The Great Poll Scam: Introduction

The weekend before the election, I was talking with a friend – a woman who has become a newly-minted conservative in the past two years.  She’d sat out the 2008 election, and had voted for Kerry in ’04, but finally became alarmed about the state of this nation’s future – she’s got kids – and got involved with the Tea Party and started paying attention to politics.  And she was going to vote conservative.  Not Republican, mind you, but conservative.

And the Saturday before the election, she sounded discouraged.  “Have you seen the polls?” she asked.  “Emmer’s gonna get clobbered”.

I set her straight, of course – referred her to my blog posts debunking the election-eve Humphrey and Minnesota polls.and showing her the Emmer campaign internal poll that showed the race a statistical dead heat (which, obviously, was the most correct poll before election day).

She left the room feeling better.  She voted for Emmer.  And she voted for her Republican candidates in her State House and Senate districts, duly helping flip her formerly blue district to the good guys and helping gut Dayton’s agenda, should he (heaven forefend) win the recount.

But I walked away from that meeting asking myself – what about all the thousands of newly-minted conservatives who don’t have the savvy or inclination to check the cross-tabs?  The thousands who saw those polls, and didn’t have access to a fire-breathing conservative talk show host with a keen BS detector who’s learned to read the fine print?

How many votes did Tom Emmer lose because of the Hubert H. Humphrey and Minnesota polls that showed him trailing by insurmountable margins?

How many votes to conservatives and Republicans lose in every election due to these polls’ misreporting?

Why do these two polls seem so terribly error-prone?  And why do those errors always seem to favor the Democrats, with the end result of discouraging Republican voters?



Public opinion polling is the alchemy of the post-renaissance age.  Especially “likely voter” polling; every organization that runs a poll has a different way of taking the hundreds or thousands of responses they get, and classifying the respondents as “likely” or not to vote, and tabulating those results into a snapshot of how people are thinking about an election at a given moment.

But the Star Tribune’s Minnesota Poll has, to the casual observer, a long history of coming out with polls that seem to short Republicans – especially conservative ones – every single election.  And the relative newcomer to the regional polling game, the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute’s poll done in conjunction with Minnesota Public Radio, seems – again, anecdotally (so far) to take that same approach and supercharge it.

I’ve had this discussion in the past – David Brauer of the MinnPost and I had a bit of a back and forth on the subject, on-line and on the Northern Alliance one Saturday about a month ago.

And so it occurred to me – it’s easy to come up with anecdotes, one way or another.  But how do the numbers really stack up?   If you dig into the actual numbers for the Humphrey Institute and the Minnesota Poll, what do they say?

I’ll be working on that for the next couple of weeks.  Here’s the plan:

14 thoughts on “The Great Poll Scam: Introduction

  1. Look they are crap polls I agree

    How many votes did Tom Emmer lose because of the Hubert H. Humphrey and Minnesota polls that showed him trailing by insurmountable margins?

    There is a flip side to that question. How many typical Dayton voters stayed home b/c they didn’t think it was close?

    Oberstar got 50,000 less votes then he did in 2006, 65,000 less then 2002. Cravaack picked up 60% of those votes but the rest just stayed home. Would a perceived close race gotten the range out of bed to vote for Dayton?

    I mean hammer away, crap is crap but to say Emmer lost b/c of the polls? hmmm we’ll see

  2. Slimy polls, dressed in nice suits. If your own internal polling shows that it’s going to be very close then the last thing you want is your opponent raising a lot of money for a late surge. You also wouldn’t mind too much if an undecided voter were to see a commercial from your opponent and dismiss it without thinking because the guy has “no chance”.

    Sorry, Smokey/Terry. You type fast, kid, but you’re not faster than Nicky Kingswood.

  3. padraigtim;

    “Oberstar got 50,000 less votes then he did in 2006, 65,000 less then 2002.”

    What we would need to ascertain, would be the number of people that have either moved out of that district or passed away since the last election. Those figures, combined, would be far short of 50,000, however, the last Iron Range exodus report that I saw in 2008, if I recall correctly, stated that close to 5,000 people had left.

  4. boss hoss.
    I deliberately left out the 2008 results b/c it wasn’t a gubernatorial election and was a presidential election. But for the sake of your arguemnt Obestar got nearly twice the votes in 2008 that he did in 2010, 240k vs 129k in 2008. Rather then population change its a turnout factor. A case could be made that had the polls accurately reflected the CD8 race and Obestar better prepped a turnout operation, it wouldn’t be a 9K dif at the top. The polls giveth the polls taketh.

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  6. Obviously the 5,000 rangers who have left the district had been voting 10x each election.
    You MN guys are not cynical enough.

  7. Pingback: Shot in the Dark » Blog Archive » The Great Poll Scam, Part II: Polling Minnesota

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