tags: , Blog

Watch: Matt Barreto of Latino Decisions Explains Why Exit Polls Fail to Capture the Latino Vote in Less than Three Minutes

Share This:

As we’ve written about before, exit polls dramatically misrepresent the Latino vote.

We first covered this issue all the way back in 2010, but it was the 2012 cycle where we saw some of the craziest  exit poll results we’d ever seen. Here’s what we said about those results back in 2012.

Did you know that, despite running exceedingly racialized anti-Latino advertisements in Nevada’s Senate race, Sharon Angle got 30% of the Latino vote? Jan Brewer also did well, attracting an above-average 28% share of Arizona’s Hispanic vote just months after signing SB1070 into law.  Moreover, Meg Whitman received 21% of the African American vote in her failed run for Governor of California, including 28% of black males!

If these “facts” sound suspicious to you, they should.  Nevertheless, they represent several of the formal findings of the National Exit Poll from 2010.

This election cycle, America’s Voice co-sponsored a huge election eve poll of nearly 5,000 Latino voters nationwide and in key 2014 states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Nevada, North Carolina and Texas) to provide new insights into Latino voter behavior in the 2014 elections.

At the presentation of the finding of this poll, Matt Barreto of Latino Decisions explained exactly why exit polls fail to capture the Latino Vote and how election eve polling better captures the sentiments of Latino and Asian voters. It’s a must watch that you can see here:

, principal and co-founder of the polling firm Latino Decisions, and a Professor of American Politics and Chair of Chicano/a – Latino/a Studies at Stanford University, explained it this way on Twitter:

And if you are a reporter, be sure to ask these three questions before citing exit polls covering the Latino vote:

1) How were precincts selected?  What criteria apart from “probability proportionate to size” were used?  How were “national” precincts selected from the state samples?  What did NEP do in the 19 states where there are NO state level studies?

The selection of precincts by the NEP is something of a mystery.  While there was text on their website that asserted that all voters have an approximately equal opportunity of selection, it is clear that the resulting precincts are also influenced by geography and vote history.  Indeed, their own description suggests precincts are grouped by “type,” which is not defined.

In recent years, “national” estimates were drawn from surveys administered in a set of precincts sampled from those already selected within each state.  This year, 19 states have no state-level polls.  How are precincts selected in these states?  How many?

The selection of precincts matters a great deal.  Because all the interviews are clustered in the selected precincts, the number of precincts in which surveys are conducted is critical.  Too few precincts and the margin of error around estimates for sub-populations like Latinos or African Americans will be very large.  And if there is a systematic bias—for example, if NEP selects a somewhat larger share of competitive precincts to better predict two-party vote—then we over-survey a special kind of minority voter, one who lives primarily among whites.  These voters are more assimilated, better educated, higher income, and more conservative than other minority voters.

As we note just above, Warren Mitofsky—the pollster behind the formation of the exit polls as we now know them—admitted that clustering effects can particularly effect Latino data, “A detailed look at the distribution of plurality Hispanic precincts in the National Exit Poll sample demonstrates how this clustering effect can influence the estimate of Hispanic voting in the National Exit Poll.” He concludes, “If we want to improve the National Exit Poll estimate for Hispanic vote we would either need to drastically increase the number of precincts in the National Sample or oversample the number of Hispanic precincts,” (Mitofsky 2005).

A post-2004 reexamination (Leal et al 2005) of the exit polls whose Latino estimates diverged substantially from all pre-election polling found that precincts with significant minority majorities—which represent the demographic reality of many minority voters—are wildly underrepresented in the national frame.

2) What share of Latino interviews were done in Spanish?  If that number is much less than 25-30%, how can your poll be accurate if between a quarter and a third of Latino voters are Spanish-dominant?

Pew estimates that 25% of Latino voters are foreign born.  An additional group is comprised of natural born citizens of the US who were born on the island of Puerto Rico (or moved back and forth across their lifespan).  An additional small percent are native-born citizens but have lived in linguistically isolated communities.  As a consequence, somewhere higher than 30% of Latino registered voters nationally would prefer to be interviewed in Spanish (this varies by state).

When Latino Decisions polls registered voters at random, all respondents are offered an immediate opportunity to speak Spanish. Since our interviewers are bilingual, this does not require a call back or even a delay—the interviewer proceeds in Spanish without interruption.  Exit polls provide no such opportunity. Spanish language interviewing is available only on a limited basis in majority-Latino precincts (which numbered 11 nationwide in the 2004 exit poll) but not available in the thousands of other precincts they select. The result is that the total share of all Latino interviews conducted in Spanish is extremely small. In 2004, for example, 35 interviews were completed in Spanish out of 638 Latinos in the national NEP dataset, or 4.7%. In short, exit polls are under-surveying Spanish-dominant Latino citizens by a huge factor, introducing a systematic bias toward more assimilated, higher income, better educated voters. This is despite the fact that a 2011 national survey of Latino voters by Latino Decisions reported that 31% watch Spanish TV news programming every day, and an additional 25% watch Spanish news programming multiple times per week.  Only 22% of Latino voters said they never watch Spanish TV.  By offering a very limited amount of high-density Latino precincts, and very limited interviews with Spanish dominant Latinos the national exit polls dramatically misrepresent the Latino vote.

3) How reflective is the exit poll of the true population of Hispanic/Latino voters?

Exit poll demographics vary meaningfully—and consistently in the same direction—from Current Population Survey data regarding the composition and characteristics of the electorate.  That is, the exit polls over-represent middle-class, higher educated minorities.  This may be a result of the selection of precincts and it may be a consequence of the language problem.  Results from 2008 and 2010 illustrate how significant the skew is.