Patterico's Pontifications


Is the WaPo/ABC News poll “worthless”?

Filed under: 2012 Election — Karl @ 12:46 pm

[Posted by Karl]

That’s the verdict from the normally easygoing Ed Morrissey.  While I agree with his biggest criticism of the poll, it is still possible to get something out of it.

I agree with Ed that the recent tactic of not disclosing the party breakdown of the sample is simply absurd.  In an era where trust in institutions — including journalism — is low and demands for increased transparency are on the rise everywhere, hiding this basic information from public view invites skepticism and ridicule.  The WaPo, ABC News, and Gary Langer ought to be embarrassed.

However, Ed also complains that it’s “a poll of general population adults rather than registered or likely voters, so it’s not even a proper polling type for the predictive outcome they claim.”  The poll does in fact provide head-to-head results for both adults and registered voters; the WaPo noted both results for each in its accompanying coverage: 

In a general-election test, Obama leads Romney 52 to 43 percent among all Americans; more narrowly, 51 to 45 percent, among registered voters. Among all adults, it’s Obama’s first time topping 50 percent in a head-to-head matchup with Romney since July; it’s his first time ever above that point among registered voters.

(Ed has updated his post to reflect this, while noting that other hyped aspects of the story do not give the RV numbers, which is certainly a fair critique.)

The history of this poll, and comparison to other polls, can tell us a bit about what is going on in this particular poll, even without the party breakdown of the sample.  Ed correctly notes that the sample in this poll tends to produce Dem-friendly results, which is probably why the recent decision to omit data about the sample really set him off.  However, I would add that the dynamic producing those results has been that this poll historically tends to undersample both parties (and disproportionately undersample Republicans).  The corollary, which (afaik) Ed has not stressed, is that the result inflates the sample of Independents.

Accordingly, this nugget from the WaPo coverage is doubly notable:

Obama’s momentum since mid-January has evened the score with Romney among political independents. Among independent voters in the last Post-ABC poll, Romney held a 12-point edge; now these voters split 48 percent for Obama, 47 percent for Romney.

First, this reportage tells you that the poll is still collecting the party data but not reporting it in the released results.  Second, when you compare this poll’s results to other recent polls (1/12 – 2/5), the Obama +6 result is not particularly out of line.  Indeed, the topline results here merely add 2 or 3 points to each side of the Rasmussen poll of likely voters conducted at roughly the same time, which is margin of error type stuff.  And it’s not all that different from the mid-January PPP poll which showed a more pronounced Obama surge with independents.  This poll’s similar gap with higher numbers suggests this poll’s sample probably includes more Republicans and possibly more Democrats (as the PPP poll did) at the expense of the now supposedly more Obama-friendly Indies.

What accounts for the supposed Obama surge with Indies?  One possibility the WaPo coverage raises is the State of the Union speech, which fell within this poll’s window.  However, that would not account for the surge in the PPP poll.  A more plausible explanation is the modest uptick in the economy (and it’s overhype in the establishment media).  This poll has Obama improving a few points not only in overall job approval, but approval on how he’s handling the economy.  However, even this poll has his job approval with Indies underwater, so presumably his approval on the economy does not look great with Indies.

Accordingly, the underlying dynamic in this poll is probably similar to that seen in the PPP poll: it’s not about Obama as much as it is about Romney. Q25 in this poll shows 52% say that the more they hear about Romney, the less they like him, which is not as bad as Newt Gingrich’s 60%, but still bad.  This is a function of the campaign and its media coverage.  Technically, Romney gets marginally better coverage than Obama… but Romney is getting more coverage than Obama.   Thus, people are hearing more negative coverage of Romney than Obama.  Obviously, the balance will shift once the GOP nominee is effectively known.  And this is one reason why head-to-head polling is basically meaningless at this point in the cycle.  So it’s a bit ironic that the head-to-head is where the WaPo/ABC poll chose to report the results for registered voters.

Update: I wasn’t even going to mention this, but Dem pollster Margie Omero does at the HuffPo:

Today the Washington Post/ABC News released a survey showing Obama over majority support among registered voters (51% Obama, 45% Romney). But as Romney’s pollster Neil Newhouse (a partner in the firm Public Opinion Strategies) pointed out in a blast email, the poll asked about a few of Romney potential liabilities just prior to the vote question. This goes against polling best practices, and it’s possible the survey shows elevated Obama numbers as a result.

Omero also notes that Obama’s liabilities were not questioned before concluding that the underlying issue is Romney’s likability.  Again, if Romney is the nominee, that is likely to shift.  But Omero highlights that the problem with the poll mirrors the dynamic in the media coverage.


52 Responses to “Is the WaPo/ABC News poll “worthless”?”

  1. Right now most pollsters are trying to massage public opinion.

    Even those that give reliable estimates of election results are pulling shenanigans, e.g, Gallup and Rasmussen.

    October 2008 affiliate polling gave Repugnants 27% of the electorate. Oct. 2010 polling registered no change. Now Gallup has them at 33%, Rasmussen 34% and was using 35.5% in early Jan. weighting.

    Donk affiliates losing ground to the reported 33-35% are believable, but Independents are gaining most of the defectors as in 2008 when they grabbed them all.

    Not to say using these weightings in election predictions aren’t perfectly predictive, but for turnout.

    Indies are not darkening poll doors to register as Republicans, not in numbers.

    gary gulrud (d88477)

  2. “in 2010 when they grabbed”

    gary gulrud (d88477)

  3. You’re getting bogged down in the trees and failing to see the forest. The survey was done the way it was in order to get the result it did. While critics nitpick the methodology, an issue that absolutely nobody other than people like you care about, the MSM is running with the story that Obama is beating Romney.

    And this matters to the voters who are up for grabs, both for the remaining GOP primaries as well as in November. The more Romney ‘appears’ to be a problem, the less likely his primary opponents are going to drop out… this drags out the primaries and keeps Romney from being able to focus exclusively on Obama. And come November, a good number of voters will vote on factors such as how they think their friends and neighbors think of a particular candidate. The more they think their friends don’t like Romney, the less likely they will be to vote for him.

    As with so much today, the process matters less than the end result. The MSM want Obama re-elected, and if screwing around with polls helps Obama, then they’ll screw around with polls.

    steve (369bc6)

  4. “Today the Washington Post/ABC News released a survey showing Obama over majority support among registered voters (51% Obama, 45% Romney). But as Romney’s pollster Neil Newhouse (a partner in the firm Public Opinion Strategies) pointed out in a blast email, the poll asked about a few of Romney potential liabilities just prior to the vote question. This goes against polling best practices, and it’s possible the survey shows elevated Obama numbers as a result.”

    Oh so it was questions like “How much does Romney hate children”, and “Do you think Romneys work at Bain capitol destroying jobs should be a negative when voting for President?” right prior to asking the approval question? Why don’t they just come right the fuck out and admit to being a push polling firm for Democrats.

    [note: released from moderation. –Stashiu]

    Mr. Pink (540fed)

  5. steve,

    I take your point, but the data is pretty compelling that results of polls like this are not predictive of election outcomes. So the MSM may think they’re shaping the battleground or whatever, but they likely aren’t. Indeed, the sort of casual voter you’re discussing likely isn’t giving the election much thought at all this soon.

    Your argument might carry more weight if Obama was actively campaigning against Romney in the way Clinton campaigned against Dole early in the ’96 cycle. But for whatever reason, he’s not. I wonder whether that’s because the Dems don’t think that was a factor, or are going off research suggesting shifts caused by ads are shortlived. But the fact that they aren’t doing it is interesting.

    Karl (f07e38)

  6. Just like all WashingPussy posts it is worthless.

    Dohbiden (ef98f0)

  7. The embedded video in the “Voter Fraud By Illegals” thread is causing all kinds of havoc.

    Just like illegals voting does!

    Icy (83a940)

  8. Karl: that polls like this aren’t indicative of final results is true, but that wasn’t my point. The pollsters goal isn’t to conduct a poll that tracks the eventual outcome. Their goal is to shift the eventual vote in Obama’s favor. To illustrate, if by producing a poll that shows Obama ahead 53-47, they can shift the actual vote from 49.5 to 50.1, then it is mission accomplished. They don’t care if their poll didn’t mirror the final vote. Remember, accuracy in polling isn’t the goal, re-electing Obama is.

    And it is because the casual voter isn’t paying much attention that these polls have value. These voters hear the results, file them away to be recalled months later when they pay more attention… but instead of a clean mind, they’ve been preprogrammed into a certain mindset… that Romney is a sure loser.

    steve (369bc6)

  9. Polls I mean although posts work too.

    Dohbiden (ef98f0)

  10. Are you drunk?

    Dohbiden (ef98f0)

  11. PETA is enslaving us all with it’s rhetoric.

    13th amendment should apply to animals too? baseless publicity stunt indeed.

    Dohbiden (ef98f0)

  12. my comment 10 was meant for Icy.

    Dohbiden (ef98f0)

  13. I could swear just this last week I’d read a story linked at Drudge that showed Romney was getting the most negative coverage of all of the presidential candidates. Better than Obama? I wouldn’t think that possible.

    We’ve got a ways to go before November and you know that the MSM will continue to be fully invested in the re-election of 0bama.

    Colonel Haiku (a95412)

  14. “Lies, demmed lies and Statistics”

    mojo (8096f2)

  15. Romneybots know about Lies,damned lies and Statistics.

    Dohbiden (ef98f0)

  16. They’re (WaPo) also calling for a new gun-control regime with an Editorial filled with lies and distortions…
    in other words…
    Business as usual at the Washington Compost!,-calls-for-new-semi-auto-ban-and-makes-excuses-for-eric-holder.aspx

    AD-RtR/OS! (b8ab92)

  17. Note what questions they asked, that ‘unexpectedly’ shaped the result.

    narciso (87e966)

  18. WaPo sucking on Eric Holder’s sweaty crusty balls?


    Dohbiden (ef98f0)

  19. steve (8),

    If you had any data supporting that theory, I’d be very interested in it.

    BTW, the prior WaPo poll had Romney +2, when other pollsters didn’t.

    Karl (23ce16)

  20. narciso (17),

    That’s discussed in the update as well. Imho, the issue isn’t simply that Mitt’s negatives were explored before asking the head-to-head question, but that there were no similar questions about Obama.

    Karl (23ce16)

  21. Well there’s nothing they could of think of, that would cast Obama in a bad light, Karl, certainly not the economy, or the unconstitutional recess
    appointments, or the Arab Spring, or the price of

    narciso (87e966)

  22. narciso, it’s very difficult to rain on the perfect parade.

    AD-RtR/OS! (b8ab92)

  23. Yeah, 0bama says he deserves a second term and is getting better as president… practice makes perfect.

    In a moment of crisis… just when the country was in dire need of a leader who could stop the growth of government, cut spending and foster pro-growth economic policies, the majority of voters choose rather to feel good about themselves and elect an unaccomplished incompetent.

    We should never make that mistake again… we can’t afford it!

    Colonel Haiku (a95412)

  24. iowahawkblog #ClintEastwood “These are the gritty proud streets of Detroit. Therefore, buy a Chrysler made in Italy or Canada.”

    Colonel Haiku (a95412)

  25. iowahawkblog #ClintEastwood “Remember ‘Gran Torino’? Now Chrysler makes cars worth a grand, in Torino.”

    Colonel Haiku (a95412)

  26. Karl #19: Occam’s razor. What else could more easily explain the numerous flaws in methodology committed by polling professionals? These people have spent their entire careers in polling and they conduct a survey that gets so easily called out by amateurs like you? (no offense, you know I love you).

    Take a simple matter like including adults or registered voters instead of likely voters. Sure, the cost of the latter is slightly higher but the fall off in accuracy ought to discourage any honest pollster from the former… and yet, time and time again, we see polls comprising registered voters. The same holds for conducting a poll with over-representation of a particular party, it isn’t as if this flaw hasn’t been hashed out numerous times… and here again, we see polls with exactly this flaw.

    And the common threads of each of these polls? The flaw oversamples those likely to be supportive of Obama (or Democrats in general) and thus overstates the level of support for him.

    Coincidence? Honest mistake? Really?

    steve (254463)

  27. Are their lips moving, that’s your answer,

    narciso (87e966)

  28. Hey, guys ! Cut them some slack ! If they could win elections honestly, they would do so !

    Alasdair (e7cb73)

  29. Part of the psy ops campaign which corresponds to the “jobs” number on Friday which “dropped” unemployment to 8.3.

    This is so loaded it’s pathetic. The Republicans are still in cannibal mode. Would Obama have one this time during his neck lock with Hillary Clinton?

    Even if the poll numbers were constructed to accurately reflect the voting population, they’d still be hogwash this far out.

    You can fool some of the people.

    But if you’re out of work, it’s pretty hard to get fooled by those job numbers.

    Tea Party at Perrysburg (81b7f9)

  30. _______________________________________________

    Obama leads Romney 52 to 43 percent among all Americans;

    Wow. If such a poll can be taken at face value, it suggests there must be a lot of ultra-liberal (and foolish, if not outright idiotic) people throughout American society. Or the counterparts to all the nitwits in places like Argentina, Greece, Venezula, Mexico, Haiti, France, etc. To them: “Goddamn America!”

    Mark (411533)

  31. Pollsters who conceal the details of their surveys do so for the same reason muggers wear masks.

    ropelight (3fcbf9)

  32. Sean Trende has a post up at HotAir betraying a real knowledge of statistics. Too bad pollsters can’t actually make believe some of us might have fallen asleep with our nose in the stuff.

    My big issue with these paid crapshoots on behalf of some invisible party or another is none actually model what we might expect come November.

    Sure my expectation for a rogue Donk run from the center hasn’t materialized, nor is a TEA whirlwind, but we’ll have a number of competing third parties certainly.

    Then there’s the whole electoral college issue. Ogabe, Romany, Americans Elect and the Libertarian party are going to be dividing up Blue states but the Red states could care less about them.

    gary gulrud (d88477)

  33. Wow. If such a poll can be taken at face value, it suggests there must be a lot of ultra-liberal (and foolish, if not outright idiotic) people throughout American society. Or the counterparts to all the nitwits in places like Argentina, Greece, Venezula, Mexico, Haiti, France, etc. To them: “Goddamn America!”

    Comment by Mark

    Frankly, I am not so sure.

    A lot of people don’t spend any time worrying about politics. They know the news is largely a load of confirmation bias from democrats, and they don’t even care. They want to make a steak and have a cold beer and play with their son or read a novel or watch a movie.

    For all the miseries in America today, things are relatively OK. If you have a job and you’re not an idiot, you live well.

    This is one of the insidious things about our debt. We do not feel the full burden of this government… that’s being constantly pushed back so that the people who carry that weight are not able to consent to that weight.

    Is it really so idiotic for people to live their lives not worrying about politics? What’s the difference if they do care? What’s the difference if they elect GOP deficits over Democrat ones?

    There is a difference, of course, but not enough to ultimately change the outcome we’re headed towards. It’s basically only extreme scenarios that wake America up… things like 9/11, and while Obama has been an idiot towards Honduras and I think Egypt and Iran, I don’t think he’s been so bad that people are compelled to care. He’s still blowing up bad guys.

    To me, the main issue is simply that Obama has violated the constitution quite often and the voters should show that’s unacceptable even if the GOP nominates a liberal.

    And while I admit it’s a citizens civic duty to be informed, I realize it is actually not so easy to know who to trust on news. Gardasil screaming fools who basically flip flop to endorse big government Republicans? Anchors who present MS Word documents from decades before it was invented? Too many liars… so many folks should just forget the mess and enjoy their Sam Adams.

    Dustin (401f3a)

  34. 33. “For all the miseries in America today, things are relatively OK. If you have a job and you’re not an idiot, you live well.”

    Samuleson and Bergsten on the current chaos:

    By November copacetic Amerikkka will have real cause for alarm.

    In 2009 she bottomed somewhere around 1000, we are looking at an all-time record low in the coming week.

    World depression babies.

    gary gulrud (d88477)

  35. NO JUSTICE!!! NO PEACE!!!…….oh wait sorry.

    Romney and Gingrich should have a foursome with their wives.

    Dohbiden (ef98f0)

  36. Gun control advocates whine defending yourselves makes you a racist danger to society.

    Dohbiden (ef98f0)

  37. World depression babies.

    Comment by gary gulrud

    Yeah, but my point is that our nation has a deep apathy to politics. One ingredient in that is that we just don’t suffer like people historically have. One ingredient is that it’s pretty difficult to get reliable news anyway. One ingredient is that the full burden of our government is cleverly delayed for our kids to feel instead of us. One ingredient is that it’s somewhat irrelevant. Both parties are steering this country off the cliff, one at warp speed, the other at double warp speed.

    Dustin (401f3a)

  38. Bill Gross of PIMCO, the major domestic purchaser of US Debt:

    “What incentive does a US bank have to extend maturity to a two- or three-year term when Treasury rates at that level of the curve are below the 25 basis points available to them overnight from the Fed? What incentive does Pimco or banks have to buy five-year Treasuries at 75bp when the maximum upside capital gain is two per cent of par and the downside substantially more?”

    World holdings of US Debt(apart from the Fed) turned the corner around Xmas and is now in decline.

    gary gulrud (d88477)

  39. 38. Wasn’t disputing your point only dropping the other shoe.

    ‘Bout a year ago Ryan said “America is near a tipping point”, when in fact we were slightly past that point to which he referred, not because he deceived, but because his viewpoint was provincial, not taking global economics into sufficient account.

    We have entered a stagflation regime during a time when central bankers are scared to death of asset deflation. Liquidity world wide has dried up with MF Global, our reprise of Lehman Bros.

    The stock market is at a decade low level in trading volume. We have scads of money with nowhere to put it and keep up with real inflation.

    Almost anything can tip the scales into panic in times like these. Prolly not Greece, she’s been expected to drop for months, but the anxiety is palpable.

    gary gulrud (d88477)

  40. Is Hoekstra’s ad xenophobic?

    Dohbiden (ef98f0)

  41. ‘Bout a year ago Ryan said “America is near a tipping point”, when in fact we were slightly past that point to which he referred, not because he deceived, but because his viewpoint was provincial, not taking global economics into sufficient account.

    Yeah. I don’t want to say we’re past the tipping point, just because that also feeds into the ‘politics isn’t relevant anyway’ view, but I suspect we are.

    I also think a lot of our ‘leaders’ also think we are past the tipping point, so they might as well party.

    Dustin (401f3a)

  42. obviously, the safe thing to do is invest in art and commodities.

    i suggest a selection of masterpieces from the classical artists like Remington, Colt, Browning, Garand, Mossberg, Winchester, Ruger, Mauser, etc, and lots of copper, brass, lead, primers, powder, etc.

    the next few years are going to be most exciting.

    redc1c4 (403dff)

  43. redcic4- Seeds and water purification systems are a must to go with your classics. Torches and pitchforks should be the third party logo.

    sickofrinos (44de53)

  44. Things are popping up roses all over America:

    “In the 2012 YTD period, the US Treasury recorded personal income withholding tax revenue of $592.676 billion
    In the comparable period for 2011, beginning October 1, 2010 and continuing through January 31, 2011, withholding taxes were $592.984 billion”

    1.7% growth in GDP? Better tell the IRS theys being scammed.

    gary gulrud (d88477)

  45. What some in other corners of the Republic saw in this dink is beyond me:

    gary gulrud (d88477)

  46. Brent/WTI spread climbing back up to $20.

    With record low BDI and world depression look for money to be parked SE of Singapore in oil on older tankers.

    Current market bad, futures market bad, let the stuff sit a year or two its way better than holding dollars.

    gary gulrud (d88477)

  47. Let’s get our coffee money together and send Feets flowers:

    Better tomorrows.

    gary gulrud (d88477)

  48. Santorum is an impossible candidate.

    His staying in the race is not helpful for stopping his high holy forehead.

    Sarahw (b0e533)

  49. Having her pigtails yanked, spitballs in the eye, and greased on recess asphalt is a child’s god-given right:

    Its for the chillins.

    gary gulrud (d88477)

  50. Santorum is weird

    happyfeet (3c92a1)

  51. A year or so ago I caught an ABC poll like this one and got the demographics and it was nearly 2 to 1 democrats to republicans polled.
    It was so blatant and so stupid I don’t buy any of the polls anymore. It’s all spam propaganda, and they have an agenda, and all the communists like it.

    SiliconDoc (f00599)

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