Margin of Error

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Patrick Ruffini, of the new group blog “Turning Right,” is one of the smartest GOP 2.0 bloggers I’ve read. He seems to be way ahead of the conservative curve when it comes to the intersection of politics and the internet and in calling foul on conventional wisdom. Knowing that, his analysis on just how wildly (“Wilder”?) inaccurate the polls for the Dem primary is me rethink just how deep the divisions in the party may run. (I had been thinking they’d been exaggerated.)

In a total of five primaries — Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Wisconsin — the absolute gap between the final polls and the results was greater than New Hampshire, which is seen as one of polling’s greatest historical failures. Of these, the momentum shifts in South Carolina and Wisconsin were crucial to determing the nominee.


The polls’ vulnerability was exposed in part because of the unique nature of the Democratic contest. Usually, we only pay attention to polls in close races in diverse states with lots of countervailing trends. And in fact, the polls did relatively well in large states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Illinois, and New York — the glaring exception being California. But in a sequential process where even the most far-gone states matter because of the delegate split — getting it wrong in the Deep South or Appalachia really impacted the narrative of the race.

For whatever reason, the polls seemed to do worse in states with large monolithic communities favoring either Clinton or Obama. Perhaps this is the “Wilder effect” — professing to be open to the white woman or the black man to an interviewer but in the end voting for “our guy” — or gal.