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Closing the 2010 Books on Rasmussen

You know, it's hard to become the least accurate pollster of gubernatorial and Senate races in the most pro-Republican election year in decades because you exhibit a pro-Republican bias. But that's what Rasmussen Reports managed to accomplish in 2010. Nate Silver has the damning facts:

The 105 polls released in Senate and gubernatorial races by Rasmussen Reports and its subsidiary, Pulse Opinion Research, missed the final margin between the candidates by 5.8 points, a considerably higher figure than that achieved by most other pollsters. Some 13 of its polls missed by 10 or more points, including one in the Hawaii Senate race that missed the final margin between the candidates by 40 points, the largest error ever recorded in a general election in FiveThirtyEight's database, which includes all polls conducted since 1998.

Moreover, Rasmussen's polls were quite biased, overestimating the standing of the Republican candidate by almost 4 points on average. In just 12 cases, Rasmussen's polls overestimated the margin for the Democrat by 3 or more points. But it did so for the Republican candidate in 55 cases -- that is, in more than half of the polls that it issued.

Rasmussen's polls have come under heavy criticism throughout this election cycle, including from FiveThirtyEight. We have critiqued the firm for its cavalier attitude toward polling convention. Rasmussen, for instance, generally conducts all of its interviews during a single, 4-hour window; speaks with the first person it reaches on the phone rather than using a random selection process; does not call cellphones; does not call back respondents whom it misses initially; and uses a computer script rather than live interviewers to conduct its surveys. These are cost-saving measures which contribute to very low response rates and may lead to biased samples.

Rasmussen also weights their surveys based on preordained assumptions about the party identification of voters in each state, a relatively unusual practice that many polling firms consider dubious since party identification (unlike characteristics like age and gender) is often quite fluid.

FWIW, Quinnipiac and Survey USA had the best record of accuracy in Nate's analysis. But the ubiquity of Rasmussen polls, particularly if you include surveys done by its subsidiary for Fox, was a regular feature in the ebb and flow of the 2010 cycle. The firm certainly hasn't done itself any favors in terms of its future credibility.