How are pollsters collecting data? How does the public consume the results? In the Los Angeles Times, Urban's chief methodologist Rob Santos explains how electoral polling has changed in recent years, and what that means for this election—and for those in the future.
Thirty years ago, polling in the United States was simple. Most homes had land-line telephones, most people at home actually answered the phone and more than 70 percent were willing to participate. Polling life was sweet; it was easy to find a representative sample of likely voters.
Like all boom times, a bust was just on the horizon. The new millennium arrived, introducing a renaissance of new technologies (cellphones, the Internet) and lifestyles (social media, crowdsourcing). Younger adults embraced new ways of consuming and sharing information. Americans as a whole decided they were too busy to answer survey requests and became more wary of strangers asking probing questions. Polling participation rates plummeted to single digits.
As Americans started sharing less data about themselves, they also started demanding more. We are a data-rich, data-driven society. We rely on smartphone apps for crowdsourced product ratings, quick takes on the news, and for communicating instantaneously to personalized worldwide networks. Just as we expect that Google Maps will immediately give us accurate directions to the nearest Starbucks, we expect pollsters to provide accurate election predictions whenever we care to search for them.