In an op-ed for NJ.com, Director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute Patrick Murray admitted that he “blew it,” inaccurately projecting Gov. Phil Murphy would win re-election by a large margin when the result was in reality far closer.
“I owe an apology to Jack Ciattarelli’s campaign – and to Phil Murphy’s campaign for that matter – because inaccurate public polling can have an impact on fundraising and voter mobilization efforts,” Murray wrote. “But most of all I owe an apology to the voters of New Jersey for information that was at the very least misleading.”
The final Monmouth poll of the race, released last Wednesday, found Murphy with an 11-point lead over Republican nominee Jack Ciattarelli. Two earlier polls from September and August gave Murphy 13- and 16-point leads, respectively.
“Monmouth’s conservative estimate in this year’s New Jersey race was an 8-point win for Murphy, which is still far from the final margin,” Murray wrote. “More than one astute observer of polls has pointed out that the incumbent was consistently polling at either 50% or 51% against a largely unknown challenger. That metric in itself should have been an indication of Murphy’s underlying weakness as an incumbent.”
Murray’s op-ed went on to question the usefulness of political polling when the potential for error is so high.
“If we cannot be certain that these polling misses are anomalies then we have a responsibility to consider whether releasing horse race numbers in close proximity to an election is making a positive or negative contribution to the political discourse,” he wrote.
“Most public pollsters are committed to making sure our profession counters rather than deepening the pervasive cynicism in our society,” Murray continued. “If election polling only serves to feed that cynicism, then it may be time to rethink the value of issuing horse race poll numbers as the electorate prepares to vote.”
But Monmouth was far from the only pollster that overestimated Murphy’s margin. Three other polls released in the final week before the election gave Murphy leads of eight, eight, and nine points – still off from the two or three point margin it seems Murphy will ultimately get.
Closer to the mark was a Republican internal poll that gave Murphy a three point lead, and a poll from Democratic pollster Schoen Cooperman which found that Murphy’s lead could be as small as two points in certain circumstances.
Murray also noted that “pundits and the media are hardwired to obsess on margins” – perhaps a practice for the media to outgrow, particularly in an era when polls often miss their mark.