Biased Polls? Pollsters Say No, History Says It Depends On When You Look

Dustin Hawkins at Big Journalism has a pretty good response to Nate Silver at The New York Times and Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post’s assertion that there’s little evidence of poll skewing. In a nutshell, by examining only the pollsters final pre-election projections they ignore the wildly different polling numbers those so-called “gold standard” pollsters put out in the weeks before elections. When you look at those numbers the record of bias shows a little more clearly. Here’s a bit from his piece:

Almost all of the polls in 2008 showed Obama with a healthy lead for the final 6 weeks of the campaign, but the internal polling data made sense. This is why nobody was complaining about polls then. Against McCain, polls had Obama winning independents nationally and in just about every state by a healthy margin. Enthusiasm was sky-high among Democrats and below break-even with Republican voters. Obama was popular, and his favorability was in the 60-70% range by election day. First-time voter excitement was at levels never before seen. Every data point was pointing to an easy Obama win over McCain.

But the data is different this year. Polls show Romney has been winning independents in key states. USA Today/Gallup showed a complete reversal in enthusiasm from 2008, and Republicans now have a 16-point edge. And while Romney might not have Obama’s 2008 favorability numbers, neither does Obama. Even there, Obama has dipped to break-even and not much better than Romney’s, whose favorability numbers have been steadily climbing. And when it comes to job approval and handling of the economy, Obama is hanging in the 40s. Unlike 2008, the polling data just doesn’t mesh with media’s published declarations of Obama dominance.

There is a good shot that we will see a “Romney surge” from these pollsters as November 6 approaches. It’s also a good bet that most of the pollsters will get the winner right — even if it is Romney — on their final poll. But it doesn’t change the fact that many of their current polls are loaded with scenarios that are almost impossible in the present political climate. But at least they know we are watching now.

One other interesting point is that Silver does find significant reality distortion in just one election since 1972, and it will probably knock you over with a feather when I tell you that’s it’s the most comparable election to this year’s election – Carter vs. Reagan.

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