Polls have the veracity of fill-in refs in the NFL

Paul Jenkins

It was excruciating. The blazing lights. The frenzied, screaming crowd. The fourth-and-forever football spiraling into history with eight seconds tick-ticking off the clock. Huge men hurling themselves into the air in the corner of the end zone, crashing into one another, fighting, jostling, clawing for the ball.

Green Bay safety M.D. Jennings' pulled it in. Seattle's Golden Tate grabbed for the ball. They hit the ground wrestling for it.

Two referees ignored Tate's pass interference, stopped and looked at each other. One signaled to stop the clock; the other, touchdown. The points went to Seattle and the gods who protect morons smiled. The absolute worst call in modern football -- after a weeks-long blizzard of horrible calls -- went into the record books and football fans went berserk.

If only Americans -- with more to lose in November than a football game -- were as amped about election shenanigans as they are about rotten refs, more of us could sleep soundly. With time running out, the usual suspects are trying to steal the election, conjuring up polls that defy logic and common sense, and pollsters are only too eager to feed their media stooges who use the polls to present a picture of inevitability, a meme that Mitt Romney is losing, his campaign gasping.

At issue is how, or if, pollsters weight Democrats, Republicans and Independents in the expected mix of election day voters; how samples are selected; whether all possibilities, such as cell phones, are considered in the mix. Increasingly, it appears the polls are skewed.

The overriding question: Is polling accurate? We could ask Thomas Dewey or even Lisa Murkowski after her Senate run against Tony Knowles. Ronald Reagan was trailing Jimmy Carter at about this time in 1980. Polls -- for a variety of reasons -- do not always accurately foretell elections, but they make good propaganda.

The New York Times last week had Barack Obama leading Romney by 10 points in Ohio. A Washington Post poll put it at 8. You have to wonder: What changed? What part of the national deficit, or the economy, or the lousy jobs numbers, or the number of Americans living in poverty suddenly improved to boost Obama?

The Gallup tracking poll this past week had Obama over Romney 50-44. But a different sample weighted to reflect the expected partisan makeup of voters this year, in the QStarNews Daily Tracking Poll, put Romney over Obama 53-45, the Washington Examiner reports.

"The difference is the sample or the weighting, the latter result is based on a weight of 37.6 percent of the electorate being made up of Republican voters while 33.3 percent is made up of Democratic voters," the Examiner reported. "The Gallup survey likely bases it's numbers on an expected turnout, or an "over-sample" of Democrats by a 4 to 6 percent margin." That is, Gallup expects more Democrats to show up -- and has for years.

More confusing, the reputable Rasmussen Reports last week had Obama and Romney running 46-46. With "leaners," Romney 48, Obama 46.

It is easy to question the polls' accuracy because of their wildly differing conclusions. GOP strategist Karl Rove and others say pollsters are factoring the expected turnout this year using the 2008 election, when the hopey, changy thing brought Democrats, Hispanics, blacks and young voters out in swarms -- and disillusioned Republicans stayed home. That would favor Democrats.

But on campuses, election interest is nothing akin to four years ago. Turnout percentages, detractors say, will be much different because of fevered Republican interest in sending Obama to the bullpen. Dems say it ain't so.

Nate Cohn of the New Republic says all the talk of skewing is garbage; that the "top, live-interview" polls are not based on 2008; that pollsters use demographically representative samples; that the results are legit. I wonder.

The Pew Research, NYTimes/CBS News and NBC News/Wall Street Journal polls all had Obama leading until they were unskewed. Then, Romney took significant leads.

A much-ridiculed CNN/ORC poll showed Obama leading 52-46, about his winning margin in 2008, the Examiner says. But the sample was doubly-skewed, over-sampling Democrats 17.1 percent and under-sampling independents 25 percent. "Unskewed, the data from this poll would reveal a 53 percent to 45 percent Romney lead."

Which poll do you believe? If you're smart, none of them.

You would do better with a fill-in NFL ref.

Paul Jenkins is editor of the AnchorageDailyPlanet.com.

Paul Jenkins