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Why You Need to Ignore Most Current Polling

Blackwell ran statewide for that office that same year, for secretary of state in 1998 and 2002 and for governor in 2006. In other words, he’s run statewide many times, including in a very high-profile gubernatorial race. That explains his strength in the early PPP survey.

Of course, Blackwell received 37 percent of the vote in his 2006 bid, the second-worst showing in an Ohio gubernatorial race since World War II, and some Republicans believe that PPP included Blackwell’s name in the survey to encourage him to run for Senate, knowing he’d have little chance of winning.

Democrats believe Rasmussen Research polling results are also intended to manipulate the Democratic field and the coverage of the general election, ultimately benefiting Republican candidates.

I suppose one could argue  early surveys that have no predictive value at least establish a baseline against which later polls can be measured. But why take a “snapshot” of a race with an early poll if you know the snapshot presents a distorted picture of the contest?

A late May 2011 CNN/Opinion Research survey asked Republicans to select their preference for their party’s presidential nomination from a list of 13 names. The leaders were Rudy Giuliani (16 percent), Mitt Romney (15 percent), Sarah Palin (13 percent), Ron Paul (12 percent) and Herman Cain (10 percent).

These results are just as instructive as were the results from a mid-July 2007 Gallup survey that found Giuliani leading the 2008 GOP race with 30 percent to runner-up Fred Thompson’s 20 percent, or the mid-August 2007 Quinnipiac poll that showed Giuliani at 28 percent to Romney’s 15 percent and Thompson’s 12 percent.

This cycle, nobody really thinks that Ron Paul or Herman Cain, no matter how “well” they are doing now in early polling, have anything more than a microscopic chance of being nominated for president in Tampa next year. And that probably is generous.

So, while newspapers, websites and even TV networks feel obligated to report on early polls that measure nothing but name identification, you don’t have to pay any attention. After all, you must have something better to do with your time.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

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