Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Republicans are accusing the Los Angeles Times of conducting a bogus political survey, but the paper is vigorously defending its numbers and methods.

A Times poll released June 10 showed Democratic Sen. John Kerry leading President Bush by 51 percent to 44 percent among registered voters — results that Bush campaign strategist Matthew Dowd and Republican pollster David Winston say were skewed to favor Democrats.

The Times is defending the poll — distilled in the aftermath by other news organizations to headlines such as “National poll gives Kerry solid lead” from Reuters.

According to a statement from Times polling director Susan Pinkus yesterday, the political affiliation among the poll respondents was 38 percent Democratic, 25 percent Republican and 24 percent independent — which she said was on par with Times polls dating to 2001.

The proportion also lines up with national figures when the margin of error — plus or minus three percentage points — is taken into account, she said.

And therein lies the rub, according to the two critics.

Mr. Winston called the 13-point gap between Democrats and Republicans “a huge and unheard-of margin. It would usually be more like three or four points, with the Republicans falling in around 35 percent of the respondents.”

He based his assertions on proportions from Voter News Service exit polls from presidential elections in 1992, 1996 and 2000.

“There was no real explanation given for this gap by the Times,” Mr. Winston said. “This poll got called to the carpet because its initial assumptions simply did not match up to history.”

In a Roll Call commentary yesterday, Mr. Winston categorized the poll as “bad buzz,” which spawned “a small but important controversy over whether the poll’s sample accurately reflects the population as whole.”

Mr. Dowd, meanwhile, challenged the poll’s credibility before the media.

“A note of caution: Be very careful in reporting the Los Angeles Times poll. It is a mess. Bush is leading independents by three, ahead among Republicans by a larger margin than Kerry is ahead among Dems, and we are down by seven? Outrageous,” Mr. Dowd told ABC News.

The poll — which offered samples from the nation and three battleground states — showcased a dizzying array of numbers.

When 1,230 registered voters in a national sample were asked to rate a three-way matchup between Mr. Bush, Mr. Kerry and independent Ralph Nader, 48 percent favored Mr. Kerry, 42 percent the president, 4 percent Mr. Nader, and 5 percent said they “don’t know.”

In separate components of the poll, however, when 694 registered voters were surveyed in Wisconsin, 44 percent favored Mr. Bush, 42 percent Mr. Kerry, 4 percent Mr. Nader, and 10 percent didn’t know.

Among 566 voters in Missouri, 48 percent favored Mr. Bush, 37 percent Mr. Kerry and 5 percent Mr. Nader; while 722 voters in Ohio put those numbers at 45 percent for Mr. Kerry, 42 percent for Mr. Bush, and 4 percent for Mr. Nader.

“The Times poll post-stratifies the data using updated census figures on sex, race/ethnicity, age, education and region and does not weight for party ID,” said Ms. Pinkus, the Times polling director.

Political affiliation was a “moving variable,” she said, adding that “the way other reputable polling organizations handle this is unknown to me, and possibly different.”

“I feel sorry for her,” said a pollster who asked not to be identified. “But she should have known better.”

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