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Is Gallup “upping the sample to black Americans”?

Mark Blumenthal links to Rush Limbaugh accusing Gallup of “upping the sample to black Americans to keep [Obama] up at 50%” in the polls. (For the context, see the last paragraph of the transcript.)

Frank Newport of Gallup responds here. Newport denies it all, but he would, wouldn’t he?

Seriously, though, it’s hard to believe that Limbaugh really believes that Gallup is fudging the numbers. As a big-time radio host, he’s gotta know all about marketing surveys, right? I’m just assuming he said that “upping the sample” bit as more of a joke or an off-the-wall speculation. It did raise two interesting questions in my mind, though:

1. The assumption behind Limbaugh’s argument—as with many arguments about polls—is that the published poll results have an effect of their own, beyond he president’s underlying popularity. For example, maybe some senator would vote for the health care bill if he read that Obama’s approval rating was 51% but would vote no if he read that Obama only had 49% approval. This might very well be true—it makes sense—I just don’t really know.

2. What if you were a pollster and really did want to cheat and overrepresent Democrats? How would you do it? Contra Limbaugh’s suggestion, I don’t think you’d oversample blacks. I’m assuming Gallup does telephone surveys, and it’s not like there’s a separate telephone directory for blacks. Also, as several commenters to Newport noted, the percentage of blacks among the survey respondents is easy enough to check. And, for that matter, many survey organizations (possibly including Gallup) do post-sampling weighting adjustments for race, anyway, in which case oversampling blacks won’t do anything for you at all.

If you’re doing a telephone poll and want to oversample Democrats, you can just call states and area codes where more Democrats live. Call New York, LA, Chicago, etc. You can even call people in Democratic-leaning white areas if you want to mix things up a bit. That’ll do the trick. Bury it deep enough in the sampling algorithm and maybe nobody will notice!

P.S. I looked at Gallup’s home page and was surprised not to see any link to a description of their sampling methods. Or maybe it’s somewhere and I didn’t see it.

P.P.S. Blumenthal sent me this helpful link.

5 Comments

  1. Chris says:

    "it's not like there's a separate telephone directory for blacks"

    what about this? :)
    http://www.phonenumber.com/phone-book/Anacostia-D

  2. rec says:

    I'd say Limbaugh knows where he can sow fear, uncertainty, and doubt most effectively. The point isn't whether the Gallup Poll is part of a liberal conspiracy, the point is how many people can you convert to interpreting the world as a liberal conspiracy. Once they start discounting any evidence to the contrary as part of the conspiracy, there's no limit to the weird stuff they can be persuaded to believe.

  3. Jim H says:

    Another way to achieve a desired outcome in survey research.

  4. dWj says:

    I suppose I had assumed he was talking about the post-sampling weighting adjustment. In fact, if there is something to it, I wouldn't be surprised if Gallup has a disproportionately hard time reaching blacks, and does some weighting to counteract that, and that Limbaugh is complaining about them counting each black respondent more than each white respondent. This is all me making up things, though. It could have just been the off-the-cuff speculation that he never meant seriously. It's not like I've actually listened to what he actually said.

  5. As a side, is this part of the real time production of stigma? Celebrities seem to me to be microsocial/macrosocial bridges. Are there techniques to measure stigma production?