May 13, 2012 / 4:17 AM / 6 years ago

American mosaic: A new kind of poll

(Reuters) - In January, Reuters and Ipsos began an ambitious polling project intended to give our audience an unprecedented view of the American public during the 2012 presidential election. We call it the American Mosaic.

So far, more than 40,000 people have been polled, and we are adding to that number by about 2,500 people each week. By the time the election is held the poll should reach 150,000 people. But this is not a traditional telephone poll. Our data is primarily drawn from online surveys using sampling methods developed in consultation with several outside experts. These involve recruiting respondents from the entire Internet in addition to millions of individuals pre-screened by Ipsos. The responses are then weighted based on demographic information and refined using a monthly telephone poll.

Ipsos Research Director Chris Jackson said his company is convinced of the merits and accuracy of online polling, especially after Ipsos was able to refine the techniques over several months during the contested Republican primaries.

In the Florida primary, for example, our daily polling in the last week before the vote detected Mitt Romney’s late surge, which resulted in a double-digit victory. In Florida we applied a lesson learned from the earlier South Carolina primary. In that case we failed to catch a late surge by Newt Gingrich because we quit over-sampling for the state four days before the vote.

We have also been able to mine the growing trove of data to enrich Reuters coverage as issues pop up in the presidential race. When President Obama announced his support of gay marriage, for example, we had four months of polling data on the question that could be quickly sorted by age, race or other factors. With tens of thousands of responses already collected, those results were accurate to within one percentage point. Because of the methods used to collect this poll data, accuracy is measured using a statistical calculation called a credibility interval.

One goal of American Mosaic is to step away from the typical horse-race surveys, look at the patchwork of distinctive groups that make up America, and document how their views are shaping the political landscape. In the coming months, our polling will inform a series of stories that take our audience inside these communities, which include post-Persian Gulf War veterans, recent college graduates, middle-income African Americans, and Hispanics living in states with strict immigration laws.

Combined with the work of Reuters reporters, photographers, videographers, and graphic artists, the rich data base created by American Mosaic will offer a unique view of American voters in a crucial election year.

Editing by Lee Aitken and Prudence Crowther

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