Nate’s Silver Hammer Misses The Mark
A Commentary by Ted Carroll
On behalf of Rasmussen Reports, I’d like to extend a warm welcome to all the attendees at this week’s annual public opinion research conference in New Orleans. This year’s conference theme, Embracing Change and Diversity in Public Opinion and Social Science Research, signals a new opinion research industry willingness “to welcome both the challenges and opportunities presented by a rapidly changing public opinion and research methodology landscape and an increasingly diverse population.”
We couldn’t agree more that industry change is needed and industry diversity should be welcomed. Polling techniques and technologies that foster more accurate respondent answers should be rewarded. This matter is especially critical given that the American Association for Public Opinion Research's own 2016 presidential election autopsy indicates a top reason many pollsters missed their numbers was that poll respondents did not reveal themselves as Trump voters before the election.
At Rasmussen Reports, our automated polling systems use a single, digitally-recorded voice to conduct landline interviews. This technology ensures that every respondent hears exactly the same question from the exact same voice asked with the exact same inflection every single time. And the process is completely private. There is no live operator to potentially pass judgment on the respondent’s answers. To reach those who have abandoned traditional landline telephones, Rasmussen Reports uses an online survey tool to interview randomly selected participants from a demographically diverse panel. We do not call cell phones as we believe they are less than optimal vehicles for quantitative opinion research.
As our friends at this year’s AAPOR conference already know, we were named the most accurate pollster in predicting the 2016 presidential popular vote – coming within one-tenth of one percent of the actual vote totals with over 136 million votes counted. We believe our automated private interviews, our use of internet panels and other proprietary techniques gave us an advantage over live interview pollsters in identifying the real underlying issues that led to the upset few in the industry saw coming.
Yet during last year’s campaign, any pollster like Rasmussen Reports that dared deviate from the almost absolute certainty that Hillary Clinton was going to be our next president was the target of a firestorm of criticism from the mainstream media and the so-called “polling analyst” community. This particular intimidation racket featured journalist enforcers banging out quantification “critiques” and “rankings” that falsely implied superior predictive precision. These tainted statistics provided cover for media partisans to hammer the heads of any pollsters issuing impure thoughts. ESPN’s Nate Silver, Harry Enten and their fellow travelers rose over time to Walter Winchell-like heights, only to crash - exceptionally hard - along with their many disciples on election night.
Real pollsters should ignore this entire defrocked field of partisan predictive analytics and re-embrace taking risks to advance American opinion survey techniques for the new century. Because it turns out that while Nate Silver has consistently banged Rasmussen Reports as a C+ pollster, we got it right, and Nate’s silver hammer missed by a mile.
Ted Carroll is a Partner at media-focused private equity firm Noson Lawen Partners, Rasmussen Reports’ majority shareholder.
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