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Online Polls and Registration-Based Sampling: A New Method for Pre-Election Polling

  • Michael J. Barber (a1), Christopher B. Mann (a2), J. Quin Monson (a3) and Kelly D. Patterson (a4)
Abstract

This article outlines a new method for surveys to study elections and voter attitudes. Pre-election surveys often suffer from an inability to identify and survey the likely electorate for the upcoming election. We propose a new and inexpensive method to conduct representative surveys of the electorate. We demonstrate the performance of our method in producing a representative sample of the future electorate that can be used to study campaign dynamics and many other issues. We compare pre-election outcome forecasts to election outcomes in seven primary and general election surveys conducted prior to the 2008 and 2010 primary and general elections in three states. The results indicate that the methodology produces representative samples, including in low-turnout elections such as primaries where traditional methods have difficulty consistently sampling the electorate. This new methodology combines Probability Proportional to Size (PPS) sampling, mailed invitation letters, and online administration of the questionnaire. The PPS sample is drawn based on a model employing variables from the publicly available voter file to produce a probability of voting score for each individual voter. The proposed method provides researchers a valuable tool to study the attitudes of the voting public.

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e-mail: cmann13@lsu.edu (corresponding author)
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Authors' note: We thank Anand Sohkey and his colleagues at University of Colorado—Boulder for their assistance in conducting the 2010 primary surveys in Colorado and Matthew Frei of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy (CSED) at Brigham Young University (BYU) for his assistance in administering the surveys. We thank Lonna Atkeson, Larry Bartels, John Love, Mark A. Schulman, the anonymous reviewers, and participants in a faculty research seminar at BYU for helpful comments. Previous versions of this paper were presented at the annual meetings of the American Association of Public Opinion Research in 2010 and 2011. This research would not have been possible without the generous support of CSED at BYU, the University of Colorado—Boulder, and the University of Miami. All errors are the responsibility of the authors. Supplementary materials for this article are available on the Political Analysis Web site. Replication data are available on the Political Analysis Dataverse at http://dx.doi.org/10.7910/DVN/22908.

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