De­luded by ‘skewed’ polls

The Covington News - - Opinion - EU­GENE ROBIN­SON

Con­ser­va­tive ac­tivist cir­cles are abuzz with a new con­spir­acy the­ory: Polls show­ing Pres­i­dent Obama with a grow­ing lead over Mitt Rom­ney are de­lib­er­ately be­ing skewed by the Lib­eral Main­stream Me­dia so that Republicans will be dis­heart­ened and stay home on Elec­tion Day.

This is de­nial and self-delu­sion, but not of the harm­less kind. It’s a false nar­ra­tive that en­cour­ages the Repub­li­can Party to take the wrong lessons from this elec­tion, no mat­ter the out­come.

The whole at­mos­phere sur­round­ing the pres­i­den­tial race is dif­fer­ent since the party con­ven­tions. The Obama cam­paign has be­gun warn­ing sup­port­ers about the per­ils of over­con­fi­dence. Rom­ney, mean­while, wages a daily bat­tle to keep the words “be­lea­guered” and “em­bat­tled” from latch­ing onto his can­di­dacy.

The rea­son for the change is that polls in­di­cate Obama’s once-slim lead has grown be­yond the mar­gin of er­ror. A Pew Re­search Cen­ter na­tional poll last week showed Obama up by eight points. On Wed­nes­day, even the Gallup daily track­ing poll – which has con­sis­tently mea­sured the race as ex­tremely close – had Obama up by six.

The Ras­mussen daily track­ing poll, how­ever, saw the race as still tied. Why the anom­aly? Be­cause the Ras­mussen firm weights its sam­ple to achieve what it be­lieves to be a rep­re­sen­ta­tive bal­ance of Democrats and Republicans. While other poll­sters also ask about party af­fil­i­a­tion, most of them weight their sam­ples to re­flect the na­tion’s de­mo­graphic pro­file and do not seek a spe­cific bal­ance be­tween R’s and D’s.

That’s the dis­crep­ancy that gives rise to the con­spir­acy the­o­ries. It stands to rea­son, say the the­o­rists, that these sur­veys would over­es­ti­mate the vote for Obama and un­der­es­ti­mate the vote for Rom­ney; only if you ad­just the re­sults to more equally bal­ance party af­fil­i­a­tion can you get an ac­cu­rate pic­ture.

Those das­tardly lib­er­als in the me­dia – and, ap­par­ently, in most of the ma­jor polling or­ga­ni­za­tions – must have de­cided to give this false pic­ture of the race in or­der to dis­cour­age con­ser­va­tives and make them re­signed to an Obama vic­tory.

“They’re try­ing to wrap this up be­fore the de­bates even start be­cause I think they’re wor­ried about the de­bates,” ra­dio host Rush Lim­baugh told his au­di­ence. “I think they’re try­ing to get this elec­tion fin­ished and in the can by sup­press­ing your vote and de­press­ing you so that you just don’t think there’s any rea­son to vote, that it’s hope­less. They want you mak­ing other plans.”

An anti-Obama web­site called unskewed­polls.com has reweighted a num­ber of re­cent polls and con­cluded that Rom­ney ac­tu­ally has a lead of nearly eight points.

So why is Rom­ney act­ing like a man who’s be­hind rather than com­fort­ably ahead? Be­cause he’s smart enough to know the con­spir­acy the­ory is nuts.

The prob­lem is that party af­fil­i­a­tion can be weak and change­able. That’s why the con­spir­acy the­ory is so dan­ger­ous for the GOP. If poll­sters look at a de­mo­graph­i­cally rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple of reg­is­tered or likely vot­ers and find fewer Republicans than might be expected, it could be that vot­ers who once might have called them­selves Republicans no longer feel com­fort­able with the la­bel.

There is am­ple polling data to sug­gest why this might be the case.

If a polling sam­ple shows Democrats out­num­ber­ing Republicans by, say, 32 per­cent to 24 per­cent (with most of the rest call­ing them­selves in­de­pen­dents), GOP par­ti­sans shouldn’t worry about a con­spir­acy. They should worry that this is a snap­shot of how Amer­i­cans feel about the two ma­jor par­ties.

It’s not the polls, it’s the poli­cies. Now (BEG ITAL) that’s(END ITAL) a rea­son for Republicans to be de­pressed.

Eu­gene Robin­son is a Pulitzer Prize win­ning colum­nist and writes for The Wash­ing­ton Post. He can be reached at eu­gen­er­obin­son@wash­post.com.

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