Blog

Why We’re Viewing Rasmussen’s Immigration Poll With “Extreme Skepticism”

by Mahwish Khan on 03/14/2011 at 12:15pm

pollingIt should come as no surprise that Rasmussen’s recent poll on immigration produced anti-immigrant findings. The questions were geared for that finding, which should come as no surprise because – well – it’s Rasmussen.

Last spring, we saw lots of stories about support for an Arizona-type law. Pollsters would ask if voters supported the Arizona law and the results became the story, without highlighting the other side of the equation: that there is strong support for immigration reform. However, with Rasmussen, it’s worse — according to them, there really is no “other side.”

Nate Silver, the numbers guru who writes FiveThirtyEight.com, has found problems with Rasmussen’s polling. Last month, he dissected a poll the firm did on Wisconsin, first noting:

We’ve noted before that the automated polling firm Rasmussen Reports has had problems with bias in a statistical sense: in the election last fall, its polls overestimated the standing of Republican candidates by roughly 4 percentage points on average.

Yeah, there’s an overall bias with Rasmussen. But that’s not the only problem. After examining the way the questions were asked on the poll of Wisconsin voters, Silver observed:

It is widely recognized in the scholarship on the subject, and I have noted before, that earlier questions in a survey can bias the response to later ones by framing an issue in a particular way and by casting one side of the argument in a less favorable light.

That sounds a lot like what Rasmussen did with its immigration poll, too. The second immigration question was:

Some people believe that the goal of immigration policy should be to keep out national security threats, criminals, and those who would come here to live off our welfare system. Beyond that, all immigrants would be welcome. Do you agree or disagree with that goal for immigration policy?

The question casts our side of the argument in a much less favorable light. But, even so, a majority (54%) would welcome immigrants.

Given the bias, we’re inclined to agree with Silver’s conclusion:

Because of the problems with question design, my advice would be simply to disregard the Rasmussen Reports poll, and to view their work with extreme skepticism going forward.

Previous post:

Next post: