The New York Times published some new polling yesterday, showing Democrats in better-than-expected shape in U.S. Senate races in the South. Indeed, the results showed Dem incumbents ahead in Arkansas, Louisiana, and North Carolina, and a Dem challenger looking very competitive in Kentucky.
Discouraged Republicans had a few choices. They could argue, for example, that individual polls are less important than larger averages based on multiple surveys. The GOP could also respond that it’s early in the cycle and there are still structural elements in place that still favor Republicans. They could even credibly claim that some of the results may have been an outlier.
But that’s not what happened. Bill Kristol, the Republican National Committee, and conservatives everywhere instead dug into the internals to declare the poll is … skewed. It’s as if 2012 has already escaped their memories.
As a substantive matter, Brian Beutler argued persuasively that the critique is misguided.
The obvious error here is an apples-oranges comparison between Romney’s recorded share of the vote total with this after-the-fact, reported share of the voting-age population. In 2012, just over 30 percent of registered voters in Arkansas and over half of the voting age population didn’t vote in Arkansas. Since the question was asked of all adults, it appears many people who didn’t vote are now actually claiming to have voted for one of the candidates. And many adults, whether they voted or not, are claiming to have voted third party when they actually didn’t. Eight percent of those surveyed say they voted for someone other than Obama or Romney. In reality third party candidates mustered a combined 2.5 percent of the vote (and a much smaller percentage of the voting age population) in Arkansas that year.And as the Times’ Nate Cohn notes in a strong defense of the poll, “there’s a well-known bias toward the victor in post-election surveys. Respondents who voted for the loser often say that they don’t remember whom they supported, or say they supported someone else.”
In the larger context, though, what matters just as much as the reliability of the data is the right’s instincts – the polling results told Republicans what they didn’t want to hear, so they immediately went with their old standby. Discouraging polls must have a biased sample.
It’s one of several reasons it seems like we’re still stuck in 2012, no matter what the calendar says.
Two years ago, when polls showed Romney trailing, conservatives eagerly pushed the line that news organizations were deliberately skewing the results to bolster the president. Their assumptions were the basis of a remarkable debacle – they were so convinced that the polls were wrong that they were absolutely shocked when Obama won fairly easily.
I thought at the time that the right would have learned a valuable lesson about confirmation bias and public-opinion surveys. I thought wrong. They learned nothing.
But what else happened in 2012?
* State Republican officials launched a nationwide effort to impose voter-suppression policies in key states.
* National Republican officials complained bitterly about contraception access.
* GOP voices raised the specter of the White House using government agencies to publish bogus data for a political advantage.
* Republicans kept pushing ACA repeal, expecting to ride a wave of anti-Obamacare sentiment to electoral success.
* The right pushed all kinds of Benghazi conspiracy theories.
And what’s happening in 2014? Well, we see even more voter-suppression schemes; Republicans still haven’t changed their anti-contraception posture; conservatives are still convinced the White House is “cooking the books” for a political advantage; Republicans refuse to move on from their anti-ACA crusade; and Benghazi is still the conspiracy theory the right just can’t quit.
Welcome to Groundhog Day.