Analysis: Polling criticism unfounded
September 28th, 2012
05:32 PM ET
9 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, 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. on StreetWise

    Polls don't matter! Data is skewed! Has Rush made his reservations for Costa Rica yet?

    September 28, 2012 06:47 pm at 6:47 pm |
  2. Planet Kolob

    Romney will lose- sorry but the GOP trots out the "polls are unfair" stuff every time their candidate is behind.

    September 28, 2012 06:48 pm at 6:48 pm |
  3. They ought to change from the elephant to the hippo...

    Typical Republican response. Don't like the outcome? Attack the science!
    Where have we heard it before.... Let me see....

    September 28, 2012 06:54 pm at 6:54 pm |
  4. Tony T

    LMAO. Anyone with half a brain can see the oversampling of Dems. I love it because the Dems who are freebagggers and lazy by nature will not even bother going to the polls.

    September 28, 2012 06:55 pm at 6:55 pm |
  5. Justin

    Everyone under the sun knows this going to be a blowout! Wake up GOP..It's not that Obama is that great...It's that O'Bomney is that bad.

    September 28, 2012 06:56 pm at 6:56 pm |
  6. demrules

    There have been two instances, so far, of proven voter registration fraud involving the GOP. One company the GOP allegedly fired from their registration because they were actually caught with 109 fraudulent registrations. These registrations consisted of bogus individuals with addresses ranging from car dealerships to grocery stores. Another instance was a young lady in Florida, outside of a grocery store, who said she worked for the county voters office but was only registering people who wanted to vote for Romney. She changed her story when she found out that the one lady she was asking was recording her with a hidden video camera. Like the GOP, she blatantly denied it, even though she was caught. Fox news has show the same polling or similar. The GOP has become so pathetically anxious, they would even try to win by cheating. As long as Limbaugh and Rove continue to speak for the GOP, they will always turn people off and alienate those who are already within the Republican party by their apparent lies and deceptions.

    September 28, 2012 06:56 pm at 6:56 pm |
  7. Mike

    Personally I would not put any stock in what comes out of Rush Limbaugh's mouth. Realistically think about what we have seen. A tight race up until the conventions. The polls showed that. Then Romney and the GOP jumped the rails with a lackluster convention followed by the video tape in which he insults almost half the country and describes his economic plan as "I just show up" and things improve, his wish to be Hispanic but, not really Hispanic, and his tax release listing page after page of tax shelters. Now the polls show our president pulling away and Romney falling. Do you still think it is a conspiracy? I don't. He has reaped what he has sowed and will continue to do so with his extreme right wing policies that aid the few at the expense of the rest of us. We have already lived through that under the prior GOP administration and look where it left the majority of us.

    September 28, 2012 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
  8. Facts don't Lie

    you know it wasn't very long ago that Mitt Romney was actually LEADING Obama in some of these polls. He one time had a lead in Michigan, North Carolina, Florida, and Nevada..been going back and forth in Colorado. He had a lead in who could handle the economy better and who was better able to create jobs. During that time I don't recall ONE Republican saying the polls were flawed. The far right has to be the biggest whiners I have ever seen when things do not go their way. Blame the polls, blame the "evil left wing media", BUT no way blame what is really flawed..the candidate and what he is trying to peddle that few are willing to buy.

    September 28, 2012 06:58 pm at 6:58 pm |
  9. the situation

    The Rethugs has become the Party of Complaining. Everything is a Left Wing Conspiracy. The reason why Romney is trailing is simple, Romney is not a good campaigner and has time after time since the beginning been putting his foot in his mouth. Also, talk about conspiracy how about the one that Cantor, Lying Ryan, Newt and other started back on January 20, 2009. Instead of doing America and the people work, they have done nothing but to obstruct the business of the American people. I heard Newt this morning on Morning Joe and he didn't refute nothing when someone brought it up.

    Wake up American people. Romney has no backbone to stand up to his party. He will just finish what Bush and Cheney left.

    September 28, 2012 06:59 pm at 6:59 pm |
  10. jparker

    Its a paranoid conspiracy theory just like Obama not being a citizen. Romney is waging a terrible deceitful campaign & people realize this. That's what the polls reflect.

    September 28, 2012 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
  11. Maria

    Here we go again. It is called denial. They just honestly cannot believe that people actually like Obama. Bay Buchanan, the woman is full of hatred, and so stupid, no wonder Romney is losing with such surrogates!

    September 28, 2012 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
  12. GonzoinHouston

    To the far right wing, which is to say the GOP, it is easier to believe in a vast, left-wing conspiracy to skew the polls than it is to accept that they are losing at this point. I guess FOX is just pretending to go along to provide cover for their intrepid investigative reporter, Bill O'Reilly, who is working deep undercover to finalize the story that will blow the lid off this plot.

    The right wing is living in its own parallel reality in which W is honest, Palin is smart, and Romney is going to win it all come November. And if Romney doesn't win then it will be because of either democrat voter fraud or Romney wasn't conservative enough.

    September 28, 2012 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  13. atest

    Polling results are skewed .. This time it is more than normal. It is fact.. Only thing is media should not support this.

    September 28, 2012 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  14. judith

    Carol, I don't know where you live, but I see a lot of Obama signs and virtually no support for Romney. Of course, I live in California, but my friends and relatives in other states are reporting the same. Now even Fox News reported Chris Wallace has said that all of the GOP complaints about skewed polls are nonsense. Romney "jumped the shark" with the release of the "47% video". He was already losing, but now he's going to lose badly.

    September 28, 2012 07:17 pm at 7:17 pm |
  15. jerrylax

    if Romney were leeding in these polls...which would be impossible, this story wouldn't be here. Another cnn partisan rage piece...nothing new and not worth reading. No wonder their viewership is slipping...even Fox has them beat.

    September 28, 2012 07:18 pm at 7:18 pm |
  16. mark ducharme

    hard to believe (government says cell phone is basic comunication) I went without basic comunication and survived for almost 45 years. Thank God I am still around to talk about it. free and discounted cell phones for the poor government program.

    September 28, 2012 07:18 pm at 7:18 pm |
  17. Ferathka

    Repubs are getting desperate.......Mitt is so fail.

    September 28, 2012 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  18. DSopp

    In 2008 17 of 23 polls overestimated Obama's victory, 2(Rasmussen and Pew were spot on) and 4 underestimated Obama's victory. The only poll I trust is Rasmussen it is closest to the results on a consistent basis.

    September 28, 2012 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  19. Borderless

    Polling numbers are accurate. Obama will win in November, because sane people in the middle of the political spectrum don't get that Obama does not have their interests at heart. He is a narcissistic, ambitious and corrupt president.

    "After this election, I will have a lot more flexibility." –President Obama

    Those who are in the middle of the political spectrum need to come to terms with the idea that after this election, he doesn't care about you. He doesn't share your concerns. He will do whatever he wants. I take some comfort in knowing that I did not support him.

    September 28, 2012 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  20. Name Withheld

    Polls are the sport of the media. Accurate or manipulated does not matter to me. My vote will be cast after careful consideration. I am looking forward to the Ryan Biden debate though. Should be a hoot

    September 28, 2012 07:34 pm at 7:34 pm |
  21. shushe

    It is too good to be true to believe Obama is leading in all states despite economy meltdown, unemployment and mind boggling nations debt. unless there is no single rationale in this nation .It would be silly to think everyone 's reasoning is completely dead. How in the world these people loosing rationality and wants to put the Nation in peril. Forget about Rush what is your over confidence that he can do better when he himself rated his four years with C Plus.?What kind of a convincing articles you can come up with? If you think Romney is loosing you are dead wrong.

    September 28, 2012 07:37 pm at 7:37 pm |
  22. Fact

    The problem is the extreme critics of these polls simply do not like the results. The fact is that Romney/Ryan are not connecting with the voters and it is not a likeability factor. President Obama is connecting with people and is believable.

    September 28, 2012 07:43 pm at 7:43 pm |
  23. zardough

    Can we please stop using the term 'liberal mainstream media'? FOX is the most-watched/listened to news outlet, making them the mainstream media... and conservative. Let's at least try to be fact-based here.

    September 28, 2012 07:47 pm at 7:47 pm |
  24. n

    Republicans are a bunch of cry babies. They have been sitting on their hands and crying since President Obama moved into the White House. Who in their right minds would ever vote for these losers again.

    September 28, 2012 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  25. geggyg

    I dont agree with the importance placed on polls or the frequency of the polls (far too many) but the way polls are calculated is that if a section of population is apparently under or over represented then that section of polling is weighted to represent what the company thinks will represent a closer representation of the voter turnout. Its the way opinion polls have always been done , you cant do a random poll and get a perfect cross section of the population or even the whole truth , The only accurate poll of what the people thinks is a vote of 100% of the people .

    September 28, 2012 08:17 pm at 8:17 pm |
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