Moving the Bar

Since the end of the Republican National Convention, national poll after poll has shown John McCain with a growing lead. These numbers have left many, particularly those on the liberal blogs, in a state of shock. The worry expressed by many in the liberal blogoshpere has been met by cool confidence from the Obama campaign. Perhaps they have something to be confident about.

Earlier this evening, Huffington Post contributor Seth Walls offered this assessment of what’s going on and why these polls are, as suspected, at least “outliers” if not statistical fabrications.

Since the beginning of September, polling outfits have shifted the weighting of their polls to reflect more Republicans than previous polls. In a year that saw record Democratic turnout throughout the Primary season, and huge gains in Democratic identification and Democratic voter registration, polling outfits have decided, suddenly, to increase the number of self identified Repulicans in their samples by up to 6%. Further, in a poll taken by Gallup, not only did they increase the number of Republicans sampled, but they decreased the number of Democrats.

Now, this tells us something about polling. As the old saying goes, “there are lies, damn lies, and statistics”. Political polls are a statistical sample of the electorate based on a special kind of voodoo. Sometimes they poll “registered voters” other, the more fluid “likely voter”. The difference in a poll of “Registered” and “Likely” may not be much, probably within the margin of error, but adding an arbitrary number of one flavor of party identification or another will obviously net a more favorable result for the party that benefited from the gain.

Look, I’m not a big poll watcher. I pay attention to them, because they’re there. If they weren’t, I probably wouldn’t miss them. Hell, the daily tracking polls are just about useless. We’re not watching the frickin’ stock market here. On the flip side, from a news standpoint, polls seem to be the only indicator that gets any play, and that’s where it gets dicey.

If news organizations are going to focus on polls then they need to inform the public about the dirty secrets they hold. If we’re going to elect a President on something other than issues, like “story” or “popularity”, then at least tell the real story behind the sudden shifts in polling. I know facts turn people off, but they’re necessary, no matter what the McCain campaign says.

Further, nothing makes me angrier than something that brings the concern trolls or the “I told ya so’s” out from under the bridge. Yeah, I know we need them to get out and vote as much as anyone else, so I won’t go off and call them a dirty name, but these folks are unstable. You’re messing with their mental health here. The last thing we need is a bunch of depressed manic-depressives out there freaking out about something that they have made a conscious decision to not understand.

Finally, there’s a smell in the air of shenanigans. All of the polls mentioned in the article are either paid for by, or in cooperation with a news media outlet. Now I know boring politics can’t be driving eyeballs to their newscasts, but nothing excites Americans like watching an underdog rise up, or some smarty-pants pol fall from grace. What’s going on here smells a lot like national media outlets ginning up a horse race to drive ratings. I know, it’s out there, but remember, just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

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