It’s over

The 2010 election vote tally is finally over in Washington state. Yesterday was the deadline for counties to certify results. So there is a bit of unfinished blogging business.

Throughout the election season, I posted analyses of just about all the polls in the race between Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Washington’s highest profile real estate salesperson, Dino Rossi (R). There were some ups and downs in the poll, but mostly ups for Murray and downs for Rossi. Our would-be Senator from Wingnutopia only led in three of the fifteen polls taken after the first of October:


We saw countless examples of a breathless media describing a close finish based on flip-flopping polls, and apparently ignoring that Murray led in eleven of the last fifteen polls that included one tie. How close was it in the end?

Murray took 52.36% of the vote and Rossi took 47.64%. That is, Murray won by a sizable +4.72%. That’s nearly five percent.

I find good news and bad in this final result. After analyzing the last poll in the race, I wrote:

Make of it what you will. The polls say it is a tie or a very small Murray victory. So what do I think will really happen tomorrow? First, let me state that I obviously want Murray to win. Even so, in my professional life, I am a scientist, and evidence is exceedingly important to me, even if it goes against my desires or pet theories. So here goes….

As I outlined at the end of this post there is a discrepancy between live interview polls and robopolls in the Washington Senate race that has also been seen nationally. I offered an explanation (i.e. a theory) as to why the discrepancy exists. It all leads me to believe that robopolls are systematically underestimating Murray’s performance in this race. If the theory is correct, I expect Murray to come away with about a +5% advantage over Rossi after all the votes are counted. But I concede that tomorrow night, reality will confront theory.

Reality always wins.

The good news for me (I guess) is that I freakin’ nailed it! (Suck on that, Mr. Cynical!)

The bad new (and being a little more serious) is that polling cannot continue to be practiced as it has been done. While it may have been an enthusiasm gap problem that caused many robopolls to underestimate Murray’s performance earlier in the race, right near the end that pattern was a little less strong. Robopoll and some live interview polls underestimated Murray’s performance.

Interestingly, the Washington Poll was the most accurate of the late polls, predicting +4% for Murray. After that it was FOX News (+2), Marist (+1), SurveyUSA (tied), Rasmussen (-1) and Public Policy Polling (-2). (Elway and CNN/Time/OR did their last polls three weeks out and got +8 and +13, but we have no gold standard that far out—i.e. an election—as a three to eight point decline in three weeks cannot be ruled out.)

So what was it? The other possibility causing polls to lowball Murray’s lead was “the cell phone problem.” The problem has been discussed for years, but it didn’t really seem to materialize in 2008. It did in 2010 according to a new Pew study:

The number of Americans who rely solely or mostly on a cell phone has been growing for several years, posing an increasing likelihood that public opinion polls conducted only by landline telephone will be biased. A new analysis of Pew Research Center pre-election surveys conducted this year finds that support for Republican candidates was significantly higher in samples based only on landlines than in dual frame samples that combined landline and cell phone interviews. The difference in the margin among likely voters this year is about twice as large as in 2008.

Across three Pew Research polls conducted in fall 2010 […] the GOP held a lead that was on average 5.1 percentage points larger in the landline sample than in the combined landline and cell phone sample.

The bottom line: the cell phone problem can no longer be ignored.

(Cross posted at Hominid Views.)


  1. 1


    The Pew research is very interesting. The cellphone only shift away from landlines, the demographics of cell phone only users, this year the gap was greater than the error in landline only polls.
    The fact that people that are landline only voters have a Republican bias in a way provides a useful poll in that it will track well, and their results will be off by the bias.
    Rasmussen (-1) plus bias (4-ish) was telling me that Murray would win by 3. I was wrong in my cocktail napkin analysis of the art of polling.
    Cherry picking which Rasmussen poll was less wrong just makes you look like a fucking jackass, Chris Vance.

  2. 2

    David D spews:

    I think there’s also a “caller id problem” that can skew polls.

    I don’t pick up the landline receiver if it’s a “tollfree” number or an otherwise unidentified caller, and I’m sure that others don’t as well.

  3. 3

    Zotz sez: The microchip in Klynical's ass was transmitting 6... 6... 6... spews:

    @2: I don’t have caller ID and I was screening my calls the last few weeks. Bless ‘em for getting out the vote and damn the robocalls — way too many calls.

  4. 4


    Now that is what I mean about revelation!

    Is this Sunday?

    Feels like Sunday but no Prophet Goldy post from anybody’s writings about Me!

    Well, you all will have to accept the revelations of my Teacher of Realities, The Deacon Darryl.

    Bless you my furred Rabbi, for you know what you do!

    I am that I am

  5. 5

    K spews:

    I agree with David. This liberal household with caller ID does not pick up any calls we do not recognize. We’ll deal with the message later if we so desire.

  6. 8

    bj spews:

    So, in conclusion, the polls aren’t all that prescient, and are getting even less so. So, why was anyone taking anything other than a passing notice at them? Or was that all the Times had to write stories about, since they do next to no actual political reporting.

    I particularly tuned out all those excruciating Monte Carlo analyses you kept providing. If most polls are likely to be suspect and unreliable, what the point of endlessly massaging them to death with statistical analysis?

  7. 9

    manoftruth spews:

    Murray won by a sizable +4.72%

    thats funny, when scott brown won by 5 points, the msm wasn’t saying it was “sizable”.

  8. 10

    SeattleMike spews:

    @6: No; he still has to run against Cantwell so he will have been beat by all 3 of the women holding the highest offices from this state. That will seal his reputation as a bully picking on ‘the girls’.

  9. 11

    slingshot spews:

    @7, Thanks God, for that.

    In two years the country will be ready to kill the R’s again. They have a way of completely fucking the dog, so to Rossi we say, “bring it on!” Although by then he’ll probably be on the rubber chicken circuit lecturing vacuum cleaner salesmen.

  10. 12


    @8, if you job was to raise money for the Republican party and the polls skew your way, making a 4 point loser look like it is tied, all you need is a little more money to get your message out, then you will get those polls in as many media outlets as possible.

    If you job was to raise money for the Democratic party and the poll xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx look like it is tied, all you need is a little more money to get your message out, then you will get those polls in as many media outlets as possible.

  11. 13

    The Duke spews:

    I’m the far right wingnut here, and I called this race for Murray 4 months ago at 5 points. Go back and check Goldie. HA award to. . . the Duke.

  12. 14

    Zotz sez: The microchip in Klynical's ass was transmitting 6... 6... 6... spews:

    I’m the far right wingnut here

    No. No you’re not. You’re just a run of the mill wingnut.

    The shit you say is at least cogent — totally wrong — but cogent. That’s compared to Pudpuller who is insane and Klynical who’s just plain evil.

  13. 15

    Puddybud identifying useless Moonbat!s since 2005 and identifying rujax as an arschloch and zotz as a fool! spews:

    Pudpuller who is insane

    Careful, fools like you don’t know too much!

  14. 17

    proud leftist spews:

    The Duke @ 12
    I’m not sure why you’d want to be the most to the right of our trolls. You’re not. You make sense, occasionally. Keep posting.

  15. 18


    I now use two voip services for my landlines – one for inbound calls and one for outbound. My phone bill is on course to averaging 15 – 20 dollars per month from 40 per month under Vonage (between 1- 2 cents per minute.)

    My open source asterisk pbx running on a early 2000’s Pentium 4 server allows me to blacklist any pollster or anonymous scam artist who wants to bother me. Push a couple buttons and they’re out of my life for good.

    I don’t participate in polls. I vote at the ballot box and through donations to politicians and organizations who earn my favor.

    Downsides: very dependent on reliable broadband and my pc server.

    Smart cell phones will have features every bit as fancy as what I’ve built if they don’t have them already.

    Many many Americans like me just want to be left alone. Life is complicated enough without someone every other day wanting 10 minutes of your time to pick your brains. (Better living through technology – yeah!)

    Politicians should just do right by the people who sent them to office. People will pick someone else if they get out of touch.