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. Bubba Baxter

    Rush is right. The dumorats have the lapdog media in their pockets. All the lttle bobble headed koolade drinkers go yup yup yup. I cant wait till the house and the senate are both GOP and yobamma is out. No more social programs, gun control is a thing of the past and liberal blogs that try and pass themselves off as legitamate news sources will be cryin the blues.. GO MITT>.. come debate time the world will see what this empty suit in the white house looks like without a teleprompter.

    September 28, 2012 08:21 pm at 8:21 pm |
  2. MiddleClassCitizen

    Mitt Romney 2012! Obamanation "I'm pledging to cut the deficit in half by the end of my first term in office" and "If I don't get the unemployment rate under 7%, I deserve to be a one-term president." The Failure-in-Chief Barrack Hussein Obama

    September 28, 2012 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
  3. Kr55

    I figured seeing obama up would have the opposite effect. It would make democrats stay home because they figure their vote isn't needed, and it fires up republicans to vote to try to make up the difference. Both of those forces probably come into play, and in the end, they cancel each other out and the polls end up being right anyway.

    September 28, 2012 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
  4. CommonSense

    You have got to be kidding, "Wake up". How about the big fat lie that Obama and Hillary have been spewing since the terrorist attack on our Embassy on 9/11. Only a complete idiot, or someone with a hidden agenda, would be repeating that LIE! And shocker! You won't see CNN or any other biased "news" outlets demanding to know why they LIED! Why is no one calling them out on this and investigating?

    September 28, 2012 08:32 pm at 8:32 pm |
  5. jan

    I dont trust the main stream media, I think its a left thing

    September 28, 2012 08:36 pm at 8:36 pm |
  6. Jersey Girl

    Just about all the polls have the president at a higher rating than Willard. But more importantly are the recent headlines about the Republicans trying to STEAL the vote. This is against the law and I hope all this comes out and the majority of people learn about this. This is getting scary.

    September 28, 2012 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
  7. Pete

    You republicans you want the truth but you may not like it.The president is actually polling way higher than the public really knows.It's Pres.Obamas psychological warfare,if its close then more voters will turn out,if its a landslide like 2008 ,voters become complacent and less show up knowing he'll win by a landslide anyway,knowing more than enough have probibly voted anyway and that's how he'd lose by voters simply not showing up!!What's more interesting ,a game between two top rank teams that's probibly won by a field goal or less or a top rank team playing a doormat of a team and knowing they'll be slaughtered,its your call I want it close and I'll vote and then watch Romney get beat like McCain did in 2008,remember 365-173 electoral ,not really that close and 53%-45% in total votes,not a landslide if you watched the polls before were they,that's politics,leave them guessing right up to the bell..And say goodbye to your congressmen as well!!

    September 28, 2012 08:42 pm at 8:42 pm |
  8. Fact

    It's simple, Obama Cares!

    September 28, 2012 08:44 pm at 8:44 pm |
  9. JeffinIL

    Anytime a poll is not in one's favor, obviously the pollsters are biased. Just like every time a judge rules in a way that some disagree with, the judge is an activist legislating from the bench.


    September 28, 2012 08:45 pm at 8:45 pm |
  10. Name

    Carol – you may see a lot of comments from Obama bashers because they are wild eyed fanatics being riled up by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, but if you sort by most liked or most popular, the vast majority of those are in favor of Obama with hundreds of 'likes'

    September 28, 2012 08:45 pm at 8:45 pm |
  11. Vat

    Obama forever!!!

    September 28, 2012 08:57 pm at 8:57 pm |
  12. GetReal

    "Wah!!! It can't be true. Obama can't be in the lead! Oh, the horror! The Dems are cheating again! With our new voting restrictions and superpacs, I know there's no way they can win."

    September 28, 2012 08:57 pm at 8:57 pm |
  13. John

    the article didn't really address the actual arguments against these polls, they just showed a lot of polls including one from fox news as though the problem of assuming a democratic turnout larger than in 2008 made sense.. it doesn't. The polls are misleading.

    September 28, 2012 08:58 pm at 8:58 pm |
  14. Ancient Texan

    Even Texas could wind up in the Obama column, if the pollster were to call only Austin and San Antonio because the Democratic voters there would be overwhelming. Texas will not vote for Obama in majority numbers. He got 43% in 2008 and will likely get 40% or less this time.

    September 28, 2012 09:10 pm at 9:10 pm |
  15. Clouds Across The Moon

    If I'm denying Obama's re-election, I am. Tight polls are nothing but psyching each major candidate out. And destiny, good will and God's plan, not dynasty, shall prevail. Economy may drop and the countries that buy America's goods will be nothing but another recession. Wake up people (and not you, sic) and face the truth and the facts and analyze who's making the lies but Obama "HIMSELF".

    September 28, 2012 09:13 pm at 9:13 pm |
  16. McShannon

    Mitt still has some money left to spend and sure he can give it all he's got but, gosh Rush you don't really help.

    September 28, 2012 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |
  17. Jen L

    ROFL at Carol. Yeah, your anecdotal evidence is sooooo much better than actually polling.

    If you don't realize that the conservatives have organized website trolling efforts intended to skew public opinion towards Romney, you haven't been paying attention. Some of the commenters that you're talking about are PAID to tout conservative ideals on websites.

    The thing that's important in the swing states is the independent vote and Romney is losing the independent vote in those states. It's absurd to claim that polls are being inflated because people don't want to vote for the loser, but claiming that the polls are wrong because you don't personally see as many people as excited about Obama as in the previous election?


    This time, the Republican Party nominated a Sarah Palin equivalent as their Presidential nominee. If you want to know why he's doing badly in the polls, listen to Romney's words.

    September 28, 2012 09:16 pm at 9:16 pm |
  18. VVVVVV

    CNN is putting too much of a DNC spin on this. All they are saying is there are polls that are putting too much emphasis on how many Democrats are going to vote. It's a legitimate criticism. Not really a tin foil hat theory.

    September 28, 2012 09:18 pm at 9:18 pm |
  19. Steph

    The polls were ok as long as it was in the gops favor

    September 28, 2012 09:18 pm at 9:18 pm |
  20. DJESQ

    As an Independent, I believe it is obvious the GOP should win this presidential election and carry a majority in both the House and Senate ...

    However, if the GOP cannot win this year, with one of the worst presidents since James Buchanan and a do nothing Senate, the GOP may never win again ... too many blue people ...

    So ... GOP ... put up or shut up ... if you lose, the nation will fiscally fail, go bankrupt, by 2024 (see CBO report) ...

    … too many blue people … Avatars …

    September 28, 2012 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  21. Jon

    The polls say their is a plus 9 and plus ten dem sample in fl and oh. That is nonsense Amd anyone with a brain knows it. Obama is deffently in the lead but not by 10 points. If he wins Ohio he will win by three points or leas. He has no shot I. Fl.

    September 28, 2012 09:30 pm at 9:30 pm |
  22. Nick

    Unfounded. As in "does not support the Obama, Lib narrative." Not untrue, just unfounded.

    September 28, 2012 09:37 pm at 9:37 pm |
  23. shamiko

    I love everybody!!!!! Obama 2012!!!!!

    September 28, 2012 09:38 pm at 9:38 pm |
  24. mb

    The GOP has to have something to cry about. Their worse than a little baby. Maybe we need to get them some pacifiers to quiet them down. With rush on their team we see how over the top they really are. I will be voting a straight democratic ticket this year.

    September 28, 2012 09:39 pm at 9:39 pm |
  25. Heffulumps

    American Taliban-Teapartiers will have to go back to the drawing board after November.

    September 28, 2012 09:42 pm at 9:42 pm |
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