RABA Research, Simpson College to provide bipartisan polling


by Ashley Smith, Editor-in-Chief

INDIANOLA, Iowa — Red America Blue America Research and Simpson College announced last Monday they would join forces to provide bipartisan polling for elections and other political issues.

RABA and Simpson decided to team up because they believed the partnership would be mutually beneficial, RABA co-founder Tim Albrecht said.

“I think it was an opportunity for Simpson to further advance their name, with regards to the gold standard in a political education,” Albrecht said. “And from RABA Research’s point of view, we viewed it as a good opportunity to partner with a gold-plated name in promoting and advancing the polls that we were taking.”

Seth Andersen, director of the John C. Culver Public Policy Center, said it provides opportunities for Simpson students who are interested in the polling process.

“Under this agreement with RABA, we’re going to create a preferred internship program,” Andersen said. So political science students at Simpson, in particularly those who want to get some real-world experience in polling and survey research, will have an opportunity to do internships with some of the principals who work for RABA.”

Andersen said Simpson was drawn to the relationship with RABA because it brands itself as a truly bipartisan polling outfit.

“It fits in nicely with a couple of aspects of the mission of Simpson, the political science department, and that’s to serve as a place where we can bring together a broad range of political interests, a broad range of viewpoints, to take a critical look at politics and public policy,” Andersen said.

Three leading Democrats and three leading Republicans in the political field founded RABA Research in 2016 after noticing the bias in political polling.

“With polling, campaigns often hire a Republican firm or a Democratic firm, based on what side of the aisle you align with and pollsters, by large, have needed to be partisan in order to put food on the table because Republicans don’t want to hire Democratic pollsters and vice versa,” Albrecht said.

With RABA Research, the goal was to create a truly bipartisan pollster.

“Whereas most polling is used to figure out how to persuade people to your point of view, our firm being a bipartisan firm, just simply takes the temperature of the public without using the information to persuade one way or the other, which makes us different, Albrecht said.

Having an equal number of skilled political operatives from both parties is how balance is achieved, Andersen said.

“When you do that you have an equal amount of people serving as a check on each other. So someone proposes a polling question that might be leading or tend to produce biased results for their side, that’s not going to make it through this funnel,” Andersen said.

RABA uses automated polling to conduct research instead of the typical live-caller polls, which are a cheaper and faster than live-caller, Albrecht said.

“What we do, is we have IVR or autodial polls where we will call respondents with a pre-recorded message and respondents then can press a corresponding number to tell us how they feel about a particular issue or candidate,” Albrecht said.

Albrecht said in the past, automated surveys were looked at with a skeptical eye.

“But fast forward to 2016, the data is better, the lists are better, and we’re able to conduct a poll in under two minutes, whereas the long form polls are conducted within 25 minutes,” Albrecht said.

Albrecht also believes automated polls are more accurate than live-caller polls.

“We would say that with people being able to answer anonymously through a computer system, it’s a lot easier for them to say what they’re really thinking,” Albrecht said.

According to a 2015 study conducted by Morning Consult, more people admitted they were going to vote for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in the 2016 election in automated surveys than live-caller.

This is due to a so-called social desirability bias. Respondents won’t admit to a live-caller that they plan to vote for Trump because they are afraid of judgment, Morning Consult concluded.

The numbers don’t lie. The first election poll RABA conducted was for the Missouri Democratic Primary. It was the only pollster to get the race right within the margin of error.

RABA and Simpson’s first poll came out Monday, showing Trump leading Democratic rival Hillary Clinton by 1 percentage point in Iowa.

“Ignoring the horse-race elements, this is definitely a dissatisfaction element,” Professor of Political Science Kedron Bardwell said. “Over 40 percent of Iowans say they are mainly voting against rather than for a candidate, and by a 2-to-1 margin, Iowans want to hear the views of the third-party alternatives in the debates.”

Trump is getting a historically lower number of evangelical voters than a typical Republican but is making up for it by converting non-college-educated voters to his camp, Bardwell said. Iowa is on the lower end (around No. 35) in terms of the percent of college-educated residents.

Iowa is essentially in a dead heat between the two candidates, as the margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

“If Trump is unlikely to take Pennsylvania, Iowa is absolutely crucial for him, as are a number of other traditional swing states,” Bardwell said.

The senatorial race poll shows incumbent Republican Chuck Grassley with a substantial lead over Democratic nominee Patty Judge, 50 percent to 37 percent.

In the congressional election, the poll shows incumbent Republican David Young with a lead of 15 points over Democrat Jim Mowrer, 50 percent to 35 percent.