Last week New York Times polling guru Nate Silver tweeted, “The. Polls. Have. Stopped. Making. Any. Sense.” They do make a lot of sense if the objective is to help President Obama win a second term — or so Democrats think.
Major election surveys in the last few months have shown Mr. Obama either in the lead or tied for the win, despite an economic record of massive unemployment and astronomical debt. With that kind of baggage, the current Oval Office occupant ought to be trailing by at least 10 points.
The disconnect between data and reality has spurred increasing analysis of the polls and polling methods generally. Polls are used to drive the political debate and affect morale in both camps. Shaping the polls means shaping perceptions, which could mean determining who turns out to vote and who stays home. Pro-Obama polling may be having such an impact. Several recent surveys show that 60 percent of the electorate believes Mr. Obama will win the race in November. The Intrade prediction site places the odds of a second term at over 70 percent.
Most criticism has focused on the oversampling of pro-Obama constituencies. Many polls include more responses from Democrats than Republicans based on turnout in the unrepresentative 2008 election. This has the effect of wildly inflating Mr. Obama’s final score. In response, conservative QStarNews has set up a website called “Unskewed Polls,” which recalculates major poll results based on numbers reflecting the current, more balanced partisan breakdown. The site shows Republican contender Mitt Romney leading in reweighted recent polls by 5-10 percent. The latest QStarNews Daily Tracking Poll has Mr. Romney ahead of Mr. Obama by 53 percent to 45 percent.
Another way to avoid the pitfalls of subjective partisan sampling is to look at the political middle. No candidate has been elected president in the modern era without winning middle-class voters and independents. According to the latest Politico/George Washington University battleground poll, Mr. Romney has a commanding 14-point advantage among middle-class families. According to Gallup, the “pure independents,” those without partisan or ideological affiliation, give Mr. Obama a 37 percent approval rating. Mr. Obama may believe that those who live on government handouts represent a “majority coalition,” but if he loses Middle America he will be off to Hawaii in January.
Obama campaign manager Jim Messina recently told Democrats to ignore national polls showing a tightening race and to focus on battleground surveys indicating comfortable leads. Even among those polls, there are signs that the race is tight. In any case, the perception game cuts both ways. The same effort that builds a sense of hopelessness among Republicans is likely to create complacency among the less motivated in the Democratic base. Committed anti-Obama voters will show up to cast their ballots no matter what, but this is not the case with smug, self-satisfied Obama supporters who have been told they cannot lose. So those who would like to see a second term for Mr. Obama needn’t worry about what happens Nov. 6. They don’t even have to show up to vote. They can just stay home. After all, it’s in the bag.
The Washington Times