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Markos Moulitsas: No surprise on GOP polls

Greg Nash

In 2012, Mitt Romney headed into his election night confident of victory. His internal numbers from Neil Newhouse were coming up gold: He was ahead in Florida, Virginia and North Carolina, narrowly ahead in New Hampshire and Iowa, and tied in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. His mood was predictably buoyant. 

Of course, President Obama won all those states except for North Carolina, most of them easily. And it shouldn’t have been a surprise — the public polling accurately saw it coming from months out. But the GOP had been blinded not just by the poll “unskewers” — conservatives who would rejigger public polling voter assumptions to boost Republican numbers. It had been blinded by abysmal partisan polling operations. 

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But failure has done little to harm the job prospects of conservative pollsters. 

Take John McLaughlin, the butt of D.C. jokes after his failure to predict House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s stunning loss last week. In his final poll of the race, McLaughlin had Cantor (R-Va.) leading by 34 points. In the end, he lost by 11. 

That stunning 45-point misfire wasn’t the pollster’s first big miss. 

Among his misses from 2012 alone, McLaughlin had Republican Rep. Bob Dold leading 44 percent to 37 percent; he lost 51/49. McLaughlin had Romney winning Colorado 50/46; he lost 51/46. McLaughlin had Romney winning Virginia 51/44; he lost 51/47. McLaughlin had George Allen leading the Virginia Senate race 47/44; he lost 53/47. McLaughlin had Richard Mourdock winning 45/42 in Indiana’s Senate race, after his infamous rape comments; he lost 50/44. McLaughlin had Republican Barry Hinckley trailing just 49/41 in Rhode Island’s Senate race; he lost 65/35. And in New York’s Sixth Congressional District, McLaughlin had Republican Dan Halloran trailing just 36/33. He lost 68/31. 

There’s no doubt McLaughlin believed his bad data. Two days before the 2012 election, I tweeted, “To have any hope for [Tuesday], GOPers have to ignore the data. Don’t worry, they have plenty of practice doing that.” In a response McLaughlin no doubt wishes he could take back, he shot back, “when Romney wins will u fire PPP … #markosskewshispolls Republicans coming out #howsyourearlyvote? Not2008.” At the time, PPP was conducting polling for Daily Kos, and its numbers were spot-on. Oops. 

But McLaughlin isn’t an anomaly. The Tarrance Group was out last week peddling a crackpot poll out of the Oregon Senate race showing the Republican trailing incumbent Sen. Jeff Merkley by just 41 percent to 39 percent. Public polling has shown Merkley advantages of between 14 and 18 points. This was the same pollster who declared, in late October 2012, “In that snapshot of today’s vote model, Mitt Romney leads Barack Obama by five-points — 52% to 47%. While that gap can certainly be closed by the ground game of the Democrats, reports from the field would indicate that not to be the case, and Mitt Romney may well be heading to a decisive victory.” And people still hire this guy?

There’s lots more, but I’m out of space. Bottom line? Republican pollsters are objectively terrible. “Honestly, and I’m one of them, we Republican pollsters suck,” said GOP pollster Frank Luntz. “We have no ability to be able to analyze the electorate.” 

Not surprising. Conservatives have invested immense effort in building an ideological bubble to keep reality out. So for them, there’s no market for fact-based and accurate public opinion research. 

In fact, there’s a market for the opposite. Vox Populi, a new GOP polling firm boasting Mary Cheney as a partner, polled the Cantor race. Its results? Cantor winning 52/40. 

Moulitsas is the founder and publisher of Daily Kos.

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