As those last handful of votes (well, a few million votes, probably) are being tallied, the outcome in virtually every race in the 2012 election is now known. In particular, we now know that President Barack Obama has been reelected, most likely with 332 electoral votes, and has become the first Democratic president since FDR to be elected to two terms with a majority of the vote in both of his victories.
Which means that today would be an excellent time to revisit some of the "greatest" moments in polling analysis in this cycle.
(Continue reading below the fold)
Exhibit A: David Paleologos, director of polling for the unit at Suffolk University:
With a little less than a month until the election, one pollster says the race in three battleground states is over for President Barack Obama.Unless Mitt Romney can pull about 50,000 votes out of his arse in Florida, of course, Paleologos is going to need a shitload of paint thinner. He erred on two out of three of his bold, Fox News-fueled predictions.
“I think in places like North Carolina, Virginia and Florida, we’ve already painted those red," David Paleologos, the president of Suffolk University Political Research Center told Fox host Bill O'Reilly on Tuesday. "We’re not polling any of those states again. We're focusing on the remaining states.”
The most audacious thing about Paleologos' hubris, at the time, was that Obama was leading Romney in Suffolk's two most recent polls in Florida and Virginia. So, with that in mind, why did he feel so emboldened to write the president off in those two states?
Because: Paleologos (a professional pollster, mind you) fell for the idiotic and long ago discredited "50 percent rule":
"Before the debate, the Suffolk poll had Obama ahead 46 to 43 [in Florida] in the head-to-head number,” Paleologos responded. “A poor place to be for a couple of reasons. Number one, his ballot test, his head-to-head number was below 47 percent before the debate, and it’s very, very difficult when you have the known quantity, the incumbent, to claw your way up to 50. So that was a very, very poor place for him to be."By the way, Suffolk did four polls after this bold declaration by their head honcho. One of them (Massachusetts) was wildly off in favor of President Obama. The other three, however, all erred to the favor of Mitt Romney. Suffolk had New Hampshire and Ohio tied, and had the president up by just two points in Nevada.
"So we’re looking at this polling data not only in Florida but in Virginia and North Carolina and it’s overwhelming."
Ironically, the places where Suffolk's final month polling came closest to the pin were: Florida and Virginia. The two states he polled right before declaring the president politically dead in the trio of southern swing states.
Exhibit B: Brad Coker, the director of polling for Mason-Dixon:
“I’m pretty convinced Romney’s going to win Florida,” said Mason-Dixon pollster Brad Coker, who conducted the 800-likely voter survey from Tuesday through Thursday.The poll referenced in the article, by the way, was one showing Mitt Romney leading Barack Obama 51-45, less than a week prior to the presidential election in Florida. Florida, of course, is a state where at last check Barack Obama held a lead of 47,000 votes.
“Will it be five points? Maybe. Will it be three points? Possibly,” Coker said, of what he expects Romney’s margin will be. “I don’t think it’s going to be a recount … I don’t think we’re going to have a recount-race here.”
Florida, as it happens, was not the only miss for Mason-Dixon in the 2012 cycle.
They missed Montana horribly, as a poll released the weekend before the election had Republican Senate candidate Denny Rehberg wresting the seat of Democratic Sen. Jon Tester by four points (instead, it was Tester who won by four points). His firm was the one that caught a ton of attention by posting a poll showing Barack Obama up just three points in Minnesota (Obama won by 8). They had Claire McCaskill up just two points in Missouri, and she won by double digits.
But no poll this entire cycle was more embarrassing than the debacle Mason Dixon experienced last weekend. They got a lot of attention last week when their final poll in the Salt Lake City-based Utah 4th district showed incumbent Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson down 52-40 to Republican upstart Mia Love. But then, astoundingly, the firm was forced to "unskew" its own poll. Rushing to meet a deadline, Coker's team accidentally attributed statewide party weighting to the (more Democratic) 4th district. Thus, they recalibrated, and instead said Mia Love was up by seven points instead of 12.
She lost by 3,000 votes.
Exhibit C: Charlie Mahtesian of Politico:
The Democratic automated polling firm Public Policy Polling has come in for a great deal of criticism this year, mainly from Republicans questioning its motives and methodology.Unlike the other two examples, I'll largely give Mahtesian a pass here. For one thing, he is, far and away, the best elections guy over at Politico, and one of the better ones, period.
The prolific pollster regularly produces quality work, but its Democratic affiliations and occasionally suspect practices [here and here] have led Republicans to dismiss its findings in the same manner that Democrats dismiss Rasmussen polls as biased toward the GOP.
Now, almost on cue, PPP has delivered a final series of state polls that puts President Barack Obama in the lead in Michigan, Pennsylvania and every battleground state except North Carolina — where it reports a 49-49 tie.
Against the backdrop of a highly competitive election, the uniformity of those results — and the fact that PPP shows 5- to 6-point spreads in Colorado, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania — puts the firm out on a ledge.
But here, I have to call it as it is: to conflate Rasmussen with PPP (even in "some say" framing) is simply bunk, and it's been that way for a while. In 2010, PPP's late cycle polling results erred equally. That is to say, they overestimated the GOP margins as often as they did for the Democrats.
The House of Ras, meanwhile, overestimated in favor of the Republicans 81 percent of the time.
While I haven't crunched the numbers for 2012 yet (they are, of course, still being counted), the anecdotal evidence here is brutal for the Mahtesian comparison.
PPP hit the national poll right on the margin (Rasmussen erred on the side of the GOP by three points). Meanwhile, PPP can safely come off the ledge, since those 5-6 point leads were essentially confirmed (Ohio is the lone exception). Colorado will be five points once the rest of Denver comes in (according to Politico's map, that's the only area that hasn't completely reported). Pennsylvania is already there, and PPP actually undercut the Democratic edge in New Hampshire, Michigan and Wisconsin. They did, however, hit Virginia and Florida right on the screws.
I also do not want to single Mahtesian out here, because the dismissiveness of PPP has become a staple of the traditional press. One has to wonder how many times they have to nail an election to get that stigma lifted. They're not merely "a Democratic polling firm." They're a damned good one. Period.
Conversely, one has to wonder how many times Rasmussen has to slice it into the woods before the media stops paying attention to their data, as well.