Yes, Virginia, methodology DOES matter
November 10th, 2005 by JTJ

A piece on calling the elections in Detroit:

MAKING A FORECAST: A secret formula helps producer call the election right



November 10, 2005

What was a viewer to believe?

As polls closed Tuesday, WDIV-TV (Channel 4) declared Freman Hendrix winner of Detroit's mayoral race by 10 percentage points.

WXYZ-TV (Channel 7) showed Hendrix ahead by 4 percentage points, statistically too close to call.

But WJBK-TV (Channel 2) got it right, declaring just after 9 p.m. that
Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was ahead, 52% to 48%, which turned out to be
almost exactly the final 53%-47% outcome declared many hours later.

And it was vote analyst Tim Kiska who nailed it for WJBK, and for WWJ-AM radio, using counts from 28 of 620 Detroit precincts.

Kiska did it with help from Detroit City Clerk Jackie Currie. She
allowed a crew that Kiska assembled to collect the precinct tallies
shortly after the polls closed at 8 p.m.

Using what he calls a secret formula, Kiska calculated how those 28 precincts would predict the result citywide.

His formula also assumed that absentee voters chose Hendrix over Kilpatrick by a 2-1 ratio.

That's different from the methods of pollsters who got it wrong
Tuesday, Steve Mitchell for WDIV and EPIC/MRA's Ed Sarpolus for WXYZ
and the Free Press. Both men used telephone polls, calling people at
home during the day and evening and asking how they voted.

It's a more standard method of election-day polling, but Tuesday proved treacherous.

Kiska, a former reporter for the Free Press and Detroit News, has done
such election-day predictions since 1974, but said he was nervous

“Every time I go into one of these, my nightmare is I might get it
wrong,” said Kiska, a WWJ producer. “I had a bad feeling about this
going in. I thought there was going to be a Titanic hitting an iceberg
and hoping it wouldn't be me.”

Kiska said he especially felt sorry for his friend Mitchell.

Mitchell said he's been one of the state's most accurate political
pollsters over 20 years, but said his Tuesday survey of 800 voters
turned out to be a bad sample.

He said polling is inherently risky, and that even well-conducted polls
can be wrong one out of 20 times. “I hit number 20 this time.”

For Sarpolus, it's the second Detroit mayoral race that confounded his
polls. He was the only major pollster in 2001 who indicated Gil Hill
would defeat Kilpatrick.

Sarpolus said the pressure to get poll results on the air quickly made
it impossible to adjust his results as real vote totals were made
public during the late evening.

Of Kiska, Sarpolus said: “You have to give him credit. … But you have to assume all city clerks are willing to cooperate.”

Contact CHRIS CHRISTOFF at 517-372-8660 or

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