NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

New and Improved Internet Polling

April 6, 2004

Internet polling surveys have a reputation of being inaccurate compared to telephone surveys. This is due to the fact that Internet voters self-select, and that only those with Internet access are able to participate.

However, an Internet poll that was conducted by the Hoover Institution and Stanford University during California's recall election showed promising results. Known as the Stanford-Hoover-Knowledge Networks (SHKN) poll, it involved drawing a random sample of people first, then providing the computer equipment and Internet connection to those in the sample without it. A comparison of the SHKN poll with three major polls -- CNN/USA Today, Los Angeles Times and Field, showed:

  • Early in the race (from late August to early September), the SHKN poll was the only survey reflecting Schwarzenegger in the lead among Democratic candidates Bustamante and Davis.
  • The SHKN poll reflected more accurately the actual vote for Schwarzenegger, 43 percent vs. election results of 49 percent, while the other polls indicated support for Schwarzenegger at 40 percent or less.
  • All the polls, including SHKN, overstated the final margin of support for the recall, which was 55 percent in election results; this was likely due to the media reports of Schwarzenegger's surge in the polls, prompting more Democrats to vote against the recall at the last minute.

One aspect of Internet polling that may not be reflected in telephony survey polls is the anonymity of choosing a candidate simply by clicking a mouse. Telephone survey respondents may be reluctant to verbally indicate their voting preferences to a survey taker.

The SHKN experiment with Internet political polling is highly encouraging. In the end, a far cheaper method of data collection performed at least as well as the more traditional (and more expensive) telephone polls. And early in the campaign, it is possible the new method did a better job of portraying the true shape of the political landscape, say observers.

Source: David W. Brady, et al: "A New Frontier in Polling," Hoover Digest, No. 1, 2004, Hoover Institution.


Browse more articles on Government Issues