A Tale of Three Polls

I am not making this up.

On April 18, Dick Morris and other Hillary critics played up the results of the Gallup Poll (conducted April 13-15), which showed Hillary Clinton's margin over Barack Obama reduced significantly from February to mid-April (from 19 percent to 5 percent).

Then just a day later, on April 19, two additional credible national polls of Democrats and independent–leaning Democrats were conducted — by the Washington Post/ABC and Fox News (the latter certainly not a hotbed of liberal, pro-Hillary bias). The results were the reverse of Gallup's — Sen. Clinton showing some gains or at least holding her own since February and Sen. Obama appearing to plateau, despite a great two months with the successful trip to Selma and the impressive fundraising results in the first quarter. (Interestingly, the Post/ABC poll also showed Sen. Clinton once again ahead of Sen. Obama among African-Americans, by a margin of 43 percent to 34 percent, a reversal of Obama's lead in some polls shortly after the Selma trip.)

So which sampling produced the more accurate results? I am not familiar with Gallup's sampling methodology, but clearly the results were substantially different from the two other polls done about the same time period.

One way to validate poll results is to determine whether the Post/ABC and Fox polls corroborate each other — though they used two entirely different national samples. And they do. In both, the Obama totals were precisely the same — 20 percent (the same total as in February's Post/ABC poll), surprisingly flat given the almost all good news for Obama during that time period. Meanwhile, the Clinton samples were pretty close in both polls, too — 17 percent in Post/ABC and slightly higher (within margin of error), 21 percent, in the Fox sample.

So do any of these results tell us anything about who's ahead and who's behind? Not really. But what is significant is how quickly so many of the cable TV and other political analysts as well as the blogosphere jumped all over last month's results showing Obama "surging" — doing so again when the Gallup results were published — but then downplayed or ignored the contrary Post/ABC-Fox results.

For example:
One of Sen. Clinton's leading critics (that's an understatement), Dick Morris, with his wife Eileen McGann, posted the following breathless report the day after the Gallup results were announced:

"ALERT: HUGE INCREASES IN HILLARY'S NEGATIVES CHANGING PRESIDENTIAL RACE

By Dick Morris and Eileen McGann

April 18, 2007

There has been a sudden and highly significant shift in the Democratic Presidential race. Hillary Clinton is rapidly losing her frontrunner position to Barack Obama as her negative ratings climb. ...

Hillary isn't wearing well. It seems as if the more people see her, the less they like her. ... In February Hillary had a 19 point lead over Obama. He is now only 5 points behind her. The latest numbers are:

Hillary Clinton 31%
Barack Obama 26%
John Edwards 16%
Al Gore 15%

These numbers mean serious problems for Hillary."

Gee, you would think that Dick and Eileen are ready to write off Hillary Clinton as a loser, heading down with nowhere to go but further down.

But wait — as just noted, the Post/ABC poll and the Fox News poll show exactly the opposite, with Hillary increasing her lead dramatically since February over Obama.

So wouldn't you think that Mr. Morris and Ms. McGann, somewhat embarrassed by their, shall we say, rush to judgment on the Gallup results, would have published a correction or at least an update after the Washington Post/ABC and Fox News polls were published? (Morris works as a commentator for Fox, so at least he could have credited them with their contrary poll results).

Don't hold your breath.

Then came the Washington Times on Sunday, April 22 — after the publication of the Post/ABC and Fox polls. The front-page headline — almost a "Saturday Night Live"-style caricature of news pages being influenced by the conservative views of Rev. Moon's editorial pages — was solely about the Gallup Poll, as if the Post/ABC and Fox polls didn't really count. The headline was:

"Polls [sic] see Obama gaining As Hillary Appears waning"

Then the reporter, Donald Lambro, actually began his lead by referring to "polls" [sic] showing Sen. Clinton in a race that has "tightened significantly." Fair enough if he is referring to the Gallup poll — but that is a singular, not a plural. But it takes the flip to the inside page, far down in the story, for Lambro to acknowledge that there are two other polls quite different from Gallup's. He cites the Post's poll results (omitting reference to ABC — why?) and Fox's results. Then he returns to "experts" commenting about the Gallup results as bad news for Clinton — with no alternative comments about the Post/ABC or the Fox results. And who is one of the experts he turns to for a quote? You guessed it: Dick Morris. He repeats Morris's earlier posted personal attacks on Clinton: "Hillary isn't wearing well. It seems as if the more people see her the less they like her" — a comment not exactly in line with the Post/ABC or Fox polls.

So what does all this mean?

As I have written earlier, poll results are meaningless at this point. Neither Sen. Clinton nor Sen. Obama should take any heart, or hit, from these poll results.

But all this does mean something potentially more ominous for Sen. Clinton, something her press and communications operation should begin to take more seriously, if they aren’t doing so already.

And that is what is now a growing pattern of anti-Hillary bias among some of the pundit class that is creeping into MSM coverage of the campaign. No matter what happens, it seems, there is always a way to spin the event or news as a negative for Clinton's campaign.

Since I am a fundraiser and strong supporter of Clinton's, admittedly I may be over-sensitive to this. I hope I am wrong.

Perhaps it's not bias at all. Maybe it's no more complicated than that the mainstream media loves a horse–race in the presidential campaign. Ratings, column inches, exciting primary races to cover (and plenty of expense accounts to cover them on the scene) — there have to be some conscious or unconscious motives like this going on. Or the same ole, same ole phenomenon in Washington media coverage of presidential candidates in the early stages — build up the frontrunner, tear him or her down, build them up again, and so on — all in the name of keeping the horse-race (and public interest) up.

Being a frontrunner is not an easy label to carry, for sure. But at least everyone should see the anti-Hillary spin by some commentators in these early days for what it is — spin.