Marc Rosenbaum, a senior editor at NPR and one of the guys who pays lots of attention to polls, just got back into town from a conference on polling and sent this in:
I am just back from a very rainy long weekend in Montreal, site of the 61st annual conference of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, or AAPOR (pronounced A-por). AAPOR membership comprises social science academics, opinion pollsters, like Pew and Gallup, and assorted journalists, like yours truly. The conferences are generally fun as well as interesting, because the characters who attend are smart and tuned in, and the shop talk is often provocative. The unrelenting rain kept us all pretty much indoors, which, of course, was good for attendance at the conference's various panels (for better or for worse).
There were a lot of technical panels, most of which I did not attend. I did go to a lot of others, though (did I mention it was raining the whole time?), and here are some highlights of those:
Anthony Salvanto of CBS News reported that he is trying to measure how divided the country really is in a red-blue way. To do so, he's been including questions that ask people whether they share the values of people who disagree with them politically. The more people pay attention to politics, the less likely they are to think they share non-political values with people who disagree with them on political issues.
On a panel about opinion gathering around the world, there were important warnings about the quality of such surveys. In many cases, only very small subsets of populations are surveyed, so it's hard to know whether the results accurately reflect the opinion of the entire country. When a poll claims to tell you how the Chinese people think about a subject, check the methodology carefully to make sure it's not just one or two cities that have been surveyed (likely).
The Kaiser Family Foundation is doing a fascinating tracking poll of seniors to explore how well or poorly the implementation of Medicare Part D (the prescription drug benefit) is going. The government is worried that too many difficulties will send it to the same fate as the catastrophic health coverage of the 1980s (it lasted only one year because seniors were so opposed to it). So far, the KFF researchers have found that the government has adapted well to seniors' complaints. Keep an eye on this ongoing survey for some in-depth analysis down the road.
One last thing: There also was a session called, "Who Really Won the Election 2004?" This was an opportunity for the cyber-active bloggers who think the Ohio vote was somehow fraudulent to present their best case. They didn't. Their presentations were confusing, if not incoherent to this listener, and they all seemed to boil down to one complaint: namely, that the vote totals didn't match the exit polls. The problem with that argument is that if you can give good reasons why the exit polls were wrong in Ohio (and there are many), their entire complaint disappears.
I have to say, though, that I did see the respondent in that panel, who gave a thoughtful and coherent critique of the vote-fraud proponents, chatting for hours one evening with one of the presenters. It's the good thing about a conference like this, even when it rains.