FORT LAUDERDALE, FL: NBC News is seeking to identify, analyse and address the current flaws in polling techniques – and to help restore confidence in studies related both to politics and as a source of wider insight into public perceptions.
Dr John Lapinski, Director of Elections and the Data Analytics Lab at NBC News, discussed this topic at the Media Insights & Engagement Conference 2017 held by KNect365.
And he outlined various research projects the organisation is undertaking to address the failures of polls in the 2016 presidential election – both by placing these errors in comparative context and identifying specific methodological shortcomings. (For more details, read Warc's exclusive report: How NBC News plans to fix political polls.)
One example involves the considerable fluctuations in daily support for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton indicated by many polls – a trend running counter to the fact "we know partisanship is pretty stable," Lapinski said.
NBC News' studies offered a hint as to why this is the case. "When Democrats are feeling good about things, about what's going on in the Democratic world, they're more willing to take polls. And the same with Republicans," said Lapinski.
"That's a big issue. We're dealing with that … That's not a new phenomenon to 2016. That's just something that we haven't totally explored."
Addressing such underlying factors, and spreading the word about them, is a key goal for NBC. "NBC is going to be putting out a lot, writing about polling issues going forward to help try to improve the quality of polling," Lapinski said.
Resolving the problems, he continued, is important for more reasons than overcoming the wounded pride of an industry that, in the main, incorrectly pointed to Hillary Clinton beating Donald Trump in the race for The White House.
"You can imagine a world without polls. A world without polls is a world where we really don't know a lot of things. We don't know what citizens want," he said.
"We don't know how citizens feel about different things, whether they be policy issues or cultural or social issues. From my perspective, that's not a good world."
Salvaging the reputation of polls, he added, is further complicated by President Trump's frequent tweets suggesting many studies are "rigged" or "fake news".
"The problem with this is … this is attacking the integrity not just of election polls, but all polls," Lapinski said.
Negative perceptions persist well beyond the Oval Office, too. "I'm not sure that perception has disappeared with the public," he said.
Data sourced from Warc