Exceptio probat regulam. Proverbe latin
Tough sh…t, Rollins, I’m glad it cost you plenty. It’s my in-kind contribution to the Mondale campaign. Ben Bradlee (the Washington Post)
They were pounding on me for positive information. You know, where is some good news we can share with people? We were monitoring all these polls and I was sending the ones that were most favorable because [campaign aides] wanted to share them with reporters. We were not finding very much good news and I was trying to give them what I could find. (…) I didn’t necessarily take any of these as for—as you would say, for the truth of the matter. I took them more as something that could be used as propaganda for the campaign. Harrison Hickman
In May, the pollster for Al Gore’s presidential bid in 2000 and John Edwards’s in 2004 and 2008, Harrison Hickman, took the stand in the federal criminal case against Edwards over alleged campaign finance violations stemming from payments to support Edwards’s mistress. Under oath, Hickman admitted that in the final weeks of Edwards’s 2008 bid, Hickman cherry-picked public polls to make the candidate seem viable, promoted surveys that Hickman considered unreliable, and sent e-mails to campaign aides, Edwards supporters and reporters which argued that the former senator was still in the hunt —even though Hickman had already told Edwards privately that he had no real chance of winning the Democratic nomination. (…) In short, to many journalists, what Hickman admitted doing in late 2007 and 2008 was no more a sign of bad character than an actor spinning a yarn on stage during a play or a lawyer mounting an implausible defense for a clearly guilty client. Josh Gernstein
President Barack Obama leads Republican nominee Mitt Romney 49 percent to 45 percent in the battleground state of Iowa, a new Des Moines Register Iowa Poll has found. (…) But 10 percent say they could still be persuaded to vote for another candidate, the poll found. Des Moines Register (Sep. 29, 2012)
Election Could Mirror 1980 Race (…) Barack Obama, like Carter, can run neither on his dismal four-year stewardship of the economy nor on his collapsing Middle East policy. Victor Davis Hanson
Barring any debate debacle, Romney will win by 4 or 5 points and will win Florida, Ohio, Nevada, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Dick Morris (former strategist for Bill Clinton)
I would just caution, the fundamentals of this election call for a close election. I really think the election is going to tighten. Yes, President Obama is ahead, and probably has the best chance to win, but this is going to be a tighter race than the polls show right now. (…) I’ll tell you, it’s caused me to question some of the polls because based on everything I know about Virginia and everything I’m seeing, I think the real margin is actually quite close (…) I would give President Obama, spot him two or three points, you know he won by six last time in Virginia. Think of the conditions in the country. It’s almost impossible to imagine him winning by the same margin in Virginia or nationally so my projection is he gets considerably fewer electoral votes than he got last time. He got 365. I’ll be surprised if he gets above 320 or so, maximum under the best conditions. Larry Sabato
The reality is that 2012 is a horse race and will remain so. An incumbent below 50% is in grave danger. On Election Day he’ll usually receive less than his final poll number. That’s because his detractors are more likely to turn out, and undecideds are more resistant to voting for him. (…) Both candidates have advantages as the race enters its final month. Mr. Obama is slightly ahead (but short of 50%). Late-deciding independents will probably break more for Mr. Romney. Clear-eyed operatives in Boston and Chicago know this and are only playing head games with their opposition when they assert otherwise. Team Obama’s relentless efforts to denigrate Mr. Romney as a sure loser appear to have convinced the Republican candidate that he must run as the underdog. This will make the naturally cautious Mr. Romney more aggressive, energized and specific about his agenda in the campaign’s closing weeks than he might have been. It will also make his victory more likely. America likes come-from-behind winners. Karl Rove
Pour ceux qui auraient oublié que les exceptions servent aussi à confirmer les règles …
Alors qu’à quelques heures du premier des trois débats télévisés qui vont opposer les deux candidats à la Maison-Blanche mais encore à cinq semaines de l’élection elle-même et certes dans la lignée de 17 des 20 dernières élections depuis 1932, les médias multiplient les sondages annonçant comme quasi-assurée la réélection d’un président sortant notoirement non réputé pour sa modestie …
Mais que, s’appuyant sur le problème du suréchantillonage des électeurs démocrates comme sur celui du retard du candidat démocrate dans les intentions de vote des indépendants qui avaient assuré sa victoire en 2008, tant l’ancien stratège de Clinton Bill Morris que le meilleur analyste des présidentielles américaines Larry Sabato voient, à l’instar des élections françaises du printemps dernier, un résultat des plus serrés voire une victoire du Républicain …
Retour, avec une tribune de l’ancien conseiller de Reagan Jeffrey Lord dans The American Spectator (merci james), sur l’une des trois exceptions des 80 dernières années, à savoir, entre celles de Hoover en 32 et de Bush père en 92, la non-réelection de Carter en 80 …
Et notamment sur la manière dont les médias, comme l’avait alors explicitement avoué le patron du puissant Washington Post Ben Bradlee, avaient systématiquement mis en avant, avec les résultats que l’on sait, une lecture des sondages favorables au candidat démocrate …
Washington Post admits polling was « in-kind contribution »; New York Times agenda polling.
The American Spectator
Dick Morris is right.
Here’s his column on « Why the Polls Understate the Romney Vote. »
Here’s something Dick Morris doesn’t mention. And he’s charitable.
Remember when Jimmy Carter beat Ronald Reagan in 1980?
That’s right. Jimmy Carter beat Ronald Reagan in 1980.
In a series of nine stories in 1980 on « Crucial States » — battleground states as they are known today — the New York Times repeatedly told readers then-President Carter was in a close and decidedly winnable race with the former California governor. And used polling data from the New York Times/CBS polls to back up its stories.
Four years later, it was the Washington Post that played the polling game — and when called out by Reagan campaign manager Ed Rollins a famous Post executive called his paper’s polling an « in-kind contribution to the Mondale campaign. » Mondale, of course, being then-President Reagan’s 1984 opponent and Carter’s vice president.
All of which will doubtless serve as a reminder of just how blatantly polling data is manipulated by liberal media — used essentially as a political weapon to support the liberal of the moment, whether Jimmy Carter in 1980, Walter Mondale in 1984 — or Barack Obama in 2012.
First the Times in 1980 and how it played the polling game.
The states involved, and the datelines for the stories:
· California — October 6, 1980
· Texas — October 8, 1980
· Pennsylvania — October 10, 1980
· Illinois — October 13, 1980
· Ohio — October 15, 1980
· New Jersey — October 16, 1980
· Florida — October 19, 1980
· New York — October 21, 1980
· Michigan — October 23, 1980
Of these nine only one was depicted as « likely » for Reagan: Reagan’s own California. A second — New Jersey — was presented as a state that « appears to support » Reagan.
The Times led their readers to believe that each of the remaining seven states were « close » — or the Times had Carter leading outright.
In every single case the Times was proven grossly wrong on election day. Reagan in fact carried every one of the nine states.
Here is how the Times played the game with the seven of the nine states in question.
• Texas: In a story datelined October 8 from Houston, the Times headlined:
Texas Looming as a Close Battle Between President and Reagan
The Reagan-Carter race in Texas, the paper claimed, had « suddenly tightened and now shapes up as a close, bruising battle to the finish. » The paper said « a New York Times/CBS News Poll, the second of seven in crucial big states, showing the Reagan-Carter race now a virtual dead heat despite a string of earlier polls on both sides that had shown the state leaning toward Mr. Reagan. »
The narrative? It was like the famous scene in the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy and her friends stare in astonishment as dog Toto pulls back the curtain in the wizard’s lair to reveal merely a man bellowing through a microphone. Causing the startled « wizard » caught in the act to frantically start yelling, « Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain! » In the case of the Times in its look at Texas in October of 1980 the paper dismissed « a string of earlier polls on both sides » that repeatedly showed Texas going for Reagan. Instead, the Times presented this data:
A survey of 1,050 registered voters, weighted to form a probable electorate, gave Mr. Carter 40 percent support, Mr. Reagan 39 percent, John. B. Anderson, the independent candidate, 3 percent, and 18 percent were undecided. The survey, conducted by telephone from Oct. 1 to Oct. 6, has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
In other words, the race in Texas is close, assures the Times, with Carter actually in the lead.
What happened? Reagan beat Carter by over 13 points. It wasn’t even close to close.
• Pennsylvania: The next « Crucial States » story focused on Pennsylvania on October 10. Here the headline read:
Undecided Voters May Prove Key
Reagan, said the Times, « appears to have failed thus far to establish many positive reasons for voting for him. »
Once again the paper played the polling data card, this time saying Reagan had a mere 2 point lead. But the Reagan lead was quickly disputed in series of clever ways. Fundraising for Reagan wasn’t as good as expected, said the Times, and besides the budget for a Reagan telephone bank being shaved « from $700,000 to $400,000. » The Times/CBS poll showed that Carter was ahead of Reagan 36-32 among union households in a heavily labor state. To make matters worse for Reagan the GOP Senate candidate Arlen Specter was being « swamped » in the polls by his Democratic rival, the former Pittsburgh Mayor Pete Flaherty — with Specter losing to Flaherty 47-36. Not to mention Reagan was being trounced in Philadelphia 52-15 percent. Towards the very end of the story was this interesting line — a line that should have some relevance to the Romney campaign as President Obama struggles with the consequences of the killing of the American Ambassador in Libya. Reads the sentence:
One negative reason [meaning an anti-Carter vote] that did not turn up in the telephone poll but came up repeatedly in door-to-door interviews was the hostage situation in Iran.
What happened? The race wasn’t close, with Reagan beating Carter in Pennsylvania not by barely 2 points but rather trouncing him by over 7 points. And Arlen Specter beat Pete Flaherty.
• Illinois: The Times headline here in a story October 13?
Poll Finds Illinois Too Close to Call: Both Camps Note Gains by Carter
The narrative for Illinois? Carter is gaining, so much so that:
…uncertainty about Ronald Reagan’s leadership, especially among suburban voters, [has] apparently set back Mr. Reagan’s hope for a victory in Illinois and left his campaign scrambling to regain lost momentum, according to advisers in both camps.
Then came the usual New York Times/CBS polling data that proclaimed a Reagan one-point lead of 34% to Carter’s 33% as a sure sign that « Carter Gains and Reagan Slips in Close Illinois Race » — as an inside page headline proclaimed.
What happened? Reagan beat Carter by almost 8 points, 49.65% to 41.72%. Again, there was no « close » race as the Times had claimed.
• Ohio: The headline in this « Crucial States » profile once again conforms to the Times pattern of declaring Reagan and Carter to be in a « close » race.
Ohio Race Expected to Be Close As Labor Mobilizes for President
The narrative for Ohio? Ohio, the paper explained, had been « long viewed by Ronald Reagan’s campaign as its best opportunity to capture a major Northern state » but « such a victory …is not yet in hand. » Then came the inevitable New York Times/CBS polling data. Reagan was ahead by a bare 2 points, 36% to 34%. Two-thirds of the undecided were women and Reagan was doing « much worse among women voters than men. » Carter on the other hand had the great news that « 35 percent of the undecided came from labor union households, a group that divides nearly 2-1 for Mr. Carter among those who have made up their minds. »
What happened? Reagan beat Carter by over 10 points in Ohio. Yet another « crucial state » race wasn’t even close to being close as the paper had insisted.
• Florida: For once, the problem was impossible to hide. The Times headline for its October 19 story headlined:
Carter Is in Trouble With Voters In Two Major Sections of Florida
There was no New York Times/CBS poll here. But what was published was « the most recent Florida Newspapers Poll » that showed Reagan with only a 2 point lead over Carter: 42 for Reagan, 40 for Carter, with 7 for Anderson. The election, said the Times confidently, « was widely expected to be close. » Surprise!
What happened? Reagan beat Carter in Florida by over 17 points.
• New York: The Times headline for its home state in a story dated October 21?
President is in the Lead, Especially in the City — Anderson Slide Noted
The Times waxed enthusiastic about New York. Reagan was « being hindered by doubts within his own party. » And it trotted out its favorite New York Times/CBS Poll to show definitively that Reagan was getting clobbered in New York. The poll, said the Times, « showed Mr. Carter leading in the state with 38%, to 29% for Mr. Reagan…. » Which is to say, Carter was running away with New York state, leading Reagan by 9 points. The headline on the inside of the paper:
Reagan Far from Goal in New York; Carter in Lead
Why was this so? Why was Reagan doing so badly in New York? The paper turned to a Carter campaign aide in the state who explained that New Yorkers aren’t « willing to vote for a Goldwater. » Then they found one « frustrated Republican county chairman » who said the problem with Reagan was that New Yorkers « don’t like what they think they know about him. » Then there was the usual yada-yada: Reagan was failing miserably with women (losing 41-23 said the poll) and losing in New York City, not to mention that « labor is hard at work » for Carter.
What happened? Reagan beat Carter in New York by over 2 points.
• Michigan: The last of the profiles in the Times « Crucial States » series was Michigan, published on October 23. The ambiguous headline:
Party Defections May Tip Scales in Michigan Vot
The Michigan story begins with the tale of Reagan being endorsed by Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous aide the Reverend Ralph Abernathy. But the Times immediately saw a problem in this backing of Reagan from a prominent « black civil rights leader. » The problem? Black backlash. Said the paper:
Mr. Reagan was barely out of town [Detroit] before the backlash set in.
« The Abernathy Betrayal, » screamed the headline over the chief article in The Michigan Chronicle, a black newspaper. And yesterday the 400-member Council of Black Pastors, in the greater Detroit area, broke its precedent of refraining from Presidential endorsements and declared its support for President Carter a direct reaction to the Abernathy endorsement.
In other words, Reagan was damned because he didn’t get black support — and damned especially when he did. Grudgingly, the paper admitted that « although the race was close » in Michigan, « Mr. Reagan was ahead. » But once again, the Times insisted that a key state race was close. Close, you see, close. Did they mention it was close?
What happened? Reagan carried Michigan by over 6 points, 48.999 to Carter’s 42.50. Yet again — it wasn’t close.
That same day, October 23, the paper ran a second polling story on the general status of the presidential election, its theme self-evident:
Poll Shows President Has Pulled To Even Position With Reagan.
The story by Times reporter Hedrick Smith began this way:
In an election campaign reminiscent of the tight, seesaw contest of 1960, President Carter has pulled to an essentially even position with Ronald Reagan over the last month by attracting some wavering Democrats and gaining on his rival among independents, according to a new nationwide survey by The New York Times and CBS News.
The survey, readers were assured, was « weighted to project a probable electorate » and had Carter leading Reagan 39-38.
As if the point hadn’t been driven home enough, seven days later on October 30, the Times decided to sum up the entire race in the light of the just completed Reagan-Carter debate. Can you guess what they said? That’s right:
Carter and Reagan Voicing Confidence on Debate Showing: Performances Rated Close
And inside the paper the continuation of the story proclaimed — guess what?
Outcome of Debate Rated as Close.
On November 4 — the day before the election — the Times proclaimed… proclaimed…
Race is Viewed as Very Close
The final results?
Ronald Reagan clobbered Jimmy Carter winning 51.7% to Carter’s 41% — a 10 point-plus victory in the popular vote. Third place Congressman John Anderson managed a mere 6.6%.
In the Electoral College? Reagan carried 44 states for a total of 489 votes. Carter won 6 states plus the District of Columbia for 49 electoral votes.
To say the least, the race wasn’t « close. » To compare it to 1960 as a « tight, seesaw contest » was in fact not simply ridiculously untrue but bizarre.
So what do we have here?
What we have is the liberal « paper of record » systematically presenting the 1980 Reagan-Carter election in 9 « Crucial States » as somehow « close » in five of the nine — Texas, Illinois, Ohio, Florida and Michigan. New York was in the bag for Carter. Only in his own California and New Jersey was Reagan clearly leading.
The actual results had only New York « close » — with Reagan winning by 2. Reagan carried every other « close » state by a minimum of 6 points and as much 17 — Florida. Florida, in fact, went for Reagan by a point more than California and about 4 more than New Jersey.
How could the New York Times — its much ballyhooed polling data and all of its resulting stories proclaiming everything to be « close » — been so massively, continuously wrong? In the case of its « Crucial States » — nine out of nine times?
The obvious answer is called to mind by a polling story from four years later involving Ronald Reagan and his next opponent, Jimmy Carter’s vice president Walter Mondale.
By 1984, Reagan was an extremely popular incumbent president. He was running well everywhere against Mondale. But suddenly, up popped a curious Washington Post poll that indicated Reagan’s 1980 margin of over 16% in California had dropped precipitously to single digits. Nancy Reagan was alarmed, calling campaign manager Ed Rollins (full disclosure, my former boss) and saying, « You have to do something. »
Rollins disagreed, as he later wrote in his memoirs Bare Knuckles and Back Rooms: My Life in American Politics.
A Californian himself Rollins was certain Reagan was just fine in California. The Reagan campaign’s own polls (run by Reagan’s longtime pollster Dick Wirthlin) showed Reagan with a « rock-solid » lead. After all, said Rollins, « Californians knew Ronald Reagan, and either loved him or hated him. He’d been on the ballot there six times and never lost. » The Post poll data made no sense. But Mrs. Reagan was insistent, so Rollins ordered up another (expensive) poll from Dick Wirthlin. Rollins also dispatched longtime Reagan aide and former White House political director Lyn Nofziger, a Californian as well, back to the Reagan home precincts. More phone banks were ordered up. In all, a million dollars of campaign money that could have been spent on Minnesota — Mondale’s home state where the ex-Minnesota Senator was, remarkably, struggling — was spent on California because of the Washington Post poll.
A few weeks later, the Washington Post ran a story that confirmed Rollins’ initial beliefs. The Post confessed that… well… oops… it had made a mistake with those California polling numbers. Shortly afterward came the November election, with California once again giving Reagan a more than 16 point victory. In fact, Reagan carried 49 states, winning the greatest landslide victory in presidential history while losing Minnesota in — yes — a close race. Mondale had 49.72% to Reagan’s 49.54%, a difference of .18% that might have been changed by all that money that went into California. Making Reagan the first president in history to win all fifty states.
After the election, Ed Rollins ran into the Washington Post’s blunt-speaking editor Ben Bradlee and « harassed » Bradlee « about his paper’s lousy polling methodology. »
Bradlee’s « unrepentant » response?
« Tough sh…t, Rollins, I’m glad it cost you plenty. It’s my in-kind contribution to the Mondale campaign. »
So the questions for 2012.
How corrupt are all these polls showing Obama leading or in a « close race »?
Are they to Obama what that California poll of the Washington Post was for Walter Mondale — an « in-kind contribution »?
Is that in fact what was going on with the New York Times in 1980? An « in-kind contribution » to the Carter campaign from the Times?
What can explain all these polls today — like the ones discussed here at NBC where the Obama media cheerleaders make their TV home? Polls that the Obama media groupies insist show Obama 1 point up in Florida or 4 points in North Carolina or 5 points in Pennsylvania. And so on and so on.
How does one explain a president who, like Jimmy Carter in 1980, is increasingly seen as a disaster in both economic and foreign policy? How does a President Obama, with a Gallup job approval rating currently at 49% — down a full 20% from 2009 — mysteriously win the day in all these polls?
How does this happen?
Can you say « in-kind contribution »?
About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at email@example.com.
The National review on line
September 28, 2012
One of my regulars, the accounting-minded poll watcher nicknamed “Number-Cruncher” writes in, describing what he thinks honest pollsters should be saying right now:
“For the past two election cycles the partisan divide in this country has been volatile. In 2008, we could have modeled the turnout in race similar to 2004 and Obama still would have beaten McCain by 1 or 2 points. We knew that there was no way the divide was going to end up even, so even moving to a 1996 model of +3 Democrat advantage would give Obama a 4 point win. Democrats ended up with a +7 partisan ID advantage, given an almost perfect storm for the Democrats.
The 2008 cycle was an interesting race for pollsters, in that while the partisan divide clearly favored the Democrats, we didn’t have to worry too much about overestimating or underestimating too much because we knew the main result: an Obama win.”
Looking back through recent presidential cycles, we see Republicans over-performing their standing in the final polls – sometimes by a little, sometimes by a lot.
In 1992, Gallup’s final poll had Clinton winning by 12 percentage points, he won by 5.6 percentage points. In late October 1992, Pew had Clinton up 10.
In 1996, some reputable pollsters had Clinton winning by 18 percentage points late, and Pew had Clinton up by 19 in November; on Election Day, he won by 8.5 percentage points… In 2004, pollsters were spread out, but most underestimated Bush’s margin. (2000 may have been a unique set of circumstances with the last-minute DUI revelation dropping Bush’s performance lower than his standing in the final polls; alternatively, some may argue that the Osama bin Laden tape the Friday before the election in 2004 altered the dynamic in those final days.) In 2008, Marist had Obama up 9, as did CBS/New York Times and Washington Post/ABC News, while Reuters and Gallup both had Obama up 11.
Now, if this was just random chance of mistakes, you would see pollsters being wrong in both directions and by about the same margin in each direction at the same rate – sometimes overestimating how well the Democrats do some years, sometimes overestimating how well the Republicans do. But the problem seems pretty systemic – sometimes underestimating the GOP by a little, sometimes by a lot.
This is an international polling problem. Look at the polling for the most recent presidential race in France, if you read the tracking polls you would have thought Sarkozy would lose by 20….then the last round of polls showed it in single digits, and Sarkozy ultimately lost by about 3 points.”
Going back to the topic of volatility, in 2008, Gallup provided a model called the “expanded” likely voter model; they knew turnout was likely to be different from past cycles, but they knew that the different turnout was almost certainly going to help Obama. So they used this poll (they ran four different polls Adults, Registered Voters, Likely Voters and New Voters). In the end it wasn’t necessary because the regular bias of registered voters was enough to offset the “new voters”…. but that’s for another day.
Here is what people should know is bothering pollsters, and if you’re a Republican you can feel comfortable that what you are reading is based on guess work assumptions:
In 2010, we saw the country move back to 2004 levels, but we also saw a bubbling of the Tea Party, who are among the most enthusiastic of voters. Also 2010 was a midterm, where the overall turnout of registered voters is considerably lower, and the GOP base turns out better in non-presidential years than the Democrats’ base. So we process this data.
We saw in 1994 the GOP do very well, but in 1996 Clinton won easily. But sometimes a party’s momentum from the midterms carries on to the following year; we saw the Democrats add to their 2006 gains in 2008. So will 2012 be a receding of the tide of the midterms (like 1996) or an acceleration (like 2008)?
Of course in 1996, the economy was soaring and right now, we’re crawling… so you make the judgment on where this should be.
Even using logical deductions, it is difficult to get a read on what the 2012 partisan divide will be because we’ve seen it change so quickly. From 1994 through 2004, the partisan divide was fairly stable, moving no more than 2 points from cycle to cycle.
Personally I think its safe to say that 2008 is not going to happen in 2012, any pollster hanging their hat on 2008 sampling cannot be reasonably relied on…
Number-Cruncher and I part company a bit on this point:
Given the intensity of the Tea Party, it would not be all that surprising if the Tea Party/GOP combination out polls Democrats by a margin greater than 2004, which would turn every pollster except Rasmussen upside down, with Rasmussen being turned on his side.. Simply put, we just do not know.
The problem is that “not GOP, but Tea Party” isn’t listed as an option in most polls, so we don’t know how many Tea Partiers are choosing to identify themselves as independents. It is quite possible that in the polls where we see Romney winning independents, his lead in this demographic is driven by Tea Partiers who refuse to self-identify as GOP. In short, you know how we’ll know the combined demographics of the GOP andTea Party makes up a larger share of the electorate than self-identified Democrats? When Romney wins the election.
One other point to keep in mind, is that Rasmussen has been consistently polling party preference ID, among adults (not likely voters). His latest result was +4.3 Republican and while that is a bit of an outlier, he has consistently been polling Republicans ahead of Democrats by about a 1 to three point margin. Also consider this: In 2008 when the electorate was breaking towards Obama and the Democrats, Rasmussen predicted a +7.8 percent Party Advantage, the exits revealed essentially the same result. . In 2004, Rasmussen revealed a Partisan ID trend favoring Democrats by 1.8% percent. If Rasmussen goes or comes close to three for three on the partisan ID prediction (he was within two points both times), then Romney likely has a 2 to 3 point lead in his polling (Note if you subscribe to the pay side of Rasmussen’s data you know his is polling more Democrats than the Partisan ID study). Simply put, if Rasmussen is correct, then Romney will has an electorate which is MORE favorable than 2004. If this is the case with swing states, the Electoral College will break significantly towards Romney.
I still think a D+3 or D+4 electorate is the most likely scenario, but Rasmussen’s measurements do provide one piece of evidence for a scenario that’s considerably better for the GOP.
October 1, 2012
The presidential race is tight enough nationally that a strong performance in Wednesday’s debate by Mitt Romney could put him in the lead.
A new POLITICO/George Washington University Battleground Poll of likely voters shows President Barack Obama ahead 49 percent to 47 percent, a point closer than a week ago and still within the margin of error. A tracking poll will be performed each week, and the results released each Monday, through Election Day.
Romney now leads by 4 points among independents, up slightly from a week ago. The Republican must overperform with that group to make up for the near monolithic support of African-Americans for Obama, as well as the huge Democratic advantage among Latinos and women
The head-to-head numbers mostly held steady through the past two weeks.
“The basic underpinnings of this race are just not changing, and that’s what’s going to keep this a very close race,” said Republican pollster Ed Goeas of the Tarrance Group, who helped conduct the bipartisan poll.
A solid 46 percent say they will vote to reelect Obama and 42 percent say firmly they’ll vote to replace him. Just 9 percent say they’ll consider someone else.
“We’ve never had a debate where the electorate was this polarized,” said Celinda Lake, the Democratic pollster who helped conduct the poll. “There’s a real question about how many voters are left to move in the debate.”
Obama’s overall job approval stands at 49 percent, with an identical number of respondents disapproving. The president’s personal favorability slipped to 50 percent, with 47 percent viewing him unfavorably.
Romney remains slightly underwater on likability, with 46 percent viewing him favorably and 48 percent viewing him unfavorably. He has a problem with women, among whom Obama leads by 12 points, 54 percent to 42 percent. Asked about Romney as a person, 51 percent of women say they don’t have a good impression.
“For Romney, it’s a double goal that he has: He’s got to get that likability up, particularly among women,” said Lake. “And he’s got to draw a sharp contrast on what he’d do on the economy. That’s very difficult to do simultaneously. … It’s hard to maintain likability when you’re being an attack dog.”
Romney has not benefited from revelations about the Obama administration bungling its initial response to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya. Obama actually expanded his lead over Romney last week on who is better able to handle foreign policy, from 9 points to 12 points.
Democratic intensity has slipped slightly to 75 percent. A week before last, still in the afterglow of their convention, 81 percent of Democrats called themselves “extremely likely” to vote. Republican enthusiasm, meanwhile, held steady around 80 percent.
Regardless of whom they’re supporting, twice as many voters (61 percent) expect the president to prevail in November as expect him to lose.
“Democrats should be careful not to take this for granted,” said Lake. “Inevitability cannot diminish our focus on getting our voters out because the Republicans will be focused on getting their voters out.”
Pocketbook issues remain overwhelmingly the top concern of voters, and half of Wednesday’s 90-minute debate will focus on the economy.
Romney has reopened a slight advantage on which of the two candidates is bestequipped to handle the economy — 49 percent to 47 percent — and to create jobs – 48 percent to 47 percent. A slight majority, 52 percent, disapprove of Obama’s handling of the economy.
Romney narrowed his gap on the question of who fights harder for the middle class. During the media firestorm over his “47 percent” comments, the poll showed him trailing by 19 points on the question. Now he’s down only 13 points — 54 to 41 percent. This double-digit deficit remains a problem, though, because three in four likely voters consider themselves part of the middle class.
Lake said Obama has persuaded most middle-class voters that he’s fighting for them, but he hasn’t convinced them that he has a plan to help them if he gets reelected.
“Now we’ve got to prove we can do something about their lives,” she said.
Of the 11 issues on which the candidates were pitted against one another, Romney’s clearest edge came on the federal budget and spending: Fifty-six percent disapprove of Obama’s handling of the issue — 47 percent strongly so. By a 7-point margin, voters believe Romney is best equipped to tackle the debt.
Obama holds a 3-point edge on which candidate has a better tax plan. This is traditionally a Republican issue, and the lead is notable for someone who makes raising taxes on the wealthy a centerpiece of his campaign.
One of six debate segments will focus on health care. Obama leads Romney by 8 points on who is best for health care generally and Medicare specifically.
Another segment is about governing. Obama leads Romney on the questions of who shares your values (48 percent to 45 percent) and who is the stronger leader (50 percent to 43 percent). But Romney has an advantage (47 percent to 45 percent) on who can “get things done.”
Goeas said to watch these three indicators as a gauge for the gut reaction of voters to the debate.
Obama is trailing slightly with independents. In 2008, the Democrat carried them by 7 percent — the same margin as his overall victory. But right now, he’s softer on the individual issues than is reflected in the head-to-head matchup, which shows him behind by 4 points with independents.
Romney has a 14-point edge on jobs and an 11-point edge on the economy among independent voters. More than 60 percent disapprove of Obama’s handling of the economy and spending. Romney even has a slight advantage on taxes. He ties the president on who is the stronger leader and leads by 9 points on who has the best ability to get things done.
Among all likely voters, 56 percent say the country is on the wrong track. This number has fallen because 72 percent of Democrats and 73 percent of African-Americans now say the country is on the right track. Yet two in three independents still think the country’s on the wrong track.
“He has to be careful of accepting and affirming the praise of the Democrats who think the country’s going in the right direction and assuring people he can change the direction with four more years,” said Goeas. “He doesn’t want to do anything to dampen enthusiasm he’s getting from Democrats, but he can’t afford to be removed completely because the overwhelming majority thinks we’re on the wrong track.”
The POLITICO/George Washington University Battleground poll, conducted by the Tarrance Group and Lake Research Partners, surveyed 1,000 registered likely voters from Sept. 24 to Sept. 27 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
When a pollster or strategist for a struggling political campaign presents what seems like a sugar-coated view of his candidate’s chances, do you ever think: I wish I could give that adviser some truth serum, or maybe put him under oath?
Well, truth serum may be pushing it, but the put-him-under-oath part has actually happened. And when a pollster is required to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, under penalty of perjury, what emerges is quite a bit different than what you hear in the waning days of a presidential campaign.
In May, the pollster for Al Gore’s presidential bid in 2000 and John Edwards’s in 2004 and 2008, Harrison Hickman, took the stand in the federal criminal case against Edwards over alleged campaign finance violations stemming from payments to support Edwards’s mistress.
Under oath, Hickman admitted that in the final weeks of Edwards’s 2008 bid, Hickman cherry-picked public polls to make the candidate seem viable, promoted surveys that Hickman considered unreliable, and sent e-mails to campaign aides, Edwards supporters and reporters which argued that the former senator was still in the hunt —even though Hickman had already told Edwards privately that he had no real chance of winning the Democratic nomination.
« They were pounding on me for positive information. You know, where is some good news we can share with people? We were monitoring all these polls and I was sending the ones that were most favorable because [campaign aides] wanted to share them with reporters, » Hickman testified on May 14 at the trial in Greensboro, N.C. « We were not finding very much good news and I was trying to give them what I could find. »
Hickman testified that when circulating the polls, he didn’t much care if they were accurate. « I didn’t necessarily take any of these as for—as you would say, for the truth of the matter. I took them more as something that could be used as propaganda for the campaign, » the veteran pollster said.
Edwards’s viability from late 2007 through January 2008 was a hotly disputed issue at his trial because federal prosecutors were seeking to prove that nearly $1 million in expenses Edwards backers paid for his mistress in and around that time frame amounted to donations to advance his bid for the presidency. Edwards’s defense contended that his inner circle viewed his prospects of winning the presidency as zero or close to it, once Sen. Barack Obama’s juggernaut gathered steam, so the payments must have been made out of personal affection for Edwards or for some other reason unrelated to the presidential campaign.
However, Hickman’s testimony also opened a rare window into the way major presidential campaigns try to use polling numbers to spin the press and laid bare the fact that top campaign operatives sometimes propound a version of the truth starkly at odds with what they themselves believe.
Hickman, called by the former senator’s defense, testified that he told Edwards in « early to middle of November 2007, » that the campaign wasn’t going to succeed.
« I told him that the odds were overwhelming that we were not going—that he was not going to be the nominee for president. I mean, we talked about a variety of things might change, do differently, and all that, but none of them translated into winning the nomination, » the pollster told Edwards attorney Alan Duncan.
However, under cross-examination by lead prosecutor David Harbach, Hickman acknowledged sending a series of emails in November and December, and even into January, endorsing or promoting polls that made Edwards look good. Asked about what appeared to be a New York Times/CBS poll released in mid-November showing an effective « three-way tie » in Iowa with Hillary Clinton at 25 percent, Edwards at 23 percent and Obama at 22 percent, Hickman acknowledged he circulated it but insisted he didn’t think it was correct.
« The business I’m in is a business any fool can get into, and a lot can happen. I’m sure there was a poll like that, » the folksy Hickman told jurors when first asked about a poll showing the race tied. « I kept up with every poll that was done, including our own, and there may have been a few that showed them a tie, but… that’s not really what my analysis is. Campaigns are about trajectory, and… there could have been a point at which it was a tie in the sense that we were coming down, and Obama was going up, and Clinton was going up. »
Hickman also indicated that senior campaign staffers knew many of the polls were poorly done and of little value. « We didn’t take these dog and cat and baby-sitter polls seriously, » he said.
Hickman acknowledged that on January 2, 2008, a day before the Iowa caucuses, he sent out a summary of nine post-Christmas Iowa polls showing Edwards in contention in the Hawkeye State. However, he testified two-thirds of them were from firms he considered « ones we typically would not put a lot of credence in. » Hickman put Mason-Dixon, Strategic Vision, Insider Advantage, Zogby and Research 2000 in the « less reputable » group. He also told the court that ARG polls « have a miserable track record. »
Hickman said he considered the Des Moines Register polls, CNN and Los Angeles Times polls more accurate. (A full transcript of his testimony is posted here.)
The prosecutor was clearly trying to suggest that Edwards was more viable than Hickman, a longtime friend of the ex-senator, admitted in his initial testimony. Harbach may have even been trying to suggest that Hickman’s basic credibility was impugned by the heavy spin he acknowledged offering late in the 2008 primary campaign. However, the line of questioning was baffling to reporters in the courtroom who seemed not at all surprised that a campaign would insist on its viability until moments before the candidate dropped out or lost.
In short, to many journalists, what Hickman admitted doing in late 2007 and 2008 was no more a sign of bad character than an actor spinning a yarn on stage during a play or a lawyer mounting an implausible defense for a clearly guilty client.
When the defense got to question Hickman again, he was unapologetic about what he termed an effort to « keep up morale » among Edwards backers and aides.
« They were being inundated with bad news. I didn’t have to give them bad news. I was trying to pick out morsels, you know, acorns. Out of a big stack of acorns, I was trying to pick out a few good ones that they could pass along to other people, you know, to keep them working, » Hickman testified. « I mean, I wasn’t going to say, you know, all hope is lost, you know, take a couple of weeks off. I mean, that was not the object of it. I mean, the object was to keep going as hard as we could. And we all worked as hard as we could. I mean, the working hard and promoting the candidacy are independent, in my mind, to the evaluation of what the likely outcome is. »
Asked if what he did to that end in the 2008 race was at all unusual when compared with other contests, Hickman told Duncan: « No. No. I did — you know, I did what I was supposed to do…. I did my job the way I’ve always done my job. »
While the discussion of polling and the legitimate bounds of spin did offer an unusual behind-the-scenes look at a major presidential campaign, it’s not at all clear that it had any impact on the outcome of the case against Edwards. Indeed, U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Eagles at one point admonished Hickman and Duncan that the grad-school polling seminar seemed pretty tangential to anything jurors were being asked to consider.
« I don’t think we need quite this much detail about particular polls, » the judge said.
« That’s fine, your honor, » Duncan replied.
« I’m sorry, » Hickman quickly chimed in.
After nine days of deliberation, the jury revealed on May 31 that it had acquitted Edwards on one felony count and was hopelessly deadlocked on five others. The Justice Department quickly announced that it would not retry the case.
It’s make-or-break time in the world’s most important, and expensive, election. On the eve of tomorrow’s televised debate between the presidential candidates (the first of three), Rupert Cornwell looks forward to a momentous month
2 October 2012
The largest, the longest, the costliest and the cruellest exercise in democracy on the planet is approaching its climax. Thirty-six days from today (barring a repeat of the Florida deadheat a dozen years ago) a new American president will have been elected – in the event of a victory by Mitt Romney, the 45th in a line stretching back to 1789 and George Washington.
The winner will be the last man standing after a contest that formally began with Iowa’s caucuses last January, and continued through a four-month primary season and the late summer party nominating conventions. Now come four presidential and vice-presidential debates, capped by a final draining sprint to the finishing line on 6 November. In reality, though, the process has been under way almost from the instant Barack Obama was sworn into office on the freezing Washington morning of 20 January 2009, promising a new beginning for his country in the midst of its worst economic and financial crisis since the Great Depression.
The final match-up is the one that all along has seemed likely, between the Democratic incumbent seeking his second permitted term, and a Republican challenger who if truth be told never stopped campaigning for the White House even after he had lost his party’s 2008 nomination to John McCain. By the time it’s all over, some $3bn may have been spent on the presidential election alone, in money raised by the candidates, their respective parties and outside groups (not least the infamous Super PACs, empowered by a Supreme Court ruling that enables super rich donors to contribute as much as they like).
Throw in the similar sum likely to be spent on the down-the-card contests, for all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 33 Senate seats (one third of the total), as well as a dozen governors’ races, and the total outlay for Election 2012 may reach an unprecedented $6bn, equivalent to roughly $50 for every likely voter.
Right now, despite economic indicators that in previous elections would have consigned him to defeat, Mr Obama remains the favourite. Recent history suggests that incumbents who seek a second term usually succeed, and at the time of writing Intrade, the usually reliable political prediction market, gives him a 75 per cent chance of victory.
Since Herbert Hoover lost to Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, only two incumbents have been defeated: Jimmy Carter in 1980, when the opponent was Ronald Reagan, who arguably caught America’s Zeitgeist more perfectly than any candidate before or since; and George H.W. Bush, whose misfortune in 1992 was to find himself up against the most gifted politician of his age in Bill Clinton, at a moment when Republicans had already held the Presidency for 12 years. The same rule of thumb operates in the US as in most other genuine democracies. When one party has been in power for a decade the electoral mantra is: throw the bums out.
But even if Romney is manifestly neither a Reagan nor a Clinton, a second Obama term is far from set in stone. The mood of the country is sour; 35 per cent of Americans say the country is on the wrong track, a distinct improvement from a year ago to be sure, but hardly a resounding endorsement of the status quo. The worst of the Great Recession may be over, but the recovery struggles to gather steam. Since FDR, moreover, no president has been re-elected when the US unemployment rate was over 8 per cent. At the end of August it stood at 8.1 per cent.
Further complicating matters is the electoral system itself. Presidents are not elected by direct popular vote (if they were, the 43rd president would have been Al Gore, not George W. Bush) but by the sum of 51 separate elections in the constituent states and the District of Columbia. Each of these in turn sends voters to a 538-vote electoral college, all committed to the winner of the popular vote in their state – except in the cases of Maine and Nebraska, which allocate electoral college votes to the winner of each congressional district.
The number of electoral votes is in proportion to a state’s population. Thus the most populous, California, has 55, while the least populous, Wyoming, has just three. To win the presidency a candidate needs to win a majority, ie 270, of these super-electors. It is thus possible, though unlikely, that either Obama or Romney will suffer Gore’s fate.
At the very least, electoral college landsides, as defined by one candidate winning 400 or more of the 538 votes, are no more. Once they were common; of the 10 elections between 1952 and 1988, seven saw margins of that size or larger – the biggest in 1984, when Ronald Reagan trounced Walter Mondale by 525 to 13, with the latter winning only DC and his home state of Minnesota
But in an ever more polarised America, those days are over. In both 1992 and 1996, Bill Clinton failed to crack the 400 mark, while George W. Bush’s two subsequent victories were squeakers. The 365 electoral votes amasssed by Obama in 2008 – a year when everything, from financial crisis and a desperately unpopular outgoing Republican president to Obama’s personal charisma, favoured Democrats – may be close to the realistic maximum for either party. Certainly, it would be astonishing if Obama matched that score, five weeks hence.
In practice, this election will be fought and won in a dozen or so battleground states, most notably Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Wisconsin and Colorado, where the result is not a foregone conclusion. Right now Romney is trailing in almost every one of them, which explains why he is a 3 to 1 outsider in the race. His own shortcomings as a candidate, and his failure to provide a vision of where he wants to take the country, are one reason. No less important, Americans seem to accept that Obama, though shorn of his aura of 2008, could not have been expected to correct in a mere four years the profound economic problems laid bare by the financial crisis. He has not succeeded – but nor has he yet conclusively failed. A majority of likely voters appears ready to give him a chance to finish the job.
Such calculations of course could be turned on their head, by events abroad (a European financial collapse and Wall Street meltdown, say, or an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear installations) or at home, most obviously a really strong performance by Romney in the three presidential debates, the first and most important of which takes place tomorrow. In addition, some scandal or huge faux pas could undo Obama.
But such scenarios are increasingly hard to imagine. The President is a cautious, disciplined politician. And even a stellar debate performance is no guarantee of victory, as John Kerry found out in 2004. Separately, Obama is more trusted than Romney on national security, and a foreign crisis could actually help him. Time is also running out. Early voting in some states has already started, and in others will do so in a week or two. Polls suggest that at this late stage, in today’s polarised political climate, fewer people than ever (maybe 5 to 7 per cent of voters) are genuinely undecided.
And while Romney may be a lacklustre candidate, his cause has not been helped by his party. Not only do Republicans sometimes seem to inhabit an alternative universe, on tax policy, abortion and other social issues. Collectively, they are growing steadily whiter, older, more male and more conservative, when the country at large is becoming younger, more diverse and socially more liberal. Especially telling is Obama’s huge lead (almost 20 per cent in swing state Virginia) among women.
These trends could also determine the outcome of the Congressional elections. Until recently it had seemed that, even if re-elected, Obama would have to work with a Republican-controlled Congress, with his opponents retaining the House and making the net gain of four seats to secure a majority in the Senate. Again, however, this may no longer apply.
In several close-fought Senate races, the Democratic candidate is now ahead. And so unpopular is the Republican majority in the House, with its intransigent Tea Party bloc increasingly held responsible by voters for the gridlock in Washington, that there, too, Democrats conceivably could snatch back control.
Back in the dark days of late 2010, after his « shellacking » in that year’s mid-terms, Barack Obama’s fortunes reached a nadir. Some even privately wondered then whether he had lost the stomach for the fight, whether he would even run for a second term. Those doubts have been laid to rest. Election night on 6 November will be exciting. But day by day it looks less likely that come mid-January, the removal vans will be pulling up at the White House.
Last week’s CBS/New York Times poll had Obama ahead by nine points in Florida. That’s not very likely.
October 3, 2012
I’ve seen a movie like this one before. I was in my 20s and director of the Texas Victory Committee for Reagan-Bush. Our headquarters was in an old mortuary in Austin. That seemed an appropriate venue when, on Oct. 8, 1980, the New York Times released its poll on the presidential race in Texas, one of 10 battlegrounds. (Yes, the Lone Star State was then a battleground.)
According to the Times, the contest was « a virtual dead heat, » with President Jimmy Carter ahead despite earlier surveys showing Ronald Reagan winning. A large Hispanic turnout for Mr. Carter—and the fact that Texas was « far more Democratic than the nation » (only 16% of Texans identified themselves as Republicans then)—meant that Mr. Reagan « must do better among independents » to carry the state. Our hurriedly called strategy session at the mortuary had more than the normal complement of hand-wringers.
Then came more hard punches. On Oct. 13, Gallup put the race nationally at Carter 44%, Reagan 40%. The bottom appeared to fall out two weeks later when a new national Gallup poll had Carter 47%, Reagan 39%.
Reagan trailed in October but won in a walk.
That produced more than a few empty chairs in phone banks across Texas. But most volunteers, grim and stoic, hung on, determined to stay until the bitter end. Only Election Day was not so bitter. Reagan carried all 10 of the Times’ battleground states and defeated Mr. Carter by nearly 10 points.
Every election is different and this year won’t replicate 1980. But context might be helpful to edgy supporters of Mitt Romney.
In the past 30 days, there were 91 national polls (including each Gallup and Rasmussen daily tracking survey). Mr. Obama was at or above the magic number of 50% in just 20. His average was 47.9%. Mr. Romney’s was 45.5%.
There were 40 national polls over the same period in 2004. President George W. Bush was 50% or higher in 18. His average was 49%; Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry was at 43.8%. An Oct. 4, 2004, story in the New York Times declared the Bush/Kerry race « a dead heat » and asked « whether Mr. Bush can regain the advantage. »
Mr. Bush was hitting the vital 50% mark in almost half the polls (unlike Mr. Obama) and had a lead over Mr. Kerry twice as large as the one Mr. Obama now holds over Mr. Romney. So why was the 2004 race « a dead heat » while many commentators today say Mr. Obama is the clear favorite?
The reality is that 2012 is a horse race and will remain so. An incumbent below 50% is in grave danger. On Election Day he’ll usually receive less than his final poll number. That’s because his detractors are more likely to turn out, and undecideds are more resistant to voting for him.
Then there is the tsunami of state-level polls. Last week, there were 46 polls in 22 states; the week before, 52 polls in 18 states; and the week before that, 41 polls in 20 states. They’re endowed by the media with a scientific precision they simply don’t have.
Take last week’s CBS/New York Times Florida survey, which had Mr. Obama leading Mr. Romney by nine points. The poll sampled more Democrats than Republicans—nine percentage points more. Yet the Democratic advantage in the 2008 presidential exit polls was three percentage points. Does it seem probable that Florida Democrats will turn out in higher numbers in 2012, especially when their registration edge over Republicans dropped by 22% in the past four years?
On Aug. 2, radio talk-show host Hugh Hewitt asked Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University polling organization—which runs the CBS/NYT battleground state polls, including last week’s Florida poll—if he expected a Democratic advantage in the Sunshine State three times what it was last time. Mr. Brown responded that « I think it is probably unlikely, » but defended his polling organization’s record.
Both candidates have advantages as the race enters its final month. Mr. Obama is slightly ahead (but short of 50%). Late-deciding independents will probably break more for Mr. Romney. Clear-eyed operatives in Boston and Chicago know this and are only playing head games with their opposition when they assert otherwise.
Team Obama’s relentless efforts to denigrate Mr. Romney as a sure loser appear to have convinced the Republican candidate that he must run as the underdog. This will make the naturally cautious Mr. Romney more aggressive, energized and specific about his agenda in the campaign’s closing weeks than he might have been. It will also make his victory more likely. America likes come-from-behind winners.
Mr. Rove, a former deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush, helped organize the political action committee American Crossroads.