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Fight over ‘bias’ in political polling as numbers show clear edge for Obama (+video)

Most polls give President Obama the lead over Mitt Romney – some by a margin many find startling. Conservatives say that just proves the polls are rigged to give Democrats the advantage.

By Staff writer / September 30, 2012

Reshonda Young fills out paperwork to vote early at the election office at the Black Hawk County Courthouse in Waterloo, Iowa,Thursday. Iowa is one of 32 states that allow early voting.

Matthew Putney/The Waterloo Courier/AP


As Mitt Romney and Barack Obama prepare to go mano a mano (rhetorically, at least) in their first debate this week, the fight over skewed polling continues to echo among partisans and pundits.

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Monitor political correspondent Liz Marlantes takes a look at one version of the US Electoral College map following the political conventions and how a future map might look as we get closer to November.

Most polls give Mr. Obama the lead – some by a margin many find startling. The latest Rand Corp. snapshot has Obama up by 7 points, Gallup’s by 6 points. The RealClearPolitics average of polls gives Obama a 4.3 percent edge over M. Romney.

But some conservative commentators say that just proves the polls are rigged to give Democrats an apparent advantage. And the mainstream media, they charge, is buying into what amounts to a conspiracy by playing up such survey results.

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“A tight presidential contest is fueling a fierce debate over whether the daily stream of polls accurately reflects the dynamics of the presidential race,” blogs Neil King Jr. for the Wall Street Journal.

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner (who calls himself a “recovering pollster”) points out the increasing difficulty in accurately gauging that dynamic.

There’s always a margin of error of 3-4 points, he notes, and the results in one out of 20 polls will be wrong outside the margin of error.

Then there’s the difficulty in getting potential voters to agree to be interviewed by phone (polls used to be conducted face-to-face), especially since many people now use cell phones only. Federal law requires cell phones to be hand-dialed rather than dialed by computers as land lines are.

“In addition, it's getting much harder for pollsters to get people to respond to interviews,” Mr. Barone writes. “The Pew Research Center reports that it's getting only 9 percent of the people it contacts to respond to its questions. That's compared with 36 percent in 1997.”

“Are those 9 percent representative of the larger population?” Barone asks. “As that percentage declines, it seems increasingly possible that the sample is unrepresentative of the much larger voting public. One thing a poll can't tell us is the opinion of people who refuse to be polled.”

The conservative complaint is that Democrats are being over-sampled in polls. Pollsters say their random sampling of voters surveyed just reflects the way people identify themselves politically (which is not necessarily the same as how they're registered) – 35 percent Democrats, 28 percent Republicans, and 33 percent Independents.


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