The Problem With Polling Latinos

Often times, national polls also fail to survey enough Latinos or break out the demographics by important indicators such as state, age, foriegn born vs. native born, and country of origin. A recent poll from Quinnipiac took a sample of just 143 Latinos as part of a greater national poll. Only 14 percent of these interviews conducted in Spanish, a number the Latino Decisions pollsters call "an unacceptably low number."

"National polls are not designed to get an accurate geographic representation of Latinos because they draw a nationally proportionate sample of all Americans, and pick up Latino respondents wherever they surface. The Latino population maintains substantially different patterns of residence than the national population and as such, the Latino sample is rarely representative of the overall Latino population," the Latino Decisions pollsters wrote on their blog.

Polling Latinos alone is therefore preferable, but this of course requires for institutions to shell out more cash. In order for Pew Hispanic Center to achieve a sample size of 1,700 Hispanics by calling random numbers (called a random digit dial technique), Lopez estimates that approximately 240,000 phone calls have to be placed by their bilingual interviewers. Pew is known to be one of the best Latino pollsters in part because of their large endowment that comes from the Pew Charitable Trust.

Still, Pew Hispanic often avoids week-by-week voter polling in part because their methods are time-consuming, making it difficult to release results that are up to date.

Some institutions choose to find interviewees by calling those on registered voter lists that have Hispanic-sounding surnames, in order to shorten survey times and save money. But this method also has its own pitfalls.

"So many Latinos are first-time voters. They don't appear on these lists until just before the election," said the Associated Press-NORC's Thomson.

But of all the unique hurdles to polling the Latino community, the hardest and most important is knowing who is actually going to show up on November 6th.

"With all of the errors that are caused with short cuts in polling, the voter turnout estimates have such a huge margin of error around them, with 10 percentage point swings that wouldn't be detected," Tompson said.

While Latinos will certainly swing Democrat, no one knows how many will truly vote when the time comes, particularly in swing states.

"We do have to remember that certainly the polling methods that we have now are good enough to tell us that Latinos are mostly Democrats at the moment," Thompson said

"What the polls can't tell us now are all the nuances, and the divisions between regions and ethnic groups," he added. "And especially the question of voter turnout -- the polling methods we're using now don't do that well at all."

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