Anti-Hillary coverage of 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 Democrat-leaning independents were conducted — by The Washington-Post/ABC News, and Fox News (the latter certainly not a hotbed of liberal, pro-Hillary bias). The results were the reverse of Gallup’s — Senator Clinton showing some gains or at least holding her own since February and Senator Obama appearing to plateau, despite a great two months with the successful trip to Selma and the impressive fund-raising results in the first quarter. The Post/ABC results showed Senator Clinton leading 37 percent to 20 percent as of April 15, compared to 36 percent to 24 percent in February, and the Fox poll had her leading 41 percent to 20 percent. (Interestingly, the Post/ABC poll also showed Senator Clinton once again ahead of Senator Obama among African Americans, by a margin of 43 percent to 34 percent, a reversal of Senator 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, surprisingly flat given the almost all good news for Senator Obama during that time period. Meanwhile, the Clinton samples were pretty close in both polls too.

One of Senator 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
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 percent
Barack Obama, 26 percent
John Edwards, 16 percent
Al Gore, 15 percent

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 modestly, 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 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 See Obama Gaining as Hillary Appears Waning.”

Then the reporter, Donald Lambro, actually began his lead by referring to “polls” showing Senator 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 to 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.

Since I am a fundraiser and strong supporter of Senator Clinton’s, admittedly I may be over-sensitive to Morris’s and Lambro’s reports. I hope I am wrong when I suspect a creeping pattern of anti-Hillary bias in mainstream news coverage.

Lanny Davis writes for The Hill website’s Pundits Blog (pundits.thehill.com).