Polling as Data or Propaganda?

The Lexington Herald-Leader, Louisville Courier-Journal and TV stations WKYT (Lexington) and WHAS (Louisville) have combined their efforts for polling purposes this year, having the polling outfit SurveyUSA (called the Bluegrass Poll) conduct a number of polls regarding the Senate race between republican incumbent Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Kentucky State Secretary Alison Grimes, the media's choice. There have been a flurry of polls lately, SurveyUSA's results markedly different from highly acclaimed national polling organizations like the Rasmussen Reports and CBS/New York Times pollsters. A Bluegrass Poll in February showed Grimes ahead.

Another Bluegrass Poll was conducted in late August showing that the media's own poll had McConnell ahead by four points, triggering a Mellman Poll hired by Grimes in early September that showed Grimes was ahead by two points. During that same period, the nationally highly regarded Rasmussen polling had McConnell ahead by five points. Another poll was conducted by Mellman in September, with Grimes beating McConnell one or two points. During a late September poll conducted by the New York Times and CBS (both McConnell haters), McConnell was ahead by six points.

On 20 October, the results of yet another “Bluegrass Poll” were noted in the media with McConnell ahead but by only one point. On 17 October, Rasmussen reported its results, which had McConnell ahead 52%-44%. The inordinate disparity in the polls is obvious. During polling from January through June this year, Gallup discovered citizens leaning republican as opposed to democrat 45%-39%.

Six years ago, McConnell defeated Bruce Lunsford to keep his seat. A look at that race in 2008 is instructive. On 21 October that year, Rasmussen had McConnell ahead 50%-43%, while SurveyUSA (Bluegrass Poll gang?) on 20 October called the race even, 48%-48%. That's a huge differential, well beyond believability.

On 29 October just before the 2008 election, Rasmussen had McConnell ahead by 51%-44% but, strangely, SurveyUSA (Bluegrass Poll?) also had McConnell ahead by an even greater face-saving margin, 53%-45%, indicating an eight-point swing in just nine days, a total departure from reality and reason to wonder how something that unbelievable could happen unless Lunsford maybe robbed a bank. He didn't. McConnell won the election by 53%-47%. Obvious question: Were the Bluegrass and Mellman Polls real, imagined or just plain media propaganda?

Flash forward to 2014. The latest Bluegrass Poll, 31 October, showed McConnell ahead by 48%-43% with a huge margin of error of 4.1 points (only 597 likely voters polled), meaning that McConnell's lead could be 50%-41%. Just 11 days before, the Bluegrass Poll had a differential of only a point. The CBS/New York Times on 26 October—during that period—showed McConnell ahead by 45%-39%. Was the Bluegrass Poll attempting to somehow save face? Were the Mellman Polls rigged?

Should the voter believe the nationally acclaimed polls or polls ginned up by local candidates and institutions having their own agendas? The media instigators of the “Bluegrass Poll” have a long history of McConnell-bashing and have been fervent in their opposition to him, even though he's been a Senate leader for many years and likely will become Majority Leader if republicans win back the Senate.

Using “fixed” polls, besides being dishonest and condescending, may actually help get out the republican vote on the chance that some republicans actually believe them. CNN reported on 21 June that newspapers, TV news outlets and Internet news outlets enjoyed ratings-approvals determined by Gallop at 22%, 18%, and 19% of the population, respectively, for an average of 20%. So, who's gullible—the people or the media?

And so it goes.
Jim Clark