Over the weekend, Politico ran this story on how Democrats are setting their guns (the verbal kind, not the Second Amendment kind) at pollster Scott Rasmussen. An excerpt:
Democrats are turning their fire on Scott Rasmussen, the prolific independent pollster whose surveys on elections, President Obama’s popularity and a host of other issues are surfacing in the media with increasing frequency.
The pointed attacks reflect a hardening conventional wisdom among prominent liberal bloggers and many Democrats that Rasmussen Reports polls are, at best, the result of a flawed polling model and, at worst, designed to undermine Democratic politicians and the party’s national agenda.
On progressive-oriented websites, anti-Rasmussen sentiment is an article of faith. “Rasmussen Caught With Their Thumb on the Scale,” blared the Daily Kos this summer. “Rasmussen Reports, You Decide,” the blog Swing State Project recently headlined in a play on the Fox News motto.
“I don’t think there are Republican polling firms that get as good a result as Rasmussen does,” said Eric Boehlert, a senior fellow with Media Matters, a progressive research center. “His data looks like it all comes out of the RNC [Republican National Committee].”
“Whether intended or not, Rasmussen polls have been used by conservative voices as talking points, and when that happens on one side it inevitably produces a reaction from the other,” explained Mark Blumenthal, a polling analyst and the editor and publisher of Pollster.com. “Rasmussen produces a lot of data that appear to produce narratives conservatives are promoting, and that causes a reaction.”
While Scott Rasmussen, the firm’s president, contends that he has no ax to grind — his bio notes that he has been “an independent pollster for more than a decade” and “has never been a campaign pollster or consultant for candidates seeking office” — his opponents on the left insist he is the hand that feeds conservative talkers a daily trove of negative numbers that provides grist for attacks on Obama and the Democratic Party.
Nothing, however, sets off liberal teeth gnashing more than Rasmussen’s daily presidential tracking polls, which throughout the year have consistently placed Obama’s approval numbers around 5 percentage points lower than other polling outfits.
What this tells me, I think, is that Dems are much more worried about 2010 than they let on and they need to “take out” Rasmussen, or at least try to convince the MSM to avoid reporting his results. This was the same failed strategy to marginalize Fox News in an attempt to get Fox’s reporting from entering the MSM. In the past, however, Rasmussen has been incredibly accurate. The left-leaning polling blog FiveThrityEight.com has a good write-up discussing the Politico piece and where Democrats are wrong in their attacks on Rasmussen. An excerpt:
The first thing to note is that there are a lot of different ways in which a polling firm might be biased. Rasmussen is most frequently accused of bias because their results are thought to lean toward Republican candidates. Just to pick a random example, for instance, Rasmussen has embattled Democrat Blanche Lincoln down by margins ranging between 4 and 7 points against three potential Republican opponents in her 2010 Senate race, whereas two other polling firms (neither of which, incidentally, are themselves free of partisan ties) have Lincoln ahead against these opponents by margins ranging from 1 to 16 points. Does this mean that Rasmussen is biased?
For me, it doesn’t — not necessarily. It means that Rasmussen has a different model of what the 2010 election is going to look like, one which will feature a more conservative electorate. But that model isn’t necessarily wrong, nor does it necessarily reflect bias. The polling firm Public Policy Polling has also tended to show poor results for Democratic candidates in its 2010 polling, relative to other pollsters like Quinnipiac. But Public Policy Polling is a Democratic polling firm. Are they biased too?
What Rasmussen has had is a “house effect”. So far in the 2010 cycle, their polling has consistently and predictably shown better results for Republican candidates than other polling firms have. But such house effects can emerge from legitimate differences of opinion about how to model the electorate. And ultimately, these differences of opinion will be tested — based on what happens next November. If Rasmussen’s opinion turns out to be wildly inaccurate, that will impeach their credibility, and believe me, we will point that out. Likewise, if they turn out to be right when most other pollsters are wrong, we will point that out too.
Rasmussen’s election polling has tended to be quite accurate in the past. Nor, incidentally, has their election polling has a particularly strong house effect in the past; it is something new to the 2010 cycle. But that’s OK; each election cycle features different dynamics in terms of turnout and motivation, and what might be smart assumptions in one cycle won’t necessarily carry over to the next.
Here’s a challenge: If Rasmussen proves to be as accurate in 2010 as he has been in past elections, will Politico run a piece exposing Democrats and their lies about his organization?