Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Poll-Fixing(?) & the Debate

The shenanigans connected to polls regarding elections are well-known, although some pollsters are far more accurate than others. The polls to arouse suspicion are those commissioned by the candidates themselves and are likely to be local in nature. Polls conducted by seasoned professionals on a national scale can be expected to be objective even when they deal with local issues. With no axes to grind or campaigning to do, they can be trusted.

The Lexington Herald-Leader, Louisville Courier-Journal and TV stations WKYT (Lexington) and WHAS (Louisville) have combined this year for polling purposes vis-a-vis the Senate race between Senator McConnell and Kentucky State Secretary Alison Lundergan Grimes, hiring the SurveyUSA outfit, which announced in February that Grimes was ahead by a few points, at least as interpreted by Herald-Leader writer Sam Youngman.

Another SurveyUSA poll was done in August after a presumed stellar performance by Grimes at the Fancy Farm election “stump-day.” The poll showed McConnell ahead by 4 points, about a six-point swing, when it was undoubtedly designed to bury McConnell. Grimes quickly hired the Mellman group to do a poll in September that showed her ahead by two points, or another six-point change.

To sew things up, the Media biggies hired another poll by Survey USA that showed Grimes—yep—ahead by two points, election saved. During that same period, the nationally highly regarded Rasmussen polling had McConnell ahead by five points. During a late September poll conducted by the New York Times/CBS (both McConnell haters), McConnell was ahead by six points, perhaps pulling away.

Get ready for the October polls leading into the election. A look at 2008 is instructive, when McConnell defeated Bruce Lunsford to keep his seat. On 21 October, Rasmussen had McConnell ahead 50%-43%, while Survey USA on 20 October called the race even, 48%-48%. That's a huge differential, well beyond any margin of error.

On 29 October just before the 2008 election, Rasmussen had McConnell ahead by 51%-44% but, strangely, SurveyUSA also had McConnell ahead by an even greater face-saving margin, 53%-45%, indicating an eight-point swing even farther from reality. McConnell won the election by 53%-47%. So, what happened in just ten days? Ever heard of cooking the books? These stats are from Real Clear Politics.

As of May 2012, 55.27% of registered voters in Kentucky were democrats; 37.67% were republicans, and others comprised 7.07%. It will be interesting to see the next polling stats leading right up to the election. The New York Times/CBS folks already have McConnell ahead by six points, while Rasmussen has it by five. Wonder if SurveyUSA will come up with un-cooked books as in 2008, an attack of truth.

The Grimes-McConnell “debate” took place on Kentucky Educational Television on the evening of 13 October. I watched the predictable first 20 Minutes, then checked in occasionally while doing other things and watched the final minutes. Actually, it was not a debate. Few of these candidate-billed debates are actual debates, mostly just rehashing campaign bits and pieces and a bit of mudslinging. This one was better than most and was moderated (KET's Bill Goodman) better than most.

Grimes' main theme (besides character-assassination) seemed to be that McConnell had been a senator too long (30 years) and was therefore “out of touch” with Kentuckians. This was an insult to folks who've been in a job for up to 40 years and think they do their work well. But Grimes is 30-something, so give her a pass. Women candidates make it a point these days to voice their motherhood as a proof of superior qualities (or grand-motherhood, like Pelosi) so Grimes (childless) felt compelled to say she hoped to have children.

McConnell mostly stuck to facts, using well-documented stats, and made it a point to mention that he would likely be majority leader if the republicans take the Senate and therefore will set the agenda for legislation, a definite plus for both country and state. He probably overplayed the coal-question (loss of 7,000 well-paid jobs due to Obama's promise to kill coal) but had the answer when Grimes claimed support of the UMW when he mentioned that the current AFL-CIO president was formerly UMWA president—thus a guaranteed 100% vote for democrats in every craft.

There are polls and debates, with ambiguities probably their easiest-identified features.

And so it goes.
Jim Clark


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