May 11, 2015 — The University of New Hampshire is routinely among the most unreliable of public polling entities, and the institution’s new release in partnership with WMUR-TV in Manchester is no exception to that characterization. The poll is attracting attention because it is the first one in months to project former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush as leading his fellow Republican competitors in any early voting state.
The survey, conducted during the very long sampling period of April 24 – May 3, interviewed only 293 “likely GOP primary voters.” The 10-day questioning period is seven days longer than the optimum timetable, and the sample size is only half as large as what one would typically see in a state the size of New Hampshire.
The pollsters will argue that because they are testing only likely Republican primary voters, the sample size will be smaller than a poll studying the entire electorate. While this is true, not even reaching 300 people taints the results with a very high error factor. By the pollsters’ own admission, the error rate in this study is greater than plus or minus 5.7 percent, which means the results could vary by as much as 10 points per individual.
The results show Bush leading the field but attracting just 15 percent support. This preference level is consistent with the numbers Bush has been registering in national surveys and those from many key states. In second place with 12 percent, also a range being detected in other polls, is Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who has received a sustained post-announcement bounce after making his candidacy official on April 13. The man leading in most New Hampshire surveys and research studies around the country, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, is third with 11 percent.
The most inconsistent findings seem to revolve around newly announced candidate Carly Fiorina and ex-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. The UNH data gives Fiorina a four percent showing, while Huckabee languishes below that mark at three percent.
Both of these conclusions are inconsistent with other data. For Fiorina to score above more established candidates such as Huckabee and even former Sen. Rick Santorum, who won 11 states in 2012 against Mitt Romney in that year’s Republican nomination battle, seems far-fetched at best and erroneous at worst.
Additionally, pertaining to Huckabee, it is curious to see him as far down as three percent in this study, especially when he finished third, breaking 11 percent in the actual 2008 Republican primary. Since the former presidential candidate has generally kept his name before the public and been scandal-free during the entire ensuing period, there is little reason for almost three-quarters of his support to have left him.
As the number of published polls continues to grow exponentially, it is important to ensure that the data conclusions receiving the greatest attention are methodologically sound. For the past few years, the University of New Hampshire polling department has released surveys into the public domain that have suspect fundamentals.
Bush may well be leading the pack in New Hampshire right now, but it will take more than the UNH numbers to convince the political community of that.