April Polls, November Fools

By Joe Schembrie
web posted April 3, 2000

New public opinion polls show that Hillary Clinton is ahead of Rudolph Giuliani in her New York Senate race, and Al Gore is leading George W. Bush. All of a sudden, what conservatives thought would be cakewalks against two lackluster liberal candidates have instead become desperate battles for political survival.

But wait a second. Take a look at how pollsters have fared this year. One major pollster, renown for accuracy, declared for nearly two weeks that McCain was ahead in the South Carolina primary. Actually, Bush won handily. This same pollster firmly predicted, after the Michigan primary, that the battle for the Republican presidential nomination would go all the way to the convention floor. Yet, a few days later, it was all over.

Well, we say, that's due to Voter Volatility. But what if the pollsters are -- er, um, well, ah - sort of, uh . . . lying?

As business people, pollsters have not one but two incentives. They of course have an incentive to be accurate. But they also have an incentive to say exactly what the customers commissioning the polls want to hear. And those customers are the liberals who monopolistically control the Big Media.

You may think that accuracy and bias are mutually exclusive, and they are - on Election Day. As I write these words, however, Election Day is seven months off. But April Fool's Day was last week - and liberally-biasing the polls is a prank that political pollsters can get away with for now.

Should pollsters bias their announced polling results, they're assured of a place of glory in the liberal Big Media - headlines in the papers, lead item on the news shows. For pollsters, it's great for the ego - and the pocketbook. Likewise, if the polls aren't biased, and report that conservative Republicans are leading in certain key races, the same liberal Big Media will bury the numbers. They might even go elsewhere for polling services - to see if another pollster can find more 'interesting' results.

For pollsters, there's an obvious strategy for having their biased cake and accurately eating it, too. When the election is far off, be biased - and gain money and glory. When the election benchmark is near, however, report undistorted results -- and thereby build a reputation for accuracy as well.

Not that I'm accusing anyone - but this is exactly how polls behaved during the last two presidential elections. In each, Democrat Bill Clinton was well ahead of his Republican challenger until late October - then boom, a last-moment Republican surge cut his overwhelming lead to a single-digit spread.

Showing liberal-preferred candidates far ahead in the pre-election polls is of great propaganda value. If you're a Republican, did you feel energized in 1996, knowing that Bob Dole was hopelessly behind in the polls? Or were you demoralized, believing that your party's standard-bearer was Dead Man Walking?

Undoubtedly, positive poll numbers would have given the Dole campaign more contributions and more enthusiasm. Disappointingly negative polls, however, led to fingerpointing and dissension, and may well have cost Dole the election.

Let's not say that the pollsters are lying. 'Lying' is such an ugly word (though we were assured by the liberal media only a couple years ago that lying is actually a social grace and that one of the key characteristics of successful leaders is that they lie). No, when pollsters report liberally-biased polling results to their liberal media clients, let's think of it not as lying -- but as 'utilizing appropriate mathematical models to accommodate statistical variances.'

There, feel better?

I'm sure Hillary X does. After all, the only big news to come out of her Senate campaign recently was about stiffing a single-mother waitress for a tip - and yet her poll numbers went up. Likewise, Algore's polls have gone up, although all he's done recently is indulge in the transparent hypocrisy of calling for campaign spending reform!

Hmm. Remember how President Clinton's approval rating skyrocketed with each scandalous revelation - the Tripp tapes, the semen-stained dress, the grand jury testimony, the impeachment itself? I'm sure those polls, too, accurately reflected exactly what the liberal Big Media bosses wanted to see.

But is there ever a price to pay for such self-delusion?

Any sane observer would sense that Hillary and Al are the weakest, most baggaged candidates that Democrats could possibly field. If not for their inexplicable popularity bumps after every scandal and blunder, these floating-upside-down-in-the-aquarium candidates would have been flushed long ago.

The liberal Big Media bosses may have thought their April Fool's Day polls are a clever political prank - but come November, they could well discover that the joke's on them.

Joe Schembrie is a senior writer for Enter Stage Right.

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