NBC News, anticipating backlash over polls released Saturday that showed President Obama ahead in two crucial swing states, attempted to head off conservative criticism that the surveys sampled too many Democrats by preemptively “unskewing” its own numbers.
The polls, released jointly by NBC News, the Wall Street Journal, and Marist College, showed Obama leading Republican challenger Mitt Romney by six points in Ohio and two points in Florida. But in the Ohio poll, Democrats held a nine-point party identification advantage — a figure sure to draw conservative ire. (In Florida, Democrats held a two-point advantage.)
So as part of a story online about the polls on Saturday, NBC News senior political editor Mark Murray included a section essentially imagining if the findings of his organization’s own poll were altered in a way that showed the Democratic sample in Ohio cut in half. In that case, Murray wrote, Obama’s lead would shrink to three points.
In an email to TPM late Saturday, Murray explained his reasoning behind it.
“We anticipated that there would be criticism of a D+9 sample, and asked our pollsters to assume — as an exercise — what the race would be simply if you halved that Democratic Party ID advantage,” Murray wrote. “We decided to publish that information in my story (towards the end, mind you). But make no mistake: The numbers are the numbers, and we stand by them.”
Criticizing pollsters for allegedly oversampling Democrats has become a cottage industry on the right. Over at National Review Online, Josh Jordan on Saturday referred to Marist’s polling as an “in-kind contribution to Obama.”
On the party ID advantage, he wrote: “Essentially Marist is finding that Democrats are not only going to match their turnout advantage from 2008, but they are actually going to almost double it. That lines up well with Romney drawing 30,000 to a rally in Ohio while Obama pulled just a fraction for his rallies. Or not.”
The criticism tends to center on the notion that Democratic enthusiasm is down. Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt asked Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, in September how it can be that Democrats still enjoy a party ID advantage four years after the “apex of hope and change in 2008.”
“Well, what you do, you don’t pick the number,” Miringoff said at the time. “It’s based on the interviews with the people you do. So it’s not like you’re punching in a 10 point party spread. It’s based on the interviews and who remains in the pool. You don’t want a three credit lesson right now in survey research, I’m sure.”
But in an interview with TPM on Saturday, Miringoff declined to criticize Murray’s writeup about the poll. He described the part that halved the Democratic sample as nothing more than an “exercise” and speculated that it was likely “reacting to comments” from Republicans.
He also said he stands by the numbers in the poll itself. “There is no other figure than the figure you get in the poll,” Miringoff said.
“When polling gets into the popular world of politics, then some of the reactions to the polls are a little quick,” he said. “Polls can be right, and polls can be wrong. And we’ll all find out on Tuesday.”
David Taintor is TPM’s News Editor. He contributes to TPM’s Livewire coverage, among other areas. David is from Chanhassen, Minnesota, where, yes, it gets very cold. Reach him at taintor [at] talkingpointsmemo.com