Gallup bails out of primary polling -- and may not poll in general election either

Let’s face it: the 2012 election cycle wasn’t kind to most pollsters and analysts, and neither was the 2014 midterm cycle that followed. Most had to go back after the 2012 election, offer mea culpas, and rethink the assumptions built into the process. Gallup wants to go even further than that, however — they want to opt out of the process altogether:

Gallup has been the country’s gold standard for horse-race election polling ever since its legendary founder, George Gallup, predicted Franklin Roosevelt’s landslide reelection in 1936.

But after a bruising 2012 cycle, in which its polls were farther off than most of its competitors, Gallup told POLITICO it isn’t planning any polls for the presidential primary horse race this cycle. And, even following an internal probe into what went wrong last time around, Gallup won’t commit to tracking the general election next year.

It’s a stunning move for an organization that built its reputation on predicting the winners of presidential elections. But it comes at a time of unusual tumult in the polling world. Other top-level brands like the nonprofit Pew Research Center have yet to poll the horse race, and still others have expressed concern about the accuracy of polling at a time when fewer people are reachable or willing to talk to pollsters.

Instead of conducting polling in primaries, Gallup will instead focus on issue testing. That seems like an odd choice, especially since the two are hardly mutually exclusive; other pollsters manage to do both. And it’s not as if their primary polling was so far off — it was in the general election that Gallup (and others) missed the call so significantly. Issue testing is definitely a significant area of public-interest polling, but this is an every-four-years opportunity to be part of the public conversation. It seems odd that Gallup, of all organizations, has chosen to make itself irrelevant in polling of the highest popular interest.

So what are they doing these days? Politico’s Steven Shepard wondered too, and found out that Gallup is busy defending democracy, or something:

“We’re looking to see where we can make the best contribution to understanding the election,” Newport said. “We’re committed to helping the democracy, if I may be so pretentious,” he added.

It seems you may. Newport won’t even commit to polling in the general election, saying that they “have not made any final decisions” on 2016 yet. That would end a long and valuable series of polling that provides significant insight into voter choices, when done properly. It’s a curious way to “help[] the democracy.”

One has to wonder whether the David Axelrod and Joel Benenson rebukes in late 2012 has anything to do with this decision. Whether or not the two had the precise diagnosis of methodology issues that led to the big miss in November 2012, the scolding and then the vindication of Axelrod and Benenson clearly embarrassed Gallup at the time, and they promised a review of their approach. This, however, feels more like a retreat rather than a review, a surrender rather than a commitment to refined practices. And if that’s the case, then what will that say about Gallup’s issues polling in the future?