Interviewed last month by conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt, Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac polling operation was particularly squeamish about sampling under tough questioning from Hewitt about a poll which Quinnipiac had released showing Democrats with a 9 percentage point advantage in the state of Florida.
In the conversation, Brown defended Quinnipiac’s sampling techniques but admitted that he did not believe that Democrats would outnumber Republicans to that degree in Florida come November. Pressed by Hewitt, the pollster said he believed that was a “probably unlikely” scenario. Instead, Brown kept saying that he thought his poll was an accurate snapshot of reality at the time.
Polls are bullets fired at a moving cloud. They can impact that cloud and change the flow within it, just by passing through.
Polls also can be used as distractions from other, actual events that are taking place in the real world. What I mean by that is this: The past two weeks have been packed with serious news. Chock full. US embassies attacked, US personnel murdered, the American flag desecrated, the Obama administration playing games over meeting with world leaders, and then intentionally misleading both Congress and the American public about what’s going on. It’s legitimate news that the President of the United States decided that it was more important to do softball entertainment interviews with Letterman, People En Espanol and The View than meet with world leaders during a moment of global crisis. That’s legitimate news, but the media hasn’t grilled him about his choices or polled what Americans think of Obama’s actions. That decision not to poll is a decision that the media has consistently made whenever this president takes unusual or highly questionable actions. That decision not to poll is almost surely impacting the public’s understanding of what’s going on.
Side stories to the above include the Democrats in Congress complaining about none of the administration’s antics or questioning its approach to anything, out of the obvious fear that raising any real issues now could impact the election, and we just can’t have that. Prior to these news-filled weeks, the Democrats booed both God and Jerusalem at their convention, the economy stayed in the toilet and nothing improved. The media hasn’t touted polls about any of that, either.
That’s an awful lot of news to distract from, but the media has done its best to distract, and has largely succeeded, by pushing poll after poll about the horse race, not the actual issues or the hard news stories noted above.
Polls may represent, more, the choices of a given polling outfit or their paying customers than they represent the reality on the ground. Not just the weighting and sampling, but the decision to poll, or not, at all, and in what sequence to ask questions. For instance, the media could have at any point over the past five years run the kind of poll that illuminates American voters’ reactions to Barack Obama’s stances and votes on any number of issues. But the polls have tended to stay out of the weeds and details, and helped mainstream Obama in ways that his own principles and political past could not. And the media isn’t polling the voting public’s reaction to events to any great or interesting detail now.
I’m not saying, in all this, that I think Unskewedpolls has the answer or that Romney is really winning despite what the polls say. My take is that some of the fundamentals favor Obama and some of the fundamentals point to Obama losing, but neither necessarily point to Romney winning. He hasn’t made the sale and he’s running out of time. The polls are more the fog of war at this point than any light on the state of the campaign.
Democratic pollsters Doug Schoen and Pat Cadell said on Fox the other day even they don’t really believe the current polls, and that polling is as much art as it is science. Polling is also a reflection of the choices made by the pollsters, as to what to poll in the first place.
Don’t get bent out of shape about the daily polls. Just get to work.