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. ProfessorPolecatMD

    They are scared. FOR REALS.

    September 28, 2012 09:56 pm at 9:56 pm |
  2. Jaycee

    I have to wonder if the poll numbers favored Romney, would the media be touting those numbers the way they are Obama's numbers. I know all media report only the facts without any bias. However, saturation of the news with these numbers increases the heard mentality to follow the leader.

    September 28, 2012 09:56 pm at 9:56 pm |
  3. Howard Snell

    They said the polls were lies when McCain lost 4 years ago.

    September 28, 2012 10:01 pm at 10:01 pm |
  4. blake

    Interesting. Not a word in the article about the substance of the accusation. The reason, it is not an opinion, it is a fact. Registered Democrats are being polled at 5-10% higher rates. Subtract 5-10% from the Obama polling tallies and look at where that places the numbers.

    September 28, 2012 10:05 pm at 10:05 pm |
  5. bob

    Romney is going to win in a landslide....there really is no contest between him and the failure in chief Obama. The reality is polling people and actually voting are two different things. Obama's base is not fired up and many are not pleased with Obama's dismal performance and will simply not vote at all. So Romney will win not because he is more popular...because we all know how COOL Obama is, but simply because many democrats are not going to vote at all.

    September 28, 2012 10:05 pm at 10:05 pm |
  6. Anonymous

    I just would like to see an article explaining why the polls are weighted the way they are, with more Democrats polled than Republicans. Is that too much to ask? Explain why or how it happens so we know. That's all.

    September 28, 2012 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  7. 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 10:13 pm at 10:13 pm |
  8. Dan Manning

    Read widely, examine the records, listen to both sides of media wars here in the U.S., then check out CBC for objective jounalism regarding any and all things political. Anything less is to be impuned in your civic duty.

    September 28, 2012 10:14 pm at 10:14 pm |
  9. NamePat

    At this point in the game, I'm amused that the GOP is crying foul, considering the dirty politics they've played throughout the entire campaign. That entire party is self-destructive and I am pleased to see the Dems blow dust in their ugly butt-faces.

    September 28, 2012 10:18 pm at 10:18 pm |
  10. Anonymous

    What did these same polls show about the Wisc, race just a few months ago. If the polls that are being shown, have not been in the margin of error in the past they should not be a legit barometor of future polls that are conducted by any polling company.

    September 28, 2012 10:18 pm at 10:18 pm |
  11. Ron

    Is it me or did I miss the evidence in this article that there is not an oversampling of democratic respondees? Why no mention of the Rasmussen polls. To totally disregard the organization that was the most correct during the 2008 election, shows an attempt to cover the truth in an article devoid of supporting docmentation.

    CNN is obviously biased and it also appears that the debates will also be devoid of neutrality.

    Luckily, CNN and the other liberal oriented news organizations that make up the Obama/Holder cabal have been outed and the impact is lessening every day.

    Romney/Ryan 2012!!

    September 28, 2012 10:19 pm at 10:19 pm |
  12. arosel

    Obama is leading in all the battleground states. It will be up to 2 digit lead soon.

    The Republican pundits see it slipping away and are just playing sour grapes trying to blame the polls, but it's really the American people who've had enough of Romney.

    September 28, 2012 10:20 pm at 10:20 pm |
  13. W.G.

    Would the republicans complain if the shoe were on the other foot ?

    September 28, 2012 10:26 pm at 10:26 pm |
  14. Rick McDaniel

    Not really.

    The media are so totally biased on the side of the Democratic Party, it is obvious the Democratic Party is running the media! I mean OBVIOUS!

    September 28, 2012 10:28 pm at 10:28 pm |
  15. Hey

    Do people still listen to Rush and his ilk. Nothing but lies.

    September 28, 2012 10:35 pm at 10:35 pm |
  16. rla

    The media has lost the confidence of the people and have no business using polls as a tool to sell papers– let the candidates oll away but not to sway opinion

    September 28, 2012 10:36 pm at 10:36 pm |
  17. Jen

    I think what some may be not considering is that the motivation behind the GOP obstruction was an effort to help the GOP regain power, by attempting to cause Obama to be less successful than he would otherwise have been if there had been no obstruction. The GOP did this in the hopes of making voters forget who was really in charge during the economic collapse that followed the recession that began in Dec 2007. However, if Obama wins this time, he can't run again, so the effort for the GOP to undermine him will largely be gone, especially if their numbers in congress decline. This combination of events would send a strong message from voters to the GOP.

    September 28, 2012 10:39 pm at 10:39 pm |
  18. jschmidt

    Two percentage points separate President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney in a state poll conducted for the Tribune-Review, even though the campaigns largely are ignoring Pennsylvania and concentrating on other battlegrounds.
    Obama polled 47 percent to Romney's 45 percent among likely Pennsylvania voters, with 6 percent of voters undecided and 44 days until Election Day, according to the survey by Susquehanna Polling & Research. The survey of 800 voters, conducted Sept. 18-20, has a margin of error of 3.46 percentage points.

    The last poll had Obama up double digits. Now up by 2. This shows you can't rely on the polls. THe polls are skewed because they use the 2008 voter turnout which won't happen again.

    September 28, 2012 10:49 pm at 10:49 pm |
  19. tess

    if the lame stream media says it i KNOW IT'S A LIE!!! they haven't told the truth since the idiot was elected. it has been 4 years since i even turned on those channels, i canceled my left leaning newspaper and refuse to acknowledge the fools who are still supporting o-dumbo. when we lose the last of our freedoms if we are so punished with 4 more years these will be the people who start screaming at the top of their lungs when the government takes away everything they have!

    September 28, 2012 10:49 pm at 10:49 pm |
  20. jschmidt

    wake-up – the Oabma campaign has been lying all along.

    September 28, 2012 10:50 pm at 10:50 pm |
  21. Dieter Zerressen

    When even Fox News says you are behind you must be waaaaaay behind. The Romney people could address their complaints by just releasing their own polling data but just like Romney's tax returns, they are not going to release them because they already know whats lurking in there. My second point is this: even at Romney's best spin he says he tied or "within the margin or error" against Obama. Never has Romney come out and said he's ahead in Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin and Virginia – never.

    September 28, 2012 11:01 pm at 11:01 pm |
  22. solowd

    Republicans are more interested in faith-based polling.

    September 28, 2012 11:02 pm at 11:02 pm |
  23. Objectively Moderate

    As an independent, I can say that the whining about the lIberal media is ridiculous. There are far more conservative radio programs and overall conservative sites are far more biased in the "reporting". I view CNN.com, FoxNews.com, and MSNBC.com every evening and FoxNews.com has more political reporting and more bias than any other. MSNBC is definitely biased but they don't focus on politics as much. At the end of the day, people need to stop following media outlets that lean the direction those individual want and start reading all different perspectives. Neither Repubs nor Dems represent my beliefs so I am looking for a Reform Party channel.

    September 28, 2012 11:13 pm at 11:13 pm |
  24. Joseph

    No one talks about 2010 anymore. What about how the Democrats were going to kick Walker's butt in Wisconsin? The "polls" were predicting a new governor right up to the point Walker was assured of keeping his seat. I made a point of watching these polls carefully going into the election and found that only after Walker was undeniable did those polls indicate they were 'on board' in their predictions so they'd maintain credibility. Most predicted defeat for Walker right up to the end. The polling companies are not reliable. They cook the numbers to order and then 'fix' them right before deadline to reflect a reality they denied until no one cared or was watching.

    September 28, 2012 11:15 pm at 11:15 pm |
  25. Scott

    Carol, you've built a strawman. That isn't how poll results are comstructed.

    September 28, 2012 11:34 pm at 11:34 pm |
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