National News

What Our Live Polling Results Say About California

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Jose A. del Real
Inyoung Kang, New York Times

Our colleagues at The Upshot have partnered with Siena College to conduct real-time polling in several of the most competitive races in the country, several of which are in California. They have been reporting the results live, respondent by respondent, as survey calls are being placed. That includes live polls underway in California’s 45th and 48th Congressional Districts, in addition to dozens already completed nationally and in the state’s most competitive districts.

We spoke with Nate Cohn, a correspondent who covers elections, polling and demographics, to ask him about the project and what he has been seeing in California.

Q: What’s the reason behind doing live polling?
A: After the 2016 election, we felt like it was important to demystify polling for people. We felt like people didn’t understand why the polls could be wrong, and they took polls to be a little bit more precise than we do. So we wanted to lay out all the challenges involved in polling, the assumptions that underlie it and the increasing challenge of even reaching people in an era of cellphones and caller ID. We thought this would be a compelling way to do it.
Q: What are some of these challenges you’ve mentioned, which news consumers might not understand about polling itself?
A: We show the extent that our results are heavily dependent on assumptions about turnout. Right now there’s an 8-point difference between what we think the result would be in California 45 in a 2014 electorate versus the electorate we currently project.

Obviously the estimates that we report are the best that we can come up with based on the data at our disposal. But anyone who tells you that they are 100 percent sure what a high-turnout California midterm electorate looks like is lying to you, because there hasn’t been one in a long time and certainly in a Democratic-leaning year. We think we’ve laid as much of that out there as we can.

Q: What are insights you’ve gleaned from the polling you’ve already finished in California?
A: I think the biggest thing that we see in our California results is that the “no party preference” vote in Orange County is poised to break really, really big for the Democrats. And that’s not true in the rest of the state. In our poll of California 25, which is a northern Los Angeles County, or California 10, which is in the northern Central Valley, we don’t see that pattern.

But in every poll that we have done in Orange County, the Democrats command a very, very, very wide lead with NVP voters. And that’s important for Democrats because in all these districts the Republicans are likely to have a registration advantage, and indeed they have a registration advantage in the early vote so far. They need that to be competitive; it doesn’t assure them a victory, but it’s an important trend.

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