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. DW

    Why is 'Rush' doing this? More ratings, more $$ for him. He is a loudmouth entertainer with zippo credentials.

    September 29, 2012 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  2. Something Wrong Here

    So....All I read in this article is finger pointing at FOX to substantiate polling argument of the liberal media.......But what about the Methodology in creating the poll?????????????????????????????????????????????????????Nothing….

    September 29, 2012 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  3. Larry Trickel

    No matter how you spin it, if you don't have the right demographics the polls don't mean a thing. Each one of the polls that have Obama way ahead are the same polls that in 2008 and 2010 did the samething....60 to 15 days out they had Democrats way out in front.....come election time they all most tried to get close to the Rasmusen poll numbers. Look it up, in 2010, the polls having Obama way out in front now were even close in predicting the outcome. Some missed it by 40% others by even a greater amount. If you want an accurate poll go to Rasmusen.

    September 29, 2012 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  4. Angie

    ...yes, polls are biased...

    September 29, 2012 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  5. Nick

    This headline is miss leading. This article doesn't address the 7-13% oversampling of democrats. If you never read past the headline you'd be fooled to thinking it was true journalism and not the mainstream media protecting Obama with a bogus article.

    September 29, 2012 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  6. conoclast

    The republicans are proving to be like so many children: the media who disagree with them are guilty of bias and now the polls that bring them bad news are corrupt. Poor babies just can't get a break, huh? When you lie down with tea-bag dogs you get their fleas; that's how the world works, throwbacks!

    September 29, 2012 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  7. Seattle11

    Bay Buchanan is as crazy as her brother Pat Buchanan. You definitely can't believe anything she says.

    September 29, 2012 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  8. Robert Austin

    The GOP claims their agenda is the gospel yet they lie, cheat and steal to try to hoodwink the public into voting for them and their agenda. If their agenda is the gospel why aren't they telling us what it is? Why do they resort to lying and mudslinging to acheive their goals. They happily tell us that the democrats and Obama are evil yet they wallow in negativity rather than tell us why we should believe they are so much better. Their real agenda is to destroy our government and to empower the rich even more and they don't want you to know that. So their propganda machine continues to blow smoke in order to cover their real motives.

    September 29, 2012 10:01 am at 10:01 am |
  9. Oy

    "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" might not see it, but I do...and I live in a swing state. This is a bad argument for your case. I'm sure you don't "see" a lot of things...that doesn't mean they don't exist.
    We are fired up and ready go!!

    September 29, 2012 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  10. Chedar

    With 47% of the voters disregarded by Romney, it does not take another 4% of Seniors, Gays and minorities to switch to Obama. That is why the poll is looking good for Obama. Is that Oxycontin hook pundit fat big mouth wonder why Obama is leading in the poll. Tell him he is roast come Nov.

    September 29, 2012 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  11. Anonymous

    Everyone remember there aren't going to be nearly as many people voting for Obama so we need all the votes we can get. The last thing this country needs is another Republican President. He is pushing the same policies as Bush did except for none of the specifics. Romney said if I told you what I plan on doing you wouldn't vote for me. So now you want me to vote for you because you're not telling me about these policies except I am going to hate them lol. Sorry Mittens go back to evading taxes and destroying peoples lives that's what you are good at anyway. I think Romney thinks I have done everything else I might as well be king of America.

    September 29, 2012 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  12. MBW

    Why is there no news on the internet about the widespread voter registration fraud perpetrated by the Republican
    National Committee in battleground states? A private firm employed by the RNC to "get out the vote" submitted
    100 fraudulent registration forms out of 400 in one Florida county alone. The Republican Party should be stopped from stealing the election in the battleground states where this firm has been commissioned to solicit voter registration.

    September 29, 2012 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  13. Bob

    It's as the article says, polling is not an exact science. What does make this a bit of an issue though is that reporters then go directly to the public with the message, "So-and-so is leading in Florida". If you were to confront them they'd say that they meant it in context of major national and state polls, but that's not how it's presented. Instead, it's presented as if it's a game of football with an easily identified score.

    Polling really is like the weather. There can be mistakes and that ends up creating a false prediction. It's just a shame if they urge you to bring an umbrella and it ends up being a sunny day.

    September 29, 2012 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  14. Chris

    I say any news story that doesn't reaffirm my own predetermined narrative, I'll simply dismiss as a product of the liberal media.

    September 29, 2012 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  15. Joe

    The people are AWAKE
    Obama is toast, dem's just don't want to admit it yet.

    September 29, 2012 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  16. enuff

    One poll... maybe. Two polls... possible.... seven polls all saying the same thing? With FOX included? It's hard to say "conspiracy".

    September 29, 2012 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  17. gordyb

    When the right doesn't believe it's own polls you know they are crazy. Dick Morris is looney tunes, who would listen to him anyway? The latest news has the GOP paying for voter fraud in five states, how ironic that hey are caught cheating when they have tried to supress the vote on this issue.

    September 29, 2012 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  18. Lyla M

    Here go the GOP whiners yet again. If Romney were leading, you wouldn't be hearing anything of the sort. Just like if Obama was sheltering money overseas, he'd be labed "unpatriotic" and not a "real" American. The hypocrisy of the GOP hangs on them like a sewer stench.

    September 29, 2012 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  19. Indyswimmer66

    Ann Romney:" If elected, "mental well-being" Mitt's biggest challenge." You can't make this stuff up.

    September 29, 2012 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  20. yagottabekidding

    Republicans are embarrassing to watch. They're so completely shameless about lying that they'll just go off on ANY story that fits what they want to believe. Objective reality doesn't stand a chance in their world. It's terrible for our country and the world that one of the two major parties in power could be this childish and dishonest. It really confuses a lot of gullible people and leads to terrible decisions in government. The Democrats aren't perfect but the GOP has gone completely bonkers.

    September 29, 2012 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  21. Alois

    We all can see how much of a failure deadbeat obama has been and the media is in the tank for obama and they know it. Not to mention that this administration is the most corrupt hin history and the past 4 years are proof. The only way that freeloader obama will get reinstalled is to rig the process and this super corrupt administration will stop at nothing.Even if that means in part by skewing the poll numbers and try to disenfranchise the voters in their favor.

    September 29, 2012 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  22. Derek

    Leftards... 47%'s... Your Almighty ruler is the downfall of this nation... we can only hope Romney gets elected... the leftards are destroying hard working Americans livelihoods... wake up people!!! Please

    September 29, 2012 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  23. marboss

    Only the losers complain all the time, even the blinds people can feel that Mitt is loosing the ground he is out of touch with all the folks out there the truth remain the truth like it or not. God bless America.

    September 29, 2012 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  24. MaryM

    The Face of the GOP, Rush Limbaugh. Rush is what the once proud GOP have become

    September 29, 2012 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  25. prabhat

    How about fox news poll that show president obama leading Romney by 5% or more? Look like Fox poll did the same thing,

    September 29, 2012 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
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