Polls, Sham Polls, and Linguistics

Romney Sham Poll

Dick Morris

Mitt Romney’s dismal poll numbers remind us of conservative talk-show host/brand-name Laura Ingraham’s tautological solution for how the GOP standard-bearer can turn things around: “Start winning (polls) in significant margins and look like you’re winning.”

Hey, there’s some great advice: if you want to win, start winning.

Ingraham is right about one thing. If Romney can look like he’s ahead — as he did after the Michigan GOP primary back in March — he’s much more likely to be ahead. Research shows that voters like winners, and tend to cast their ballots for the candidate who leads in pre-election polls.

Though scores of Republicans are looking at poll numbers and moving to the sidelines or outright jumping ship, at least two imaginative Romney cheerleader/pundits — Hugh Hewitt and Dick Morris — maintain a different view. They say Romney already is ahead.

In fact, the stronger the president’s poll numbers, the more fervently these guys act as though a Romney victory is not just likely, but in the bag.

Hewitt — whose 2007 tome A Mormon in the White House? set a standard for sycophancy — blogged about a “six-point bounce” for his guy after a GOP convention that “Hit Every Mark.” He described day two of the Democratic convention — the one with Bill Clinton’s triumphant speech — as “One More Day of GOP Bliss From Charlotte.” The president’s strong polling numbers? Just a function of the mainstream media “Putting its thumb on the scale.”

Romney has granted Hewitt frequent interviews, in which probing questions such as “Will you passionately fight for the military if you’re the nominee?” are asked. Over the weekend, following Romney’s most disastrous week and worst numbers to date — including an outside-the-margin-of-error deficit in must-win Ohio — Hewitt blogged, “Romney is winning and it is going to get uglier still as Chicago gets more and more desperate.”

At least Hewitt believes in his man. Morris, who was Bill Clinton’s pollster until a prostitution/toe-sucking scandal brought him down in 1996, is a pure cynic. Before the GOP convention, he tweeted, “Romney is going to have a great convention. It’s going to be incredible. He should gain a five or six point lead.” Morris dismissed post-convention surveys that contradicted his predictions as mere “poll propaganda.” He acknowledges Obama’s current lead in the polls, but declares, “When the published poll shows Obama ahead by, say, 48-45, he’s really probably losing by 52-48!”

An instant replay of the last election cycle reveals that these two guys were peddling the same bullshit then about a John McCain victory.

On October 21, 2008 Hewitt wrote, “McCain is going to carry all the red states except Iowa, and he’s going to pick up New Hampshire.” Two days later, he said on his radio show, “I was just on the Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, and I pointed out that there had been four polls in four days that show a race very tight…. I think the media honestly is so deluded by this race that they are unaware of counterfactuals to their preferences.” Less than a week before election day, Hewitt introduced John McCain as “the next president of the United States.”

Morris was even more delusional. Five days before the 2008 election, with Obama leading comfortably in every poll, Morris — the author of the prescient Condi Versus Hillary – wrote, “McCain’s gains over the last five days are remaking the political landscape as election day approaches.” As election night progressed and it became clear that an Obama win was a done deal, Morris blogged that things “could go either way.” When even Morris had to bow to reality, he simply picked up his ball and went home, writing in a piece called “An Election Republicans Needed To Lose” that “If ever there was an election that was not worth winning, it was the contest of 2008.”

A few weeks ago, Morris slipped the surly bonds of statistics and linguistics by publishing the results of his very own poll, which had Romney winning by a landslide. Then he wrote a column about his poll, titled “Romney Has Big Lead In My Poll.”

Michael Sigman

Republished from the Huffington Post with the author’s permission.

Published: Tuesday, 26 September 2012

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