Friday, October 3, 2008

CNN and CBS Release Highly Misleading Polls Regarding VP Debate

According to most media accounts, last night's vice presidential debate was a thriller. Sarah Palin received much of the focus due to her lackluster performances in recent television interviews. But I stated in a blog post prior to the debate that pundits should not dismiss Palin, because many of her failings of late could result from her lacking the experience engaging the national media. Also, many Republicans said that Palin had been overly handled but that they were now "freeing Sarah." Well, she certainly seemed more comfortable, poised, and well versed last night, just like she did in some of her earlier outings. Biden pulled in a great performance as well -- given his tremendous experience.

Several polls have emerged since the debate which try to tell viewers "who won." All of these polls are hopelessly flawed.

CNN/Opinion Research
CNN declares on its website that "Debate Poll Says Biden Won, Palin Beat Expectations." The specifics of the poll show that 51% of those polled thought that Biden did better, while 36% gave the nod to Palin. But the poll does not disclose the party affiliation or candidate preferences of the individuals surveyed. Evaluating performance in a debate that lacked any real "knockout" punch will inevitably turn on partisan preferences. So, this poll is absolutely useless without information concerning the ideology and politics of the individuals evaluating the candidates.

This same problem plagued CNN's polling of the presidential debate. Then, the headlines declared Obama the winner, and the national media reprinted the results widely. But if you actually read the full article, rather than the headlines as many people do, the pollster actually conceded that the survey polled far more Democrats than Republicans and that if one adjusted for party affiliation, the result was a "tie." Remarkably, the latest CNN poll does not give us any information regarding the party affiliation or candidate preferences of those surveyed. It simply declares Biden the winner.

CBS News
CBS News also released a poll concluding that Biden won the debate. On the surface, this poll seems to avoid CNN's mistake of not telling the reader the candidate preferences of the individuals polled. Why? The poll purports to provide the opinions of "uncommitted" voters.
Well, like a good lawyer, I read the fine print, and I found that uncommitted includes voters who are truly undecided and voters who have already chosen a candidate, but who "could still change their minds." So, some of the individuals polled are already leaning towards a candidate. The poll fails to provide a breakdown of their choices.

Studies show that people tend not to change their minds this late in an election cycle. So many of these so-called uncommitted individuals are probably sold on a candidate and probably thought that candidate won the debate. Because CBS News does not reveal what portion of the uncommitted voters actually preferred a candidate or the party affiliation of those polled, it is difficult to isolate bias in this survey. Accordingly, the poll is worthless.

Drudge Report and FoxNews
I have seen several websites citing to polls on the Drudge Report and FoxNews.Com. Unlike CNN and CBS, however, these media outlets have not officially released the results of the polls. The Drudge Report poll shows that Palin won by a landslide, while the FoxNews.Com polls shows that Biden won.

This category is very easy to dissect, mainly because both polls are online surveys. First, the polls are just as bad as the CNN and CBS polls because they fail to provide information about the candidate preferences of those who participated. Also, web polls in general are highly biased and inaccurate. You have to own a computer to participate (which could exclude older or poor people). But more relevant in this instance, you have to read the particular web page that conducted the poll in order to vote. Also, it is commonly known that people often "flood" webpages that they usually do not visit in order to influence the results of online polls. Thus, these polls fail to provide random samples and are thefore easily dismissed.

So Who Really Won?
The debate was very interesting, and I think objective commentators, to the extent that such exist, would find that Palin exceeded expectations and connected better to voters in terms of her style, but that Biden was more seasoned and specific. Beyond that, the person you wanted to win probably won. So who needs the polls anyway?

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Anonymous said...

Thanks for the analysis. I completely agree.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

You're welcome -- and thanks for dropping by the blog.

Anonymous said...

Polls can be biased to reflect any opinion or result desired. As you said, the political agendas of those being polled could reveal a better indication of the polls results. Whether or not a poll agrees with my particular preference, I think Sarah Palin is what we need in Washington. She is an outsider without ties or connections to any lobby or big business interests. If anyone can shake things up for "change", she can.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Thoughtful, cogent analysis.

Obviously more than we can expect from the MSM. Thanks, and I'll be checking your blog regularly for more of the same.

m.y.d. said...

I agree with your analysis completely. Oh, how I wish that the news media would be so forthright and honest about their polling data.
The main thing that stood out to me in watching the debate was the vast chasm between what the media and celebrities have led us to believe about Palin (that she can't string together sentences, that she is a bumbling idiot) and the truth of who she is (a coherent, intelligent woman).

baz said...

Interesting analysis, Darren.
I think all *snap* polls, tend to be meaningless.
To me, it's very discouraging how low the bar has become, for Judging a VP/President candidate.
I flirted with voting for Sen McCain, and actually expected him to choose Gov Palin (the McCaign Campaign was so focused on Hillary Voters/Women).
I really thought it was a bad choice, but I kept an open mind.
As the Campaign kept shielding her, and trying to stifle the *Troopergate* investigation, that just pushed me away. And then the interviews.
No matter what bias, or excuses people throw out there, it was Gov Palin herself, that gave her answers. It's not inexperience, it's lack of curiosity, & knowledge.
So, watching her last night, I was begging her to convince me, that she knows something.
I wanted to hear some serious thought coming from her, and all I got was winks, nose scrunches, and a lot of pre-programmed talking points... but no reflection.
If she's ready to be VP, I'm setting up a Presidential Exploration Committee. I'm counting on your support ;)

Anonymous said...

I think your headline is highly misleading. Your point is that by not listing political affiliation of respondents the polls did not provide complete information. How do you jump from that to the loaded language of "highly misleading"? Additionally you imply that no poll of anyone with any opinion on the race would be valid. So those of us who have worked to follow issues and candidates for the last year in order to form educated opinions don't count, only those who haven't bothered to even form an opinion. Ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

good analysis on all the networks - agree that if you were leaning one way or another you stayed in the camp for the most part. Even the "uncommitted" voters lean one way or another. I like the analysis at Fox with Frank Luntz when he does the dials with leaning folks but not committed yet. I think his is the closest to being what is reflected

Alex T. said...

The best prescription against MSM bias and dishonesty is for all of us to register to vote. Then on November 4, get out there and cast our ballots. It is time we take action and create a groundswell to take back our democracy from intellectual dishonesty of the MSM. We need to vote for the ticket that always puts country first: McCain/Palin.

m.y.d. said...

To anonymous re: "How do you jump from that to the loaded language of "highly misleading"?"
From my perspective, the reason why it is highly misleading is that we are not told what direction the voters were already leaning in. We are led to believe that this poll is a snapshot of America's general opinion, when it is not. The media is using flawed biased data to support their partisan position. Instead of reporting on things as they are, they are manufacturing reports that represent what they believe. They are purposefully misleading their viewers/readers. It's not journalism, it's propaganda. Fortunately, it is still legal in all 50 states and D.C. to think for yourself :)

Lorey said...

Love this blog!!

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Hey Lorey -- Thanks!

Baz - very funny comments. I often thought I should run for president too - given that I went to a fancy law school, but I run my mouth too much for that.

To "anonymous" who wanted to know why the polls are misleading: I think another poster has answered your question. They are misleading because they present them as random samples, but really they are not -- especially the one that says "uncommitted" voters. In my opinion, uncommitted does not mean you have a preference one month prior to an election.

Finally -- I say all of this as a lifetime Democrat. I tend to think it's possible to be liberal (or conservative) but intellectually honest. So much of what we hear and read, however, is not.

Anonymous said...

CNN gave the profile of those polled this morning: 36% of those polled were Democrats, 31% were Republicans, and 31% Independents--pretty much a mirror of the U.S. electorate.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Hey. Assuming that this is the correct data from the poll (I have no reason to doubt you), every experienced pollster knows that most independents lean to one side or the other. That's a very large chunk of indepedents -- 31%. So, I would still like to see where those individuals leaned, but I have not seen the data. I remain unimpressed with the surveys.

m.y.d. said...

I'm confused. Anonymous says CNN released the polling profile this morning and quotes numbers. But, the article linked to in the post contains the polling profile for the poll in question:
"The results may be favoring Obama simply because more Democrats than Republicans tuned in to the debate. Of the debate-watchers questioned in this poll, 41 percent of the respondents identified themselves as Democrats, 27 percent as Republicans and 30 percent as independents."
What information am I missing that will make this discrepancy make sense?

Also, I agree with Darrell that 31% is a very high number of independents. I'm an independent voter, and I would love to have that much company at the voting place. Unfortunately, I do not. Third party or Independent candidates will probably not be getting 31% of the vote. I'll be surprised if they get even 5% of the vote. Many people call themselves "independent" but they intend to vote R or D. A good poll would classify it's voters accordingly as R or D leaning.

m.y.d. said...

I'm sorry, I wrote Darrell when I meant Darren.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

MYD -- the 41-27 numbers were from the first debate. Oddly enough, CNN used the same type of headline ("Obama won..."), but when you read the article, it reports that the sample was stacked with Democrats and adjusting for party affiliation, there was a tie.

With this debate, they have not adjusted for party affiliation, and I have not seen any disclosure of the party affilation. I am just taking "anomymous" at his word. Even if the numbers are right, independents might lean one way or the other. Many independent voters, for example, voted for Obama during the primaries (in states where the Democrats had open primaries). So even these numbers do not provide an accurate picture.

JLambyG said...

THANK YOU! I remember Ethics being taught in my Communication classes at college. Are we the only ones who were listening? :)
I looked all over the web last night for a poll to participate in that didn't have an obvious slant or bias.
If one existed, I didn't find it.

JLambyG said...

Darren, hello again!
You wrote, "I tend to think it's possible to be liberal (or conservative) but intellectually honest."
Wow! Nicely said! I agree. I've always put it this way, "Liberal or Conservative, please give me a moderate any day." Moderates can discuss the issues and disagree while still RESPECTING the other person and their RIGHT to their opinion.
Now, I think maybe you've hit on the key. It's not really about tolerance is it? I think you're right. It's about personal integrity. It's about being honest with yourself and acknowledging the truth when you see it or hear matter the source.
Thank you...again! :)

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Hey Jlambyg - thanks for your response. Believe it or not a lot of liberals and conservatives can engage in respectful debate. I mean, I guess Matlin and Carville respect each other. I probably got that ability teaching law school. Every year, I have to teach around 100 students constitutional law. Although my students know my views, I do not want them to feel pressured into one side or the other. It's easier to reach people that way.

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