The political polls have been notoriously wrong throughout this election season. Caller ID, do-not-call lists and increasing migration away from land-based phones have all conspired to make it more difficult for traditional pollsters to do their thing.
Since no one else has gotten it right, Civic Science, a Pittsburgh software company, has jumped into the prediction arena with a new twist: using only poll responses and demographic data from Pennsylvania residents collected over the Web sites of membership organizations, online media outlets, social networking portals and blogs.
Civic Science's take on tech-savvy voters shows Barrack Obama in a romp (61 percent to 37 percent) over Hillary Clinton in the state's April 22 primary. Those numbers run contrary to traditional pollsters showing Clinton comfortably in the lead, although Obama has narrowed the gap somewhat in the closing days of the campaign.
"We are certainly not suggesting that Obama is going to win Pennsylvania by 24 points or that our data, by itself, is more accurate than traditional phone surveys," John Dick, president and CEO of Civic Science, said in a statement. "We are not in the business of handicapping political races. We are in the business of measuring and understanding the opinions of web-savvy voters and consumers."
Nevertheless, Dick added, "If these people turn out to vote next Tuesday, as they have indicated they will, we could see a very close race or even an Obama win in Pennsylvania."
According to Civic Science, Obama leads Clinton among all age, gender and household income categories. The company's survey analyzed the political leanings, demographic profiles, lifestyle preferences and trends of nearly 7,000 unique Pennsylvania political consumers reached exclusively online.
When Civic Science asked respondents whether they had ever participated in a phone poll or survey, Obama's support doubled among those who claimed they had never responded to a phone poll. "The Democratic primary is clearly bringing non-traditional voters into the fray this year," Dick said. "These are voters that have proven very difficult for the phone polling companies to gauge."
Civic Science uses short, three-question polls to maximize response rates, building extensive profiles of individuals who take multiple polls over time. The identities of respondents remain completely anonymous.
"Civic Science has definitely uncovered a groundbreaking approach to using the Internet to augment phone-based polling," said John Anzalone, founder of Anzalone Liszt Research in Montgomery, Ala., and a board member of Civic Science. "Clearly, they have a long way to go before they can compete with the breadth of phone polling, but the depth and volume of data they are collecting is tremendous."
Dr. Lamar Pierce, an economist from Washington University and scientific advisory chair for Civic Science, said the company's respondent population does not represent Pennsylvania as a whole. "We can confirm that they are generally younger, more educated, more affluent and more politically active than the average Pennsylvania voter," he said.