Disputed new swing states poll gives President Obama edge

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 1 2012 5:07 p.m. MDT

President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign event at Mansfield Central Park, Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012, in Mansfield, Ohio. Obama is campaign in Ohio with stops in Mansfield and Akron today. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Pablo Martinez Monsivais, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Three new swing state polls sponsored by Quinnipiac University, the New York Times and CBS News gives President Barack Obama the edge in Florida and Ohio and a double digit lead in Pennsylvania. The polls are likely voter samples, which means that they are supposed to reflect an accurate image of who is likely to turnout in November.

The polls gave the president a 6-point edge in both Ohio and Florida, and a larger 11-point lead in Pennsylvania. But conservative skeptics were quick to point out that the polls' assumptions about turnout may be highly unrealistic.

In the New York Times report on the polls, the authors offered detailed analysis of what the polls might mean, including what themes are catching voter attention.

"But a torrent of television advertising in the states, particularly in Ohio and Florida, appears to be resonating in Mr. Obama’s quest to define his Republican rival," the New York Times report suggested. "The polls found that more voters say Mr. Romney’s experience was too focused on making profits at Bain Capital, the private equity firm he led, rather than the kind of experience that would help create jobs."

"The findings cannot be compared with previous surveys because the polls are a measure of people who are likely to vote," the New York Times story noted, "rather than those who are simply registered. While the intensity of the race is high, it remains an open question how much the summer campaigning will influence the outcome."

Oddly, nowhere in the 1,200-word New York Times report is there any indication of how the poll sample broke down. The reader is told that the respondents are "likely voters" and how many were surveyed, but not their party affiliation. That information is also missing from the CBS News report on the poll.

For details about the partisan breakdown of the sample, one would need to go to conservative pundits. Or one might plow through the detailed results of the poll itself.

Jim Geraghty at National Review succinctly sums up the poll's sampling problems: "When Quinnipiac asked its swing state samples, “Did you vote for Barack Obama or John McCain in 2008? Obama enjoys a 13-percentage-point margin in Florida and a 15-percentage-point margin in Ohio. Of course, in 2008, Obama won Florida by three percentage points and Ohio by 4.6 percentage points. So these are some really heavily Democrat samples."

Or as John Podhoretz of Commentary put it, "If today’s Quinnipiac polls are right, there are more Obama voters in Florida today than in 2008, and the same number in Ohio and Pennsylvania as in ‘08. Choose to believe if you want.” Podhoretz also notes that the polls gives Obama a 22-point lead among independents in Pennsylvania, which also does not ring true, he argues.

Ed Morrissey at Hot Air piles on. "In other words, these polls are entirely predictive if one believes that Democrats will outperform their turnout models from the 2008 election in Florida and Ohio. That would require a huge boost in Democratic enthusiasm and a sharp drop off in Republican enthusiasm."

The bottom line for critics is that the Quinnipiac/NYT/CBS polls assume that Democrats will turn out in larger proportions for Obama than they did in 2008. This, they argue, is hard to imagine given the historic enthusiasm for Obama and the Bush fatigue that suppressed GOP turnout. With the economy lagging, the president should be facing enthusiasm headwinds, which is what recent Gallup polls have found.

Eric Schulzke writes on national politics for the Deseret News. He can be contacted at eschulzke@desnews.com.

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