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In Defense Of Pollsters

Everyone in the political world saw all the polls over the last several days, and they all pointed to a big Barack Obama win in New Hampshire. Given H

Everyone in the political world saw all the polls over the last several days, and they all pointed to a big Barack Obama win in New Hampshire. Given Hillary Clinton’s narrow victory, this has prompted many to suggest polls shouldn’t be taken seriously anymore. I think that’s a little rash under the circumstances.

Josh Marshall reminded us overnight that, by and large, polls are usually right.

[B]y and large they have a very good record. It’s silly to think that we — whether ‘we’ is reporters or political junkies or ordinary voters — are going to ignore the information that’s right in front of us. And why should we?

It’s true I guess that in an abstracted reality we could simply listen to the candidates, ignore all probabilistic data available, go to the polls with no idea of the result and learn the outcome the following morning. But that’s not the world we live in nor do I think it’s one I’d want to live in.

Agreed. Pollsters put surveys in the field, and tell us the results. The numbers offer us hints of what’s to come. When all the polls agree on a likely outcome, far more often than not, that’s what’s going to happen. Yesterday was obviously the exception, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to trash the rule.

On a related note, Matt Yglesias offers an interesting observation (and accompanying chart) from one of his commenters: “No one is talking about how the polls actually nailed Obama’s number. Obama didn’t lose this election. He stayed steady and Hillary surged ahead.”

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