New York Times reporter Josh Katz put a lot of time and a lot of energy into trying to bust the myth that polling in Alaska is more difficult than polling elsewhere. Apparently, a bunch of people are discounting numbers coming out of Alaska, which is news to me. Perhaps Katz is responding to the blow-back from the New York Times’ new, online survey, which has been highly panned.
In any case, in order to try and bust the myth, Katz analyzed 889 polls spread over 155 Senate races across the country since 1992, He found that Alaska comes in as the fifth-most error prone state, behind Maine, New York, Maryland and Georgia. “(I)t’s not clear that we should discount numbers coming out of Alaska any more than we should numbers from, say, Georgia or Pennsylvania,” Katz writes.
There’s some glaring holes here. One, the Senate races in those other states — particularly in New York and even in Maine which shares a media market with Massachusetts — surely generated many more polls than did the races in Alaska. Secondly, until 2004 when Tony Knowles ran for Lisa Murkowski’s seat, and then in 2008, when Mark Begich ran against Ted Stevens, races were all but uncontested here. Even the New York Times’ new online survey could have called those races.
All of which leads to the real problem, which was also missed by Katz. According to Anchorage-based pollster Marc Hellenthal — who is the only pollster in the state who doesn’t contract out his polls — polling in Alaska isn’t necessarily more difficult, it’s just more expensive. And it’s more expensive because there hasn’t been enough polls conducted in Alaska to generate good call lists.
“There’ just not been the profit motive to justify building up good samples,” for other polling firms to use, Hellenthal said.
In other words, there aren’t likely even enough Alaska polls to try and analyze if we have good or bad polls.
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