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Polling Accuracy Once Again At Issue Following Gillum Primary Win

The firm ChangeResearch, describes itself as a service for "forward-thinking" candidates. It conducted internal survey's for Andrew Gillum's campaign.

A little-known polling firm based in California accurately called Florida’s democratic gubernatorial primary for Andrew Gillum. And it’s the firm the Gillum campaign relied on for its internal tracking. 

During a swing through of the state with Senator Bernie Sanders, the Gillum campaign talked about “the surge".

“We’ve got an opportunity on August 28th because the other folks in this race think they have this walking away but we’ve got another thing coming for them. We’re going to show up. The Progressive movement is going to show up like we’ve never shown up before and we’re going to flip this state blue," he said to cheers. 

Throughout the primary election cycle, the polls showed Gillum trailing the presumed front-runners, North Florida Congresswoman Gwen Graham and former Miami Beach Mayor. Closer to the primary, a few noted he was near second place. Gillum ended up winning. And this marks yet another election cycle where the polls were wrong.

A screenshot of results from polls taken in the runup to the 2018 Florida gubernatorial primary.
A screenshot of results from polls taken in the runup to the 2018 Florida gubernatorial primary.

Many of the polls the public has historically relied on are based on randomized phone calls. But landlines are becoming obsolete, cell phone numbers unlisted, and some folks don’t answer calls from unknown numbers, making it harder for pollsters to find people that way.  Florida State University political scientist Lance DeHaven-Smith noted the problem two years ago, when most polls pointed to a win for Hilary Clinton over President Donald Trump.

“What we’re finding is the internet is turning out to be more accurate than cell phone survey because people have a response-bias. When they’re talking to another individual they seem to be reluctant to say they’re supporting Trump," DeHaven-Smith noted during a 2016 appearance on the WFSU show, "It's About Florida."

But many polling firms are still using traditional techniques. 

“If you rely on 2016 polling techniques to predict races, you're going to lose," says Pat Reilly, Co-founder of Change Research, the firm the Gillum campaign relied on for its internal surveys. 

On August 20th, the Gillum campaign released one such Change Research poll predicting his eventual win.  The group uses internet and social media-based methods and targets under-represented groups.

“When you look at people’s media consumption habits, the vast majority of people, particularly especially young people, rely on their hand-held phone to engage. Therefore we’re able to get in front of a lot of younger people, get a representative sample in frequently under-counted communities, for example, African American communities, majority-minority or immigrant communities."

Now, days after Florida’s primary, the first poll of the Gillum-Ron DeSantis gubernatorial race has emerged. It uses automated cell phone calls to get responses, and it shows Gillum with a five point lead. 

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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