Three Cheers, and Victories, for Pollster Selzer

Pollster Ann Selzer is 3 for 3 in a year in which pollsters have been dead wrong.


After pollsters and the press got it wrong in difficult-to-predict Iowa and New Hampshire—and in Michigan, where most predicted a dead heat between John McCain and victor Mitt Romney—the hand-wringing has been unprecedented. And kind of fun to watch.

But sitting pretty among the wreckage has been Iowa-based pollster Ann Selzer, who, polling for the Des Moines Register, predicted not only Democrat Barack Obama's decisive win in the Iowa caucuses but Republican Mike Huckabee's as well. And don't think she didn't get excoriated for her poll results leading up to the caucuses. The Clinton campaign was livid, and PBS's Judy Woodruff challenged Selzer on the air about how she came up with her controversial numbers. Woodruff: "How did you assume that?" Selzer: "I assume nothing. I trust the science of polling."

And Selzer called it right again last night in the Michigan GOP primary election. Her poll for the Detroit Free Press, published last weekend, had Republican Mitt Romney comfortably besting McCain and Huckabee far back in third.

"Polling in volatile caucuses and primaries is not for the faint of heart," Selzer tells our Liz Halloran. "But for all the quirks, the same principles apply—you have to have a method that allows you to see real change." The most difficult times for pollsters? Waiting for election results, especially when your poll may disagree with others, she says, allowing as how there may be a "private, modest, and humble moment of celebration."