The Great Polling Conspiracy of 2012

Around this time in 2004, liberals were panicking. The Democratic nominee for president, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, was lagging behind George W. Bush, who appeared to be on his way to a second term. This was baffling, and not in a Pauline Kael kind of way. It wasn’t so much that liberals couldn’t imagine the person who would vote Bush—at the time, it wasn’t hard to find a Bush voter—but that conditions were terrible, and it was a stretch to believe that America would re-elect a president who brought the country into two messy wars and the most sluggish economy since WWII.

Obviously, these liberals decided, the problem was the polls. A cottage industry of liberal bloggers and pundits arose to explain how “biased” sampling had skewed the polls. If you weighted Republicans and Democrats correctly, they argued, then John Kerry would be ahead. But that was missing the point. Pollsters don’t weight the partisanship of the electorate in one way or another. They simply survey a large, randomly selected group of people, and report their party identification. If there are more Republicans than Democrats in a collection of samples, it’s because there are more Republicans than Democrats.

Bush won, as you might recall. One lesson that emerged: The party that complains about the polls is one that’s about to have an unhappy election night. Which brings us to today. In a bizarro version of 2004, conservative bloggers and activists are working to show that the polls are obviously skewed against Mitt Romney. After all, how could he possibly lose to a president presiding over the worst economy in a generation? One blogger, Dean Chambers, runs a blog called “Unskewed Polls,” which weighs all polls to party identification used by Rasmussen. In his version of the presidential race, Mitt Romney is winning easily, 51.8 to 44 percent.

Nobody doubts this is a fun way to hone one's math skills. What it isn’t is a good way to measure public opinion or forecast an election. Here are the facts: Romney hasn’t led in a national poll since the spring, and he has never led in a polling average. Every single national and swing-state poll has Obama with a slight-to-moderate lead, and his approval rating has reached 50 percent. Unless the entire polling community is conspiring to elect Obama (now we're getting to the real truth, are we not, Mr. Limbaugh?), the simplest answer is that Mitt Romney is losing.

Sorry, conservatives. Better polling next time!


So They Say

“My statement to the United Nations would have been, ‘The future does not belong to those who attack our embassies and consulates and kill our ambassadors. The Angel of Death in the form of an American bald eagle will visit you and wreak havoc and destruction upon your existence’.”

Allen West, Republican congressman from Florida, critiquing Obama’s speech to the U.N. 



  • Foreign policy was supposed to be a non-starter in 2012. But it's become a hot-button issue—much heat, little light—since the embassy attack in Libya was accompanied by Romney’s pre-emptive attack on Obama. 
  • The back-and-forth sparked sharp words on dueling 60 Minutes interviews. Obama replied to Romney’s criticism for not being tough enough with Iran and Syria: “If Governor Romney is suggesting that we should start another war, he should say so.”  
  • Meanwhile, Romney criticized the president for not meeting with his old pal, Benjamin Netanyahu, in New York this week.
  • Conservatives are rallying behind their man. After today’s speech at the United Nations, Obama earned screaming headlines on right-wing sites for not mentioning terrorism as the cause of the embassy attack in Libya. Which was, admittedly, different from what he told Barbara Walters just yesterday on The View: “There’s no doubt that the kind of weapons that were used, the ongoing assault, that it wasn’t just a mob action."  
  • The president's also taking flak for not defending free speech. That will be harder to do after today’s address, where he said in part: “Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offense. Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs. … Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views—even views that we disagree with."
  • Meanwhile in Lima, Ohio, Paul Ryan was making specious analogies: "I mean, turn on the TV and it reminds you of 1979 Tehran but they're burning our flags in capitals all around the world. They're storming our embassies.”  
  •  The right is also pouncing on this line from Obama’s U.N. speech: "The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.” 
  • Wanna bet we won’t see the line that followed reprinted as much? “Yet to be credible,” Obama continued, “those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see when the image of Jesus Christ is desecrated, churches are destroyed, or the Holocaust is denied.” 
  • Today at the Clinton Global Initiative, Romney repeated the central plank of his foreign-policy platform: “I will never apologize for America.”  
  • But Obama was not exactly apologizing at the U.N.: “We believe that freedom and self-determination are not unique to one culture. These are not simply American values or Western values—they are universal values.”



  • Jeffery Goldberg writes that Obama missed a chance to defend blasphemy as a basic human right.
  • Now that time has passed for embattled Republican Todd “Legitimate Rape” Aikento drop out of the Missouri Senate race, Democrats are launching their arsenal of attack ads.
  • Great Idea Dept.: Scott Brown’s staffers have decided that the way to beat Elizabeth Warren is with Indian stereotypes
  • Scott Walker takes a stand for labor. National Football League labor, at least.
  • Andy Kroll reports that a mailer from Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition compares Obama’s policies to those of Nazi Germany and Japan, while also suggesting he has “Communist beliefs.”
  • Ralph Nader calls Obama a “war criminal”—and worse than Bush.
  • John Cassidy conjures the secret transcript of Team Romney’s conference calls with big donors.



Why are Obama’s re-election chances looking so much brighter than anyone expected one year ago? A clue lies in the right track/wrong track polls. At this time last year, according toTPM’s polling averages, just 20 percent of Americans said the country was on the right track, and 73 percent said “wrong.” Now that 53-point differential has narrowed to just nine, with 42 percent saying we’re on the right track and 51 percent saying we’re still going wrong. 

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