’Tis the season—Here comes those gaslighting pollsters and their media pals again
For Biden, a month of woes, then a suspicious surge of popularity
We’ve seen it in the headlines for a month now. The Republican red wave may not happen. Voters are most concerned about abortion and so Democrats are gaining momentum. They will likely keep the Senate and could keep the House. And traditional big losses for the party in power during the mid-terms definitely ain’t happening.
Come November 9, we reds and purples will all be singing the blues.
At least that’s what headlines in the corporate media have been blaring for weeks. Now right on cue, here comes corporate media pollsters and their journalist pals to back it all up. The Wall Street Journal this week made it official: On its generic congressional ballot, the Democrats have taken the lead 48-45 percent, catalyzed by independents fueled primarily by the abortion issue, according to the poll.
Of course, the WSJ pollsters used a great way to promote Democrats and a major way polling is used to gaslight us—their numbers were of registered voters only, not likely voters. Now if you are trying to gauge broad sentiment on an issue, using only registered voters is fine. But if you’re trying to find out who is going to win an election, it’s not. Polling who is registered tells us not one thing if that registered voter isn’t planning to vote. Finding likely voters is the only relevant method.
Right on the heels of that, the Associated Press released a poll showing Joe Biden to be the nation’s new Mr. Popularity. OK, not really. The AP still had him underwater 45-53, but, hey, that was a big surge from 36 percent approval in July, the AP reporter crowed. The reporter treated us to the second way we are gaslighted in polls—outright media bias by cherry-picking the numbers.
According to the reporter, the surge was “driven in large part by a rebound in support from Democrats just two months before the mid-term elections.” And that rebound, he reported, was because of all the magnificent things Biden and the Democrats are doing. Biden has caused gas prices to tumble, and Democrats in Congress passed bold legislation to “reshape the economy” and reduce carbon emissions. There’s the abortion issue, too, Biden is leading the fight on that. And, of course, there’s Trump. There’s always Trump. They are going to put him in prison, you know.
The country is cheering, you could almost hear the effusive reporter say.
But, just for the sake of argument, let’s hit the pause button and take a second look. First, it always pays to look at the polling data itself. In fact, in the case of AP/NORC, which is based at the University of Chicago, if you go to the poll’s own website, the storyline from that poll is completely different from what the AP reported about it. First here is the AP media headline for popular consumption from the aforementioned reporter:
Biden approval rises sharply ahead of midterms
Now here’s the headline from the polling group:
Despite some signals of optimism, the public remains largely dissatisfied with the economy and the direction of the country
A little different, eh? And when we look further, we find the take a lot different from the story broadcast to the public. The NORC polling people put it this way: “President Biden’s approval ratings and the public’s view of the economy have improved slightly [emphasis added], although 72 percent still say the country is headed in the wrong direction.” Only 38 percent approved of his handling of the economy, so so much for applause for falling gas prices. Oh, and the dagger into the GOP’s heart over abortion, well perhaps, but Joe Biden isn’t getting the credit. Indeed, the AP-NORC poll gives him 40 percent approval and 57 percent disapproval on the issue—below his overall approval rating. Abortion is a drag on him, not a boost.
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So the data in the poll wasn’t nearly so bright as the AP reporter presented it—though as usual the entire corporate media complex ran with it—and that’s why the pollsters’ take on their own poll was a whole lot more subdued than the mainstream reporting of it. But using only registered voters in election match-ups, or having a corporate journalist in rose-colored glasses report what he or she wants to report, are still not the only ways the media and the pollsters gaslight us. Another is oversampling Democrats and then not properly adjusting for the oversampling. Indeed, we don’t really know, but that could have been the case with the AP-NORC poll: The sample was 45 percent self-identified Democratic, and only 36 percent Republican.
The pollsters assured that they did adjust for that oversampling in their “poststratification process,” a procedure that sounds downright scary to me, but then they have this curious sentence:
The sample is also weighted to match the average of self-identified party identification in the previous two waves of the AmeriSpeak Omnibus survey and this current survey.
So their adjustment is not to weight party identification using actual affiliation estimates in the population but to weight and adjust based on the “previous two waves of the AmeriSpeak Omnibus survey.” But if those waves were also overloaded with Democrats, the bias remains and indeed becomes embedded. Not to say that happened, and I’m no polling scientist, but the methodology seems suspicious to me.
My gut backs me up … and so do real polls
Maybe I’m missing something, but I see the last month in starkly different terms than the AP reporter, more closely mirroring the numbers deep down in the mine of that AP-NORC poll. Gas prices may have tumbled, but overall inflation kept rising. There was Biden’s student loan forgiveness program, which virtually every poll shows to be unpopular. And there was the Gestapo-like speech in which he called half the nation semi-fascists, all with the military on display. I’m simply not buying that voters want to thank him for higher prices, for forcing them to pay other people’s loans, and for calling them fascist.
The truth is, there are two kinds of polls. There are the private firms, and then there are those conducted by the corporate media and by universities. It’s not universal, but the former tend to be more accurate, and the latter tend to be part of the propaganda wing of the Democratic Party. To cite just one example of the latter, but there was a string of them, the Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll in 2020 had Biden with a double-digit lead over Trump. So did CNN. The actual tally was, well, you know, not anywhere near double digit.
The second groups of polls are private firms like Rasmussen and Trafalgar. Democrats accuse Rasmussen of actually being biased toward Republicans, but the company is uncannily accurate. They had the Biden-Trump race closer than it was but within the margin of error, and, more important, they have been almost always close. Back in 2008 they saw Chris Christie winning re-election in New Jersey by 3 percent; he won by 4 percent. In 2010, Rasmussen was the first to predict Republican Scott Brown’s upset victory in the U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts.
As for Trafalgar, it is highly regarded and accurate, but it’s biggest claim to fame is being the only poll (so far as I know; if there is another one, I can’t find it) to predict Trump’s victory in 2016. Here’s how the New York Times put it in a 2016 pre-election story about Robert Cahaly and his Trafalgar Group: “The One Pollster in America Who Is Sure Trump Is Going to Win.”
So do these pollsters see the same surge for Biden and the Democrats that the corporate media pollsters are seeing? The short answer is: No, they are not.
Ironically for a poll accused of having a Republican bias, Rasmussen’s approval ratings for Biden this past year have been higher than virtually every other poll. Higher, but still underwater. As of today, the Rasmussen poll gives Biden an approval index (the percentage of those who strongly approve of Biden minus the percentage of those who strongly disapprove of Biden, or 21 percent minus 40 percent) of minus 19. And exactly one month ago, what was the approval index? Minus 19. No surge in Rasmussen. Zip.
The Trafalgar Group shows only 39.3 percent approving (18.2 approval, 21.1 strongly approving) in mid-September. In August, 38.9 percent approved. No surge. Trafalgar doesn’t see any surge for Democrats on the generic congressional ballot, either, contrary to the wizards at the Wall Street Journal. It’s latest generic ballot has Republicans ahead 47.9 percent to 42.2 percent, a spread of 5.4 percent, which is just about the same lead the GOP had on August 17, when it was 46.9 percent to 41.6 percent.
Lastly, yes, a decent university poll …
The folks who run the Marquette Law School poll in Wisconsin are quite accurate and unbiased for a university poll, and it doesn’t show a surge for Biden in Wisconsin, either.
It should be noted that a close glance at Marquette’s final 2020 presidential survey for Wisconsin was pretty much on the money. The election turned out to be dead even—Biden prevailed by about 20,000 votes. In its last survey before the election, Marquette gave Biden a 48-43 percent lead, a margin of five. But an eye-popping number in that poll was that 6 percent of likely voters refused to answer. They didn’t say they didn’t know; they didn’t say they were undecided. They simply refused to answer. Most of those were likely Republicans and/or Trump voters—the fact is that Republicans and independents are more likely than Democrats to refuse to answer questions, mainly because they correctly don’t trust either the media or the polling industry to be anything but biased Democrats—and factoring them in would likely put Marquette right on the money. After all, telling a stranger on the phone that you’re voting for Trump could have the FBI knocking on your door these days, things have become so absurd.
Anyway, in the latest poll, conducted September 6-11, Marquette also does not pick up a surge for Biden. In September, 40 percent approved of the way Biden is handling his job, while 55 percent disapproved, unchanged from August, the poll reported.
I want to take a moment to drill down on that September poll as it relates to overall voter sentiment and to the Wisconsin governor’s race and the U.S. Senate race, because I think a lot of these findings mirror the national mood. Indeed, a lot of the sentiments expressed by voters in the Marquette poll underscore the sentiments of the AP-NORC poll: They both show a lot of discontent with the Democratic Party that spells big trouble for them.
On its face, the poll puts the races for Wisconsin governor and U.S. Senate squarely in the “too-close-to-call” category, perhaps not surprising in the purple Badger state. But, while close, support for conservative candidates tops support for liberal ones.
The biggest change has come in the Senate race, where incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson is being challenged by Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, a radical socialist who has issued a call to “stymie capitalism.” Down by seven points, 52-45, in the August poll, Johnson has rebounded to take a 49-48 lead among voters who say they are absolutely certain to vote, and he leads by 49-47 among voters who say they are either absolutely certain to vote or very likely to vote. Likely the big swing is due to voters finally being introduced to the little-known Barnes and finding out about his extreme positions.
In the governor’s race, incumbent Democratic Gov. Tony Evers retains a slim lead of 47 percent of absolutely certain voters to 44 percent for Republican Tim Michels, with conservative independent candidate Joan Beglinger taking 5 percent. Three percent said they didn’t know. Among those either absolutely certain to vote or very likely to vote, the race is virtually even, with Evers at 45 percent and Michels at 44 percent, with Beglinger taking 6 percent.
Beglinger has dropped out of the race and thrown her support to Michels, but her name remains on the ballot.
While Evers is one point up in the head-to-head among those very likely or certain to vote, the combined percentage for the two conservative candidates is 50 percent, or five percent more than for Evers. The fact that Beglinger’s name will remain on the ballot is important because any votes she gets will likely siphon support from Michels. That could be critical in a close race. Beglinger will no doubt get votes, too, from more conservative voters who think Michels is too much of an establishment candidate. In fact, Beglinger’s support actually grew from the August report. (Because this poll was taken starting the day she dropped out—and word of her withdrawal may not have spread—the next poll will be more indicative of just how much impact she could have on the governor’s race.)
So baseline, the conservatives lead the liberals, and there does not seem to be any momentum for the Democrats. No surge. Indeed, the poll offers many clues that there won’t be any surge, and again, I think these same trends are echoing around the nation.
For starters, all the candidates have strong support within their respective bases. Evers draws the support of 95 percent of Democrats, while 92 percent of Republicans support Michels. It’s among independents where trouble is lurking for Michels. Forty-five percent of independents support Evers compared to 39 percent for Michels. But Beglinger picks up a strong 11 percent from independents, and only 2 percent from Republicans and 2 percent from Democrats. So combine the support of the two conservatives, and the conservatives are leading solidly among independents, too, not something the governor wants to hear.
Another often watched data point is voter enthusiasm, expressed as how likely voters are to vote in the election. By one metric, Democrats are slightly more enthusiastic than Republicans, with 80 percent of Democrats saying they were absolutely certain to vote in November and 77 percent of Republicans saying the same thing.
But that metric could be misleading by missing a large swath of people who are highly probable voters, namely, those in the poll who said they are “very likely” to cast ballots in November. Adding those voters to those who say they are absolutely certain to vote wipes out the enthusiasm gap. Using that metric, 93 percent of Republicans are absolutely certain or very likely to vote compared to 92 percent of Democrats. Among independents, only 84 percent say they are absolutely certain or very likely to vote.
And I think it’s critical to include the “very likely” to vote respondents in the “likely voter” metric, precisely because that’s what they say they are.
Another important indicator in the governor’s race is Evers’s approval rating. It’s not good news for the Democrat: He’s under water for just the second time in his term, with 44 percent approving of his job performance and 47 percent disapproving. The poll points out that Evers’s job approval has steadily declined since February, when 50 percent approved of his job performance and only 41 percent disapproved. In seven months, he has plunged from plus 9-percent net approval to a minus 3-percent net approval.
Again, no surge.
Issues, too, indicate which way voters may be trending, and again the news isn’t good for Democrats. That’s because inflation continues to rank as the number one concern on voters’ minds, with 70 percent saying they are very concerned about it. Second on the list of top concerns is crime, and third is having an accurate vote count—in other words, election integrity—both issues that tend to work for Republicans.
On the other hand, Democrats have placed high hopes that abortion would be a decisive issue for voters after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade earlier this year. To be sure, most Wisconsinites—63 percent—oppose the Supreme Court decision, including 66 percent of independents:
Survey respondents also overwhelmingly support allowing legal abortions in the case of rape or incest, with support of 70 percent or more in each partisan group.
However, the good news for Republicans is, while a strong majority support legal abortion, the issue ranks only sixth on the list of top concerns motivating voters.
On other issues, concern about coronavirus has plummeted to 10th place on the list, behind even climate change as a voter concern. The handling of the pandemic is also trending away from Democrats, the poll stated:
Opinion concerning the closure of schools and businesses at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in the spring of 2020 has shifted over time, as the initial very high support for closures has declined. In these new results, a majority, 56 percent, say the closures were an appropriate response, while 41 percent say they were an overreaction that did more harm than good.
That support has steadily declined from 86 percent at the beginning of the pandemic to 62 percent last August to 56 percent now.
On another topic of recent interest, Biden’s decision to forgive certain student loans is approved by only 46 percent, with 50 percent disapproving. That tracks with national polls such as Trafalgar, which shows 55.6 percent of Americans being less likely to vote for candidates who support student loan forgiveness.
And finally, another barometer—the right track-wrong track measure—shows a majority of respondents, 53 percent, think the state is on the wrong track. Only 40 percent say it is headed in the right direction. Nationally, it’s even worse, according to the AP-NORC poll, with only 27 percent thinking we’re on the right track.
On issue after issue, in metric after metric, in authentic poll after authentic poll, there is no surge. There is only a corporate media—the communications wing of the Democratic Party—telling us there is, mainly to discourage conservatives from voting and to energize the base. That’s not to say there won’t be a blue surge—it’s an eternity until November—and surely we must act as if we’re 10 points behind, but the reality is far different right now.
Right now, there are only those gaslighting pollsters and their corporate media pals. Don’t be discouraged.