Political Animal


July 19, 2012 9:34 AM Polls-A-Poppin’

By Ed Kilgore

Presidential election polls, particularly those showing unexpected trends, are almost invariably accompanied by ridiculous amounts of spin and over-reaction, and that’s looking to be the case for three new national polls (CBS/NYTimes, NPR and Fox) and one state poll (Quinnipiac in VA) released yesterday.

The national polls are a mixed bag, and all show a race within the margin of error, but Republicans are crowing over the CBS/NYT survey, showing Romney actually up by a point among RVs, amidst signs of deteriorating personal favorability for Obama and renewed economic pessimism. Taken at face value, the results would seem to cast some doubt on the belief that the attacks on Romney’s Bain Capital background and tax records, and his poor handling of them, are having a significant effect on public opinion. That’s even more true with respect to the Q-PAC poll of VA, where heavy advertising has given a thorough airing of the Obama campaign’s attack lines; yet Obama’s long-standing lead in the state has, in this one poll at least, vanished.

To put all this in context, however, I recommend you read two pieces by National Journal’s Steven Shephard. The first, on the new national polls, notes the oddity that the NPR survey showing Obama still narrowly ahead deploys a “likely voter” screen (more about those later), which typically skews results a bit towards Republican candidates, while the CBS/NYT poll questions RVs from an overall sample of “all adults.” Perhaps most interestingly, Shephard suggests rapid erosion of Obama’s personal favoribility in the CBS/NYT poll heavily depends on a methodology that makes it easy for respondents to say they are not sure how they feel.

Shephard’s analysis of the Q-poll of VA is worth a read as well. The last Q-poll in the Commonwealth showed Obama up by 5%; the new findings appear to represent a combination of (a) a drop in Obama’s support levels among white voters, and (b) a sample where white voters make up a notably higher percentage of the electorate. This latter factor could make the survey a bit of an outlier, but in any case is a reminder that many so-called “shifts in public opinion” you hear about actually just reflect polls with different takes on the composition of the electorate.

And speaking of “different takes,” anyone paying attention to the back-and-forth spin on poll results should definitely read Mark Blumenthal’s refresher course at HuffPost on likely voter screens (which often produce better results for Republicans), and why most pollsters are reluctant to use them before relatively late in the cycle.

The bottom line is that poll averages remain the most reliable indicator of the contest, and the apparent lack of evidence of any big impact from the Bain/tax attacks on Romney is a reminder that voters do not follow these “stories” much at all until they have been aired repeatedly. I continue to believe the most important aspect of the Bain/tax issue is its utility as a set-up for later criticism’s of the Romney/GOP policy agenda as expressed in the Ryan budget.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • T2 on July 19, 2012 9:52 AM:

    aside from the time after the Bin Laden killing, no polls have shown majority support for Obama's job as president in a long time. The reason seems to be a drop in white support. The reason for that seems at once clear, and not clear. Therefore the opposing party should be polling close to even - regardless of whom they nominate or the clear problems that nominee brings (personally and Party platform-wise), and they are.
    As I said weeks ago...if the election was today I'd expect the same numbers as will be in November- a very close race, a toss-up, because the partisan lines are so hard.
    The week before the election may show some movement-either a "throw the bum out" and give it to what will still be an unknown quantity in Romney, or a "stay the course and hope for better results". But my guess is something along 50.5 to 49.5. Don't know who.

  • Ron Byers on July 19, 2012 9:57 AM:

    I don't think we should put much stock in these polls. The way they are designed they are intended to influnce opinion, not to gage opinion. I think the Washington media establishment is sending a message to the politicians.

    I heard Friedman talking this morning on Mourning Joe and thought he might be on to something. Both candidates are relitigating the past 4 years. Nobody has articulated a vision for the future.

  • stormskies on July 19, 2012 10:01 AM:

    Once again it's time for reality. Obama is far ahead with all women, Hispanics, African-Americans, Asians, and Native Americans. The ONLY group he trails in is the blue collar white American male. These are just fucking facts.

    And those facts defeat all the fancy methodologies employed by these various pollsters to get the results that they want in order to create a picture that just is not true. So then the question becomes WHY ? is this ?

    The answers should be self-evident.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on July 19, 2012 10:35 AM:

    Sorry folks, what they're showing is that Obama is going to lose if the campaign persists in their impotent ways. You need to be scared. Very scared.

    The Obama people should have been out inoculating themselves against the attacks about deficits, unemployment, etc., and blaming the economy on McConnell and Boehner for six months now. They should be responding to each and every outrage of specious Roving projection and I'm glue, you're rubber argument from the Republicans, e.g., Boehner saying Obama doesn't care about the middle class and is only interested in using them for re-election, or the "you didn't build it" nonsense.

    This is what happens when you don't stand up to bullies. The Republicans are going to steamroll Obama and the Democrats. The Republican Super-Pac money hasn't even begun to bludgeon the minds of the irresponsibly willingly ignorant idiots yet. Democrats, as usual, aren't going to know what hit them.

  • T2 on July 19, 2012 10:36 AM:

    @Byers. I disagree. While the only vision so far from Romney is "repeal" ACA and enact Ryan Budget, I hear lots of future stuff from Obama. Just this week he called to use money formerly blown in Iraq and Afghanistan to rebuild our national infrastructure. I've heard him lay out Jobs bills, I've heard him talk of energy, high speed rail, tax reform.
    The ACA is a vision for future health care that will save money - most of it has not even gone into effect yet. A vision to reduce by large amounts the nuclear bombs we stockpile. But his visions are quickly shot down by Republicans.

  • James M on July 19, 2012 10:46 AM:

    I agree with the commenters above, but, in a larger sense, I am not sure this poll really matters. For example,remember the old days when productivity rates (rise or fall) were such a big deal in reports on the state of the economy? No one seems to care about them anymore because the widening income inequality that shifts all income increases upwards has rendered productivity increases or declines irrelevant to the average worker. Productivity could double and it wouldn't affect the paycheck of the average American.

    Likewise, I am not sure that 'national polls' really mean much anymore. With the electorate so skewed, and so much of the election riding on about 7 swing states, what do the national polls really tell you? Polls of just those 7 swing states would give much more useful information, and the notion that national polls are still of critical importance may be now simply be a polite fiction.

    (p.s., to Ron Byers, if you are having problems with the preview mode for your posts, I suggest shifting to the Chrome browser. Its spell check function is excellent!).

  • wilder on July 19, 2012 11:47 AM:

    I still remember that last Gallup poll showing Bush and Kerry in a tie 49-49 right before the election.

    Just like on election day...... er......

  • Marvin on July 19, 2012 4:39 PM:

    1 newly registered voter > 10,000 comments dissing the polls.

    Get off the blog, and get out there and do some work: