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Robo-Polls: Taking Cues from Traditional Sources?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2013

Joshua D. Clinton
Vanderbilt University
Steven Rogers
Princeton University


After the 2012 Republican New Hampshire primary, 159 poll results were released prior to the subsequent nomination contests in the Republican presidential primary. More than two-thirds of these polls relied on interactive voice response (IVR) software to conduct the interviews. We evaluate the ability of polls to predict the vote-share for the Republican candidates Romney, Santorum, and Gingrich. We find no overall difference in the average accuracy of IVR and traditional human polls, but IVR polls conducted prior to human polls are significantly poorer predictors of election outcomes than traditional human polls even after controlling for characteristics of the states, polls, and electoral environment. These findings provide suggestive, but not conclusive, evidence that pollsters may take cues from one another given the stakes involved. If so, reported polls should not be assumed to be independent of one another and so-called poll-of-polls will be misleadingly precise.

Copyright © American Political Science Association 2013

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