustrates that ‘averaging’ a bunch of state polls might lead to somewhat unstable results.
But, I guess I can’t do any of that, since the data is so annoyingly hard to locate. Unless someone knows of an obvious site I just missed?
UPDATE: As I said in comments, this whine-bleg post metaphysically helped me find this site, which does have raw data. Took a look but it’s not that usable for what I wanted however; it turns out state polling data is by and large pretty sparse. Rasmussen has done the most polling but I already have their #s; I keep reading that Gallup is ‘respected’ but Gallup is not in there; etc.
The other interesting thing I noticed: that electoral-vote.com site is pathologically anti-Rasmussen. They have a whole section devoted to summarizing polls ‘Rasmussen-free’. Sure, I had known that Rasmussen was considered to be the ‘conservative’ pollster but hadn’t quite realized the depth of venom. What is their explanation (yes they have a whole page devoted to explaining) why Rasmussen is not to be trusted? Well first, Nate Silver did some sort of analysis of their 2008 numbers because they were off. YAWN. You mean 2008 was unique? Can’t imagine how. Second, they don’t like Rasmussen’s calling method:
Just to look at one methodological issue, if no one answers the phone, Rasmussen picks a different random phone number instead of calling back two, three, four or more times as other pollsters do. Why does this matter? Because 20-somethings (who skew Democratic) are often out, whereas 60-somethings (who skew Republican) are often in. By not being persistent in finally getting through to a randomly chosen phone number, the sample is inherently biased towards Republicans because they are easier to reach.
Talk about a just-so story! And look, I’ve spent the past 5 days castigating righties for making up a bunch of just-so stories, so I think I’ve fully earned the right to say this: this complaint is dumb.
What is electoral-vote.com’s evidence that the stats are being skewed by the people who get robocalled being ‘out’ if they’re twentysomethings but ‘in’ if they’re 60-year-olds? Yeah, that’s what I thought. This explanation is no better than the righty explanation that pollsters are reaching more (D) likely voters this time because lefties lie about being likely, because they’re welfare queens who answer their phone more, etc. In other words, it’s a made-up rationalization to reach a desired result. You’re welcome to it, but don’t kid yourself.
It’s just refreshing to have a reminder that it’s not only wishful-thinking righties doing this sort of thing.