Analysis: Polling criticism unfounded
September 28th, 2012
05:32 PM ET
8 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. Sue

    In other words, it's not that mitt is repeatedly saying stupid remarks that prove he's completely unqualified for the job because he doesn't know what he's talking about, it's the polls that are skewed. Right, guys! And it's good that we've been warned to not expect much from mitt during the debates. If he's not ready for a debate after running for the job for 5-6 years, maybe he should just go home and save us the trouble. OBAMA-2012!!

    September 29, 2012 01:15 am at 1:15 am |
  2. Silvertongue

    LMAO.... I guess alot of people must have told them the same thing i did when they cold called my house. Lol....

    September 29, 2012 01:15 am at 1:15 am |
  3. Aristocles

    If this were a conspiracy by the media, CNN would report that a conspiracy was unfounded as well.

    September 29, 2012 01:15 am at 1:15 am |
  4. sqeptiq

    Fox polls show the same results as, does this mean Fox is in the tank for Obama?

    September 29, 2012 01:18 am at 1:18 am |
  5. Yikes

    Good luck getting a conservative loudmouth to believe this

    September 29, 2012 01:39 am at 1:39 am |
  6. togirl

    if the poll results were the OTHER way, i'm sure they would not be complaining that CNN is skewed or biased toward the Democrats.

    I'm not American, so I do not have the right to vote in this election, but I hope American electors will ask themselves a very basic question: How did we get into the fiscal mess of 2008. and how is it possible that the people who were at the wheel when this happened have the right to be elected?

    I don't see any new Romney policies that aren't re-hash of the old Republican crapola, I do see a man who wanted to be the nominee so badly he flipped and flopped on policies that once would have made him a credible conservative President. He chose to cater to the extremist right wing of the Republican party, and while they may elect him, i can't see independents and disaffected Democrats finding him an appealing nominee.

    He's a chameleon, changing his colours to suit his surroundings.

    September 29, 2012 01:46 am at 1:46 am |
  7. lĂ mnotfooled

    Obama-Biden. 2012. Honest not cheaters.

    September 29, 2012 01:53 am at 1:53 am |
  8. cliff

    BTW Polls aren't polling on what they expect turnout to be. There isn't even a real guess by anyone what it will be. You say that is why pollsters are coming under fire but CNN's whole article was to point out that NO poll, not even the ultra right leaning polls of Gravis, Rassmussen and Fox and Market Research Group ALL significantly favor Obama now. Critism is fine and warranted if opinions are being molded around 1 poll but they aren' t. In 12 straight polls in Ohio Obama leads, same in VA, and 5 straight now in Mich, Wisc, Colorado, The point is, the critism is completely unwarranted when you look at the big picture.

    September 29, 2012 02:03 am at 2:03 am |
  9. Reno

    I wish it weren't at the point where conservative pundits have to be singled out for praise when they say something that isn't insane. Look, your political positions on government spending and so on are topics for debate, but there's not much to be done when you insist the polling is a vast media conspiracy. It would be nice if this election were a choice between intelligent perspectives on government's role, but when one side won't even try to engage with reality, it's no choice at all.

    September 29, 2012 02:03 am at 2:03 am |
  10. panorain

    It is pretty clear the mainstream media does not care one bit about being honest about the deficit. So why should we expect them to be honest about anything else? Thanks to the Wayback Machine hopefully all these folks will get to eat their words for a long long time. And if Obama wins... God save us. Though we don't deserve it. We already know what is coming and it ain't pretty.

    September 29, 2012 02:10 am at 2:10 am |
  11. Steve

    Polls use landlines. Only old people have landlines. The surveys are flawed.

    September 29, 2012 02:11 am at 2:11 am |
  12. GO_GOP

    Romney will be the next president. Period. GOD will not allow anyone but the deeply religious Romney to win. This is cast in stone. So start weeping atheists and liberals. VOTE GOP

    September 29, 2012 02:18 am at 2:18 am |
  13. Jdevil1735

    Wake up people! – so you are actually admitting that the media is in bed with Obama and that if the GOP doesn't tow the line that the media will get revenge. You think the GOP are the sleazy ones?

    BTW – " a pathological lying cult leader as your nominee." has Obama's name next to it. Any candidate that comes out to Greek Columns onto a football field the way he did in 2008 – is a cult leader.

    September 29, 2012 02:37 am at 2:37 am |
  14. Joe

    I am with you Carol, many people I know that voted for Obama in 2008 will not be voting for him in 2012. And why should they, the guy had no experience and we all are paying for his failed policies. This country is a mess, and to quote Obama " if the unemployment rate is mot below 7 percent after 3 years I don't deserve another term" I AGREE with you there Barack. Fire Obama he is an empty suit.

    September 29, 2012 02:55 am at 2:55 am |
  15. J.V.Hodgson

    Normal voters of any voting persuasion are not as complex as the candidates and pollsters think. polling is an inexact science hence the " margin of error " predictions as well.
    The good polls start off with a Social and demographic assumptions, based on DATA that itself my have some level of error. That determines the relative numbers of who you ask and literally the even the way and order in which the questions are asked this assumes a numbers base of registered Democrats and Republicans plus some who say they are neither.
    The above automatically gives on balance results towards the social and demographic assumptions and is likely biased by trying to be too scientifically set up as it cannot track cross state population movements well enough.
    I always give more weigh to polls of socalled likely voters provide the pollster wanders around and randomly selects like ly voters and asks them the questions... it would help with the statistical evaluation if " likely voters were as a last question "are you a registered voter and for which party.
    It would like ly move wildly but overall be be more represetative of voting day emotions and likely outcome.

    September 29, 2012 02:58 am at 2:58 am |
  16. Yosemite Sam

    "A top Romney campaign strategist said it uses its own internal polling when making decisions.....I have great faith in our data."

    lol, hilarious....that's just the point....polling is intended to be know, that whole science thingy thing....polling is not something you can conjure up, manipulate and have faith in....

    hey GOP, how about trying to listen to the electorate and stop telling us what we should be thinking....that only works for

    September 29, 2012 03:04 am at 3:04 am |
  17. David

    Carol is exactly correct. CNN is acting like they have a hurt bottom. So much hostility coming from CNN today on FoxNews. What gives?

    And seriously, if you are going to go off and openly attack someone's complaints, then maybe 1) you should know what their complaints are, and 2) you should know how polls work.

    You take snippets out of what someone like Rove said about polls, but it appears from the article you have no idea what his reasoning is for approaching these results with a degree of caution and skepticism about their accuracy.

    The polls are giving a lot of weight to certain demographics. Many conservatives believe that those demographics are not going to vote in the same numbers as they did in 2008, which these polls assume.

    These polls are better suited to judging arcs and trends rather than hardfast snapshots. Not good for Romney but not as bad as some media outlets are presenting.

    September 29, 2012 03:07 am at 3:07 am |
  18. liza

    The polls are correct. I'm a registered independent since 1995 from florida. the conservative Cuban American community is voting based on facts and integrity. both of which Romney sorely lacks.

    September 29, 2012 03:37 am at 3:37 am |
  19. Dee

    Wake up people...i love you! You hit it right on the head! Right wing nuts are desperate and IF for some ungodly reason Romney wins we all know its a lie and all due to voter sick of a tv show called fox and radio actor spewing lies in a pathetic attempt to hide/block the truth...their candidate is the ultimate panderer worst presidential candidate ever!

    September 29, 2012 03:38 am at 3:38 am |

    FUNNY HOW these conservatives had no problems with the polls when it shows Obama tie with Romney or sometimes Romney even beating Obama.

    September 29, 2012 03:58 am at 3:58 am |
  21. Obama Day 2012!!!

    To all of those claiming that voter turnout will be less, think again. We fear a Romney Presidency more than we did a McCain Presidency(Don't even get me started on Palin.... She was a terrorist attack on America and things could have been muh, much worse).

    But instead of being controlled by our fears we are going to be coming out in droves to make a choice(Vote!) come Obama Day 2012!

    September 29, 2012 04:20 am at 4:20 am |
  22. AnneSD

    "...we won Republicans by 98 percent." To me, that is the sign of a very questionable sampling. I am a Republican, most of the people I know are Republicans. None of them intend to vote for Romney. The Republican party is no longer representative of fiscal conservative views or any of the things we consider important to the longterm health of this country like education, unity and common sense.

    September 29, 2012 04:41 am at 4:41 am |
  23. Yo

    It's very, very odd that Republican point out that polls are biased when even the Fox News polls are in favor of Obama. Is it a sign that they lost all common sense or is there a strategy behind it? It's one thing to say "polls are wrong", quite another to say "polls are deliberaly rigged" when even their own news channel shows those results.

    September 29, 2012 05:00 am at 5:00 am |
  24. John

    Media bias has reached a new level. It has moved beyond a rolling of the eyes or a snarky comment, it is full bore propaganda and blackout. Just scan the the CNN headlines and count the negative Romney stories versus the complete lack of any negative Obama press. And that is not because there is not any negative Obama press , no CNN and most networks simply don't report it.

    September 29, 2012 05:04 am at 5:04 am |
  25. Geoff

    Would be good if reporters - who should know the rules of grammar - would quit using the phrase "try and" when the appropriate phrase should be "try to." Penguins know better. Now about that silly whining about how polling is done, we're going to keep hearing it from the republicans. They like to cry and moan and whine when things don't go their way. They are like a collection of 8 year old bratty children and their supporters would be rivaled by onions and carrots on IQ tests.

    September 29, 2012 05:10 am at 5:10 am |
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