Oct 312015

Here is an update on our work on surveybias.

How can we usefully summarise the accuracy of an election opinion poll compared to the real result of an election? In this blog, we describe a score we have devised to allow people to see how different polls compare in their reflection of the final election result, no matter how many parties or candidates are standing. This index, B, can be compared across time, polling company and even election to provide a simple demonstration of how the polls depicted public opinion in the run-up to polling-day

Source: How to measure opinion poll inaccuracy in elections – The Plot

Oct 272015

Polling data is ubiquitous in today’s world, but it is is often difficult to easily understand the accuracy of polls. In a recent paper published in Political Analysis, Kai Arzheimer and Jocelyn Evans developed a new methodology for assessing the accuracy of polls in multiparty and multi-candidate elections.

Source: Polling accuracy: a Q&A with Kai Arzheimer and Jocelyn Evans | OUPblog

Oldies but goldies. For installing/updating the ado, checkout SSC. And here is even more background material on surveybias.

Mar 312015

Worried about survey bias?

We have updated our add-on (or ado) surveybias, which calculates our multinomial generalisation of the old Martin, Traugott, and Kennedy (2005) measure for survey bias. If you have any dichotomous or multinomial variable in your survey whose true distribution is known (e.g. from the census, electoral counts, or other official data), surveybias can tell you just how badly damaged your sample really is with respect to that variable. Our software makes it trivially easy to asses bias in any survey.

Within Stata, you can install/update surveybias by entering ssc install surveybias. We’ve also created a separate page with more information on how to use surveybias, including a number of worked examples.survey bias

The new version is called 1.3b (please don’t ask). New features and improvements include:

  • Support for (some) complex variance estimators including Stata’s survey estimator (sample points, strata, survey weights etc.)
  • Improvements to the numerical approximation. survebias is roughly seven times faster now
  • A new analytical method for simple random samples that is even faster
  • Convenience options for naming variables created by survebiasseries
  • Lots of bug fixes and improvements to the code

If you need to quantify survey bias, give it a spin.

Mar 122015

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not always the third reviewer that gives you grief. In our case, it is the one and only reviewer that shot down a manuscript, because at the very least, s/he would have expected (and I quote) an “analytical derivation of the estimator”. For some odd reason of his own, the editor, instead of simply rejecting us, dared us to do just that, and against all odds, we succeeded after some months of gently banging various heads against assorted walls.

Needless to say that on second thought, the reviewer found the derivation “interesting but unnecessarily complicated” and now recommends relegating the material to a footnote. To make up for this, s/he delved into the code of our software, spotted some glaring mistakes and recommended a few changes (actually sending us a dozen lines of code) that result in a speed gain of some 600 per cent. This is very cool, very good news for end users, very embarrassing for us, and generally wrong on so many levels.

Bonus track: The third reviewer.


May 202014

The Problem: Assessing Bias without the Data Set

While the interwebs are awash with headline findings from countless surveys, commercial companies (and even some academics) are reluctant to make their raw data available for secondary analysis. But fear not: Quite often, media outlets and aggregator sites publish survey margins, and that is all the information you need. It’s as easy as \pi.

The Solution: surveybiasi

After installing our surveybias add-on for Stata, you will have access to surveybiasi. surveybiasi is an “immediate command” (Stata parlance) that compares the distribution of a categorical variable in a survey to its true distribution in the population. Both distributions need to be specified via the popvalues() and samplevalues() options, respectively. The elements of these two lists may be specified in terms of counts, of percentages, or of relative frequencies, as the list is internally rescaled so that its elements sum up to unity. surveybiasi will happily report k A^{\prime}_{i}s, B and B_{w} (check out our paper for more information on these multinomial measures of bias) for variables with 2 to 12 discrete categories.

Bias in a 2012 CBS/NYT Poll

A week before the 2012 election for the US House of Representatives, 563 likely voters were polled for CBS/The New York Times. 46 per cent said they would vote for the Republican candidate in their district, 48 per cent said they would vote for the Democratic candidate. Three per cent said it would depend, and another two per cent said they were unsure, or refused to answer the question. In the example these five per cent are treated as “other”. Due to rounding error, the numbers do not exactly add up to 100, but surveybiasi takes care of the necessary rescaling.

In the actual election, the Republicans won 47.6 and the Democrats 48.8 per cent of the popular vote, with the rest going to third-party candidates. To see if these differences are significant, run surveybiasi like this:

. surveybiasi , popvalues(47.6 48.8 3.6) samplevalues(46 48 5) n(563)
      catvar |      Coef.   Std. Err.      z    P>|z|     [95% Conf. Interval]
A'           |
           1 |  -.0426919   .0844929    -0.51   0.613     -.208295    .1229111
           2 |  -.0123999   .0843284    -0.15   0.883    -.1776805    .1528807
           3 |   .3375101   .1938645     1.74   0.082    -.0424573    .7174776
B            |
           B |   .1308673   .0768722     1.70   0.089    -.0197994    .2815341
         B_w |   .0385229   .0247117     1.56   0.119    -.0099112    .0869569
    Ho: no bias
    Degrees of freedom: 2
    Chi-square (Pearson) = 3.0945337
    Pr (Pearson) = .21282887
    Chi-square (LR) = 2.7789278
    Pr (LR) = .24920887

Given the small sample size and the close match between survey and electoral counts, it is not surprising that there is no evidence for statistically or substantively significant bias in this poll.

An alternative approach is to follow Martin, Traugott and Kennedy (2005) and ignore third-party voters, undecided respondents, and refusals. This requires minimal adjustments: n is now 535 as the analytical sample size is reduced by five per cent, while the figures representing the “other” category can simply be dropped. Again, surveybiasiinternally rescales the values accordingly:

. surveybiasi , popvalues(47.6 48.8) samplevalues(46 48) n(535)
      catvar |      Coef.   Std. Err.      z    P>|z|     [95% Conf. Interval]
A'           |
           1 |  -.0162297   .0864858    -0.19   0.851    -.1857388    .1532794
           2 |   .0162297   .0864858     0.19   0.851    -.1532794    .1857388
B            |
           B |   .0162297   .0864858     0.19   0.851    -.1532794    .1857388
         B_w |   .0162297   .0864858     0.19   0.851    -.1532794    .1857388
    Ho: no bias
    Degrees of freedom: 1
    Chi-square (Pearson) = .03521623
    Pr (Pearson) = .85114329
    Chi-square (LR) = .03521898
    Pr (LR) = .85113753

Under this two-party scenario, A^{\prime}_{1} is identical to Martin, Traugott, and Kennedy’s original A (and all other estimates are identical to A‘s absolute value). Its negative sign points to the (tiny) anti-Republican bias in this poll, which is of course even less significant than in the previous example.

May 102014

In a recent publication (Arzheimer & Evans 2014), we propose a new multinomial measure B for bias in opinion surveys. We also supply a suite of ado files for Stata, surveybias, which plugs into Stata’s framework for estimation programs and provides estimates for this and other measures along with their standard errors.  This is the first instalment in a mini series of posts that show how our commands can be used with real-world data. Here, we analyse the quality of a single French pre-election poll.

Installing surveybias for Stata

You can install surveybias directly from this website (net from http://www.kai-arzheimer.com/stata), but it may more convenient to install from SSC ssc install surveybias

Assessing Bias in Presidential Pre-Election Surveys

. use onefrenchsurvey

The French presidential campaign of 2012 attracted considerable political interest. Accordingly, numerous surveys were fielded. onefrenchsurvey.dta (included in our package) contains data from one of them, taken a couple of weeks before the actual election. The command I will discuss in this post is called (*drumroll*) surveybias and is the main workhorse in our package. surveybias needs exactly one variable as a mandatory argument: the voting intention as measured in the survey, which is appropriately called “vote” in this example. Moreover, surveybias requires an option through which must submit the true distribution of this variable. Absolute or relative frequencies will do just as well as percentages, since surveybias will automatically rescale any of them.

Ten candidates stood in the first round of the French presidential election in 2012, but only two of them would progress to the run-off. While surveybias can handle variables with up to twelve categories, requesting estimates for very small parties increases the computational burden, may lead to numerically unstable estimates and is often of little substantive interest. In onefrenchsurvey.dta support for the two-lowest ranking candidates has therefore been recoded to a generic “other” category. The first-round results, which serve as a yardstick for the accuracy of the poll, are submitted in popvalues(). For other options, have a look at the documentation.

. surveybias vote, popvalues(28.6 27.18 17.9 9.13 11.1 2.31 1.15 1.79 0.8)
______________ ________________________________________________________________
vote       Coef.   Std. Err.      z    P>|z|     [95% Conf. Interval]
______________ ________________________________________________________________
Hollande   -.0757639   .0697397    -1.09   0.277    -.2124512    .0609233
Sarkozy    .0477294   .0689193     0.69   0.489    -.0873499    .1828087
LePen   -.0559812   .0823209    -0.68   0.496    -.2173271    .1053648
Bayrou    .3057213   .0953504     3.21   0.001     .1188379    .4926047
Melenchon   -.0058251   .0988715    -0.06   0.953    -.1996096    .1879594
Joly   -.0913924   .2154899    -0.42   0.671    -.5137449      .33096
Poutou   -.8802476   .4482915    -1.96   0.050    -1.758883   -.0016125
DupontAigna   -.5349338   .3031171    -1.76   0.078    -1.129032    .0591648
other    .1841789   .3177577     0.58   0.562    -.4386147    .8069724
______________ ________________________________________________________________
B    .2424193   .0767485     3.16   0.002     .0919949    .3928437
B_w    .0965423    .039022     2.47   0.013     .0200605    .1730241
______________ ________________________________________________________________

Ho: no bias
Degrees of freedom: 8
Chi-square (Pearson) = 18.695468
Pr (Pearson) = .01657592
Chi-square (LR) = 19.540804
Pr (LR) = .01222022

The top panel lists the Ai for the first eight candidates plus the “other” category alongside their standard errors, z- and p-values, and confidence intervals. Ai is a party-specific, multi-party version of Martin, Traugott, and Kennedy’s measure A and reflects bias for/against any specific party. By conventional standards (p 0.05), only two of these values are significantly different from zero: Support for François Bayrou was overestimated (A4 = 0.31) while support for Philippe Poutou was underestimated (A7 = 0.88).

Poutou was the little known candidate for the tiny “New Anticapitalist Party”. While he received more than twice the predicted number of votes (1exp(0.88) 2.4), the case of Bayrou is more interesting. Bayrou, a centre-right candidate, stood in the previous 2007 election and came third with a very respectable result of almost 19 per cent, taking many political observers by surprise. In 2012, when he stood for a new party that he had founded immediately after the 2007 election, his vote effectively halved. But this is not fully reflected in the poll, which overestimates his support by roughly a third (exp(0.31) 1.35). This could be due to (misguided) bandwagon effects, sampling bias, or political weighting of the poll by the company.

The lower panel of the output lists B and Bw, a weighted version of our measure. B, the unweighed average of the Ais absolute values, is much higher than Bw. This is because the estimates for all the major candidates with the exception of Bayrou were reasonably good. While support for Poutou and also for Dupont-Aignan was underestimated by large factors, Bw heavily discounts these differences, because they are of little practical relevance unless one is interested specifically in splinter parties.

As outlined in the article in which we derive B, B’s (and Bw’s) sampling distribution is non-normal, rendering the p-value of 0.002 somewhat dubious. surveybias therefore performs additional χ2-tests based on the Pearson and the likelihood-ratio formulae, whose results are listed below the main table. In this case, however, both tests agree that the null hypothesis of no bias is indeed falsified by the data.

While their p-values are clearly higher than the one resulting from the inappropriate z-test on B, they are close to the p-value for Bw. This is to be expected, because the upward bias and the non-normality become less severe as the number of categories increases, and because the weighting reduces the impact of differences that are small in absolute numbers but associated with large values on the log-ratio scale.

surveybias leaves the full variance-covariance matrix behind for your edification. Parameter estimates, chi-square values and probabilities are available, too, so that you can easily test all sorts of interesting variables about bias in this poll.