A Washington-based polling and analytics firm with Alabama roots clocked in as the No. 1 most accurate private polling firm according to ABC News’ 538.
Cygnal, founded by Brent Buchanan in Montgomery, led the 538 private pollster ranking based on a metric known as Pollscore, which indicates a higher or lower combination of error and bias from a particular pollster.
Just ahead of Cygnal in the Pollscore sits The New York Times/Siena College poll, which, unlike a private pollster, is an institutional one.
Despite inherent benefits to institutional pollsters in another important metric in 538’s models — the transparency score — private firms, universities, think tanks, and all other groups that conduct polling are held to the ultimate question: “Did they get it right?”
Buchanan, who began his political career in Alabama in 2002 before founding Cygnal in 2007, promoted the latest indication of his firm’s accuracy as the “foundation of good, useful polling,” in a followup with Yellowhammer News.
New @FiveThirtyEight pollster rankings out. They came up with a ridiculous way of creating scores and rankings this year. Only thing that really matters is how accurate you were (as seen in their POLLSCORE). Who's the #1 most-accurate private pollster again? @cygnal !! pic.twitter.com/pYBLsKTuvA
— Brent Buchanan, Pollster (@brentbuc) January 26, 2024
“We’re extremely proud of our team and the value we provide our clients, regardless of whether these different pollster ranking systems exist or not,” said Buchanan, Cygnal’s president. “It’s also important to remember the differences between institutional pollsters versus private pollsters. The transparency aspect of this particular ranking system highlights one of those major differences which includes protecting proprietary information and maintaining client confidentiality.
“Institutional pollsters don’t really have skin in the game from that perspective, so there are all kinds of ways to assess these rankings as long as you know the key differences. It’s crucial to make those distinctions, especially as we get further into this election cycle where candidates, corporations and the public alike want reliably accurate data.”
During the 2020 presidential election cycle, according to 538’s own data, Cygnal emerged as the most accurate Republican polling firm, calling 92% of all races correctly, with zero misses outside the margin of error.
“In layman’s terms,” 538’s pollster ratings released last week, explained, “the ‘best’ pollster in America would theoretically be one with the lowest Pollscore value and a Transparency Score of 10 out of 10. But in practice, the pollster with the lowest Pollscore and the pollster with the best Transparency Score are different pollsters.”
As U.S. voters lock into the 2024 elections and almost all indications point toward a rematch between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, pollsters produce far more intelligence than just the top of the ticket. With an estimated 1,500 polls inbound before November, knowing which ones to trust is essential.
“All this is to say you should not sweat small differences in the pollster ratings. A pollster’s exact rank is less important than its general position: Pollsters near the top of the list are very trustworthy; those near the middle are good but have minor issues; and you should be wary of data from pollsters near the bottom,” 538 writes.
Cygnal secured its place at the top the private pollster scorecard in what Buchanan has reliably considered the metric that matters:
“We prefer to look at the accuracy component,” Buchanan said, “because at the end of the day, that’s the foundation of good, useful polling.”
Grayson Everett is the state and political editor for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @Grayson270