Skip to main content

Robo-Polls: Taking Cues from Traditional Sources?

  • Joshua D. Clinton (a1) and Steven Rogers (a2)

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.

Hide All
Asher Herbert. 2012. Polling the Public: What Every Citizen Should Know. Washington, DC: CQ Press.
Bartels Larry M. 1986. Presidential Primaries and the Dynamics of Public Choice. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Blumenthal Mark. 2005. “Toward an Open-Source Methodology: What We Can Learn from the Blogosphere.” Public Opinion Quarterly 69 (5): 655–69.
Blumenthal Mark. 2009. “The Case for Robo-Pollsters: Automated Interviewers Have Their Drawbacks, But Fewer Than Their Critics Suggest.” National Journal, September 14.
Chang Linchiat, and Krosnick John A.. 2009. “National Surveys via Rdd Telephone Interviewing versus the Internet, Comparing Sample Representativeness and Response Quality.” Public Opinion Quarterly 73 (4): 641–78.
Cohen Jon. 2012. “Covering Automated Surveys in 2012.” Washington Post, February 1.
Gardner Amy, and Helderman Rosalind S.. 2012. “Mitt Romney's Presidential Campaign Stuck in Lukewarm.” Washington Post, February 9.
Gelman Andrew, and King Gary. 1993. “Why Are American Presidential Election Campaign Polls So Variable When Votes Are So Predictable?British Journal of Political Science 23 (4): 409–51.
Goidel Kirby. 2011. Political Polling in the Digital Age: The Challenge of Measuring and Understanding Public Opinion. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.
Groves Robert M., Fowler F.J., Couper Mick P., Lepkowski James M., Singer Eleanor, and Tourangeau R.. 2004. Survey Methodology. New York: Wiley-Interscience.
Hillygus D. Sunshine. 2011. “The Evolution of Election Polling in the United States.” Public Opinion Quarterly 75 (5): 962–81.
Kiesler Sara, and Sproull Lee S.. 1986. “Response Effects in the Electronic Survey.” Public Opinion Quarterly 50 (3): 402–13.
Moore David. 2008. “The Fluctuating Convergence Mystery,” December 8.
Patterson Thomas E. 2005. “Of Polls, Mountains: U.S. Journalists and Their Use of Election Surveys.” Public Opinion Quarterly 69 (5): 716–24.
Rosenstiel Tom, Jurkowitz Mark, and Sartor Tricia. 2012. “How the Media Covered the 2012 Primary Campaign.” Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, April 23.
Schaeffer Nora Cate, and Dykema Jennifer. 2011. “Questions for Surveys: Current Trends and Future Directions.” Public Opinion Quarterly 75 (5): 909–61.
Shear Michael D. 2012. “In Santorum's Sweep, Sign of G.O.P. Unease with Romney.” New York Times, February 8.
Traugott M.W. 2009. An Evaluation of the Methodology of the 2008 Pre-Election Primary Polls, Unpublished Manuscript. AAPOR Ad Hoc Committee on the 2008 Presidential Primary Polling.
Weisberg Herbert. 2005. The Total Survey Error Approach: A Guide to the New Science of Survey Research. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

PS: Political Science & Politics
  • ISSN: 1049-0965
  • EISSN: 1537-5935
  • URL: /core/journals/ps-political-science-and-politics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 3
Total number of PDF views: 9 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 160 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 20th February 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.