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Salt Shaker Test: Take Mason-Dixon poll with Jeb crushing Florida with a few grains of salt

in 2017/Top Headlines by

The most recent poll from Mason-Dixon shows Jeb all but lapping the current GOP field, holding a strong 12-point lead over the 2nd-place finisher, Marco Rubio, who scored a solid 16 percent in a field of 16 challengers.

You read that right, 16 challengers named on a phone poll.

Mason-Dixon did well to rotate those names, to try to avoid inherent ballot and polling dynamics related to ordering. But we must recognize that when the final ballot is printed and if the list remains even half that long, things like primacy-recency and other ordering effects will matter to some extent.

So we have no problem with that. They played the best cards they could with what the Republican field is dealing us right now.

However, we have a real issue with the fact that this poll interviewed “500 registered Republican voters and 500 registered Democratic voters.”


In the most recent Presidential Preference Primary election (2012), turnout was (according to the secretary of state) 41 percent. While we have no way of knowing what turnout will actually be next March, we can be reasonably certain it will be somewhere between 20 percent and 45 percent due to voter behavior in past primary (presidential and otherwise) elections.

So, while we don’t know exactly what turnout WILL be; we are certain that the electorate will not be comprised of “registered” voters. It will be a much smaller subset of those voters.

Mason-Dixon should have pulled a list of voters based on some measure of prior voting history or even tried to gauge some level of engagement once they had respondents on the phone. It is critical to note that in order for a poll to be taken very seriously, it must be comprised of respondents who will look like the electorate. In the present circumstance, likely Republican and likely Democratic voters is an absolute must.

From its release, it appears M-D did not attempt to do that, and for that we simply have to take this poll with a few grains of salt.

This methodology (of interviewing casual voters) could explain, in part, why Bush did so much better than expected, as he is likely better known among those voters. It might also explain why some of the other candidates (Carson, Jindal, Santorum, Perry, Christie, Graham and Pataki) ALL scored 1 percent or less, as they are not going to be as well known among less frequent voters.

Additionally and interesting to note, the poll was balanced by county (good) to ensure the state was well represented. But, again, it was balanced by “registration” figures and not turnout figures. Further, the pollster mentions that some attempt was made to talk to cell phone users, but it was unclear if those callers were verified as voters, let alone likely primary voters. They stated that the “cell phones were selected from a list of working cell phone numbers.” We are not quite sure what that means and if it makes the sample better or worse.

On the bright side, Mason-Dixon might have been tempted to treat this as one big 1,000-sample poll and applied the smaller margin of error of 3.1 percent, but they didn’t. They correctly noted this was actually two separate polls and stuck with the larger 4.5 percent. Good for them.

Even though the very smart folks at Mason-Dixon were dealt a tough hand in having to poll more than a dozen candidates on the GOP side of the ledger, we think they dropped the ball on choosing a too-broad sample of voters.

With that, we suggest you take this poll with a few grains of salt.

Steven J. Vancore is the president of VancoreJones Communications and Clearview Research. With a master’s degree in marketing communications from Florida State University, he has nearly 30 years experience conducting polls and focus groups throughout the state.  He serves as an adjunct instructor in the Master’s of Applied American Policy and Politics program at FSU. He can be reached at

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