Rove and His White Board Explain the Polls

Karl Rove, a hero to much of the Right and a demon figure of the Left.  Frankly I have never been that impressed by Rove.  In 2000 he almost threw away a race that Bush was winning going away due to his inability to have Bush admit early in the campaign that he had once been arrested for drunk driving.  He should have told Bush, or more likely Mrs. Bush, that everything tends to come out in a presidential campaign.  Instead a Democrat political operative springs this the weekend before the election and converts an easy Bush win into a national ordeal.  In 2004 a fairly lackadaisical Bush campaign struggled to defeat John Kerry, a weak candidate who should have been little challenge.

Having said that, Rove in the video above does an excellent job  demonstrating why most presidential horserace polls, with their fixation on the 2008 electorate are, to be blunt, crap.

Michael Barone, who I have always regarded as the best political prognosticator, yesterday on the Hugh Hewitt show talked about problems with the current batch of polls:

MB: Well, I think, you know, I think there’s some serious questions about them. You know, we have to put this in context, Hugh. There’s some real problems with public opinion polling as an instrument. First of all, it’s inherently inexact. You know, random selection theory tells you that there’s an error margin, and that one out of twenty polls is outside that error margin. So let’s always keep that in mind. Second, there are low response rates now, which are a real problem. The PewResearchCenter reports that only 9% of the people that it calls are responding to polls. That’s way down from historic levels, and it raises the question are those people representative of the population as a whole that they’re trying to sample? You know, one thing that polls can’t tell you is the characteristics of people who won’t be polled. So that raises some serious questions. Are we getting skewed samples? We know from the exit poll phenomenon over the last many cycles that the exit poll results tend to come in more Democratic than the actual vote does, and measured at the same precincts. So there’s a question there. And third, we have an increasing population of cell phone only individuals, or households, who are probably tend to be younger, and probably in this election more Democratic than the population as a whole. Pollsters cannot use robocalls to call these people. They have to make expensive calls to cell phone exchanges, hand dialed, and this poses a real problem for public opinion pollsters. It’s more expensive. How many cell phone only people do you call? If those, if that population is, as the pollsters believe, significantly more Democratic, the decision on how many you call is going to affect the outcome of your poll. So and the fact is that we don’t know, because we’ve had an increase in the cell phone only population, what percentage of the voters they will turn out to be. So those are three problems that the pollsters face. Having said all that, looking at, for example, these Quinnipiac results, as you note, we see that they are more Democratic now than went Democratic in the 2010 electorate, which nationally was 35% Democratic, 35% Republican in party identification, but more Democratic than the 2008 electorate, which was 39% Democratic, 32% Republican by party ID. That’s out of line with what most political observers would have expected the outcome to be this year. Up until the Democratic convention, polling showed a consistently higher degree of enthusiasm, significantly higher, among people identifying as Republicans than among people identifying as Democrats. That gap has diminished, and I think I’ve seen one Gallup poll that said that self-identified Democrats actually expressing more enthusiasm after the Democratic convention. So it’s possible that we, you know, that Democrats are more likely to pass through the screens as likely voters or registered voters, or people interested in voting through the pollsters’ screens than they were prior to the Democratic convention. But we’ve seen these kind of polls all along, and they’re, you know, I think that you want to look at them with an asterisk in mind.

The polls I trust are Rassmussen and Gallup.  They diverged greatly yesterday with Rasmussen showing a two point Romney lead with leaners and Gallup showing a six point Obama bounce.  Rasmussen uses a likely voter screen and Gallup is still using registered voters.  Additionally Gallup uses a seven day rolling average and Rasmussen uses a three day.  They have normally been quite close this cycle.  We will see what today brings.


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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.


  1. I’m not much of a Rove fan either. I was listeing to him on a talk radio show, I think it might have been Michael Medved. And he was going on about how Romney should come right out and say Obama is lying. However, he did say he can say, “That’s not true Mr. President and you know it isn’t true.” But isn’t that the same as saying he’s lying? I say the only way to call someone a lying bastard is to call him a lying bastard.

  2. I was polled only once in my life and that was many years ago when Hillary Clinton was running for the NY Senate seat. I remember how they were phrasing every question in a way that no matter how you answered, it would come out positive for Hillary. After telling the guy who was asking me the questions, time and time again, that under no circumstance would I EVER vote for Clinton, he asked me why? I told him because of her position on abortion, especially partial birth abortion. He started to laugh at me in a very sneering, sarcastic way and I just hung up the phone on him. That is how they operate. Plus, I’ve never been polled again. I guess my name was just taken off the list.

    Here’s another interesting tidbit regarding the election: Cardinal Dolan, who gave the closing prayer at the convention, shares Ronald Reagan’s birthday, February 6th. When Timothy Dolan was born, Reagan was celebrating his 39th birthday. A coincidence?

  3. Reagan celebrated his 39th birthday for many years.

    As for Rove, I don’t know anyone who considers him a hero. The more rightward you go, the more you find animosity toward him. I don’t know if that’s fair or not, but he tends to get lumped in with the more moderate compromise-oriented Republican talking heads.

  4. In 2000 he almost threw away a race that Bush was winning going away due to his inability to have Bush admit early in the campaign that he had once been arrested for drunk driving.
    –Donald R. McClarey

    The Bush DUI arrest story came out in the press during the early part of 2000 during the primaries. It was concerning to some people (mostly McCain supporters) but didn’t derail the Bush campaign for the GOP nomination. Follow up stories mentioned more about Bush’s past drinking and that it had imperiled his marriage before he gave up alcohol completely. The story then died.

    In the fall campaign season, the Establishment Media resurrected the DUI arrest story at the behest of Gore operatives and misleadingly played it up as if it were an entirely new and unheard of revelation. Bush partisans considered that episode to be an instance of the Establishment Media (NYT and alphabet networks, I’m looking at you) shamelessly taking sides with the left-liberal team on the political playing field. Of course, now the track record of the Establishment Media playing hard for its favorite candidate is well established (ask Hillary Clinton’s 2008 supporters) but in 2000 accusations that Big Media played dirty pool weren’t taken seriously by The Serious People – that was considered Rush Limbaugh crazy talk – so the media was able to blindside the Rove’s Bush campaign operation late in the fall campaign.

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