MSNBC presents outdated poll as evidence the race in battleground states is "tightening"

››› ››› DIANNA PARKER

MSNBC anchors presented "new" Arizona State University-Southwest poll numbers for New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada as evidence the race is "tightening" in those states. However, the poll was conducted over a period of 26 days and was concluded on October 17, two weeks before the results were released, and a newer poll contradicts the ASU-Southwest poll's conclusion in New Mexico.

On October 31, MSNBC Live anchors Contessa Brewer and Tamron Hall both highlighted a presidential poll as evidence the race is "tightening" in some Western battleground states. Brewer, Hall and anchor David Shuster all described the poll as "new." In fact, the poll they cited was completed two weeks before, and was conducted from September 22 to October 17. Notwithstanding the anchors' characterization of the poll as "new" and its results showing the race in New Mexico as tied, a newer poll shows Sen. Barack Obama leading there.

Shuster presented Arizona State University-Southwest poll numbers for New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada that he said "suggest it's getting closer in many states, at least some of the poll numbers." He then said, "This is an organization that has never polled in New Mexico before, according to our own political unit. But this number is getting some attention because it shows Barack Obama and John McCain tied at 46, and again, this is a state where NBC News' political unit has been projecting New Mexico in Barack Obama's column for over a month." However, a Rasmussen Reports poll conducted on October 28, 11 days after the ASU-Southwest survey was concluded, shows Obama leading in New Mexico.

From the 9 a.m. ET hour of the October 30 edition of MSNBC Live:

TAMRON HALL (anchor): We are here. The final weekend of this 2008 presidential campaign is upon us, and new poll numbers in the battleground states suggest this race is anything but a done deal.

[...]

HALL: Four days left for candidates on the trail and new polls show the race may be tightening in the battleground states. You might say it's all hands on deck in this final stretch.

[...]

CONTESSA BREWER (anchor): Coming up after the break, we'll dig deeper into the new battleground polls that show John McCain gaining ground on Barack Obama out west.

[...]

BREWER: Let's go to David at the politics desk with more on those tightening numbers in the battleground states. I did see the pumpkins out there. There is some Halloween spirit out there.

[...]

SHUSTER: We are approaching -- well, we're approaching a crucial hour in the race for the White House. And new poll numbers suggest it's getting closer in many states, at least some of the poll numbers. There's a new poll that is out of New Mexico. This is a Western poll. This is an organization that has never polled in New Mexico before, according to our own political unit. But this number is getting some attention because it shows Barack Obama and John McCain tied at 46, and again, this is a state where NBC News' political unit has been projecting New Mexico in Barack Obama's column for over a month. But, again, anytime a pollster, even one who has not polled in a state before, comes out with a number, it does get some attention.

Now, in Nevada, one of a handful of toss-up states, Obama's lead is 48-44. I've got to check and find out which pollster this one is, because, obviously, we don't have it on the screen. But in any case, the other number that's getting some attention are the numbers from Arizona, John McCain's home state, where yet another poll yesterday put Obama within striking distance. Again, political analysts tend to sort of discount any -- and here's of course another poll that shows John McCain up by 11. Do we know which poll number this one is? OK, ASU/Southwest. So, in any case, let's bring in CNBC's chief Washington correspondent John Harwood.

And, John, first of all, what do you make of -- I mean, a lot of polling out there -- some show races tightening, some show races not tightening. What do you make of it?

HARWOOD: Well, first of all, David, I just want to say from that exchange with Contessa, you sound like somebody who does not yet have a Halloween costume. So, getting a little defensive there, I know.

SHUSTER: OK.

HARWOOD: Look, I -- there are lots of polls out there. The methodology depends or influences heavily your model of the likely electorate, what the numbers are going to be. And, certainly, there are some polls nationally and in those key states, which have a wide variance in the margins. Some of those national polls show Barack Obama up 2, 3, 4, 5 points, and others show a significantly higher result. But what we're seeing in total is Barack Obama ahead in the battleground states that he needs to get over 270 electoral votes. Some tightening in some other states, but so far, we haven't seen anything and I haven't heard from any Republican pollsters any news that they have that suggests to them that John McCain is on the verge of making this a race that's much closer than we've seen so far the last few days.

SHUSTER: Well, the other thing about it, sometimes I feel like with all these polls out there, John, that maybe the best thing to do is sort of look at where the candidates are in that the candidates have their own internals that they trust more than some of these other polls. For example, if New Mexico were really in play, wouldn't we see both John McCain and Barack Obama essentially heading to New Mexico?

HARWOOD: Yes, although there are so many battlegrounds, it depends on how many electoral votes you're going for. The idea that Barack Obama might be contemplating a visit to Arizona tells you something. The fact that John McCain has been advertising on television in places like West Virginia also tells you something, although some of the West Virginia stations, of course, provide some value in the state of Virginia, which is a battleground.

But Barack Obama is trying to push the envelope here. He spent a lot of time in Florida, where I was with him yesterday. That's a state that was not high on the Obama radar early in the campaign. Older voters, more tradition-minded voters, some resistance among Jewish voters to Barack Obama -- and the fact that he sees himself as within range, that it's worth repeatedly going back, appearing with Clinton, appearing with Gore, tells you about the way in which he's trying -- pushed the envelope out to places that we didn't think where Barack Obama has a chance to win over 300 electoral votes. He could still lose the election, but he has many more opportunities to break through than John McCain appears to right now.

SHUSTER: All right, John Harwood. Thank you very much. And again, when we have that, sort of, chyron that says "Barack Obama and McCain tied in New Mexico," according to a Southwest poll, again, we should point out that this is -- at least according to our political unit -- a polling unit that has not polled in New Mexico before. So, cautionary note.

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