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. ObamaRainsOnAmerica


    There's not one word in the article that justifies the headline.

    Just more Communist News Network spin, spin, spin!!!

    September 28, 2012 11:35 pm at 11:35 pm |
  2. jz

    We MUST ALL register ASAP and vote (preferably early) to ensure good turnout.!

    September 28, 2012 11:41 pm at 11:41 pm |
  3. Paul f

    OMG , Who would believe it? Fox news part of the liberal media to skew the polls to favor the President. Good thing Rush is on top of this.

    September 28, 2012 11:50 pm at 11:50 pm |
  4. wildernessyes

    The polls are accurate. The republicans have had the worst candidate slate I have ever seen and picked a loser out of a loser crowd. We are have been watching this for a year now and the polls are simply reflecting these facts. The republican party has been quite devastating for America and the public is going to send them a strong message next month.

    September 28, 2012 11:54 pm at 11:54 pm |
  5. Kevin

    Carol, Know why you don't see Obama signs everywhere? They keep getting stolen!

    September 28, 2012 11:54 pm at 11:54 pm |
  6. chthys

    The reptilicans are attacking the polls for a different reason. It's because they already know that the results on election day may be very different from the polls because of their own voter suppression efforts that can flip several of the swing states red. They know they can get away with stealing a 3rd presidential election because the media refused to touch all the evidence of voter suppression and electronic voting machine rigging in the 2000 and 2004 elections. They may not be able to buy this election. Plan B is to steal it.

    September 28, 2012 11:56 pm at 11:56 pm |
  7. Namedave

    Why did you not explain why your polls use higher democrat numbers than everyone expects will be the actual numbers for this year?

    September 28, 2012 11:59 pm at 11:59 pm |
  8. Jason

    Now they really sound like whining brats especially since that polls from Fox News, which is according to them the only descent news outlet left, actually shows Obama leading by an even larger margin than the polls released by the "big evil liberal mainstream socialist media."

    September 29, 2012 12:00 am at 12:00 am |
  9. Jeff

    Obama had his chance, and he has failed our country. Romney, although lacking in the "likeability" area, is a proven businessman, and can turn this country around. ROMNEY 2012.

    September 29, 2012 12:10 am at 12:10 am |
  10. Truthbetold

    So your evidence is that you haven't seen as many bumper stickers or yard signs as before? That is your evidence? Well I have seen twice as many as before which boils down to he said, she said. That is the best you can do?
    You claim the pollsters are assuming 2008 numbers, where is your proof that that is what they are doing?
    Also, if Romney is winning over the independents then his numbers would be better than Obama's. I have a feeling that you are a little delusional because the polling is showing the opposite of what you are claiming.
    Finally, you obviously got your percentages from Red State or possibly Rush Limbaugh. Neither one would be partisan would they? Why don't you find a non-partisan site and check the numbers?

    September 29, 2012 12:11 am at 12:11 am |
  11. superbole

    Your presidential candiate is caught in gaffe after gaffe, your persistent 'lib' bashing is losing its effect, you're caught stacking voter registration in Florida (and God knows where else), and now – as national voter support begins to sag – you scream foul, shake your fist at journalists, and give menacing scowls at the 47%. I fear to think what could be next. Where's the old GOP? What happened to you?

    September 29, 2012 12:17 am at 12:17 am |
  12. Peter

    Conspiracy theories? Is this the best Republicans can do in the face of so much rejection? Soul searching would be a more productive use of their energy rather than blaming some made up foe. Such children.

    September 29, 2012 12:19 am at 12:19 am |
  13. BeBe

    Why dont you understand that if we continue on our current path, you wont have to worry all you retired teachers, ect. about your pension because when the economy colapses like Greece, you wont have a pension any longer!!! Wake up and vote for a man that knows what to do for our deflating economy. Obama has a great personality, but he doesnt have a clue about fixing our economy OR keeping our embassies safe. At least Romney has proven strong moral character. PLEASE... vote Romney and save our country!

    September 29, 2012 12:22 am at 12:22 am |
  14. Howard

    There are so many examples of how Obama and the biased main stream media have misled the public in order to give Obama an unfair advantage in this election, and the election of 2008. In a fair, honest, and objective election ... without trumped up accusations of racism, gender warfare, class warfare, and other B.S., Obama wouldn't stand a chance.
    I believe the polls are skewed, and if you look back at the 2010 election, or the Scott Walker recall election, the polls
    were way off. One of the areas the Republicans are ahead is voter enthusiasm. Having the polls portray Obama as
    the winner all ready, is just a desperate attempt to dampen Republican turnout. Pushing early voting is another trick
    to acquire votes before there's even a debate. Obama uses cheating ... mudslinging ... empty promises ... and, any
    other tactic, in order to hold onto power at any cost.

    September 29, 2012 12:31 am at 12:31 am |
  15. Steve

    I think it is sad when Republicans whine and cry about things not going their way. On one side of the party, you have people like FOXNews, old Aunt Ann and drunk Uncle Rush screaming about things being unfair and one-sided, geared towards liberals. On the other side of the party, you have people screaming for the rest of America to be more accountable for their actions and stop being victims; to take their lives into their own hands and quit looking for a hand-out. So, why not take your own advise, quit crying, get your people off their butts and get them to the polls. If the Republicans truly believe that Mitt Romney is the right guy for the job, than nothing, including alleged poll tampering should stop people from voicing their opinion and electing a Republican for president. If bias polls is all it takes to get rid of Republicans, than it really shows how weak the party has become and you should all find something else to do with your lives.

    September 29, 2012 12:35 am at 12:35 am |
  16. BigTBone

    Carol is right too. Enthusiasm isn't enough. That's why everyone should get out and vote.

    Straight D ticket.

    Send a message. Restore sanity.

    September 29, 2012 12:38 am at 12:38 am |
  17. Lars J

    I agree that the election atmosphere and enthusiasm is not what it was in 2008 for the Democrats and they should not assume the voter turnout will be what it was then, but, conversely, the GOP has underestimated the dislike and lack of enthusiasm for their candidate. For example, Romney's Mormonism is troubling to many critical evangelicals and that is going to translate into mediocre numbers in some states. It will be an interesting election night.

    September 29, 2012 12:43 am at 12:43 am |
  18. Reggie from LA

    OK The polls are bogus. Romney has nothing to worry about. He can just relax because he's ahead. See? Now that the surveys have been discredited by smart men (that was very hard to write btw), his campaign can just chill and prep him for the debates that they don't expect him to win. On the other hand, he may make a "shocking prediction" about winning that too. Stupid just doesn't stop.

    September 29, 2012 12:48 am at 12:48 am |
  19. There they go again...

    If faulty logic and circular arguments are the tools the GOP hopes can lead them to victory, then it looks like Carol has some to spare!

    September 29, 2012 12:52 am at 12:52 am |
  20. Emma in Baltimore

    Hopefully this election cycle will be cathartic for the Republican Party. Over the years, they've lost their way as they've pushed their ideology farther and farther to the right-wing fringes. They don't want to compromise to reach bipartisan positions, and they've even been disenfranchising the more moderate members of their own party. Hopefully this election cycle will smack the GOP hard enough to make them realize that those fringe views are inconsistent with U.S. population's more centrist views.

    September 29, 2012 01:00 am at 1:00 am |
  21. 2012liberal

    Just dont b complaciant. Vote early. There could b several gotcha moments on election day-example one or two voting machines at a place of thousands of voters-ohio 2008. 10 hrs n line 4 some. B ready 4 it.

    September 29, 2012 01:02 am at 1:02 am |
  22. jyves95

    Romney is not completely wrong. There are some people who fell that they are the victims.. it's all about a huge conspiracy against them...The same and only good people of America who must think that it's not a big deal for women to be raped and they can't get pregnant, anyway...Now, if Fox starts to favor Obama with their polls... what a disgrace!
    After all, victory will be theirs.. like Judgment Day was 4 month ago, in May...

    September 29, 2012 01:05 am at 1:05 am |
  23. M Gonzales

    CNN what are you going on about? When people can actually see with their own eyes ya'll are over sampling democrats and under sampling GOP and Independents we then KNOW its not a "conspiracy theory of the highest level" its a FACT then that some media are "manipulating data in public opinion polls to try and help President Barack Obama win a second term"

    September 29, 2012 01:06 am at 1:06 am |
  24. Andrew

    Absolutely nothing Rush says should be taken seriously. Absolutely nothing.

    September 29, 2012 01:06 am at 1:06 am |
  25. Neverson

    The GOP have run out of ammunition to fire up its campain. They are now desperate of getting a way but in any way, which seems to impossible.

    September 29, 2012 01:11 am at 1:11 am |
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