The Great Poll Scam, Part IV: Hubert, You Magnificent Bastard, I Read Your Numbers!

The Hubert H. Humphrey Institute is a combination public-policy study program and think tank at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.  Named for the patriarch of the Democratic Farmer-Labor party – a forties-era amalgamation of traditional Democrats and neo-wobbly Farmer-Labor Union members whose Stalinist elements Humphrey famously purged in the mid-forties – the institution serves as a clearinghouse of soft-left chanting points and a retirement program for mostly left-of-center politicians and heelers.

The Institute has been doing general public opinion polling for years; in 2004, in conjunction with Minnesota Public Radio, they dove into the horserace game.

Let’s just sum up their performance in each of the five Presidential, Gubernatorial and Senate races they’ve polled in that time:

2004 Presidential Race

  • HHH Poll:  Kerry 43, Bush 37
  • Actual Election Results: Kerry 51, Bush 47
  • Bush underrepresented by 10.61, Kerry by 8.09.

2006 Gubernatorial Race]

  • HHH Poll: Hatch 45, Pawlenty 40
  • Actual Election Results: Pawlenty 46.45.
  • Pawlenty underrepresented by six, Hatch polled accurately.

2006 Senate Race

  • HHH Poll: Klobuchar 54, Kennedy 34
  • Actual Election Results: Klobuchar 58.06, Kennedy 37.94
  • Kennedy underpolled by 3.94, Klobuchar by 4.06 – but it was a blowout.  We’ll come back to this.

2008 Presidential Election

  • HHH Poll: Obama 56, Mccain 37
  • Actual Election Results: Obama 54.2, McCain 44.
  • Obama overrepresented almost two points; McCain, almost seven points under. A ten point race was portrayed as a 20 point landslide.

2008 US Senate Race

  • HHH Poll: Franken 41, Coleman 37
  • Actual Election Results: Franken by 41.99 to 41.98.
  • Franken underrepresented by less than a point; Coleman, by almost five.  A tie race was portayed as a convincing five points beat-down.

2010 Governor Race

  • HHH Poll: Dayton 41, Emmer 29.
  • Actual Election: Dayton 43.63, Emmer 43.21, recount in progress.
  • A tie race was depicted as a 12 point blowout.

A polling guru will say that these gross inaccuracies are a function of the Humphrey’s likely voter model – which for whatever reason assumed in each case that Democrats were much more likely to vote than Republicans, and likely to make up a greater portion of the electorate.

And yet the Humphrey Institute’s heuristics – the procedural, institutional and methodological rules by which institutions develop intelligence about things like voter behavior – seem to be stuck, for whatever reason, in the eighties.  The average HHH poll shows Republican candidates to be polling over five and a half points lower than Democrats in their real-life election performances.


In five of the six races covered above, the errors in measurement underrepresented the GOP.  It’s an figure lower than that of the “Minnesota Poll” only because they’ve been in business sixty years fewer than the Strib’s poll.

Why would this be?

More next week.

In our next installment: I’ve shown you the behavior of both polls in horseraces across the board.  But a particularly interesting bit of behavior comes out if you throw out the blowouts – the 30 point massacre in the 1994 Governor race, the 20 points slaughter in the 2006 Senate contest – and focus on the tight races.

More on Wednesday.


\The series so far:

Monday, 11/8: Introduction.

Wednesday, 11/10: Polling Minnesota – The sixty-six year history of the Strib’s Minnesota Poll. It offers some surprises.

Friday, 11/12: Daves, Goliath:  Rob Daves ran the Minnesota Poll from 1987 ’til 2007.  And the statistics during that era have a certain…consistency?

Monday, 11/15: Hubert, You Magnificent Bastard, I Read Your Numbers!:  The Humphrey Institute has been polling Minnesota for six years, now.  And the results are…interesting.  In the classic Hindi sense of the term.

Wednesday, 11/17: Close Shaves: Close races are the most interesting.  For everyone.  Including you, if you’re reading this series.

Friday, 11/19: The Hay They Make: So what does the media and the Twin Cities political establishment do with these numbers?

Monday, 11/22: A Million’s A Crowd:  Attention, statisticians:  Raw data!  Suitable for cloudsourcing!

21 thoughts on “The Great Poll Scam, Part IV: Hubert, You Magnificent Bastard, I Read Your Numbers!

  1. Badda,

    Bite your tongue. Of course I did.

    I’m guessing more than a few people though it was a Seinfeld reference, though. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    Your job isn’t to get the joke. Your job is to get the other poor dumb SOB to get the joke.

    No movies for you.

  2. I’m sorry, Badda. All this dealing with lefties – not just bloggers, but the whole bevy of cantina band extras whose invincible cretinism clogs Twitter – has diluted the value of sarcasm.

  3. Yes Badda, you of all people should be maintaining a level of civility and decorum that is expected from elite bloggers. Sense of humor is, as always, optional. Unless you comment at Anti-Strib.

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