Dear Conservatives, Stop Saying Polls Are Rigged Or Skewed
This may be a post that gets in me in trouble with some people, but if you are touting UnSkewed Polls as a legitimate source of poll analysis, you need to stop. It’s a fantasy.
I am not one like so many conservatives such as Peggy Noonan who are arguing the race is over. However, I won’t be somebody that argues Romney is “really” ahead by nearly 8 points and the polls claiming he’s not are “rigged” or “skewed” purposely to deflate Republicans from voting. Let’s be realistic here. Here’s some points:
1. Romney is currently behind. There’s no getting around that. Is he down by 7-8 points like we’re seeing in the National Journal poll or Pew poll? No. Those polls crazy. They assume Obama at this point is doing better than he did in 2008 and there is no model that can hold up under that scrutiny. More likely, Romney is down around 2.5 points with polls such as Fox and NBC at the high end with a 5 point gap and the Rasmussen and Gallup polls that show the race is tied.
2. Obama’s top level of support is not good news for him. Obama got a nice bump after the Democratic National Convention. But as we are seeing, polls are starting to return to pre-convention levels and that is where Obama is in trouble. Forget about the gap between him and Romney. Where he’s in trouble is his top level of support. If you look at the numbers, three stand out – 46, 47 and 48. That is where Obama’s support tops out. There is a great blog post written by Mark Blumenthal, writing at the time as ‘The Mystery Pollster.’ Here is what he says:
However, the incumbent rule tells us that, at any given moment, the President’s percentage of the vote relative to 50% is a better indicator of where the race stands than the margin separating Bush and Kerry. It also suggests the appropriate way to read the final polls just before the election (and these are my ranges – others may differ): If the average result of all the final polls (including undecided) puts Bush’s percentage at 50% or higher, the President will likely win. If Bush’s percentage is 48%-49%, the race is headed for a photo finish. At 47% or lower, the President will likely lose (add 1% to these ranges in any state where Ralph Nader is not on the ballot)
The main point: The incumbent’s level of support is more important than the margin.
If you go back and look at 2004. During this same time period, Bush’s level of support was always in the 48-50 range.
3. Jim Messina has showed his hand by claiming, “National polls are not relevant to this campaign.” Yikes. This is not a very smart thing for him to say. Messina probably said it because of recent swing state polling that shows Obama ahead with some comfortable margins. The problem is, for reasons people cannot explain but do not dispute, state polls often lag behind national polls. This isn’t just conservative talk, Josh Marshall of TPM says the same thing. Case in point: Two new Florida polls today, one from the Tampa Bay Times and one from the Miami Herald shows Obama leads Romney, 48% to 47%. There’s that 48 number again.
4. There is something amiss with some polling models. Even I questioned this in regard to a Quinnipiac/CBS/NY Times poll that showed Barack Obama up by 4 over Mitt Romney, despite Romney leading amongst independents by eleven points. Obama won independents 49-48 in 2006 and exit polls showed Democrats identified themselves as such over Republicans by a 6 point margin. In this poll, Democrats had a +11 advantage. As I said in my first point, it’s absurd for any pollster to use 2008 models for this election. That being said, to say, “Ignore the polls!” or to direct people to that silly UnSkewed Polls is more about wanting to ignore that their candidate is down than analyzing the race in a rational manner.
5. Do ignore the process and “Oh my God, this gaffe decides the election!” stories. Rick Wilson has a great piece in the NY Daily News which everybody should read. None of that crap matters to people out in the real world. It just doesn’t. Ask anybody outside of those who follow politics closely or outside the beltway who Stuart Stevens is and they won’t know.
So in conclusion, don’t just write off the polls so flippantly. Those who are saying the polls are purposely being rigged in favor of Obama sound like the people who claim Kerry actually won the 2004 election. Partisans then said Kerry actually did win because early exit poll data showed he was winning and after Bush rigged it so he would win, pollsters went back and changed their numbers to match the recorded vote.
At the same time, don’t despair. If Barack Obama was winning Wisconsin as easily as the public polls say he is, he wouldn’t have decided to visit the state for the first time in 220 days for a campaign rally. People like Peggy Noonan, David Brooks and Joe Scarborough seem to be far more interested in making sure they continue to get invites to DC cocktail parties than they are in actually supporting the Romney/Ryan ticket so I don’t pay too much attention to their caterwauling.
This race is far from over. Get to work.