04/30/2008 - Pollsters and those who follow the results of their surveys have been long accustomed to—and often astonished by—the timeliness and relevance of the Pew Research Center’s public opinion research.
But Andrew Kohut, the center’s president, has brought even more immediacy to the analysis of a truly tumultuous series of campaign primaries and caucuses. Since January, he has been writing a column for the online New York Times, in which he applies his decades of expertise in statistics assessment to the evolving election campaign.
Talk about moving targets: His column on January 31 appeared after six states had chosen delegates. “So far,” he noted, “the 2008 primaries and caucuses have been anything but predictable—comebacks, fallbacks, not to mention surprised pollsters. But a closer look reveals some common themes that have emerged, despite a still-forming consensus about nominees.
“First, this election matters to voters, particularly to Democrats and young people.” He went on to describe how race, gender and age factored into voters’ decisions, as did their status as independents or their feelings on some issues, such as the economy and immigration.
Of course, his conclusions quickly became common knowledge. Even more quickly, it was fodder for online readers; sometimes well more than 100 of them replied to a column. “Sound analysis (despite a few minor flaws) and very carefully worded as well to summarize accurately a mass of data,” said Bob about the January 31 entry.
Meanwhile, Nathan dissented: “The author of this post is obviously not a young voter. We honestly don’t think in terms of race and gender like your generation did and still does.
“We’re sick of a two-party system, and, believe it or not, we look at what a candidate stands for more than their demographics. A lot of us pity those of you who put so much emphasis on race and gender. It’s sad to see.”
Of course, it was the survey respondents, at least in the more responsible polls, who were dictating the direction of the results.
A week later, Kohut was commenting on the results of Super Tuesday, when 24 states held primaries or caucuses. In terms of numbers, he noted, the day amounted to “a national election,” and he went on to identify the emerging voting patterns: “Race, class, gender, age and party identification continued to be the most important factor in determining a voter’s support.”
The commentators weighed in again. Nathan seemed to have mellowed: “I think that there is considerable validity to the analysis in the article,” he said, while going on to critique some of Kohut’s details.
Bee, however, took up the cudgel: “You guys are just looking for a way to divide the electorate. Another stupid reporting that is not worthy of paying attention to.”
Steve advised giving the column a second look: “If you re-read this opinion piece, one can only conclude that there is so much conflicting data that there are no distinct trends. Polls and pundits have been so wrong so often so far that they are not worth paying attention to in this race.”
In the January 10 print version of The New York Times, in fact, Kohut addressed the issue of the off-base predictions of the Democratic race in New Hampshire: Pollsters have, and always had, difficulty in reaching poorer and less well-educated voters.
As the campaign becomes evermore nuanced, you can follow Kohut’s analyses and commentary at http://campaignstops.blogs.nytimes.com or at http://people-press.org, the center’s site.