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The PJ Tatler

Bryan Preston


October 1, 2012 - 12:37 pm

The Washington Post and ABC published a poll Sunday with an eye-opening subheadline: Obama has opened up a big lead in the swing states.

Nationally, the race is unmoved from early September, with 49 percent of likely voters saying they would vote for Obama if the election were held today and 47 percent saying they would vote for Romney. Among all registered voters, Obama is up by a slim five percentage points, nearly identical to his margin in a poll two weeks ago.

But 52 percent of likely voters across swing states side with Obama and 41 percent with Romney in the new national poll, paralleling Obama’s advantages in recent Washington Post polls in Florida, Ohio and Virginia.

If that second paragraph is true, then it would take a knockout blow for Romney just to become competitive again, let alone win. But is it true? Jennifer Rubin found a flaw in the poll.

You’ve got to get deep into the weeds to tell what is going on. The Washington Post-ABC pollsters tell us that “52 percent of likely voters across swing states side with Obama and 41 percent with Romney in the new national poll.” But without the proper context, readers may jump to an incorrect conclusion when they see that figure, concluding that Obama is home-free in swing states. As I learned from Post pollster Jon Cohen, that finding is based on the responses of a total of 160 people, and it has a margin of error of 8 percentage points. So yes, there may be a difference between swing-state and national numbers, but the gap might be very small or it might be big.

Obviously, 160 respondents is a tiny, tiny number for any poll. The margin of error such a small sample creates is so large that the poll is practically useless. Applying the error bar, Obama’s lead could be anywhere from three to 19 points. Or, given the miniscule size of the sample, it might not be a lead at all.

The Post should probably have not published that poll at all. They could have published it honestly with a disclaimer that its sample size was among the smallest ever used in a presidential poll. But that disclaimer would have robbed the story of its shock value, and this is the MSM we’re dealing with. The Post also fronted this headline from its subsidiary The Root over the weekend:

Will Romney Reach out to Racists in Debates?

Pat Caddell has things about right, I’m afraid. The MSM can no longer be trusted with so much as a weather report.

Bryan Preston has been a leading conservative blogger and opinionator since founding his first blog in 2001. Bryan is a military veteran, worked for NASA, was a founding blogger and producer at Hot Air, was producer of the Laura Ingraham Show and, most recently before joining PJM, was Communications Director of the Republican Party of Texas.
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