Andrew Malcolm Does Not Understand Polling (Or Pretends He Doesn't)

Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

In theory, part of the reason why a news organization would put a former partisan political operative like Andrew Malcolm in charge of writing its politics blog is that his experience working in politics helps him understand what he's writing about. In theory. In Malcolm's case, however, it's clear that he either doesn't understand the first thing about politics, or he's willing to pretend he doesn't in order to score political points.

Today, for example, Malcolm writes about a Gallup poll asking respondents whether they are likely to vote for President Obama in 2012, or for an unspecified Republican candidate. Such poll questions are not uncommon, and are not completely meaningless (though the predictive value of horserace polls nearly two years in advance of an election is rather limited.) But Malcolm completely misunderstands (or pretends to misunderstand) the poll question, claiming it means Obama is tied with "any" Republican rather than a generic Republican:

Obama 2012 support slips; Now, any generic Republican ties him

President Obama's done a lot of talking recently about Winning the Future. Trouble is, he's not. Politically.

At this moment -- 57% of the way through a first term with only 628 days left until the 2012 presidential election -- the Democrat can only tie any conceivable Republican candidate.

Last February Obama led a generic Republican 44-42. This February, after the invisible "Recovery Summer" and Democrats' historic midterm election shellacking, any Republican ties Obama at 45-45.

You get the picture. In all, Malcolm uses the "any" construct to describe a generic opponent four times, including in his headline. But that simply isn't what the Gallup question assess -- and, again, Gallup's construct is not uncommon, and should be familiar to someone who has covered and worked in politics. The question didn't assess Obama's standing vis-a-vis "any conceivable Republican candidate" -- it assessed his standing versus a generic Republican candidate about whom respondents know nothing. That's pretty much the opposite of "any conceivable Republican candidate."

To see just how false Malcolm's description is, let's look at polling pitting Obama against one "conceivable Republican candidate" -- Malcolm favorite Sarah Palin. A Fox News poll conducted February 7-9 has Obama routing Palin, 56-35. A McClatchy-Marist poll conducted January 6-10 has Obama beating Palin 56-30. A December 9-13 NBC poll has Obama beating Palin 55-33. Not that Palin is the only "conceivable Republican" who struggles in head-to-head match-ups with the President: That Fox poll shows Obama up 30 points on Jeb Bush, 20 on Newt Gingrich, 8 on Mike Huckabee and 7 on Mitt Romney.

In short, polling shows Obama with a lead over just about every conceivable Republican candidate. But Andrew Malcolm, who must be a fool, a liar, or both, writes that a poll pitting Obama against an unspecified Republican indicates that he can't beat any conceivable Republican -- the absurdity of which should be readily apparent to a political "analyst" and former operative like Andrew Malcolm. Or to a reasonably-bright fourth-grader, for that matter. And the Los Angeles Times pays him for this nonsense.

Los Angeles Times
Andrew Malcolm
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