Discuss as:

Inside the Boiler Room: Polls, polls, polls


With new polls out every day leading up to the election, NBC's Mark Murray and Domenico Montanaro discuss the importance of paying attention to margin of error and poll trends when examining the data.

Thanks to Steeler Fan_380417 for the question!


Mark Murray: It's another Inside the Boiler Room question, this actually comes from Steeler Fan, Domenico. Steeler Fan asks I'm curious about the attacks on the polling by the Republicans. Do you think there is anything to the criticisms of the methodology and the polling results that we're all seeing right now?

Domenico Montanaro: Well look, I just think people need to really remember that polls are about margin of error and trends. Everybody that wants to look at specific numbers within polls, party ID, this turn out model, that or the other, you know, that stuff, everybody, especially the good polls, they do a pretty good job of trying to wait for those things, understand what they are. Let's look at the trend of these things. It always drives me nuts when you see somebody talk about, 'oh my gosh, you know, it's a ten point lead, it must be over in one poll!' That's not the way, that's not an appropriate way to look at polling I mean, you should look at a broad swath of these things you know, so, and it always seems to be that the side that's down makes these complaints.

MM: Well and you can always usually tell in body language too, I mean, you look at all the polls right now pretty much tell us what our gut confirms that Mitt Romney's down right now. We saw that after the conventions, we certainly saw that on the crisis that they've actually had and crisis communication on dealing with that 47%. When you look at everything the Romney campaign has done, this doesn't look like a campaign that's ahead. And kind of going to the polls, Domenico, there's this great example where even in the Florida Senate contest Connie Mack, on the Republican side, his campaign said look, these Quinnipiac New York Times/CBS polls that actually showed us down double digits were wrong. Here's our internal poll, we're down by 6. Well the thing is, well maybe the spread isn't double digits, maybe it's in the high single digits, but it does show you what's actually actually going on right now.

DM: Right, and again that's margin of error. I mean, if something, if something says someone's up by 11 and it's a margin of error of 3, it can be 8 to 14, you know, and if another poll shows it's 6 then you're looking at a broad range of these polls, but you want to look at the trend and the direction that these things go.

MM: And not only the trend and the direction, but the preponderance.

DM: Right.

MM: If they're all, 90% of them are pointing in one direction, chances are that 90% is right and the 10% might be wrong.

DM: Yeah, I think the other thing too like you said about body language and the other things campaigns do, when you see MItt Romney put an ad out where he's talking directly to camera to try to address and mitigate concerns over the 47%- you know look, those are the things that are important too, I think people start to rely too heavily on polling, and shouldn't rely a little bit on anecdotal evidence, reporting in the states, and what kinds of TV ads that these guys are running.

MM: Thanks for the question, Steeler Fan.