Fifteen pollsters told us their response rates for election polls this year and in 2012.2 The average response rate this year is 11.8 percent — down 1.9 percentage points from 2012.3 That may not sound like a lot, but when fewer than one in seven people responded to polls in 2012, there wasn’t much room to drop. It’s a decline of 14 percent, and it’s consistent across pollsters — 12 of the 15 reported a decline, and no one reported an increase.
These results are consistent with what pollsters have reported for years: thatpeople are harder to reach by phone, and are less likely to want to talk to strangers when they are reached. Here, the pollsters show just how quickly response rates have fallen in only two years.
No one cited low response rates as a reason to expect poll error. Perhaps that’s because pollsters have managed to maintain strong national-election records despite declining response rates.
Instead, the top reason cited was the difficulty of forecasting turnout in midterm elections, without a presidential race to bring voters to the polls. And the crucial midterms are in states that don’t usually have close races. “The key Senate battlegrounds this year are also places like Alaska, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, etc., where most of the public pollsters don’t have a ton of experience,” one pollster said. “It’s not the Ohios and Pennsylvanias and Floridas of the world that we’re all used to polling a lot.”
Some also cited an increase in unproven polling techniques by pollsters. “Many are attempting to use Internet surveys with untested methodologies to determine likely voters,” said Darrel Rowland, the Columbus Dispatch’s public affairs editor, who conducts the newspaper’s Dispatch Poll. “As often happens to pioneers, there could be some grim results.”
Another pollster echoed a lament we’ve made here: “There are far too few quality polls in 2014 and that is saying something, given what we saw in 2012.”