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Nate Silver of New York Times Dissects Accuracy of Latino Voter Polling

by Mahwish Khan on 10/15/2012 at 11:38am

Editor’s Note: You can tune in to a live-stream broadcast today at noon Eastern to hear about a new poll of Virginia Latinos from Latino Decisions, and how Latinos here view the Presidential and Senate candidates.  Information available below.


With presidential and down-ballot campaigns in overdrive to appeal to Latino voters across the country, polling guru Nate Silver of the New York Times’s FiveThirtyEight political blog asks an important question – do many polls of Latino voters miss the mark due to problems in methodology?

Beyond just an academic debate over polling, the answer to this question will go a long way to forecasting what will happen in a range of races and states across the country next month.  And judging by key 2010 election results, as well as the ongoing work of experts like the polling team at Latino Decisions, the answer appears to be “yes.”

As Silver wrote this weekend in a sub-post entitled, “Are Polls Underestimating Obama’s Hispanic Vote?”

“In the past couple of elections, polls have underestimated Democrats’ standing in states with heavy Hispanic populations. (The two senate races that the FiveThirtyEight forecast called incorrectly in 2010 — Nevada and Colorado — are both states with a healthy number of Hispanic voters.)

This may be because many polling firms that conduct interviews only in English miss some Hispanic voters who are more comfortable speaking Spanish. According to Matt Barreto of the polling firm Latino Decisions, which conducts bilingual interviews, primarily Spanish-speaking Hispanic voters are more likely to vote Democratic than those who have more English fluency.

Polling firms such as Latino Decisions that have conducted interviews in Spanish have shown Mr. Obama with a larger advantage among Hispanic voters than those which interview in English only. The most recent Latino Decisions poll, for example, had Mr. Obama ahead 72-20 among Hispanic voters. This poll is not an outlier; other polling firms that have conducted Spanish-language interviews have found similar results.

The countervailing factor is that Hispanics who speak mostly Spanish are unlikely to be registered or likely to vote. Still, this factor could make some difference in states with heavy Hispanic populations, like Arizona.”

As Latino Decisions has highlighted in regards to Latino voter polling methodology, the national exit polls typically rely on small sample sizes of Latino voters to draw conclusions; decide where to poll based on the percentage of the overall electorate that lives in rural, suburban and urban communities—without regard for the fact that the Latino electorate is concentrated in more urban locations; and often fail to reach Spanish-dominant voters.  Many other pre-election polls have similar flaws, which lead to skewed results in states with large numbers of Latinos.

Silver goes on to run “an alternate version of the FiveThirtyEight simulation in which I assumed that Mr. Obama would in fact win Hispanic voters by 50 percentage points, his edge in the Latino Decisions poll, as opposed to the roughly 35-point margin he’s had on average in polls that were conducted in English only.”  The results show that Obama’s “chances of winning the Electoral College rose to 69 percent from 63 percent” in Silver’s projections with this adjustment to the Latino voter margin.  The state-by-state swings are also instructive, even in a state like Virginia that is not traditionally thought of as a Latino battleground: Silver writes, “It even helped him slightly in Virginia, where about 5 percent of voters identified as Hispanic in 2008 exit polls.”

On the topic of Virginia’s closely contested races and Latino voters, from 12 PM – 1:30 PM Eastern, local and national political analysts and Latino leaders will discuss the politics of immigration and the Latino vote in Virginia in a live-streamed event held in the Student Union Room 3A at George Mason University.  At this event, co-sponsored by the Department of Public and International Affairs and the Middle East Studies Program, GMU associate professor Michael McDonald will release fresh polling of Latino voters in Virginia and a diverse panel of experts will analyze the findings and assess the way the presidential, Senate, and House candidates have handled the issue during their campaigns.

You can watch Wednesday’s event live on America’s Voice’s U-Stream page here: http://act.americasvoiceonline.org/livestream.  Video will also be available after the event.

 

 

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