Political Animal


January 23, 2013 1:35 PM Did USA Today Dump Gallup?

By Ed Kilgore

Late last week USAToday and the Gallup organization announced, as Politico’s Dylan Byers reported, “a mutual decision to end their 20-year partnership.” As anyone familiar with decisions to dissolve everything from marriages to employment contracts knows, however, what the parties announce as “mutual” often really isn’t.

At TNR today, Nate Cohn, without asserting a lack of mutuality, does make the case for why the newspaper might have actually dumped the famed and venerable polling organization: its less-than-sterling recent record of accuracy in major elections:

If USA Today pulled the plug because it was dissatisfied with Gallup’s polling, then the paper made a wise move. Even though Obama comfortably won reelection by 4 points, Gallup’s final poll showed Romney ahead by 1 point and consistently found Romney winning by a wider margin—as much as 7 points—over the final few weeks of the campaign. The final USA Today/Gallup swing state poll was off by a similar margin, finding a tied race even though Obama easily won 11 of Gallup’s 12 swing states by a combined 4 points. It is worth noting that no other live interview survey contacting cell phones found Romney ahead heading into Election Day. And Gallup’s 2012 failures were not anomalous. Heading into the 2010 midterms, Gallup showed Republicans leading the generic congressional ballot by a staggering 15-point margin, far greater than their eventual 6-point victory. In 2008, Gallup found Obama winning by 11 points, again missing Obama’s 7-point victory by 4 points. In comparison, Pew Research survey struck within one percentage point of the final outcome in the same three elections.

Nate doesn’t mention the outsized emphasis often placed on Gallup findings by those—most often Republicans of late—favored by them, or the occasional perceived arrogance of Gallup’s pronouncements, particularly its suggestions that the money it spends on surveys makes its work vastly more valuable than that of newer and smaller firms who seem nonetheless to get more accurate results—much less the “analysts and aggregators” (e.g., Nate Cohn and Nate Silver) who make more accurate predictions.

Gallup will apparently handle its own marketing going forward, and it appears USAToday will find another polling partner. But the latter doesn’t have the country’s oldest reputation in its profession on the line, and the former needs to face facts about its recent performance.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • JMG on January 23, 2013 1:57 PM:

    When newspapers are involved, particularly newspapers owned by Gannett Co., it's a very safe bet that the reason USA Today dumped Gallup was that Gallup was charging more than the paper wanted to pay for its services.

  • MuddyLee on January 23, 2013 1:58 PM:

    Maybe Gallup has been including too many crazy people in their samples - like my republican lawyer friend who forwarded me an email today comparing the election and re-election of Barack Obama to the succession of power in North Korea. I think the point was that Obama's qualifications were no better than those of Kim Jong Un who basically inherited his office. It's time to start calling stupid, stupid. I think this is what USA Today has done with Gallup.

  • BillFromPA on January 23, 2013 1:59 PM:

    I'm a 62 yr old flaming lib., I've know of the Gallup organization for as long as I've been reading newspapers, more than half a century. Back in the day Gallup was synonomous with polling, just as Xerox is with copiers. Over the last few election cycles it's become painfully obvious that Gallup whored themselves out to the Right, along with Rass. One could always count on those two to deliver more positive numbers for the repugs than anyone else. Finally, a member of the MSM is publically recognizing what we've known for years. Gallup, I'm sure, will still offer cold comfort to losing right-wingers, but libs and sane indies are fooled no more.

  • Ron Byers on January 23, 2013 2:14 PM:

    Pollsters are in the business of getting things right. Unlike some right leaning pollsters Gallup hasn't been regiggerig to come up with anything close to the right numbers in its final pre election poll. My take is the people at Gallup, unlike some, don't intentionally have their thumbs on the scales. Their basic assumptions are simply wrong and they aren't smart enough to figure it out.

    They aren't crooks. They are simply incompetent.

  • POed Lib on January 23, 2013 5:38 PM:

    If you follow this closely, the main issue is the "likely" voter screen. They require you to know all kinds of shit that I don't know, and I ran for State Senate in 2012.