polling

Richards effect

The phenomenon in which polls consistently underestimate support for female candidates relative to white male candidates.

The termed was coined by political scientists Christopher Stout and Reuben Kline who noted that in the 1990 Texas gubernatorial race many polls predicted Clayton Williams (R) to beat Ann Richards (D) by as much as 8 points. However, Clayton’s “lead” evaporated on election day and Richards won.

From their research paper: “Perhaps it was not only the traditional polling problems that led polls to be less accurate, Ann Richards’ gender may have also played a vital role in these polling discrepancies. Our results indicate that female candidates, and in particular female candidates from gender-conservative states, like Ann Richards in Texas, tend to do worse in pre-election polls than in actual elections.”

Incumbent Rule

A rule of thumb used by pollsters that says incumbents rarely get a higher percentage in the election than they receive in polls, and that voters still undecided on the very last poll tend to “break” disproportionately for the challenger.

Michael Barone: “The assumption has been that voters know an incumbent, and any voter who is not for him will vote against him.”

Polling Report: “It seems that undecided voters are not literally undecided, not straddling the fence unable to make a choice – the traditional interpretation. An early decision to vote for the incumbent is easier because voters know incumbents best. It helps to think of undecided voters as undecided about the incumbent, as voters who question the incumbent’s performance in office. Most or all voters having trouble with this decision appear to end up deciding against the incumbent.”

Nonetheless, empirical data suggests the rule may be a myth. Nate Silver notes that it is “extremely common for an incumbent come back to win re-election while having less than 50 percent of the vote in early polls.” In addition, “there is no demonstrable tendency for challengers to pick up a larger share of the undecided vote than incumbents.”

Bradley effect

A theory that seeks to explain discrepancies between opinion polls and election outcomes when a white and black candidate run against each other.

Newsweek: “The Bradley effect is named after Tom Bradley, the former Los Angeles mayor who, in 1982, narrowly lost a bid to become California’s governor after having led substantially in the polls. The same pattern reflected itself in other instances involving African-American candidates: Douglas Wilder underperformed his polling in 1989 (but still narrowly won the Virginia governor’s race), as did David Dinkins in the New York mayoral race that same year. The theory goes that, in these races, white voters wanted to appear politically correct by telling pollsters they were going to vote for a black candidate when, in fact, they were not prepared to do so.”

psephology

The scientific study and statistical analysis of elections and voting.

The term was coined in 1952 by Oxford Professor R. B. McCallum and is derived from the Greek word psephos, which means pebble, and references the pebbles used by the Ancient Greeks to cast their votes.

push poll

A push poll a seemingly unbiased survey that is actually conducted by supporters of a particular candidate that intends to disseminate negative or misleading information about an opponent. Its intent is primarily to distribute propaganda rather than to understand the views and opinions of the public.

Stuart Rothenberg notes push polls “are really advocacy calls aimed at thousands of recipients. They are like television or radio ads, except they are delivered over the telephone. They seek to convey positive or negative information to influence a voter’s final vote decision.”

Mark Blumenthal: “A true push poll is not a poll at all.  It is a telemarketing smear masquerading as a poll.”

exit polls

An exit poll is a poll of voters taken immediately as they leave the polling place in which they are asked which candidate they chose.

Exit polls are conducted by media companies to get an early indication of who actually won an election, as the actual result sometimes may take many hours to determine.