How Did Democrats Poll Registered Voters In A State Without Voter Registration?


North Dakota Democrats are pitching a poll to the national media (see Politico report here) which claims that House candidate George Sinner is leading Republican incumbent Kevin Cramer.

I’ll be honest with you, the poll doesn’t pass the smell test, and it seems more like bid to shape this race into a competitive one than a reflection of reality.

I could tell you that Sinner has run a lackluster campaign so far with little in-state support from contributors. I could tell you that my gut feeling, from all the political people I talk to in the state, is that Sinner isn’t getting any traction. I could also tell you that Democrats pitching this poll to national media, and not local media, seems more about convincing the national liberal donor base that this race is competitive than anything else.

But how I feel about this poll isn’t necessarily why it feels bogus.

You can read the entire polling memo by the Sinner campaign here. Note this passage (emphasis mine):

This analysis represents the findings of a survey of 400 voters representing the likely 2014 electorate in North Dakota,who were interviewed by telephone September 20-22, 2014. The study uses a registration-based sample and has a margin of error of +/-4.9% at a 95% level of confidence. Both mobile and landline phones were contacted. The margin of error is higher for subgroups.

What is a registration-based sample? Here’s a definition:

Registration-based sampling (RBS) is a sampling frame and sampling technique that has been used, with growing frequency in the past two decades, for conducting election polls. RBS frames for a given geopolitical area can be built by researchers using public records for that political jurisdiction, or they can be purchased from vendors who already have done the legwork. Unlike the random-digit dialing (RDD) telephone sampling frame that has been used primary for election polling since the 1980s, the RBS frame is comprised of a list of names, addresses, and oftentimes telephone numbers of registered voters. An immediate advantage of RBS is that the name of the sampled voter is available for use in gaining that respondent’s cooperation.

So how exactly did the Mellman Group get a sample of registered voters in a state that doesn’t have voter registration?

People often forget this about North Dakota (including, apparently, the national Democrat operatives who helped the Sinner campaign put together this poll), but North Dakota doesn’t have voter registration. We never have. All that’s required to vote in ND is an ID and a claim that you’ve lived here for at least 30 days.

To be fair, Democrats did defy the odds when their internal polling proved more accurate than external polling in 2012, leading to what was widely seen as an upset win for Senator Heidi Heitkamp over Rick Berg (despite the fact that Democrats have held that Senate seat for decades). But that always seemed to me to be more coincidence than anything else.

I think Democrats got lucky.

I might be willing to believe that Sinner is closer to Cramer than Republicans would like to admit, but Sinner leading Cramer? In a poll that seems pretty clearly to be concocted?

I’m not buying it.