Polls, Polls and More Polls, But Can We Trust Them?

There is such an incredible level of bias in most mainstream news media coverage in favor of Barack Obama that even the Clintons complained about not getting a fair shake during the Democratic Primary. You know it must be way out of balance when the smooth-talking Bill Clinton, the darling of the 1990s, is thrown under the bus in favor of somebody even more smooth-talking.

Howard Kurtz reported (Oct. 22) on a new study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism that showed that “media coverage of John McCain has been heavily unfavorable since the political conventions, more than three times as negative as the portrayal of Barack Obama.” In all, 57% of print and broadcast stories about John McCain were “decidedly negative” while only 14% were positive. Contrast that with Barack Obama’s coverage during that period: “36 percent of the stories clearly positive, 35 percent neutral or mixed and 29 percent negative.”

Kurtz continues:

The Wall Street meltdown appears to have been a turning point for both candidates. Thirty-four percent of the stories about Obama’s reaction to the crisis were positive, while 18 percent were negative. McCain’s coverage, though, went into a free fall after he initially declared that “the fundamentals of our economy are strong.” By the following week, more than half the stories about McCain were negative and only 11 percent positive, just as Obama’s coverage was turning positive by a margin of more than 5 to 1.

Kurtz’s concluding paragraph offers this statement:

While some will seize on these findings as evidence that the media are pro-Obama, the study says they actually contain “a strong suggestion that winning in politics begets winning coverage, thanks in part to the relentless tendency of the press to frame its coverage of national elections as running narratives about the relative position of the candidates in the polls . . .”

I will go a step further and state that many in the media are pro-Obama and clearly so. I feel that their pro-Obama enthusiasm carries over to the mechanics of polls and the interpretation of polling data.

Michael Barone wrote an intriguing article (Oct. 22) entitled “Are the Polls Accurate?” with a subtitle “Reading them right is more art than science.” Barone maintains that we can trust polls but “with qualifications.” He then points out several inherent imperfections in political polling that can cause under-representation for some candidates and over-representation for others. Sampling errors can be introduced by cell phone-only households, pollsters not calling back, and respondents refusing to answer questions. These factors can skew results. Also, it seems that during the Democratic Primary, some people didn’t want to admit they did not vote for the rock star-like Obama and so exit polling was higher than actual results.

That brings me to my final point in this article. Most people are probably familiar with the polls that show a large Obama lead over McCain; however, two polls (AP-Ipsos and AP-Gfk) released on October 22 suggest that the Presidential race is essentially tied with Obama at 44% and McCain at 43%. These polls showed that the race tightened after the third debate (which is something I predicted would happen).

Key takeaways from the AP-Ipsos poll are these:

Since the last AP-GfK survey in late September, McCain also has:

–Posted big gains among likely voters earning under $50,000 a year; he now trails Obama by just 4 percentage points compared with 26 earlier.

–Surged among rural voters; he has an 18-point advantage, up from 4.

–Doubled his advantage among whites who haven’t finished college and now leads by 20 points. McCain and Obama are running about even among white college graduates, no change from earlier.

–Made modest gains among whites of both genders, now leading by 22 points among white men and by 7 among white women.

–Improved slightly among whites who are married, now with a 24-point lead.

–Narrowed a gap among unmarried whites, though he still trails by 8 points.

McCain has cut into Obama’s advantage on the questions of whom voters trust to handle the economy and the financial crisis. On both, the Democrat now leads by just 6 points, compared with 15 in the previous survey.

Obama still has a larger advantage on other economic measures, with 44 percent saying they think the economy will have improved a year from now if he is elected compared with 34 percent for McCain.

Intensity has increased among McCain’s supporters.

A month ago, Obama had more strong supporters than McCain did. Now, the number of excited supporters is about even.

Eight of 10 Democrats are supporting Obama, while nine in 10 Republicans are backing McCain. Independents are about evenly split.

Some 24 percent of likely voters were deemed still persuadable, meaning they were either undecided or said they might switch candidates. Those up-for-grabs voters came about equally from the three categories: undecideds, McCain supporters and Obama backers.

So now there are polls, polls and more polls. Obviously all the polls released this week cannot be accurate since they yielded such inconsistent results. That inconsistency, coupled with blatant media bias, makes me wonder if we can trust any of the polls this election cycle.

On the other hand, the above results give the McCain camp something to be truly excited about since it suggests a surge of support could be emerging for him. I hope that is the case. What do you think?

Posted under Barack Obama, Campaign, John McCain

This post was written by PonderstormMike on October 23, 2008

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2 Comments so far

  1. PonderstormMike October 23, 2008 7:25 pm

    Alan Fram wrote an insightful article today entitled “Polls apart: Why polls vary on presidential race.” Written in Q&A format, it offers a variety of reasons why polls can vary so much like they have recently. You can read Fram’s article here: http://apnews.myway.com/article/20081023/D940ERMG0.html

  2. PonderstormMike October 23, 2008 7:28 pm

    Interestingly, an IBD/TIPP poll released today (Oct. 23) shows a 1.1 point difference between McCain and Obama. This poll’s results are available at http://www.ibdeditorials.com/Polls.aspx?id=309635713550536 — interestingly, TIPP was the most accurate pollster for the 2004 campaign season.

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