If you followed the punditocracy’s conventional wisdom in 2012, you were likely surprised by President Obama’s popular vote margin—which is now 3.7 points and climbing. Despite the fact that President Obama consistently led Mitt Romney– and by significant margins in the battleground states where a close race would likely be decided—pollsters and pundits presupposed a very tight race. Joe Scarborough pronounced, “…Anybody that thinks that this race is anything but a tossup right now… should be kept away from typewriters, computers, laptops and microphones for the next 10 days.” The Wall Street Journal proclaimed “Obama and Romney deadlocked.” The Economist asserted the race was “about as close as it could be.” Most other media and pundits thought so, too. Except us.
Our final Democracy Corps poll (completed two days before Election Day) showed the race 49 to 45 percent –an unrounded margin of 3.8 points. With other public polls still showing the race tied or Romney ahead, our poll was an outlier.
We were so confident in our results, we put our reputations on the line in the waning days of the campaign. We were confident we had it right because we believed that the national poll tracking averages were likely underrepresenting Obama’s vote. The main issue was cell phones and the changing demographics that most other pollsters miscalculated. Those pollsters did not reach the new America. Plain and simple.
Our accuracy in this election reflected years of intense study and a series of careful decisions about demographic and turnout trends among pivotal voting groups, notably Latinos. And our accuracy also reflected our intense focus on the methodological changes necessary to accurately sample the full American electorate – such as insisting on a higher proportion of cell phone interviews, despite the higher costs.
This matters for many reasons. It is great to be right. It is even greater to be the rightest. But most of the time, we do not produce polls to predict imminent election outcomes. Most of the time, as now with the fiscal cliff, we poll the American people on major policy issues, on their own pocketbook experiences, and on the messages that speak to the positions and issues most critical to their lives. That we got it right not only undergirds our ability to speak authoritatively on these policy issues in the halls of power, but also allows us to fulfill our mandate to tell powerful people what real people think. After all, we cannot accurately represent American voters if we are not producing representative polls.
At this moment, when a very few leaders in Washington are making decisions that will effect our economy now and in the years to come, more than anyone else, Democracy Corps has the authority to tell leaders what voters sent them to Washington to do. It was not, as it turns out, to keep taxes low for the wealthiest while bargaining away middle class tax deductions. Nor was it to slash the Medicare and Social Security benefits on which this and future generations so deeply depend. Nor was it to defund local governments, preventing them from making investments in education and infrastructure.
Instead, this election was about the middle class—how to sustain, secure, and grow the middle class in this generation and the next. The people spoke clearly on this topic… and we were happy to represent them.
Democracy Corps projected the final vote more accurately than any other pollster: