Social Pressure and Inaccurate Polling
by Chris Bowers, Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 11:44:16 AM EDT
18. Have you already or do you plan to contribute money to the candidate you are currently supporting?This question was asked in a survey of registered voters, a population that includes about 170,000,000 Americans nationwide. In the poll, 6% indicated that they had indeed already contributed money to the candidate they are supporting. If this number is accurate, that would mean that 10,200,000 people had already contributed money to the campaign they are supporting. However, as we learned this week, only about 350,000 Americans have actually contributed money to a presidential campaign. That is, um, a bit of a gap between claims of financial support and the reality of financial support in this campaign. Another 14% of registered voters, or 23,800,000 Americans, indicated that they have plans to contribute money to the campaign they are supporting. All in all, that would make for 34,000,000 donors to presidential campaigns in the 2008 cycle, which would mean that in 2008 six or seven times as many people will contribute to a presidential campaign as contributed in 2004. I had no idea Americans had become so much more engaged in political activism over the last two years than they were in the already high turnout election of 2004.
1. I have already contributed money to his or her campaign
2. I plan to contribute money to his or her campaign in the future
3. (I have already contributed and plan to contribute more in the future)
4. I do not plan to contribute
5. Don't know / refused
The truth is that most of the people who claim they have already given a donation are lying. Many Americans feel a sense of social pressure to exaggerate their civic participation, and this is a clear case of where they are caught in the act of doing so. As Mystery Pollster wrote yesterday:
We know from at least 40 years of validation studies that many respondents will say they voted when they did not, due to the same sort of "social discomfort" mentioned above. Voting is something we are supposed to do, and a small portion of adults is reluctant to admit to non-voting to a stranger on the telephone. In theory, an automated survey would reduce such false reports.Many people want to say they are engaged in our political process, even though they are not. This also represents another problem with basing national Democratic and Republican primary preference polls on all registered voters. Even though turnout for presidential primaries and caucuses rarely surpasses 25% of registered voters, and usually never surpasses 20%, most national polls are projecting a combined Democratic and Republican primary turnout of around 85% nationwide. Now, turnout on that scale would crush all records for presidential general elections. Even in 2004, turnout among registered voters was 72.9% in the general election, and that was among the highest in the last four decades. Primary turnout will be far lower. For example, in 2000, with a hotly contested primary for both Democrats and Republicans in New Hampshire, turnout was 46% among all registered voters in the Granite State. That was the highest overall turnout for a presidential primary in quite a few cycles. Everywhere else, it was far lower.
In order to develop an accurate picture of the current national state of the Democratic and Republican nominations, the large percentage of the population that exaggerates its civic engagement needs to be removed from polls. Until they are, I remain unconvinced that Clinton holds any significant lead in national polls for the Democratic nomination. Some will say that the latest ABC / WaPo poll as well as the Opinion Dynamics poll discussed here show that I was too hasty in arguing that Obama has nearly caught up to Clinton nationwide. However, I would simply retort by asking where Clinton's roughly 4,200,000 donors are, as that is how many the Fox poll indicates she has. Granted, the poll also claims that Obama has about 1,800,000 donors, but I think we all know which of those figures is closer to reality. Clinton's donors are exaggerated 70-fold, while Obama donors are only exaggerated 15-fold. Now, given those numbers, you tell me which campaign's support is being more inflated as a result of current national primary polling methodologies. The answer is obvious.