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. ChrisO

    Is there a deliberate skewing by the pollsters? Well, they can’t stay in business if their numbers don’t match the results of the actual election – so IF they are skewing now they will not skew anything for the last couple weeks before the election. They will be as deadly accurate as they can be then or who needs them? So if you begin to see a large change in the poll results in the last few weeks of the race without any obvious reason you know they are just playing the folks.

    September 29, 2012 09:05 am at 9:05 am |
  2. Hatch

    “Could there possibly be some skewing going on by the media, the left-based mainstream media?” Doocy said.
    Doocy’s own network (Fox News), though, has published polls that were very much in line with the topline results from other media surveys. That blows that ignorant theory out of the water doesn't it?

    September 29, 2012 09:06 am at 9:06 am |
  3. David Kuklinski

    Common theme there: Obama leading. If Mitt can't do magic tricks and some really cool dance moves he's going to lose the debates and we have another 4 of blue.

    September 29, 2012 09:06 am at 9:06 am |
  4. ChrisO

    …Also, the pollsters have provided zero empirical evidence (that I can find) to back up the assumption that democrats will vote is such high numbers relative to republicans. I look around and don’t see anywhere near the same enthusiasm that I saw last election cycle for the fist black president so have to conclude there will be significantly FEWER dem voters.

    September 29, 2012 09:06 am at 9:06 am |
  5. WhatNow

    History will prove that increased ignorance and division in the US began when people started believing that radio and TV shows like Rush and Fox were anything more that conservative entertainment. Any organization that denigrates science and education is nothing more than a fear-mongering, mind controlling machine.

    September 29, 2012 09:11 am at 9:11 am |
  6. Joe The Plumber

    Sounds like the GOP is in panic mode. Next we will hear them assert that the media is made up of muslins.

    September 29, 2012 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  7. edpeters101

    How can you claim that both Faux News and the GOP (headed by Mitt Twit and Paul Lyin) are not correct in their poll theories? Are you (like them) rejecting science? The polls have to be behind Mitt, he is on every side of almost all issues!

    September 29, 2012 09:14 am at 9:14 am |
  8. JC in PA

    Well FOX News polls also indicate Romney is way behind and you know there is nothing fair and balanced about that.
    They'd certainly spin it if they could. I'm thinking that these people complaining have said "What America Wants...." so much that they actually believe that a minority of opinion is the majority. What do you call that when you try and impose the will of a minority on the majority....let's see....fill in the blank. America will vote what it wants... and it's pretty obvious the direction that is going. Actually Romney seems like a decent if confused guy. I am voting against the TEA PARTY not Romney though. Never gets to a decision on him.Take a poll on that.

    September 29, 2012 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  9. cheflowfat

    Gov. Romney and his team should not blame the media about the polls numbers, him trailing in the polls, is all his fault, here are some of Romney’s big blunders.
    (1) During the primaries in an interview on CNN, he said” I am not concern about the poor” he cement that comment with his in famous 47% playing into the hands of those who think that he is out of touch with ordinary American
    (2) He chose Paul Ryan for his running mate, this I think is one of his biggest mistake , with this guy plans to gut Medicare , that just turn seniors against the GOP ticket.
    (3) Romney without a message, one day he said he is going to repeal Obama care and them another day he is taking credit for it saying he is the grand daddy of Obama care. So I don’t think Gov. Romney should blame the media for the poll numbers , he need to look in the mirror and blame himself

    September 29, 2012 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  10. Jake

    Dear Mr Limburger, Let's put things into perspective. Al Franken is in the US Senate. You are on AM radio in Yazoo City, Mississippi. Case closed.

    September 29, 2012 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  11. Newtonslaw

    I'm sure even after the election the uberright columnists and pundants will claim voter fraud, dirty tricks, anything really to whip up their crestfallen followers to keep the money flowing in. Rush has made a good living attacking Dems in office, it's all he knows how to do. The facts are that they only represent about 34% of America and in this country you need a majority to win. Too narrow a base, too narrow a mind set, too narrow a philosophy to govern a multi-cultural country like ours.

    September 29, 2012 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  12. Nam jackie

    The repub say they are christian and are full of so much hate do they read the bible love ye one another god bless obama we are not heading in a hole any more

    September 29, 2012 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  13. Yeahona

    If it was favoring their guy, none of them would be ripping apart the polls. Of course, there isn't fact in FauxNews and very little in the others. Faux/Limbaugh are just mouthpieces for republicans. No objectivity or the appearance of it at all on this network.

    September 29, 2012 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  14. Kate

    I got a mailbox full of Republican lies yesterday as well as several phone calls of the same. I'm in a state that's up for grabs and we're being contacted constantly by both parties....though primarily the GOP, it seems. I believe that the polls are accurate. I'm just hoping that Democrats don't become complacent and think they will win without every single vote they can get. The difference between the candidates isn't so great that one blip on the radar screen can't change things. Voters are fickle. VOTE!
    OBAMA/Biden 2012!

    September 29, 2012 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  15. Hiway

    First, there are a whole lot more Democrats than Republicans. Second, there are many Republicans who have stated and are going to vote Democrat this election cycle. Third, Mitt Romney and his staff are making excuses for why he will lose the debates, ergo, it follows lose the election. Four, Romney stands with and for the 1% and trickle down economics that have noe and will not work. The vast majority of American people and voters know it and don't want any more of it. IMHO this election cycle and poisonous vitriol is not so much to elect Romney as it is too keep the Congress in Republican control to continue the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy.

    September 29, 2012 09:36 am at 9:36 am |
  16. Sam Smith

    Well, if the polls are correct, then the GOP will keep the congress, and at,least will gain seats in the senate. How will this help Obama? He complains and blames congress so much, this will only get worse.

    September 29, 2012 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
  17. Randy

    Obama 2012? I guess the world is ending this year!

    September 29, 2012 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  18. John M

    I just think its a sad day for American political life when you have to adopt a global media conspiracy to make your position look tenable. They're less worried about persuasion than external control over people's opinions.

    September 29, 2012 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  19. jim

    Typical Rush/GOP tactic. Discredit any source of information that produces results you dont like.

    September 29, 2012 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  20. Nicky Balwes

    Funny how the people who were convinced that GW Bush stole the election are the same ones who believe elections can't be manipulated when their guy wins.

    September 29, 2012 09:40 am at 9:40 am |
  21. thedevil

    The article does nothing to support the headline. Could it have any less facts in it? I am one of the 6% undecided and I have read conservative blogs saying the polls are misleading because they have over sampled Ds to this %, R under sample to %, and I count for %. I thought this article was going to tell we why all these blogs are wrong. Instead it gave me the poll number without a break down and a few partisan quotes. Wow journalism today really is suffering.

    September 29, 2012 09:40 am at 9:40 am |
  22. sp

    Foxnews polls show the same thing. Rather than focusing on the polls and trying to say they are lies, why not start running a good campaign? Stop the distortions. Run on your own record as Gov. and a businessman. Stop running as a "I'm the other guy". The more this type of thing is done and their is an attack on "liberal media" while ignoring misinforation by the "conservative media" the bigger the divide will be in this nation and the less will be accomplished by our elected officials.

    September 29, 2012 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
  23. eviltaxpayer

    Dont believe what you see, believe what obamas media tells you!
    Liberals are sheep-

    September 29, 2012 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  24. me

    The right wing is really not much different than a paranoid-schizophrenic who hears voices and believes things that are happening are specifically targeting themselves... really, they should seek some mental health counceling before they get themselves too screwed up in the head... voter fraud, poll manipulation... absolutely need some help! Those tin foil hats are not working... what next... liberals poisoning little kids so they grow up to be democrats?

    September 29, 2012 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  25. paul321

    Time and time again we see groups of people denying the data when the data does not support their assertions. This country is fundamentally broken.

    September 29, 2012 09:47 am at 9:47 am |
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