Pollsters Warn Networks Over Debate Polling

By Mark Joyella 

The cable networks have relied on polling data to determine which candidates are top-tier, and which are not–dividing the field of candidates into prime time players and early evening warm up acts. But pollsters say the polls being used to make these crucial decisions just aren’t reliable.

“Polls are being used to do a job that they’re really not intended for — and they’re not as qualified for as they used to be,” Cliff Zukin, a professor at Rutgers University and past president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, told Politico.

Zukin argues small sample sizes–and big margins of error–mean candidates may not be getting divided fairly, with plenty on the line:

The types of national surveys being considered by TV networks typically have as few as 200 respondents for the Republican primary — there were 230 in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that pegged Bush at 7 percent. (with a margin of error that could have placed Bush as high as 14 percent, or as low as 1 percent) A single respondent can make a big difference when networks are averaging as few as four polls together and a tenth of a percent could make the difference between appearing onstage with the front-runners — and standing next to George Pataki in the undercard.

“It’s like asking a scale that can only tell pounds to measure ounces,”