Polls Are Stupid Things


The current election narrative—Republicans lose their way, Democrats stumble into near-certain victory—is getting a little dull, so bloggers with some GOP sympathizers are scouting for polls that could prophesy a Republican comeback. It's a good time to point out two things everyone seems to be ignoring in the partisan heat wave.

– Sample size. A SurveyUSA phone poll in Virginia gives George Allen a 5-point lead in his Senate race. But according to the pollsters he's winning 21 percent of the black vote (although that's not what he calls it) and a whopping 74 percent of the Hispanic vote. Why so high? Because the pollsters called small, volatile samples of minority voters. Only 88 black and 19 Hispanic Virginians were asked if they'd vote for Allen or Webb, and they happened to be disproportinately Republican. Or does someone want to bet that Allen wins a 3-1 landslide of Hispanic votes in six weeks?

– State-by-state trends. Shockingly, Tim Graham alleges media bias in a story about Bush dragging down Ohio Republican candidates.

The Post says: "The president's approval ratings may be in the drain, but the first lady still regularly scores in the high sixties." In the drain?? The ratings are not spectacular, but they're rising. Look at the trend. USA Today has him up to 44 percent, L.A. Times-Bloomberg at 45. Try May or June if you want to locate "the drain," when it was 10 points or so lower.

Little-known fact: The USA consists of 50 states and the District of Columbia, all of which are holding separate elections in November. In the last Survey USA poll of Ohio roughly two weeks back, Bush's approval clocked in at 34 percent, which is basically where other state polls put him. That's one of the GOP's structural bummers this year. Since they fluffed challenges to incumbent senators in pro-Bush states like North Dakota, Nebraska, and West Virginia, they're trying to win Senate seats in places like Maryland (Bush 34 percent), New Jersey (Bush 32 percent), and Michigan (Bush 33 percent). Bush's approval has partially rebounded in deep red states, which has a nice positive effect on the national polls. But a fat lot of good that does Republican candidates in the states where he's losing a popularity contest to John Mark Karr. (Remember him?)