Analysis: Polling criticism unfounded
September 28th, 2012
05:32 PM ET
2 years ago

Analysis: Polling criticism unfounded

Washington (CNN) – It's a conspiracy theory of the highest level: media organizations allegedly manipulating data in public opinion polls to try and help President Barack Obama win a second term. Democracy crushed.

The accusations are predicated on the idea that some media organizations are interviewing too many Democrats in their surveys, which skew the results in way to benefit Obama over Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

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Tune into conservative talk radio or search the Internet and there's a good chance you will see or hear the charges. Even from Romney surrogates.

"So there's a number of things going on with the polls, folks," Rush Limbaugh said Thursday on his radio program. "Let's review just quickly some things said yesterday. One of the reasons that you tout a big lead, at the same time early voting begins, is to suppress Romney early voters. Who wants to vote for a loser? Oh, gosh, here we go again. We really don't have a chance. They know that so many people on our side, all you gotta do is listen to the average conservative pundit and realize that they're mired in negativity and pessimism. So you build it up, put out a poll that shows a massive Obama lead and early voting goes on, and so you stoke Obama voters, you depress Romney voters."

A question you might ask yourself: Would Limbaugh be attacking these media polls if the results showed Romney leading?

Republican strategist Karl Rove stoked the same conspiracy flames earlier this week on Fox News.

"You've got to be careful about these polls," Rove said. "We endow them with a false scientific precision they simply don't have."

The criticism has ramped up over the past two weeks after a series of polls in key battleground states showed the president gaining an advantage over Romney. Heading into the homestretch of the long campaign, the results are a troubling development that Romney's top aides are being forced to address. And part of the strategy is criticizing the polling results.

"They have a Democratic voter participation that is higher than the participation in the electorate in 2008," Ed Gillespie, a senior Romney adviser said on Fox News this week. "I don't know anyone on the ground in any of these swing states who believes that there will be a higher Democratic percentage of the electorate in 2012 than there was in 2008."

And Romney surrogate Bay Buchanan, without an understanding of the facts, charged that CNN "deliberately" over-polled Democrats in a recent survey.

"There's a CNN poll last week," she said in an appearance on CNN. "We won in the poll the independents by 14 percent and we won Republicans by 98 percent. And somehow the CNN poll had us losing by six. Now, you and I both know if we win 14 percent of independents we're going to have a mighty good day. So what is that about?"

A top Romney campaign strategist said it uses its own internal polling when making decisions.

"The public polls are what the public polls are," Rich Beeson, Romney's political director, told reporters earlier this week. "I kind of hope the Obama campaign is basing their campaign on what the public polls say. We don't. We have confidence in our data and our metrics. I feel confident where we are in each one of our states. I have great faith in our data."

Steve Doocy of Fox News has expressed skepticism about polling results for this election.

"Could there possibly be some skewing going on by the media, the left-based mainstream media?" Doocy said.

Doocy's own network, though, has published polls that were very much in line with the topline results from other media surveys.

A Fox News poll of Virginia voters indicated Obama had a seven point (49%-42%) advantage over Romney. A Quinnipiac University/CBS News/New York Times survey in Virginia showed Obama up only four-points (50%-46%) over Romney, while a Washington Post poll had Obama with an eight point (52%-44%) lead over Romney in the Commonwealth.

In Ohio, a Fox News poll said Obama had a seven point (49%-42%) advantage over Romney, while an Ohio survey by The Washington Post put Obama up eight points (52%-44%) over Romney and a Quinnipiac University/CBS News/New York Times poll showed the president with a 10 point (53%-43%) lead over Romney.

A Fox News Poll of Florida voters showed Obama with a five point (49%-44%) lead over Romney, while The Washington Post survey of Floridians said Obama was up four points (51%-47%) on Romney and a Quinnipiac/CBS News/New York Times Florida poll indicated that Obama had a nine point (53%-44%) lead on Romney.

Hardly a concerted effort to skew poll results in favor of Obama - unless you agree that Fox News is part of the conspiracy.
Yet, not all conservatives are accusing the media of manipulating the data.

"I do not believe the polls are all wrong," Erick Erickson, editor of the influential conservative web site RedState.com, wrote on Wednesday. "I do not believe there is some intentional, orchestrated campaign to suppress the GOP vote by showing Mitt Romney losing. I actually believe that Mitt Romney trails Barack Obama.

"But I also believe the polls are reflecting a bigger Democratic strength than is really there," added Erickson, who is also a political contributor on CNN.

Criticizing public polling is hardly a new phenomenon. In fact, it's a regular campaign tactic.

What is new in this election cycle is that several polling organizations have started releasing their party identification numbers. And critics are seizing upon this information to formulate a flawed argument attacking the results, comparing party identification from these telephone polls to previous exit polls. It's not a valid comparison.

Interviews conducted by telephone prior to an election are much different than talking to a person who has just voted for a candidate. In a telephone interview several months or several weeks before an election, a person might provide a different answer than the one they give after emerging from a voting booth.

People's minds can change … which is exactly why there is such an effort by the campaigns to convince the undecided and soft-leaning voters to support their candidate.

Keep in mind, party identification is not a characteristic that is set in stone such as someone's race or sex. It can evolve over time and change much like education and income levels. A study conducted a few years ago interviewed the same people six different times during a presidential election and it found that 25 percent of the participants changed their answer on party identification at least three times during the course of the study.

Republicans made similar arguments in 2008 when they compared polls taken in that cycle to the 2004 exit polls. And Democrats also voiced the same argument in 2004 by comparing surveys in that election cycle to the exit polls from the 2000 election. In 2008, Democrats won the White House and only four years earlier President George W. Bush won a second term.

Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of Gallup, addresses the party identification argument in a September 27, 2012 column. If you are interested in this argument, we think it is worth a read. As is this September 19, 2012 column by Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post.


Filed under: 2012
soundoff (270 Responses)
  1. Carol

    Pollsters who are assuming the 2012 voter turnout will meet or exceed 2008 in terms of partisan advantage for democrats are dreaming. This is why those polls from some major media outlets are criticized as they clearly aren't weighting the partisan makeup of the electorate properly at this point in time.

    All one has to do is look at today vs 4 years ago. You don't obama signs everywhere. You don't see people walking around with Obama shirts, hand bags and buttons. You don't see as many bumper stickers. You click on articles to read comments and its not like 2008 where it was a bash the GOP festival. Its reversed. You look at voter registration in key states and they have gone in the GOP direction in almost all instances off the 2008 baseline. You also see Romney winning independents in most polling.

    Finally, look at the absentee ballot request from a state like Ohio. From available data, the democrats are at 61% of their 2008 level in terms of request. The GOP is at 101%.

    Just empirically, the evidence on the ground is not there for a 2008 election atmosphere. We are looking at more of a 2000 to 2004 voter atmosphere. Not a 2008.

    September 28, 2012 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  2. Wake up people!

    Ruh Roh GOP/baggers. CNN has actually been too good to you. They have at least one of your lies at the top of the Ticker daily. They rarely call you out for your lies. Now you want to go and tick them and the rest of the media off? That's not really a smart move. What am I saying? You care nothing about smart moves because if you did you would have NEVER nominated a pathological lying cult leader as your nominee. Willard is toast and you all know it. Even with your attempt at voter suppression, President Obama will still prevail.

    OBAMA 2012!

    September 28, 2012 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  3. Martin

    Republicans don't "believe" in the evidence of Evolution or Global Warming either. Why should they "believe" in the science of statistics and polling? They only time they embrace the scientific method is when it suits their ideology.

    September 28, 2012 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  4. Methuselah

    What happened to personal responsibility?
    GOP blames the MSM for failure after failure. At what point will they take responsibility for their divisive message?
    I used to be a Republican, but i'm not interested in divisive issues, so I was left behind. I wanted narrowly and effectively written laws, minimal regulations that DO get the job done, and extremely prudent spending, including safety net for those who cannot help themselves. I grew up with parents who didn't ask people for anything even when they needed it. We're the same way. I've never asked the govt for anything outside criticism of policies.

    This minor league ilk of Limbaugh and their spew have dragged the worst out of many. I hope they lose over and over.

    September 28, 2012 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  5. Larry in Houston

    @Carol – - You are right ! Spot On ! I'm voting Democrat – but the enthusiam isn't there. as a matter of fact, most ppl that I've talked to, doesn't care who gets IN. I've been predicting a romney win, but by the slimmest of margins, but hopefully not to the point that we have to rely on the supreme court, like we did in 2000.( gore should have been prez)
    but if this country has to depend on the supreme court to decide it, then So Be It . That means there isn't enough people that really care Who's Prez. next yr, or for the nxt 4 yrs.
    Vote Democrat – 2012

    September 28, 2012 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  6. Rick McDaniel

    Disagree.........the Dem media is simply trying to justify their actions.

    September 28, 2012 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  7. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Romney's doing a pretty good job of defeating himself without the polls. LOL

    September 28, 2012 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  8. Randy, San Francisco

    Typical knee jerk reaction from conservaitve pundits whenever their candidates are losing. They push their propoganda so much that they can't distinquish reality from fiction.

    September 28, 2012 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
  9. Joha

    I agree wiith Carol that it is silly to really think Obama can reach the votes of 2008.

    It not like the media ever print anything negative of the pathological lying that is Obama. Why because he can never do no wrong and everything not ever his fault.

    September 28, 2012 06:15 pm at 6:15 pm |
  10. reality bites

    The only voting suppression taking place is the deliberate polling distortion of over sampling democrats by most media outlets. Here is a sobering fact that every democrat should consider: 2010! There couldn't be a clearer statement made by voters. I have news for the "news" folks; 2012 will be even worse for democrats. This is not even about Romney. it's about the breathtaking incompetence of this President. For those searching for the most accurate poll and best prognosticator of this election look at the 2010 mid term election results.

    September 28, 2012 06:20 pm at 6:20 pm |
  11. GI Joe

    I don't care about polling fraud.

    I'm concerned about the newly discovered republican voter fraud in swing states - and maybe pennsylvania.

    September 28, 2012 06:21 pm at 6:21 pm |
  12. The Other Dale

    Carol, the problem with your analysis is that it is based on A) what has been statistically calculated by real-time polling of individuals through a variety of methods from a variety of sources, versus B) your assumptions of what you wish things are like now in comparison to 2008.

    Should we look at the polling to determine if there are problems there? Yes, just as we should with all calculated methods like this. However, people in general put more faith into the science of every poll coming to the same conclusion of an Obama win than rather "what Carol hopes is the case."

    September 28, 2012 06:21 pm at 6:21 pm |
  13. fire0bama

    The polling organizations have oversampled the Dems by about 9% in their polls. This included the polling organization for Fox News. It is very strange why these new organizations would over sample Dems by this much in their polls.

    September 28, 2012 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  14. GI Joe

    Fraud in Florida and swing states -- 2000 and 2004 all over again - by guess who - republicans.

    September 28, 2012 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  15. USwatcher

    Romney's campaign uses their own internal polls...along with their own facts...minus FactCheckers.

    September 28, 2012 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
  16. southexas

    Agree...Obama will prevail. Mitt and his clown will never know on why they lost the election. Get real Mitt and Ryan since the majority of people are low and middle income folks that don't believe you one bit. Keeping talking lies Fox News, Glenn Beck, Rush L., etc. since you all live in a dream world of the Oz.

    September 28, 2012 06:31 pm at 6:31 pm |
  17. Mike

    We hear more than enough blaming, mud throwing, etc., from Obama and Romney. Do we really need to hear it from every self-appointed analyst, pundit, news anchor, polling agency, etc..? Only the election itself will provide the answer! All the polling, analysis, conjecture, etc., are beside the point!

    September 28, 2012 06:33 pm at 6:33 pm |
  18. jinx88

    @ Carol – just cause the Dems are at 61% absentee ballot doesnt mean its gonna stay there. Repukes are pathetic, grasping on every little hope they have.

    September 28, 2012 06:33 pm at 6:33 pm |
  19. Paul

    I was hoping this article would clear up my confusion on the issue but, if anything, it seems to confirm bias in the polls with this comment and no rebuttle:

    "But I also believe the polls are reflecting a bigger Democratic strength than is really there,” added Erickson, who is also a political contributor on CNN."

    I sure wish it was easier to figure out who is telling the truth but, quite honestly, both CNN and Fox are for profit so I don't trust either organization.

    September 28, 2012 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm |
  20. Sunny V

    Republicans view reality only when at their convenience.

    September 28, 2012 06:37 pm at 6:37 pm |
  21. Really?

    Carol, I believe you are dreaming honey. It's mighty convenient for your kind to wish these poll numbers were being doctored/skewed. If Romney was leading in the polls, this whole argument would be null and void. I love how the losing team continues to whine, cry, and scrutinize. Where do you live? Have you traveled to all 50 states in order to make a sensible observation on Obama campaign materials? I think not. Keep pulling ideas and hope out of your rectum. See ya in November ;)

    September 28, 2012 06:38 pm at 6:38 pm |
  22. Christie

    WOW Two whole comments! One conservative with facts, and one liberal bashing and berating!!! Lol

    September 28, 2012 06:38 pm at 6:38 pm |
  23. Ivywoods

    Yeah Carol, keep believing that.....lol..lol...you Repuvlicans and your fool's dreams. Republicans are always chanting how it will be "One and done" for this President, but after the election Democrats will be saying, "Mitt is done, without even winning one". Never fear Carol, Democrats will be out in FULL force to make sure Mitten does not finish what Bush started...this Nation cannot stand another four to eight years of Republican mismanagement and lies.

    September 28, 2012 06:40 pm at 6:40 pm |
  24. zeigfeldf

    Ha. Rush Limbaugh.

    In fact, if the polls are taken over the telephone (landlines), they are probably even worse for Romney than they seem. Young people, mostly Obama voters, don't use landlines anymore.

    September 28, 2012 06:45 pm at 6:45 pm |
  25. Dar

    Poll, poll and poll all you want to. It comes down to one thing, WHO gets off their butts and VOTES.
    Couch potatos dont count on Nov 6th.

    September 28, 2012 06:46 pm at 6:46 pm |
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