Della Volpe addressed the perceived faults among the public in the field of polling. He stated that a pollster’s credibility is incorrectly tied to how many polls they get right. “If a venture capitalist is right three out of ten times, they are retired by the time they're 50 years old. The same thing with a baseball player. Same thing with the weather. You know? But a pollster is supposed to get it right, what, 99 out of 100 times or 100 times out of 100 just to basically live to conduct another poll.”
He remarked that polls should not be used to predict the future, that they are only “snapshots of a particular moment.” That what some may say were errors in the 2016 Election, Della Volpe said that was not the case with national polling. “I often remind my friends that it was as accurate as it has ever been.”
The national polls indicated that 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by less than half a point. But many state-based polls that tracked the 2016 presidential election―in places like Michigan and Wisconsin―had it wrong. “There’s just not a lot of work in those states. Most of the national organizations don’t invest in polling so you have local organizations, local media, local colleges who often don’t have the resources to poll on a regular basis to conduct the same kind of rigorous kind of sampling as we would on a national basis,” Della Volpe said. "But the biggest factor was that a major part of the Trump voting base which [have] not typically voted in previous elections was missing from those samples ... So, not a lot of polling; not a lot of investment in polling, and, a changing electorate that no one was really prepared for."
Della Volpe looks for national polls with a margin of error around three and a half percent. Therefore, the poll would be around 1,000 participants allowing for multiple points of analysis. “Margin of error is important to look at the top line but you want to get as many people represented in a survey as possible so you can look at some of the important subgroups,” Della Volpe explained.
Della Volpe also reminded the audience to be aware of the “herding effect.” With the Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire Democratic Presidential Primary less than three months away, things can change rapidly on the ground with many polls being potentially manipulated in one instance or another to make it out to what pollsters were expecting. “Sometimes an outlier is right. So, don’t just discount the outlier just because they are an outlier.”
Della Volpe closed by emphasizing the need for civics education, critical thinking, multiple perspectives, and civil dialogue in a political climate where many people find themselves in media silos. “I think we should all do the best we can to at least, nothing’s perfect but at least try, to get different perspectives to understand our neighbors and our family better if nothing else.”