Nov 11th, 2018, 03:43 PM

The New York Times Promises Transparency This Time Around

By Sage Theiss Sakata
Image Credit: Shutterstock/Bakhtiar Zein
Is the answer live polling or did we just get more confused?

The New York Times announces a shift in the way they will present the polling for this year's elections. This time, they are doing it live and hoping to set a new standard of transparency.

Taken over the course of two months, the polls stopped on November 4, two days before the midterm election. What's different from last year? Well, the New York Times explains that the poll results will be accessible as they come in, and the New York Times will also provide assumptions about who will turn out, where they're calling and whether someone is picking up.

"In the process, we hope to give you a sense of what polling is really about: talking to real people, one by one, in every corner of a district," says Times reporter Nate Cohn. The Times is hoping to make a step in the right direction after the 2016 elections. Yes, the election where Hillary Clinton was supposed to win based on polls. Now that the midterm election has closed, we consider whether live polling was useful or confusing. Remember, 2020 is just around the corner. 

Whereas polling in the past consisted of conducting the poll, analyzing the data and then reporting, the New York Times is taking raw data and handing it right over to the public. 'Here you are, good luck with making sense of this!'

Yes, there are some drawbacks, as "the arts of polling analysis and presentation appear to be advancing at a different rate than citizens’ capacity to understand them," says Neiman Lab reporter Joshua Benton. AUP's International and Comparative Politics professor Steven Ekovich explains that the polling process is very technical, "It’s a highly skilled profession that requires analyzing the data based on electoral demographics," he said. The gift of data from the New York Times is not the problem, it that most people don't understand how polling is done. 


Image Credit: Shutterstock/Nicescene

There are many things to take into account when polling, "You don't just count the numbers," said Prof. Ekovich. When polling is done, it takes a lot into consideration- gender, age, ethnicity and whether someone voted in the past. "They are trying to determine who is a likely voter," he said.

There are three different categories of responses: all Americans, all registered voters and all likely voters. However, not all Americans are registered to vote and note all registered actually vote, so this can give you a distorted view. Therefore, the most accurate criteria are likely voters.

Prof. Ekovich notes that the margin of error is also very scientific. In the simplest terms, the larger the number of those pulled means the lower margin or error. Also, as everyone is different, not all responses are equal. One person's response is moved into one category, which is then compared to the analytical categories that already exist in the district. Unfortunately, there is no telling if all of this was taken into consideration when people were watching the numbers go up and down. 

It's not all harm though. Let's applaud The Times for trying to show how they work with data. Perhaps, polling literacy might even increase. "Why not have people really interested follow The New York Times and see what they do with the numbers," says Mr. Ekovich. In the midst of the elections, The New York Times wants everyone to know they are taking their job seriously. Objectivity and transparency both fall in the job description, also, the 2016 blowback wasn't great.