Did Minnesotans lie to KSTP’s pollster?

Man, I thought we were done with 2010 election surveys. Since we didn’t have any exit polls this year, KSTP and SurveyUSA (who must have some extra cash lying around) did some post-election temperature-taking.

I’ll get to KSTP’s headline in a sec, but if you’ve ever wondered whether people lie to pollsters, there’s some pretty strong circumstantial evidence here.

The 1,400-person poll’s very first question: “Did you vote in Tuesday’s election for Minnesota’s governor?” 81 percent said yes.

The actual figure: 58 percent.

Usually, when pollsters poll, they’re dealing with an unknown outcome. Here, we have an actual result. So how could SurveyUSA be so far off?

Could be sampling error, but that’s only 2.1 points plus or minus. (That means the “I voted” result should’ve been between 79 and 83 percent 95 times out of 100). Other design effects — the absence of “cell phone only” voters, high refusal rates — could have played a part.

But given SUSA’s general accuracy this cycle, a simpler scenario is that people fibbed. Researchers call it a “socially desirable response” — you’re likelier to tell a stranger (or, in this robo-poll, a stranger’s recorded voice) that you did your civic duty.

SUSA surveyed 1,400 Minnesotans. In the poll, 1,136 said they voted. But 58 percent of 1,400 equals 812. If the difference was all lying-related, perhaps 300 of the 1,400 bore false witness.

Interestingly, this poll was nearly on the money in mirroring the governor’s race result. It showed Dayton 45, Emmer 44, Horner 9, when the actual stands at 44/43/12.

But that gets to my other beef here: KSTP’s headline that “Horner drew more votes from Dayton.”

The survey did show Horner voters would’ve picked Dayton over Emmer 37-30 had Horner not been on the ballot. As reporter Tom Hauser noted, the question had a “huge” margin of error — 9.9 points plus or minus. That’s because the sample size is so small, just 103 respondents who voted (or lied about voting) for Horner.

I understand that when you take a poll, you want to use the results. But sometimes, the sample is so pathetic that it’s better to bury certain answers than headline them.

Of course, the election is over and no voter will be influenced by this information. Still, I’d hate for political junkies or historians to conclude “Horner helped Emmer” based on this very thin reed.

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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Steve Rose on 11/12/2010 - 08:17 am.

    The shame factor comes into play when you ask a person if they did something that they know they should have done. It is like asking children if they have brushed their teeth.

    This is why the “I Voted” stickers are so popular. Personally, I don’t wear one. I usually take one and give it to a friend who delights in wearing three or four of them. Next election, I am going to wear a sticker that proclaims, “I brushed my teeth”.

    For the governor’s race, the KSTP poll nailed it and the MPR poll missed it by over 10 points.

  2. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 11/12/2010 - 08:49 am.

    I have heard that in some elections, voters tell the truth to pollsters but lie when they vote.

    In any event, this poll makes one of my favorite points, that sampling error refers to the variation in results appearing between different polling groups assembled according to the same standards or specifications. Sampling error is not the difference between polling results and actual election results.

    I do think people lie to pollsters a lot, the socially desirable result factor, being just one element of that. Also, you often that winning candidates often do better in polls after elections than before, that individuals polled will tell pollsters that they voted for candidates that they did not.

  3. Submitted by Adam Platt on 11/12/2010 - 11:56 am.

    This is a frustrating result because one of the truly useful things would have been to understand who Tom Horner drew most of his votes from, likely DFL or GOP voters, or likely non-voters. In particular because this year the Independent candidate was someone, unlike in many elections, clearly associated with traditional GOP ideals and philosophies.

    I, like a sizable subset of Dayton voters, was an ambivalent supporter, and would have been intrigued by a Horner governorship, but now feel confident that the election results validated my fear that voting for Horner would have thrown the race to Emmer.

  4. Submitted by Hal Sanders on 11/12/2010 - 06:38 pm.

    This doesn’t prove anyone lied at all. It just shows that with all the methodology and sampling problems, etc., the media should probably end its love affair with polls.

  5. Submitted by scott gibson on 11/12/2010 - 10:51 pm.

    Horner and the off-year election cycle are the wild cards. Any poll about who might have voted for Horner is left wanting. We don’t know who did or were going to, but then changed their mind about voting for Horner. We don’t know the breakdowns and never will. And we don’t know how many didn’t even feel excited enough to vote in the first place. I think all of this year’s votes were fraught with the uncertainty of a populace that didn’t know itself what it was going to do.

  6. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 11/13/2010 - 07:51 am.

    In my experience, and I have quite a lot of it, voters are inscrutable and frustrating. Sometimes they tell you what you want to hear, sometimes they tell you what they want you to hear, and both of those things may be quite different from what they actually think, and even that might be different from what actually motivates their vote.

    In my opinion, polls are just about always misleading because they provide an impression of clarity, of specificity, that isn’t found in real life. People are complex, motivated by a vast number of different factors. They just don’t fit in the categories, Dayton, Emmer or Horner supporter, that polls seek to place them.

  7. Submitted by Tom Horner on 11/15/2010 - 09:21 am.

    A few thoughts about “taking” votes:

    First, the Independence Party has enough of a track record and enough of a base for the media to stop perpetuating this notion that an IP candidate “takes” votes. If I hadn’t been the candidate, other credible candidates were ready to step up (no, NOT Rob Hahn). In fact, the more realistic scenario — given the emphasis of both the DFL and GOP get-out-the-vote messages that a vote for Horner is a vote for Dayton/Emmer — is that those parties took votes from me.

    Second, a minimal amount of research would reflect the reality of the IP’s base without relying on bogus surveys. Consider, for example, the results of seven exurban counties — Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Scott, Sherburne, Washington and Wright — where Pawlenty won his 2006 election (he had a net margin of more than 80,000 in these counties, winning statewide with only a 20,000 vote margin). Although turnout in 2010 was within 1% of the 2006 level, Emmer received only 93% of Pawlenty’s vote in these seven counties and Dayton received only 92% of Hatch’s vote. Or, look at a DFL county — St. Louis. Although turnout was a bit lower in 2010 than 2006, the same trend prevails. Emmer held 92% of Pawlenty’s vote while Dayton kept 90% of Hatch’s vote. In other words, both Emmer and Dayton were unable to hold onto their predecessors’ bases in almost equal numbers, in Republican and Democratic areas.

    Throughout the campaign, I received fair coverage from the media, so no complaints. But I would hope that before the media perpetuate the myth that the IP “takes” votes from one side or another, they would look at the reality of what actually happened. The IP is a fact of life in Minnesota politics. There are many challenges — can it grow, become a year-round influence, become competitive in local and statewide races, etc.? But it is certainly the reality that the IP no longer “takes” votes. It has a base of those who have grown disenchanted with the DFL and GOP.

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