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Gallup is out of the pre-presidential horse race




Real estate mogul and TV personality Donald Trump formally announces his bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination during an event at Trump Tower in New York.
Real estate mogul and TV personality Donald Trump formally announces his bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination during an event at Trump Tower in New York.
Brendan McDermid/Reuters /Landov

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Polling giant Gallup told Politico on Wednesday that it will be stepping back from handicapping the presidential horse race. 

The survey company has been calling political contests since FDR was in the White House, but recent mistakes have led Gallup to rethink its relationship with who's-in-first style polling. 

In 2012, the Gallup poll showed Mitt Romney leading President Barack Obama heading into the election. As it turns out, the numbers were nearly five points off. 

Experts say errors are becoming more common in political polling, mostly because traditional survey methods no longer work.

Cliff Zukin is a professor of political science at Rutgers University and the former president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research. He shared his thoughts on the announcement with Take Two's A. Martinez. 

"I guess I was more sad than anything," he said. "I think it's a loss to the profession and to what journalists get to find out about and what the public gets to know."

Zukin explained how Gallup came to be the "gold standard" in political polling.

"George Gallup was a pioneer in polling methodology and he believed that the public should have a voice in democracy," he said. Zukin says Gallup editor Frank Newport probably decided that polling before the general election had little value for voters. "I think he's gotten to the point -- as have others -- that horse racing polling doesn't make that much of a contribution,"  he said. "The big thing really is that it's become so much more expensive to do well in the last four and eight years."

Zukin says it's becoming increasingly difficult to get an accurate idea of how voting Americans are feeling, even during the general election. In 1991, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act prohibited companies from calling cell phones using automatic dialers. Zukin says this forced companies like Gallup to dial all survey calls by hand. He says it's not uncommon for companies to make about 20,000 calls to complete a 1000-person survey. 

The Protection Act had little impact on the survey industry at the time, but Zukin says the data collection process got harder as more Americans bought mobile phones. "Going back two elections, we had cell phone only in the United States for about eight percent, and we really didn't worry about it," he said. "As of this last year, we have 43 percent of the country that's cell phone only and another 17 percent that's cell phone mostly." He says this is one of the reasons why the cost of conducting a survey has risen rapidly. 

Looking to the future, Zukin says polling firms have yet to find a survey method as reliable and cost-efficient as the data gathering methods of old. "The move is everybody to internet polling, and I think that's going to happen for cost reasons," he says. But he adds that it's no silver bullet. "Maybe 85 percent [of the country] have Internet now, but that includes just about 60 percent of those over 65 -- and those people vote. They were 23 percent of all voters in the congressional election."

Zukin adds that, just because Gallup won't be polling now, this doesn't mean that they won't start tracking candidate popularity in during the 2016 election season. "I think they'll be back then," he says. No word yet from Gallup on how they'll collect the data. 

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