Misleading Polls

On August 2, the Los Angeles Times ran an article with the title: "Poll Watch: More Bad Polling News for Romney." The piece's author, David Lauter, writes:

"Mitt Romney's campaign, which has had a rough week so far in public polls, got more bad news Thursday as the Pew Research Center released a survey showing the number of voters with an unfavorable image of him increasing and President Obama's lead widening."

Presumably, the other "bad polling news" to which Lauter alludes is the most recent Quinnipiac/CBS/New York Times poll that came out earlier in the week. According to it, Obama is leading Romney in three battleground or "swing" states: Pennsylvania, Florida, and Ohio.

The problem with this narrative that Lauter and others in the Democratic-friendly "mainstream press" are laboring away at crafting is that, at the very least, it is misleading.

Let's begin with the first poll. 

Pennsylvania is not a swing state.  It is true that Romney hopes to be competitive there, but a Republican presidential candidate hasn't won the Keystone state in 24 years. 

So, at a minimum, the headline should have been: "Obama leads Romney in Two Swing States."

But even this is inaccurate.

The Quinnipiac poll allots Democrats a nine percentage point advantage over Republicans: 36% Democrat as opposed to 27% Republican.  It even relies upon the assumption that independents, at 32% of overall turnout, will have a stronger showing than Republicans.

No one can possibly believe this.

And once we realize that the poll's assumptions replicate the voter results of 2008, we see why it can't but compel incredulity on the part of anyone who hasn't spent the last four years in a cave.

Election Day 2008 is the worst possible standard by which to forecast this year's election turnout. By November of 2008, President George W. Bush was finishing up his second and final term with an approval rating hovering around 30%.  His party was in at least as bad a shape, a fact to which the electorate's decision to relieve it of both chambers of Congress two years prior and the White House in '08 readily attests.

The country-including no small number of Republican sympathizers-had GOP fatigue four years ago.

There were still other challenges that Republicans faced.

Their presidential nominee was John McCain, a woefully uncharismatic candidate with a lengthy history of alienating the party's base.  Hence, it was because of this tension between McCain and the party faithful that the Arizona senator was widely branded as a "RINO" (Republican In Name Only).

Thus, Republican voter enthusiasm was not high.

In glaring contrast, Democrat voter enthusiasm was high.  This would have been the case regardless of who Democrats decided to nominate for the presidency, for they were chopping at the bit to wrestle power away from their rivals.  But their nominee was a young, charismatic, black man who spoke in glittering rhetorical generalities, a skilled orator with a carefully crafted persona of a youthful optimist that was all the more accentuated when juxtaposed with the aged, debilitated career politician that was his rival.

Neither the Democrats nor millions of other Americans who knew next to nothing about Obama could resist him.

Matters now, however, are far different than they were just four long years ago.  

Obama now has a record-and it is not good.  And though many people still don't know him as they should, far more about him is known today than was known in 2008.  Republicans are raring to retire Obama in November. A good number of independents are likewise anxious to relegate him to the dustbin of history.  Even some Democrats want nothing more to do with him.  In fact, Obama's approval rating declined more rapidly, and more precipitously, from the day he was inaugurated to the present than any other president.

If the Quinnipiac poll is to be believed, we must believe that these last four years never occurred.  This, no doubt, is what the President's supporters in the media would like for us to accept.  But it is only at the cost of self-delusion that we oblige them on this score.

Now, as for the Pew poll, this too must be examined more carefully.

It is true that the poll does not look good for Romney. Fifty-two percent of voters view him unfavorably versus only 37% that view him favorably.  In contrast, 50% of voters regard Obama favorably, while 45% view him unfavorably.

Yet, immediately after referring to Obama's numbers, the poll says: "Even so, Obama's personal ratings are lower than most presidential candidates in recent elections."  The "current favorability ratings" of the President "compare poorly with the final pre-election ratings for previous Democratic candidates.  Not since Michael Dukakis in 1988 has a Democratic candidate gone into the election with favorability ratings as low as Obama's are today."  

There are some other things to grasp here.

First, Pew Research Center polls registered voters-not likely voters.  The difference between the two groups is analogous to the difference between potential voters and actual voters.  That which is merely potential is virtually nothing.  So, inasmuch as it relies upon registered voters, it doesn't necessarily tell us much of anything.

Second, the total sample size consisted of 2,508 registered voters.  Of these, 459 were Republican.  But 813 were Democrat, and 599 independent.  Furthermore, 1,068 were Obama voters, while only 753 were Romney voters.

While polls of this kind should inspire Romney to work harder at conveying a more positive self-image, they should not at all discourage him or Republicans. 

The very same PRC poll reports that within the twelve battleground states Obama "holds only a four-point edge (48%-44%) [.]"  Obama's "slight" lead is without significance at this juncture.

When this is considered in conjunction with Romney's "bad polling news" from Quinnipiac, the poll that acknowledges that likely voters believe both that Romney's policies will help them financially more so than those of Obama's and that Obama's policies will harm them financially, there is that much more reason for Republicans to take heart.

Besides, things aren't really going to start rolling until after Labor Day.

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D. blogs at Beliefnet.com: At the Intersection of Faith & Culture. Contact him at jackk610@verizon.net, friend him on facebook, or follow him at twitter.

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