Double-digit deception: the truth behind recent presidential polling

Double-digit deception: the truth behind recent presidential polling


On September 7, members of the media wasted no time in heralding the results of two polls that were released in the wake of the Republican National Convention. Both polls -- one released by TIME magazine and one by Newsweek -- showed President George W. Bush with an 11-percent lead over Senator John Kerry in the race for the White House.

On the nationally syndicated Radio Factor, host Bill O'Reilly asserted that there was "a double-digit bounce for the president"; on FOX News Channel's Hannity & Colmes, right-wing pundit Ann Coulter touted the "double digits for George Bush"; and on Hardball with Chris Matthews, Boston Herald columnist Mike Barnicle remarked that "the double-digit leads sound more realistic to me." But other recent polls, and the fact that flaws have been identified in the Newsweek poll's methodology, suggest that the race remains closer than the Newsweek and TIME poll results indicate.

While the TIME and Newsweek polls (conducted August 31 through September 2 and September 2-3, respectively) showed Bush with a substantial lead, four other contemporaneous polls show a much tighter race:

•The daily Rasmussen Presidential Tracking Poll released September 7 showed the two candidates tied with 47 percent each among likely voters. In the Rasmussen poll released September 8, Bush had a 2-percent lead (48 percent to 46 percent), which is within the two-point margin of error.

•A USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll conducted September 3-5 showed Bush with a 7-percent lead (52 percent to 45 percent) among likely voters. But this represented only a small change in support for each candidate from the poll's previous results, which eleven days earlier showed Bush with a 3-percent lead (50 percent to 47 percent). The margin of error was +/-3 percent.

•An ICR/International Communications Research poll conducted September 1-5 found that of "registered voters who are certain they will vote, 48.2 percent say they will vote for George W. Bush, 47.3 percent for John Kerry, and 4.1 percent for others or undecided." The margin of error was +/-3.5 percent.

•A Zogby poll conducted August 30 through September 2 (overlapping with the TIME magazine poll) showed Bush with a 2-percent lead over Kerry (46 percent to 44 percent) among likely voters. The margin of error was +/-3.2 percent.

Moreover, John Zogby, president and CEO of independent polling firm Zogby International, has pointed out significant flaws in the Newsweek poll. On September 7, Zogby explained that poll's sample was weighted too heavily Republican:

Their [Newsweek's] sample of registered voters includes 38% Republican, 31% Democrat and 31% Independent voters. If we look at the three last Presidential elections, the spread was 34% Democrats, 34% Republicans and 33% Independents (in 1992 with Ross Perot in the race); 39% Democrats, 34% Republicans, and 27% Independents in 1996; and 39% Democrats, 35% Republicans and 26% Independents in 2000. While party identification can indeed change within the electorate, there is no evidence anywhere to suggest that Democrats will only represent 31% of the total vote this year.

Right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh addressed the issue on the September 7 edition of The Rush Limbaugh Show, offering a different perspective on the flawed Newsweek poll: "Some people speculated that the TIME and Newsweek polls were weighted with Republicans so as to show a Kerry rebound down the road when the double-digit lead doesn't hold. Now, I don't know if the media would actually do that, do you?"

Polling, 2004 Elections
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