MSNBC's Mitchell cherry-picked polls to claim “GOP gaining ground” ; CNN's O'Brien ignored own polling to claim race is “tightening”

On the November 6 edition of MSNBC's election special, Decision 2006: Battleground America, host and NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell asserted that new national polls “show Republicans gaining ground.” She went on to cite three recent surveys -- from the Pew Research Center, Washington Post/ABC News, and USA Today/Gallup -- that found Republicans within four, six, and seven percentage points, respectively, of Democrats on the generic congressional ballot. But as Bloomberg Washington managing editor Al Hunt noted in response, there are several other recent polls that show Democrats with leads in excess of 15 percentage points, including those from Time, CNN, and even MSNBC's news partner, Newsweek.

CNN's poll, taken most recently, shows Democrats with a 20-point lead on the generic ballot among likely voters. Nonetheless, on the November 6 edition of CNN's American Morning, co-host Soledad O'Brien noted the new survey then, moments later, asserted that the “race is tightening.”

On Battleground America, Mitchell discussed the recent polls with Hunt and Newsweek White House correspondent Holly Bailey. During the segment, Mitchell cited -- and an onscreen graphic displayed -- three recent polls showing Democrats leading by, at most, seven percentage points. These included:

  • USA Today/Gallup (11/2 -- 11/5): Democrats, 51 percent -- Republicans, 44 percent

Mitchell asserted that the above polls show the “GOP gaining ground.” Bailey added that this “might be a sign the GOP turnout machine is working” and claimed that the Pew poll “is very important” because White House senior adviser Karl Rove and Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman consider it “a bible ... in terms of how to construct their turnout machine.”

Hunt, meanwhile, described the reporting that the Republicans are “closing” on the Democrats as “extremely exaggerated.” He went on to cite the other recent polls “that show 14-, 15-, 20-point gaps” in favor of the Democrats, including from Newsweek -- Bailey's magazine and a news partner of MSNBC -- Time, and CNN. Following are the generic-ballot findings in those three polls, as well as the recent CBS News/New York Times survey:

  • Newsweek (11/2 -- 11-3): Democrats 54 percent -- Republicans 38 percent
  • CNN (11/3 --11/5): Democrats, 58 percent -- Republicans 38 percent
  • Time (11/1 -- 11/3): Democrats, 55 percent -- Republicans, 40 percent

Earlier in the day, on CNN's American Morning, O'Brien cited her network's new poll showing Democrats with a 20-point lead on the generic congressional ballot. She went on to note that some individual races are “too close to call” and then began a discussion of the election with Democratic strategist James Carville and Republican strategist Charles Black by asserting that “the race is tightening.” Carville responded, “How's it tightening? You have it 58 to 38. That doesn't seem to be very tight if we believe our poll -- it's at 20 points.”

From the November 6 edition of the MSNBC's special Decision 2006: Battleground America:

MITCHELL: Do you think that the stem cell issue does actually carry a lot of weight in individual states? Or is this really a national referendum on Iraq and on the Bush presidency?

HUNT: I think it's more the latter. Stem cell, minimum wage, gay marriage may make a teeny difference on the margins. And if there's -- if the races are as close as your polls suggest, the margins matter. But I think in most places it's going to be broader economic and Iraq issues.

MITCHELL: Let's talk a bit now about these new polls showing Republicans now gaining ground. Are conservative voters coming home, as RNC chairman Ken Mehlman has said? And if so, why is this happening? Let's first of all look at Rhode Island Senate. You've got a pair -- first the Pew poll and the Washington Post/ABC poll and the NBC/Gallup poll all indicating that the GOP gaining ground. Before we look at those races, Holly, what do you think? Is there a narrowing here? Is this a natural tendency because of the Republican effort and possibly some of those robocalling campaigns?

BAILEY: I think -- you know, I think everybody has sort of expected to see tightening in the last few days of the campaign. And this -- you know, what's interesting is, you know, this might be a sign that the GOP turnout machine is working. One thing that I would note is that the Pew poll is very important. Karl Rove, Ken Mehlman have looked at this poll and used it as a bible, in a way, of -- in terms of how to construct their turnout machine. And so I can't imagine that they're not thrilled with what they're seeing today.

MITCHELL: Doesn't the Pew poll show that it's down to six points in terms of the -- in the terms of the generic of whether or not you would want a Democrat or a Republican to control Congress?

BAILEY: Absolutely. And Democrats are -- you know, the polls are still showing that they're in the lead, but, you know, Republicans have certainly tightened that. And, you know, that's the one thing that we've been looking for is whether the turnout machine is going to be working.

MITCHELL: Al, I don't know anyone who knows polling better than you, having done these polls for, you know, decades. How do you read these polls? Is it possible to interpret a national poll to reflect what's really going to happen in individual congressional states?

HUNT: It's a guide of sorts. I think the closing has been enormously exaggerated. I think there's a little bit of coming home -- that always happens. There's some other polls including Holly's magazine's poll, Time, CNN that show 14-, 15-, 20-point gaps. I tend not to believe those either. The Pew poll, which is a very good poll -- Andy Kohut [president of the Pew Research Center] is great -- I think there's maybe a flaw in it.

MITCHELL: In the sample?

HUNT: It assumes that people -- there will be more Republicans than Democrats who turn out on Election Day. If that's the case, it's right. I'd be very surprised. I think it's still incredibly similar to where it was in 1994.

From the November 6 edition of CNN's American Morning:

O'BRIEN: This morning, a day before Americans decide which party is going to control Congress, a final look at where the battle stands. New Opinion Research Corporation polls for CNN just released shows 58 percent of likely voters, 54 percent of registered voters will vote for a Democrat. That could help the Democrats pick up 15 seats they need to regain the House and six seats they need to control the Senate.

Meanwhile, the president's popularity is still low -- 61 percent disapprove of how the president's doing his job.

The election, of course, is going to be decided in those head-to-head contests, and some of them at this point are way too close to call. So let's take a look at how both sides see the campaign this morning. CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist James Carville is with us in New York. In Washington, D.C., Republican strategist Charles Black is with us.

Nice to see you both. Thanks for joining us.

Let's begin with James Carville -- 24 hours to go. The race is tightening. More than even the last time we spoke a couple of days ago. Realistically, is there anything that can be done at this point?

CARVILLE: How's it tightening? You have it 58 to 38. That doesn't seem to be very tight if we believe our poll -- it's at 20 points.

O'BRIEN: In some of the specific races, they're absolutely neck and neck.

CARVILLE: Well, some specific races -- I mean, probably with about 20 points, we'll pick up 300 seats. Some of them are very close, yes.

O'BRIEN: But my question is, what can realistically be done at this stage of the game?

CARVILLE: A lot of pacing. You know, you got GOTV [get-out-the-vote operations] effort, they're making phone calls, they're sending out mail -- I mean, they're doing a lot of things. I don't know how much of it is gonna matter. But it's not gonna be for a lack of action in these campaign headquarters, I promise you that.