Monday, October 1, 2012


According to Fox News Mitt Romney stands a 50/50 chance of being our next president. His odds are better if you consider other factors. Huh? But don't the national polls say otherwise? Yes, they do. But Fox News (and friends) are playing games. Follow the story below to see what's happening.

It was 1936 and Literary Digest - one of the top polling sources in the country - had Republican Alf Landon beating Franklin D. Roosevelt in the presidential election. FDR, as history reminds us, walloped Landon by taking in over 62% of the vote in 1936. So what happened? Among the many polling issues Literary Digest failed to address was how their polling sample drew heavily from telephone directories and automobile owner lists.

It was the 1930s. We were in the middle of the Great Depression. Guess who had telephones and owned cars? So, yes, in spite of getting over two million responses to their presidential survey the Literary Digests polling sample was skewed.

I bring this up because of Fox News' (and friends) recent efforts to bang the drums about skewed polls. But unlike the Literary Digest 1936 poll that was skewed because the polling industry was in its infancy, and sampling was poorly understood, the Fox crowd is telling the world the polls are skewed because - get this - their guy is losing. Rather than acknowledge reality Fox and friends have decided to focus on a made up conspiracy of national pollsters.

The fact that Fox has unearthed this institutional conspiracy (which only they can see) is only icing on their "let them eat cake" style of news journalism.

This is why this Colbert clip (jump to 5:00) on the ginned up Fox News polling controversy is so important (and funny). The piece begins with Fox News saying you shouldn't believe national polls because the sampling is skewed, which means the polling results are wrong. But the real reason they don't want people paying attention to the polls is because Mitt Romney is behind. If conservatives believe Romney is in trouble they won't show up or spend money, meaning other conservatives might not do as well in their races.

So what does Fox News do? Rather than focusing on "likely" voters in their news narrative Fox says we need to look at "extremely interested" voters, which puts Romney and President Obama in a dead heat. Using Fox's logic Colbert takes it up a notch to point out that Romney is actually "up two points" if we only consider "the psychotically engaged."

But hold on to your tin foil hats, none of this sampling back and forth may matter because one Fox News analyst is suggesting that even if the numbers are right it's all "scientific gobbledygook."

If he doesn't believe it neither should you.

To remedy this conservative blogger, and polling illiterate, Dean Chambers has come up with his own numbers because national polls "just didn't look right." Seriously, you can check his math here at, where he reported that Mitt Romney was actually ahead by almost 8% last week (which jumped to 11% by 9/29/12).

It sure is nice when you can create your own world.

At the end of the day Fox's skewed polling meme has nothing to do with methodology, or science. Fox & friends are crying foul because their guy is losing. But more importantly it allows Fox to tell their audience that the world is against them and that Fox is the only group watching out for them.

It's interesting to note that after their great presidential prediction debacle in 1936 George Gallup became a polling heavy weight (he predicted FDR would win) and Literary Digest effectively went out of business (they were actually merged). In a normal world many might expect the same to happen to Fox News, especially since it's well known that they've spent almost two decades demonizing and building distrust of institutions, people, and groups that don't follow their world view.

But this isn't a normal world. It is possible to come up with predictions and theories that only your followers understand and buy into. History is full of people falling into the logic of false prophecy.

So if you're inclined to support Mitt Romney you may have nothing to worry about, as long as you watch Fox News. Mitt Romney stands a better than 50/50 chance of being our next president.

And if he's not elected president, well, Fox News has already provided you with the narrative to understand what happened ...

- Mark


R. M. said...

I just hope the following does not happen:

1. "Obama's going to win. I don't need to vote." Well without the vote, the poll lead means nothing.

2. Some catastrophe happens and Obama gets the blame because, well, "The buck stops here."

3. The GOP keeps control Congress.

R. M. said...

OH! I forgot to add one more!

4. The electoral college doesn't vote with the popular vote.