Bilingual interviewers must "switch between languages quickly" in order to capture responses from "respondents who are Spanish dominant or feel more comfortable speaking in Spanish, said Mark Lopez, the Pew Hispanic Center's associate director. Such talent is expensive and "makes Pew Hispanic Center surveys more costly," Lopez says.
Polling in Spanish can be an exhausting endeavor. "You've effectively got a second survey running on your system, and it has to be translated and programmed into the survey software along with the English version," said Jackman, the Stanford professor. Some national pollsters might think "it's just not worth the cost for that small segment of the national population that is Spanish speaking."
What's more, some pollsters who poll in Spanish have no idea what they're doing, said Barreto.
It takes skill to carve out an unbiased sample, but a quick way to sniff out a national poll's accuracy is to use Hispanic-only polls as benchmarks, said the Pew Hispanic Center's Lopez. If national polls report results from their Hispanic samples that track closely to Hispanic-only poll results, the national polls probably polled correctly in Spanish. For instance, Pew Hispanic Center, in its September/October poll found that among Hispanics, Obama had a 48-point advantage over Romney. Before it suspended polling due to Superstorm Sandy, Gallup pollsters gave Obama a ballpark 44-point advantage among Hispanics over Romney.
makes sense to poll in Spanish if you can afford it, to obtain "the
most representative possible," said Peter Enns, a Cornell University
professor and public-opinion research expert. There's no watchdog group that keeps tabs on who's polling in Spanish these days, or how well they're doing it. And pollsters are notoriously secretive about how they conduct their polls. "If you poll in Spanish, you do it, but you don't necessarily know who else does it," said Peter Brown, the assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
Latinos as a group have lower voter registration rates, in part because they count a good many children and undocumented immigrants in their ranks. But in the 2008 election, the U.S. Census reported that 84 percent of registered Hispanic voters said they'd voted. This year's turnout was just as good, because an energetic get-out-the-vote movement translated into voter enthusiasm, just activists had predicted.
In Florida, Vilar was less worried "about who wins the election" and more concerned with "changing the perception that Latinos aren't voting."
"And Spanish-speaking voters," he predicted before the election, "will have an impact."