The Great Poll Scam, Part III: Daves, Goliath

Rob Daves took over the Minnesota Poll in 1987.

Rob Daves

Rob Daves

I have never met Rob Daves.  Either, to the best of my knowledge, has anyone else.  I don’t know that his alt-media bete noir, Scott Johnson, has even met him, despite not a few requests for interviews.

I have no idea what Rob Daves thinks, believes, wants, says or does.  I know nothing about his personal life, and I really don’t want or need to.  For all I know, he’s a perfectly wonderful human being.

But for a 20 year period under his direction, the Minnesota Poll turned into an epic joke.

How epic?

The numbers don’t lie.


During the Rob Daves years, party politics in Minnesota skittered all over the map.  The governors office started DFL, changed hands, and maybe have changed back last week – we’ll see.  The Reagan/Bush 41 era seesawed to Clinton, then Dubya, and now Obama; both Senate seats started Republican; both switched to the DFL, eventually.

There has, in short, been a lot of variety, at least in terms of the Party ID winning the various elections.

But the Minnesota Poll has been oddly homogenous.

Throughout the Rob Daves era, the Democratic or DFL candidate in Presidential, Gubernatorial and Senate races has gotten an average of 45.68% of the vote, to 45.21% for the GOP.  That’s very, very close.

Some of the races have been blowouts – Amy Klobuchar’s 20 point drubbing of Mark Kennedy, Arne Carlson’s 30 point hammering of John Marty – and some, like our 2008 Senate and 2010 Governor races, have been (or still are) painfully close.

But you’d never know it from the Minnesota poll. The average vote totals – between the blowouts and upsets and squeakers – during Daves’ 1987-2007 tenure favored the DFL, barely, by 45.98 to 45.34%.  But the Minnesota Polls released just before all those elections showed the population favoring the DFL by 43.33 to 39.89%.

And of 18 total contests, the polling inaccuracies skewed in the direction of the DFL in 15.   The average skew toward the DFL came to almost three percentage points.

When you break things out, the differences get wider; in the five Presidential elections, the Minnesota Poll discerned a 49.67 to 36% DFL lead; the actual results were 50.13 to 41.64%.  The Minnesota Poll underrepresented the GOP by an average of 5.64% in Presidential elections during the Daves years.   The Strib Poll showed every single GOP candidate coming up short of his actual election performance:  George HW Bush polled 3.80% light; Dole, 7.00%;  Dubya, 8.50 and 6.61; McCain also polled seven points under his real performance.  The Democrats, on the other hand, seemed to be polled fairly accurately; the average error poll  and election for Democratic presidential candidates was less than half a point.

The Senate races are a little closer – the Republicans underperform the election results 4.29% to 3.14%, a difference of 1.15% under their election results, which isn’t very significant – if you just look at raw numbers.  Well come back to that next Wednesday.

In the Gubernatorial races during the Daves years, though, the polling results were pretty lockstep. In gubernatorial races since 1987, the GOP has outpolled the DFL by an average of 46.77 to 38.91% – including one huge blowout (1994) and several squeakers.  But the Minnesota Poll has shown Minnesotans’ preferences at 40.17 to 36.67 in favor of the GOP.  Republicans’ performance was underpolled by 6.6% in the Minnesota poll – that of the DFL by only 2.24%.  The Minnesota poll showed Minnesotans underselecting Republicans by almost triple the margin of the actual elections.

A classic – and large – example was the 2002 Governor race.  The election-eve Minnesota Poll showed Pawlenty tipping Moe by 35-32.  The real margin was 44-36.  While the poll oversampled Independence Party candidate Tim Penny by a fairly impressive margin, the fact is that while the final MN Poll undershot Moe’s support by 4%, it underrepresented Pawlenty’s by nine solid points.

All in all, of the 20 Presidential, Senate and Gubernatorial races during the Daves era, 16 of them showed the Minnesota Poll underpolling the GOP by a greater degree than the DFL.

And that’s just counting all the races.


Daves was let go at the Strib in 2007.  The Minnesota Poll was taken over by “Princeton Research Study Group”, which also does polling for Newsweek (whose polling is generally considered atrocious).

The 2008 races were very different, of course; the Senate race was a virtual tie, while Obama beat McCain handily.

But the day before the election, the Minnesota poll said McCain was polling just 37%; he ended up with 44%.  It overestimated Obama’s support by under a point, calling him at 55% when he got 54.2%.  The Minnesota Poll sandbagged Mac by seven points.

And Franken v. Coleman?   The day before the election, the poll showed Coleman almost four points below his actual performance (38% versus 41.98) ; it nailed Franken almost dead-on (42% i the poll, 41.99% by the time the recount was over).

PRSA showed both GOP candidates performing drastically off their real pace on election eve.

And three weeks ago, a week before the gubernatorial election, the Minnesota Poll showed Emmer at 34%; he got 43.21%.  Nine points better than the Minnesota poll indicated.

The upshot?  Of the 20 total election contests in the Rob Daves and PRSA eras, the Minnesota Poll has underpolled GOP support in 17 – 85% – of those races.

And PRSA polling has, on average, underpolled the GOP by 6.12% in those three elections.   In other words, PRSA’s errors have favored the DFL to the tune of six points – which is more than the three-plus points of the Rob Daves era.

One might think that random statistics would scatter on both sides of the middle more or less equally.  And in the first 42 years of the Minnesota poll, in aggregate, they did, as we showed Wednesday.

But during the Daves years, and continuing with PRSA, the errors developed a consistency – shorting Republicans – and grew in magnitude.


Of course, those averages hide some big swings; some races in those averages were real blowouts.

It’s been my theory that the Minnesota Poll’s “peculiarities” are most pronounced during close elections.

We’ll test that out next Wednesday, when we’ll examine races that were decided by the proverbial cat’s whisker.

First – Monday – we’ll meet the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute Poll.


The series so far:

Monday, 11/8: Introduction.

Wednesday, 11/10: Polling Minnesota – The sixty-six year history of the Strib’s Minnesota Poll. It offers some surprises.

Friday, 11/12: Daves, Goliath:  Rob Daves ran the Minnesota Poll from 1987 ’til 2007.  And the statistics during that era have a certain…consistency?

Monday, 11/15: Hubert, You Magnificent Bastard, I Read Your Numbers!:  The Humphrey Institute has been polling Minnesota for six years, now.  And the results are…interesting.

Wednesday, 11/17: Close Shaves: Close races are the most interesting.  For everyone.  Including you, if you’re reading this series.

Friday, 11/19: The Hay They Make: So what does the media and the Twin Cities political establishment do with these numbers?

Monday, 11/22: A Million’s A Crowd:  Attention, statisticians:  Raw data!  Suitable for cloudsourcing!

MN Poll Result: 42.79 Elecction Result;: 46.61 Difference: -3.83   MN Poll Result: 49.62 Elecction Result;: 50.97 Difference: -1.35   Total/Lean DFL 21.00 13.00 0.62 Average Skew: 2.48

18 thoughts on “The Great Poll Scam, Part III: Daves, Goliath

  1. It’s too bad there are no scientific studies of the effect of polls on elections. If it could be established by social scientists that false poll numbers influenced people’s decision to vote (wanting to vote for the winner) or to vote at all (what’s the point, our guy lost), then it would seem a convincing argument could be made that fraudulent pollsters were tampering with the most fundamental right in America. Surely, that could be banned in the interest of restoring electoral integrity.

    I wish the U of M had an Elections track in its Political Science major. That would be the perfect place to study this issue.


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