Playing the Polling Game — Must Read

From the inception of this blog I have argued wherever I see applicable that the polls misrepresent the voting sentiment, they  often do so purposefully, and this is nothing new.  The other day I contrasted today’s polling with Bush in September 2000 since that election everyone remembers as basically ending in a tie. But the Romney campaign has repeatedly said they expect the race to break like 1980s where the polls showed the race to be close up until the final weekend.  For those of us too young to break down polling in 1980, a sneaking suspicion was the race was never really tied but wholly biased polling made the conventional wisdom believe that it was close.  Thankfully Jeffrey Lord at American Spectator does a tremendous job breaking down the “polling game” of 1980 showing how partisan media outlets like the New York Times misrepresents the race to favor a failing Democrat Jimmy Carter. Read the whole thing for the write-up excepts with each story.  I focused on the polling but the actual write-ups are staggeringly awful.

First he sets up the story with a tale of media polling bias openly articulated by the Washington Post on behalf of the 4-years-later Presidential bid of Walter Mondale in 1984 :

In a series of nine stories in 1980 on “Crucial States” — battleground states as they are known today — the New York Times repeatedly told readers then-President Carter was in a close and decidedly winnable race with the former California governor. And used polling data from the New York Times/CBS polls to back up its stories. Four years later, it was the Washington Post that played the polling game — and when called out by Reagan campaign manager Ed Rollins a famous Post executive called his paper’s polling an “in-kind contribution to the Mondale campaign.” Mondale, of course, being then-President Reagan’s 1984 opponent and Carter’s vice president. All of which will doubtless serve as a reminder of just how blatantly polling data is manipulated by liberal media — used essentially as a political weapon to support the liberal of the moment, whether Jimmy Carter in 1980, Walter Mondale in 1984 — or Barack Obama in 2012.

The Battleground States of 1980

The states involved, and the datelines for the stories:

  • · California — October 6, 1980 [Reagan won by 18%]
  • · Texas — October 8, 1980
  • · Pennsylvania — October 10, 1980
  • · Illinois — October 13, 1980
  • · Ohio — October 15, 1980
  • · New Jersey — October 16, 1980 [Reagan won by 13%]
  • · Florida — October 19, 1980
  • · New York — October 21, 1980
  • · Michigan — October 23, 1980

Of these nine only one was depicted as “likely” for Reagan: Reagan’s own California. A second — New Jersey — was presented as a state that “appears to support” Reagan. The Times led their readers to believe that each of the remaining seven states were “close” — or the Times had Carter leading outright.

Texas [Reagan won by 14%]

In a story datelined October 8 from Houston, the Times headlined:Texas Looming as a Close Battle Between President and Reagan

  • A survey of 1,050 registered voters, weighted to form a probable electorate, gave Mr. Carter 40 percent support, Mr. Reagan 39 percent, John. B. Anderson, the independent candidate, 3 percent, and 18 percent were undecided. The survey, conducted by telephone from Oct. 1 to Oct. 6, has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Pennsylvania [Reagan won by 7%]

Headline (Oct 10): Undecided Voters May Prove Key

  • Reagan, said the Times, “appears to have failed thus far to establish many positive reasons for voting for him.” Once again the paper played the polling data card, this time saying Reagan had a mere 2 point lead.

Illinois [Reagan won by 8%]

Headline (Oct 13): Poll Finds Illinois Too Close to Call: Both Camps Note Gains by Carter

  • New York Times/CBS polling data that proclaimed a Reagan one-point lead of 34% to Carter’s 33% as a sure sign that “Carter Gains and Reagan Slips in Close Illinois Race” — as an inside page headline proclaimed.

Ohio [Reagan won by 11%]

Headline (Oct 15): Ohio Race Expected to Be Close As Labor Mobilizes for President

  • New York Times/CBS polling data. Reagan was ahead by a bare 2 points, 36% to 34%. Two-thirds of the undecided were women and Reagan was doing “much worse among women voters than men.” Carter on the other hand had the great news that “35 percent of the undecided came from labor union households, a group that divides nearly 2-1 for Mr. Carter among those who have made up their minds.”

Florida [Reagan won by 17%]

Headline (Oct 19): Carter Is in Trouble With Voters In Two Major Sections of Florida

  • what was published was “the most recent Florida Newspapers Poll” that showed Reagan with only a 2 point lead over Carter: 42 for Reagan, 40 for Carter, with 7 for Anderson. The election, said the Times confidently, “was widely expected to be close.”

New York [Reagan won by 3%]

Headline (Oct 21): President is in the Lead, Especially in the City — Anderson Slide Noted

  • New York Times/CBS Poll: “showed Mr. Carter leading in the state with 38%, to 29% for Mr. Reagan….”

Michigan [Reagan won by 6%]

Headline (Oct 23): Party Defections May Tip Scales in Michigan Vote

  • No poll but: That same day, October 23, the paper ran a second polling story on the general status of the presidential election: In an election campaign reminiscent of the tight, seesaw contest of 1960, President Carter has pulled to an essentially even position with Ronald Reagan over the last month

Election Eve [Reagan won by 11%]

On November 4 — the day before the election — the Times proclaimed… proclaimed…

Headline (Nov 4): Race is Viewed as Very Close

Could you imagine in your wildest dreams any paper writing that election eve headline for McCain?  And he only lost by 7%


  1. MikeN
    Posted September 25, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Permalink | Reply

    During the 1994 wipeout, the New York Times ran an article about how Robert Byrd was cruising to reelection.

  2. Tim
    Posted September 25, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Either the pollsters are trying to play us for fools, or poll respondents are playing mind games with the pollsters. It’s most likely a split of 80/20 between the two. I felt the impending doom back in 2008. Despite the polls this time, I don’t feel the doom. Nothing, absolutely nothing, in the real world suggestsObama will win.

  3. wholefoodsrepublican
    Posted September 25, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Permalink | Reply

    don’t get mad, get out the vote…fool the pollsters!

  4. jeff
    Posted September 25, 2012 at 6:47 pm | Permalink | Reply

    My feeling has always been that if romney is within at least 2 to 3 points of obama going in the final weeks before the election and obama stays within the 47 or 48 mark then romney will most likely win.

    • shane
      Posted September 25, 2012 at 11:13 pm | Permalink | Reply

      it seems to me all these articles the last 24 hrs blasting those who say the polls are skewed says something. It makes little sense that polls show a huge majority say they are conservative rather than liberal yet suddenly democrats are popping up at rates 5-10 times republicans.
      Dems say 08 is the new norm for voter turnout…so what’s the answer to 2010?
      Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to say if you know 90% of self describing dems vote for Obama and you poll 5-10x the number dems you get a skewed poll.

3 Trackbacks

  1. […] blogged about this “project demoralize” phenomenon before but it is clear the media lackeys for the Obama campaign will create and […]

  2. […] unrealistic national polls only 3 weeks out from the election.  But these types of advocacy “polling games” are nothing […]

  3. […] is just the latest disgraceful display by a media who are making in-kind contributions to the re-election efforts of Barack Obama through unrealistic polling that doubles as press […]

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