Whether valid or not, criticisms that suggest pollsters are fixing the data to get a desired result have done a number on polling's reputation. By the end of the 2008 contest, almost 4 in 10 voters told Fox News pollsters they thought media pollsters were fixing their numbers for Obama, and the public's take on polls became as partisan as any other part of the campaign.
At the end of recent presidential campaigns, the Pew Research Center has asked voters to give pollsters a letter grade for their performance. In 2008, 64 percent of Democrats gave pollsters an A or B for their performance in the campaign, while just 37 percent of Republicans felt the same, a 27-point gap. Four years earlier, the partisan gap was 11 points, and in 2000, a slim 7 points separated partisans.
READING THE FINAL POLLS
In the final days of the campaign, the polls will continue, with most major pollsters releasing their final estimate of the presidential horserace just before Election Day and prognosticators massaging them into their final projections. Typically, these last-chance estimates have converged as voters solidified their choices, but the massive storm that swept through the East Coast could complicate the picture for pollsters.
With millions of East Coast voters without power, voters in hard-hit states will be difficult to reach. And many "likely voters" could wind up not voting at all as they deal with the aftermath of the storm. Pollsters aiming to produce a final portrait of the race will have a hard time knowing for sure how big an impact the storm has had on the election forecast.
Before the storm, however, this year's crop of polls had largely been in agreement that the race between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama was very close. Take the final round of public polling with a grain of salt and a pound of margin of error, and remember that polls are really just a snapshot in time.
EDITOR'S NOTE — Jennifer Agiesta oversees polling operations for The Associated Press.
Follow Jennifer Agiesta on Twitter: http://www.Twitter.com/JennAgiesta
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