"It does seem to me that these likely voter models were showing young people as less enthusiastic," Republican pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson, who has focused on GOP outreach to younger voters, told National Journal. Voters under age 30 voted for Obama by a 23-point margin, according to exit polls, 60 percent to 37 percent.
Democrats did not let these polls stand for themselves. Groups such as Project New America and Americans United for Change commissioned multiple surveys in battleground states over the final weeks of the campaign, in some cases releasing more than one poll in a state per week, in large part as an effort to combat what one prominent Democratic strategist involved in the effort called the "negative storyline" formed by automated polls and other surveys that understated Obama's vote share. These were live-caller polls, conducted using landlines and cell phones, and in most cases they reflected Democrats' view that the demographic composition of the electorate would be more favorable to Obama.
"There was a lot of concern that there was a lot of bad polling out there," said the strategist, who was granted anonymity in order to discuss the project. "Rasmussen floods the zone," the strategist added.
Ethan Axelrod, communications director for Project New America, told National Journal that the polling the group commissioned provided "an accurate picture of where we thought the electorate was." Project New America released multiple polls conducted by the Portland, Ore.-based Democratic firm Grove Insight during the final month of the campaign; in some states, they published results of a handful of polls in a two-week period.
"We felt good about the polls we were doing and thought they should be released to the public," Axelrod said.
Expect this to be the norm over the next few election cycles. More and more, polls are conducted by partisan organizations, or organizations catering to increasingly partisan media outlets.
In previous election years, Democrats relied on their partisan automated polling firm, the Raleigh, N.C.-based Public Policy Polling, to provide a counterweight, but the presence of more expensive, live-caller polling this year was a departure from that approach. It is worth noting that PPP's final preelection polls were among the most accurate of all the outfits polling the campaign.
Democrats won the argument over the composition of the electorate in this election, but that fight is likely to be joined once again in 2014 and 2016, when pollsters for both sides are likely to be armed with competing surveys.
This election was a victory not just for Democrats, but also for the sort of data analysis — through averages and prediction models — that is likely to remain a staple of political coverage for elections to come. Nate Silver, the baseball statistician-turned-New York Times political analyst who used polls and economic data to predict a relatively easy victory for the president, is the most prominent member of this movement, but he is hardly its only devotee.
"Nate has become the personification of an approach," said Blumenthal.
That data-heavy approach seems likely to play a larger role in the coverage of understanding of future elections, raising the stakes for partisans, pollsters, and media to get the data right.