…the polls are dirty.
Hugh Hewitt cross-examines the pollsters and those who gleefully report them:
August 2, 2012 interview of Peter Brown of Quinnipiac, exposing the pollster’s circular reasoning in just two moves:
HH: I mean, when does it become unreliable? You know you’ve just put your foot on the slope, so I’m going to push you down it. When does it become unreliable?
PB: Like the Supreme Court and pornography, you know it when you see it.
HH: Well, a lot of us look at a nine point advantage in Florida, and we say we know that to be the polling equivalent of pornography. Why am I wrong?
PB: Because what we found when we made the actual calls is this kind of party ID.
September 14, 2012 interview of Dr. Lee Miringoff of Marist Institute, who suggests he has never seen a suspicious poll as he refuses to answer Hewitt’s repeated question (eight by my count in a one-segment interview) as to when disparity of Republicans and Democrats in a poll might suggest a problem in the poll.
September 26, 2012 interview of National Journal polling reporter Steven Shepard, who admits that “Nothing bothers me.” Really, he explains:
HH: You know, how long have you, you’ve been a reporter for eight years. Have you ever run into a source that wouldn’t answer the simple question? I mean, would it cause you concern?
SS: I think I am answering your question. No, it wouldn’t cause me concern if there were 80% Democrat or 80% Republican.
HH: It would not cause you concern.
SS: I would write that and say there’s something going on here.
HH: I got my answer. It would not cause you concern.
SS: And that would run both ways.
HH: But I understand. But it would not cause you concern. If it was 100% Democrats, and they said Obama was ahead, it wouldn’t cause you concern?
SS: I would write that if in a random sample of voters in a given state, or across the country, if 99% were identifying themselves as Democrats, but the poll was adequately weighted according to race, according to gender, according to age, I would look at education, I would look at income. And if everything else checked out, I would say well, maybe there’s an important shift going on. Obviously, this is, you know, a big exaggeration.
Having said all that, looking at, for example, these Quinnipiac results, as you note, we see that they are more Democratic now than went Democratic in the 2010 electorate, which nationally was 35% Democratic, 35% Republican in party identification, but more Democratic than the 2008 electorate, which was 39% Democratic, 32% Republican by party ID. That’s out of line with what most political observers would have expected the outcome to be this year. Up until the Democratic convention, polling showed a consistently higher degree of enthusiasm, significantly higher, among people identifying as Republicans than among people identifying as Democrats. That gap has diminished, and I think I’ve seen one Gallup poll that said that self-identified Democrats actually expressing more enthusiasm after the Democratic convention. So it’s possible that we, you know, that Democrats are more likely to pass through the screens as likely voters or registered voters, or people interested in voting through the pollsters’ screens than they were prior to the Democratic convention. But we’ve seen these kind of polls all along, and they’re, you know, I think that you want to look at them with an asterisk in mind.
HH: Now Michael, I want to remind myself of something I asked, or you told me the last time we talked, which is that no presidential candidate has polled grater than 3% of the turnout for his party in the previous off year election. Am I recalling that correctly?
MB: I’m not sure if that’s exactly what I said, or the point that I addressed. Oh, yeah, I know what you’re saying. Basically, in the last three presidential elections, what we’ve seen is that the percentage for the winning candidate has been equal to or within one percent of the percentage for his party’s vote, share of the popular vote two years before.
HH: Okay, one percent. Wow.
MB: One percent. Now that’s not an in an electable rule. It did not turn out to be true in 1994 and 1996, where Bill Clinton outpolled his party two years before, and of course, he shifted policy. And if you look at the data before 1994, it doesn’t work until you go back years and years, because basically, there were a lot more split ticket voting. White southerners were typically voting Democratic for president, Republican for president, Democratic for Congress, and there were other anomalies in a countervailing direction. So the rule only applies to the last three presidential elections. But I think it’s, you know, looking at that, it suggests some peril for the Obama candidacy.
HH: Jay Cost…
HH: …who I have tremendous esteem for, said look, what he cares about most in all of these polls is not what they suggest the prediction is, but how the independents are breaking. And he keeps looking at Quinnipiac, at Marist, at all of them, and the independents are breaking for Romney. In some cases, it’s a little bit just above a tie, but Romney is winning the middle and the independents. And he finds this to be the most significant factor in the polls. Do you agree with his assessment on that?
MB: I think that that’s one good way to look at it. And it’s just another way of saying that those polls are showing a significant Democratic party ID edge among those who were polled, and one that in many cases is greater than Democrats enjoyed in the 2008 results.