Friday, October 8, 2010

Poll Shows Curry With Seven Point Lead in Prosecutor's Race; What is the Real Story Behind the Numbers?

Indianapolis Times this morning enthusiastically cites a new WISH-TV poll which shows Democrat Terry Curry with a 43-36 point lead over Republican Mark Massa. The Times reports that this is a "commanding" lead.

Not so fast.

People have a tendency to read too much into polls. First, the poll has a huge margin of error of 5.7%. A "margin of error" is a statistical measure of how far the poll could be off even if the poll is conducted properly. The smaller the sample, the bigger the margin of error. 5.7% is a huge margin of error ... usually polls have a 3 to 4% margin of error.

The way it works is this. Curry and Massa's numbers could each be off 5.7% in either direction. Translation? Massa could actually be ahead.

Second, polls don't do a good job of measuring turnout which is critical on Election Day While a pollster can try by using a "likely voter" screen most low budget polls don't do that and the ones that do still struggle to target their polls to those people who will actually turn out to vote.

Let's not forget the 1994 prosecutor race between incumbent Democrat Jeff Modisett and newcomer Republican Scott Newman. Modisett had a double digit lead in the polls going into the election, yet Newman won the election because that year the Republicans all came to the polls while the Democrats stayed home.

Third, now you're having additional problems with polling. They generally don't have cell phone numbers, so young people who often don't have land lines, are excluded from polling. Then you have the problem that even with land lines, it's hard with caller ID and voice mail to get people to actually pick up their phones. The polling sample gets skewed toward those folks who will actually talk to a stranger. While pollsters try to adjust for these factors, it's often very difficult.

No, a seven point lead is nothing...that could be easily made up on turnout alone. Plus there is still a month left in the election. A month is an eternity when it comes to a political race.

Here though is what is significant about the poll. Even though neither Massa or Curry is well known, Curry still has a lead over Massa. This is despite the fact that Curry hasn't been running ads and Massa has been on TV for a few weeks. That is truly a good sign for Curry's chances and should be concern in the Massa camp.


Nicolas Martin said...

On the other hand, it could be a good indicator of the rejection of Republicans by fed up voters.

Cato said...

Melina ran a horrible campaign, last time, and just missed beating Brizzi. Brizzi was horribly corrupt, and people may want to switch the party holding the office, especially since Massa looks like Mitch's man.

Indy is a Democratic city. Sooner or later, all these city offices will go Democratic and never go back.

It's rare to find a Republican urban area.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Cato, I agree with what you're saying. The one thing the Rs have going for them is a big nationwide R tide. That will have to be pretty big here in Marion County for any R to win. Massa obviously has the best shot.