St. Petersburg, FL —

To anyone who ever thought that this pundit/pollster/former politician wanted a runoff in the race for governor of Georgia, look at this scene and think again. Today would have been “runoff day” had Gov. Nathan Deal not surged to a lead that left Democrats and seemingly those who follow election polls scratching their heads.

As soon as the November elections ended I kept my promise for a few after-election engagements and then escaped to my home here. I didn’t get a chance to read all of the post-election analysis– the scathing and offensive to virtually everyone memo from one political operative notwithstanding. In the end, I found an Atlanta Constitution article by Nancy Badertscher and Shannon McCaffrey to be to most on-target piece with regard to polling and the election.

Their article was centered on why the polls were so off in Georgia this year. And in some ways it was on point. Everyone’s numbers were late in indicating what became a GOP surge, ours included. But in reality, the final surveys conducted by InsiderAdvantage, Landmark Communications, SurveyUSA, PPP, and NBC all showed Deal surging with between 47 and 51 percent. They showed opponent Jason Carter stalled out in the low-to-mid 40 percent range.

Our final InsiderAdvantage poll released on Monday November 3rd was accompanied by a headline stating that the GOP candidates for governor and U.S. Senate would likely escape a runoff but by a slim margin. And let me give credit where credit is due. Mark Rountree at Landmark, polling for WSB, pegged the final number the closest of all of the public pollsters. He showed both Deal and David Perdue over 50 percent in his final survey.

Bottom line: The idea that the public pollsters were grossly off in Georgia is just plain silly.

Most caught the trend if not the magnitude. None blew things like, say, the pollsters in Virginia! The RealClearPolitics average of public polls for a Deal in 2010 was 48 percent in 2010 and the final RCP average for Deal in 2014 was…48 percent. The additional points he won in the actual elections, where there are no longer any undecided voters, was virtually the same!

But enough about polls for the moment. What is the greater lesson we learned about Georgia? First, it is still a “red” state. While metro-Atlanta may be growing slightly more “purple,” north Georgia and South Georgia are both becoming solidly Republican. Moreover, the GOP as a party and through its candidates was able to turn out Republican voters using their dislike for President Obama as a catalyst. They did it quietly but they turned their vote out.

As for the race for governor, Carter managed to inch slightly ahead of Democrat Roy Barnes’ performance four years ago. But the implosion of the Libertarian effort, coupled with the Carter campaign’s obsession with weak issues such as education, gave Deal plenty of room to romp to victory.

The Deal campaign came to life in the last six weeks with superior ads and plenty of on-air presence for its two best commodities, Nathan and Sandra Deal.

As for “demographics,” one thing became clear. Young voters still don’t vote in midterm elections. Moreover, they are often double counted in Georgia surveys as a large percent of African Americans make up the state’s under-30 age segment. That means that an overweight of the youngest of voters, coupled with a robust weighting in polls for African-Americans, can produce what some experts termed “a Democratic bias” in Georgia surveys.

But back to the front page AJC story on the polls. It was dead on target in noting that the future of polling will likely be found in internet surveys. While the AJC story noted that experts view live interviews with home phones and cells as “the gold standard” of polling, the fact is that such techniques are more the “old standard” for surveys of the future. No one will verbally answer a cell phone survey and landlines are becoming increasingly the land of the senior voter.

This year our research partner OpinionSavvy made online the centerpiece of their research efforts. And, for the record, it is my son who runs that research organization. Ironically his online surveys showed both Deal and Perdue winning with room to spare and, just as amazing, had our surveys utilized only our IVR automated polling, both Deal and Perdue would have been near 53 percent of the vote.

The big mistake for all pollsters was listening to New York and D.C polling snobs by attempting to utilize mobile devices in gathering data. If done in a legal manner (which is cumbersome and thus yields few responses) cell phone surveys are grossly unreliable. They are an obsession of old school newsmen trying to be “hip.” Polling cell phones seems progressive and logical, until someone reveals how unreliable they are.

The future of polling will be, as the AJC article suggests, online surveys, augmented by phone interviews to accurately gauge the vote on senior voters. And yes, those online surveys will occur, in great part, on smart phones and other mobile devices. But they won’t be conducted by trying to coax answers to a 30-question survey on the cell phone of a 26-six year old who doesn’t even talk to friends on a cell phone unless absolutely necessary.

Yet that is a future that will be left to those of the next generation. As one who has run as a nominee, served as a legislator, opined and polled many an election, I embrace new blood in the blood thirsty sport of politics. So just like the fax machine and the answering machine, telephone opinion surveys will soon come to an end.

As for me, I’ll still be advising, pontificating, and helping survey issues, politicians, and public policy. But this view from Snell Isle is one I want to enjoy a bit more in the future.

Congratulations to Governor Deal and his team for a great victory. And thanks for letting me enjoy this “runoff day” from the comfort of my balcony here on a Snell Isle.


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