A Fitting Coda To The Gut Vs. Data Slap Fight

After a week of comically inept warfare between the gut vs. data camps regarding the state of the 2012 race, Washington Post political writer Chris Cillizza takes stock of it all and declares a loser: polls.

Remember those golden days of this election season when a poll or two came out each week, and we political junkies pored over it with the glee of 5-year-olds at Christmas?

That joy has turned to ash in our mouths of late as each day is packed full of competing poll numbers that often seem to tell contradictory stories.

In the past week alone, at least nine polls have been released on where the presidential race stands in Ohio, and at least seven have come out in Virginia. A CBS News-Quinnipiac-New York Times poll in Virginia said that President Obama led by two points; in a Roanoke College survey, it was Mitt Romney by five. And the pollsters were in the field at the same time!

What all of that polling means is that partisans, who already live in a choose-your-own-political-reality world, can select the numbers that comply with their view of the race and pooh-pooh the data that suggest anything different.

Let's break this down. Cillizza's argument against the surfeit of polling data is that silly partisans can simply “select the numbers that comply with their view of the race and pooh-pooh the data that suggest anything different.” True enough! But what is Chris Cilllizza's view of the race? Well, he thinks it's "tight as a tick," according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post national tracking poll showing a virtual tie. In keeping with that view, he looks this past week's glut of polling data from Virginia, selects two polls that suggest a tight-as-a-tick race, and blows off the rest of the data. Meanwhile, a look at the average of all the latest Virginia polling shows something different.

So in bemoaning the partisans who cherry-pick poll data that confirm their views of the race, pundit Chris Cillizza cherry-picked data that confirm his view of the race, and then awarded the data itself the winner of “the worst week in Washington.”

Because it's the numbers that screwed up, not the people whose job it is to interpret them.