The Five False Assumptions Behind Poll-Skewing


• Low-information undecided voters in swing states pay attention to the news, current events and polls.

As I noted in my previous essay, the few remaining undecided voters are the kind of people who would rather watch reruns of "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" than live broadcasts of the Democratic and Republican party conventions. They have absolutely zero interest in politics.

This impression was confirmed by some man-on-street interviews with random New York voters which Howard Stern recently broadcast on his radio show. The interviewees were breathtakingly ignorant, had only the vaguest notion of who was even running for President, and agreed with any statement the interviewers made, including that Romney was Muslim, that Obama had picked Paul Ryan as his running mate, that John McCain was the 2012 Republican nominee, and so forth.

The Honey Boo Boo viewers and the New York morons, along with many of the other low-information voters around the country, don't follow the ups and downs of daily polling; most of them probably don't even know there is an election coming up. Heck, most of them probably can't even read. They are, in essence, unreachable.

Low-Information Undecideds never notice the details: all they can perceive is the general atmosphere. Thus, the interview subjects in New York all said they were voting for Obama, not because of any reason they could name, but simply because they were in New York and in New York everybody votes for Obama. And I'm quite sure that if one went to certain counties in Texas one could find people planning to vote Republican for no other reason than it's what "everybody does."

So the pollsters reason: If we can create that atmosphere of Obama's inevitable victory and universal popularity, then we can "convince" Low-Information Undecideds to vote for Obama simply because they will be mimicking what they think everyone else is doing.

But there's a flaw in this plan. Swing states and battleground states are defined as such for a reason: They are evenly split between Republican and Democrat, liberal and conservative. There is no overarching political culture that dominates the atmosphere, as there is in (for example) San Francisco, or Provo, Utah.

Therefore the task confronting partisan pollsters in swing states is almost insurmountable: Create the false impression that Obama is overwhelmingly popular in an area where he is in fact not. It's next to impossible to fabricate a Potemkin Village of widespread pro-Obama enthusiasm visible only to people notorious for not paying any attention. If Low-Information Undecideds merely ape what their neighbors do, in a swing state half those neighbors are going to be Republicans and half are going to be Democrats, and no amount of skewed polling can disguise that fact.