Political polls conducted for most media organizations often are biased against Republicans, says Kellyanne Conway, one of the most respected GOP pollsters. As a result, Barack Obama’s lead over John McCain probably is exaggerated and is contributing unfairly to his momentum, says Conway, president and founder of the Polling Company.
Rather than slant the questions, pollsters distort the results by weighting tallies with more responses from people who are likely to vote for Democrats than is warranted, Conway tells Newsmax. For example, they wrongly assume that huge numbers of groups who favor Democrats will show up to vote.
To be sure, “Barack Obama has energized a critical mass of younger people and new voters to actually show up to the polls,” Conway says.
But in some cases, pollsters assume that those who cast votes will be as much as 40 percent Democrats, versus 25 percent Republicans.
“The country’s just not configured that way,” Conway says.
Conway draws an analogy to the way some news organizations endorse Obama, in effect, with their selection of stories and angles to pursue. In the same way, they endorse him through polls by oversampling respondents who are Democrats, Conway says.
“What is the incentive of the major media to have scientific, artfully constructed polling?” Conway says.
By creating the impression that McCain will lose, many media polls are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy, Conway says. Because of the attention their polls receive, they depress the turnout for McCain — not to mention cutting into his contributions, endorsements, and support.
“To me it’s a different kind of voter suppression, to constantly try to make people feel like the election is over before it’s even begun,” she says. “Before a single vote has been cast, they’re basically saying, about John McCain, he can’t win. What are the three most fatal words in politics? You can’t win.”
Looking back at polls over the years, “The errors in media polling rarely benefit a Republican,” Conway notes. “It wasn’t like anybody said, ‘Oh, Ronald Reagan will have a landslide in 1980.’ In fact you look back at the Dukakis numbers, the Perot numbers, there was always this presumption that the Republican was going to lose. Not just that the Democrat would win, but that the Republican was going to lose. There was a news report that concluded polls showed Kerry leading Bush 53 percent to 43 percent in 15 swing states.”
Exit polls also tend to favor Democrats unfairly, Conway says.
“Remember the exit polls in the last election all favored John Kerry,” Conway says. “And I had to shoot off a quick memo to people saying that exit polls are more illustrative and anecdotal, more qualitative than quantitative and scientific in nature, because it’s a self-selected population of people who actually reveal to a total stranger how they just voted.”
That is different from revealing in a telephone poll who might get your vote.
“To be confronted as you exit the polling place is really a matter of: if you have the time, if you have the inclination to speak to a stranger, and if you want to divulge what is a very sacred, private matter — the way that you just voted,” Conway says. “So imagine if somebody confronts you as an exit pollster and they’re asking you how you just voted, and they have on this moveon.org T-shirt and multiple body piercing and tattoos. Do you think the mom with five children is going to talk to that person? Plus a lot of exit polling is done in urban areas, which is heavily Democratic in their voting patterns, and many of the people doing it tend to be young. Young people want to talk to young people.”
Conway began her polling career with the Withlin Group, which did polling for Reagan. Back then, “Polls were mentioned in a tiny little parenthetical. In the middle of a two-page story, you’d see one poll number cited. Now the poll is the headline. It leads the entire coverage,” she says.
The emphasis on polls is dangerous, Conway says. “Polls have this insidious drip-by-drip daily impact,” she says. “The cumulative effect of those polls is to create public opinion as much as it is to reflect it. For that reason, some countries ban polls within 14 days of the election.”
Right now, she says, “News organizations are trying to show that Obama is so far in the lead that it helps him raise money, helps him get more endorsements, and it demoralizes conservatives.”
In fact, “What happens is, these folks in the media are now using the polls to pepper their stories as a way to tell people: Look, 52 percent of the country’s voting for Obama, why not you? Are you going to vote against a black man? Are you going to vote for an old guy? Why aren’t you part of the zeitgeist here?’ ”
Broader questions about the direction of the country, whether people want change, and whether they approve of the president run into further issues of interpretation and how the questions are worded.
“There’s a herd instinct,” Conway says. “For all the people in this country who say I want change, I love change, I want to join a revolution, they still go to McDonald’s every night in the minivan and order Number 3. America has a love affair with change that they don’t necessarily demonstrate.”
As examples, Conway cites the fact that most people want to get out of debt, get out of a bad relationship, find a job they love, and lose those last 12 pounds, but most of them never do.
“They ask you to respond to feel good phraseology, rather than probing your underlying ideology,” Conway says. “So they ask questions like, do you support or oppose improving the quality of public education? Do you support or oppose universal healthcare? Do you support or oppose protecting the environment. And you see these polls that say 88 percent of Americans support protecting the environment. Well who the hell are the other 12 percent? In other words, who doesn’t want all kids to have a quality education and be fed? And the air and the water to be unpolluted? But then people look at that poll result and say, See? Global warming’s the number one issue. See this?”
As noted in the Sept. 22 Newsmax story, “GOP Strategist: McCain Will Win,” Conway said she believed McCain was going to win. In the past, Conway’s predictions have been eerily accurate. In the 2004 presidential race, she won the Washington Post’s Crystal Ball Award. Nine days before the election, she predicted the precise outcome in the popular vote: 51 percent for George Bush and 48 percent for John Kerry.
Now that the stock market is crashing and the economy is sinking, is she still sticking with her prediction?
“McCain could still win, but he needs a different campaign right now,” she says.
Instead of focusing on Obama’s relationship with domestic terrorist William Ayers, she says, McCain should push the issue of Obama’s relationship for 20 years with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and his ties to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and the allegations of voter registration fraud surrounding it.
“ACORN and Wright are more relevant to people than Ayers, because ACORN is here and now,” she says. “People saw the clips of Wright denouncing America. People couldn’t pick out Ayers from a lineup. People don’t like to think that someone else is going to deprive them of their right to vote. The McCain campaign has wasted three weeks on Ayers, instead of trying to connect with voters on the economy. Tax is still a four-letter word.”
At the same time, Conway says, “Joe the plumber and Sarah Palin were unexpected, unpredictable moments for the Obama campaign. But what Joe the plumber and Sarah Palin have in common is, they have this intangible connection with most people that’s not easy to overcome. And they also represent the middle class that Obama says he represents, but that he hasn’t lived in in years.”
That’s why McCain is still in the running, Conway says. “I believe this race is much closer than some in the media are willing to admit,” she says.
In the end, white working men, who tend to like Joe the plumber and Sarah Palin, will decide the election, she says.
In the meantime, Conway’s advice to Republicans is to ignore the polls.
“If conservatives are upset about the lack of fairness and objective news media coverage, why do they look at these polls?” Conway says. “Why do they allow these polls to dictate how they feel about the presidential election before a single vote is cast?”
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via
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