Can the Polls Be Believed?

Jim O’Sullivan
A raging war has been underway between Republicans/Romney and the mainstream media (MSM)/polling organizations on the accuracy of many recently reported polls.  Both sides have stridently argued their cases in a vicious skirmish that has been decidedly unequal.  The Republicans, the Romney campaign, conservative talk radio, conservative new media and Fox News have valiantly fought the Democrats, the MSM, some polling organizations and the Obama campaign organization.  Yet given just the megaphones owned by the MSM and Obama's bully pulpit, the battle has been the equivalent of brandishing a popgun at a howitzer...the voting public seemingly is not hearing the battle's thunder or is still not deeply engaged in the election. 

So what are the facts...is there a battle plan, an alliance between Obama, the MSM, and polling organizations designed to destroy Romney's candidacy?  Are the polls presenting biased and inaccurate findings?  Are polling organizations deliberately producing misleading results?  In essence are they in cahoots with Obama, the MSM, and liberal/progressive democrats?  Is there any compelling evidence that the MSM is using polling selectively to promote Barack Obama and other democrat office seekers?  And will the constant and continuous bludgeoning of Romney using biased or inaccurate polls damage his presidential chances?

The basic argument that the polls are biased begins with the 2008 presidential election outcome.  Obama won by capturing an electorate composed of 39% Dems, 32% Reps and 29% Independents; this differential is known as a D+7 spread/party affiliation or D+7 electorate.  Barack Obama also defeated John McCain by 7 points in the popular vote.  In contrast, G.W. Bush defeated J. Kerry in 2004 with an electorate containing 37% Dems, 37% Reps and 26% Inds.  The 2008 election was unique in many respects.  Barack Obama was African American, youthful, a skilled speaker, untested, mysterious, cool and the MSM's chosen one.  Anecdotal evidence of the excitement Obama generated was everywhere; on bumpers, on yard signs, on BHO paraphernalia in convenience stores, in conversations at water cooler and the growing hagiographic comments in the press.  A spread of +7 was a rare event in presidential elections and the largest in decades; it followed eight difficult years, two wars, a financial and economic crisis.

The same conditions simply do not exist today.  Yet numerous polls are not only using the party affiliations of 2008 as a basis for 2012 polling but building on that outcome.  Specifically, the national partisan breakdown has shifted from D=41.4%, R=33.8% and I=24.7% in 2008 to D=34.7%, R=36% and I=29.3% in 2010, and is currently measured at D=33.3%, R=37.6% and I=29.2%.  Clearly this is a growing trend toward self-identification as an independent or republican and a material decline in democrat identification.  Nevertheless, Rasmussen  uses a national model which favors Republicans, but to a lesser degree than the measured actual; i.e. Reps=35.97%, Dems=33.77% and Inds=30.27%.  Rasmussen polling, the most accurate pollster in both the 2004 and 2008, results are often compared to polls critics believe to be biased.  Usually the statistical models of the polls that are built on the democrat experience of 2008 vary greatly from Rasmussen's outcomes and demonstrate high partisan weightings. 

The CBS/New York Times battleground polls of last week for FL, OH and PA had some curious weighting in its internal statistics.  In Florida where history recorded a 2004 R+4 affiliation and a 2008 result of D+3 was predicated on a D+9 weight; Ohio used an astonishing D+9 against previous outcomes of R+5 in 2004 and D+8 in 2008 and Pennsylvania was founded on a D+9 advantage verses a past of D+3 in 2010 and a D+7 in 2008.  Reasonable and objective poll evaluators would be intellectually dishonest if a little sunshine wasn't focused on this poll's result.  Many polls have surfaced recently which have party weighting that are also premised on equally questionable internals (and turnout models) and invariably the MSM pounces on their results to bludgeon Romney and his adherents.

So is there any rationale that might acquit polling organizations of deliberate distortion?  Two very shaky reasons are often posited.  The first centers on the idea that party affiliation is not part of their polling models.  Instead gender, race, age, income and education are used as their sample's underpinning.  Yet a careful evaluation of polls founded on this basis does not comport with known realities i.e. declining democrat approval with the young, women, seniors and even blacks.  The second is really dubious.  Since the election is 6 weeks away and many more polls will be conducted in the interim, the client needs a poll to facilitate news...accuracy only counts just before the election to maintain a reputation.  

The evidence is overwhelming that the MSM has practiced selective use of polls and polling results.  Using the CBS/NYT polls as an example, find even a few MSM news narratives that discuss any of the above or the details supporting that poll's result.  In contrast, a plethora of stories can be found accusing Republicans of whining, denying reality, conducting an inferior campaign and using out dated tactics and strategy when polling concerns are voiced.  The MSM conveniently chooses to ignore other important polling outcomes favorable to Romney and his party, e.g. a strong movement of independents to them which is occurring according to numerous polls in both Ohio and Florida.  Another example is the MSM's virtual silence on democrat voter registration or absentee ballot requests; both are down appreciably.  However in the new media, on Fox and in many serious blogs, criticism of the MSM and polling is receiving heighten attention.

Can the MSM meme insisting the polls spell Romney's doom significantly damage the Romney campaign?  Can his chances for election be scuttled?  Will the relentless MSM hammering reduce campaign contributions, confidence and enthusiasm?..based on the historical record probably not.  This election is not a rerun of 2008...the president's record is rickety...unemployment is egregious...the economy is in the dumpster and the Middle East is aflame.  Further, the voter understands the media is biased and even rooting for Obama.  And finally the anecdotal evidence is convincing...very few Obama bumper stickers, lawn signs, no water cooler talk and no paraphernalia.

So in sum, (1) Are the polls producing biased and inaccurate findings? Yes, in far too many cases; (2) Are polling organizations deliberately producing misleading results? With reservation, Probably no; (3) Are polling firms in cahoots with Obama, the MSM, and liberal/progressive democrats? Probably no; (4) Does the MSM use polling selectively to promote Barack Obama and other Democrat office seekers? Categorically yes; and (5) Will the MSM's bashing of Romney using polls damage his presidential chances? a No, but with reservation.

A raging war has been underway between Republicans/Romney and the mainstream media (MSM)/polling organizations on the accuracy of many recently reported polls.  Both sides have stridently argued their cases in a vicious skirmish that has been decidedly unequal.  The Republicans, the Romney campaign, conservative talk radio, conservative new media and Fox News have valiantly fought the Democrats, the MSM, some polling organizations and the Obama campaign organization.  Yet given just the megaphones owned by the MSM and Obama's bully pulpit, the battle has been the equivalent of brandishing a popgun at a howitzer...the voting public seemingly is not hearing the battle's thunder or is still not deeply engaged in the election. 

So what are the facts...is there a battle plan, an alliance between Obama, the MSM, and polling organizations designed to destroy Romney's candidacy?  Are the polls presenting biased and inaccurate findings?  Are polling organizations deliberately producing misleading results?  In essence are they in cahoots with Obama, the MSM, and liberal/progressive democrats?  Is there any compelling evidence that the MSM is using polling selectively to promote Barack Obama and other democrat office seekers?  And will the constant and continuous bludgeoning of Romney using biased or inaccurate polls damage his presidential chances?

The basic argument that the polls are biased begins with the 2008 presidential election outcome.  Obama won by capturing an electorate composed of 39% Dems, 32% Reps and 29% Independents; this differential is known as a D+7 spread/party affiliation or D+7 electorate.  Barack Obama also defeated John McCain by 7 points in the popular vote.  In contrast, G.W. Bush defeated J. Kerry in 2004 with an electorate containing 37% Dems, 37% Reps and 26% Inds.  The 2008 election was unique in many respects.  Barack Obama was African American, youthful, a skilled speaker, untested, mysterious, cool and the MSM's chosen one.  Anecdotal evidence of the excitement Obama generated was everywhere; on bumpers, on yard signs, on BHO paraphernalia in convenience stores, in conversations at water cooler and the growing hagiographic comments in the press.  A spread of +7 was a rare event in presidential elections and the largest in decades; it followed eight difficult years, two wars, a financial and economic crisis.

The same conditions simply do not exist today.  Yet numerous polls are not only using the party affiliations of 2008 as a basis for 2012 polling but building on that outcome.  Specifically, the national partisan breakdown has shifted from D=41.4%, R=33.8% and I=24.7% in 2008 to D=34.7%, R=36% and I=29.3% in 2010, and is currently measured at D=33.3%, R=37.6% and I=29.2%.  Clearly this is a growing trend toward self-identification as an independent or republican and a material decline in democrat identification.  Nevertheless, Rasmussen  uses a national model which favors Republicans, but to a lesser degree than the measured actual; i.e. Reps=35.97%, Dems=33.77% and Inds=30.27%.  Rasmussen polling, the most accurate pollster in both the 2004 and 2008, results are often compared to polls critics believe to be biased.  Usually the statistical models of the polls that are built on the democrat experience of 2008 vary greatly from Rasmussen's outcomes and demonstrate high partisan weightings. 

The CBS/New York Times battleground polls of last week for FL, OH and PA had some curious weighting in its internal statistics.  In Florida where history recorded a 2004 R+4 affiliation and a 2008 result of D+3 was predicated on a D+9 weight; Ohio used an astonishing D+9 against previous outcomes of R+5 in 2004 and D+8 in 2008 and Pennsylvania was founded on a D+9 advantage verses a past of D+3 in 2010 and a D+7 in 2008.  Reasonable and objective poll evaluators would be intellectually dishonest if a little sunshine wasn't focused on this poll's result.  Many polls have surfaced recently which have party weighting that are also premised on equally questionable internals (and turnout models) and invariably the MSM pounces on their results to bludgeon Romney and his adherents.

So is there any rationale that might acquit polling organizations of deliberate distortion?  Two very shaky reasons are often posited.  The first centers on the idea that party affiliation is not part of their polling models.  Instead gender, race, age, income and education are used as their sample's underpinning.  Yet a careful evaluation of polls founded on this basis does not comport with known realities i.e. declining democrat approval with the young, women, seniors and even blacks.  The second is really dubious.  Since the election is 6 weeks away and many more polls will be conducted in the interim, the client needs a poll to facilitate news...accuracy only counts just before the election to maintain a reputation.  

The evidence is overwhelming that the MSM has practiced selective use of polls and polling results.  Using the CBS/NYT polls as an example, find even a few MSM news narratives that discuss any of the above or the details supporting that poll's result.  In contrast, a plethora of stories can be found accusing Republicans of whining, denying reality, conducting an inferior campaign and using out dated tactics and strategy when polling concerns are voiced.  The MSM conveniently chooses to ignore other important polling outcomes favorable to Romney and his party, e.g. a strong movement of independents to them which is occurring according to numerous polls in both Ohio and Florida.  Another example is the MSM's virtual silence on democrat voter registration or absentee ballot requests; both are down appreciably.  However in the new media, on Fox and in many serious blogs, criticism of the MSM and polling is receiving heighten attention.

Can the MSM meme insisting the polls spell Romney's doom significantly damage the Romney campaign?  Can his chances for election be scuttled?  Will the relentless MSM hammering reduce campaign contributions, confidence and enthusiasm?..based on the historical record probably not.  This election is not a rerun of 2008...the president's record is rickety...unemployment is egregious...the economy is in the dumpster and the Middle East is aflame.  Further, the voter understands the media is biased and even rooting for Obama.  And finally the anecdotal evidence is convincing...very few Obama bumper stickers, lawn signs, no water cooler talk and no paraphernalia.

So in sum, (1) Are the polls producing biased and inaccurate findings? Yes, in far too many cases; (2) Are polling organizations deliberately producing misleading results? With reservation, Probably no; (3) Are polling firms in cahoots with Obama, the MSM, and liberal/progressive democrats? Probably no; (4) Does the MSM use polling selectively to promote Barack Obama and other Democrat office seekers? Categorically yes; and (5) Will the MSM's bashing of Romney using polls damage his presidential chances? a No, but with reservation.