I’ve got mixed feelings about polling data. On the one hand, when they say what I want, I like them. On the other hand, when they don’t say what I want… not so much.
The truth is that this far out from the race, reporting polling data is more useful at shaping public behavior than predicting it. That’s why Republicans have been so keen on waving the latest Rasmussen Reports poll that shows the contest between Sen. Maria Cantwell and Republican challenger Mike McGavick narrowing to a 44 percent to 40 percent margin. Rasmussen calls it “a tossup.”
Forget for a moment that Rasmussen is widely considered to be a partisan Republican pollster, and that computerized, auto-dial polls in general aren’t considered to be all that accurate. Yeah, ignore the fact that many news agencies, including The Associated Press, The Hotline and Roll Call have a policy of not reporting on robo-polls, and that CNN polling chief Keating Holland says he finds them unreliable:
Rasmussen Reports uses another questionable technique to gather its polling data: interactive voice technology (IVT), in which a computer does the calling and the interviewing. Though Rasmussen himself said that it is “easier to get people to talk to a computer than it used to be,” polling units that use IVT have a reputation for low response rates. “It’s a far cry from having an interviewer,” Belden said. Holland does not let CNN report results from IVT polls. “I find [IVT] polls unreliable,” he said. “I’ve actually been polled, and it was far too easy to screw around with it, which I did.” He added, “People feel a bigger obligation to tell the truth to a real person.” SurveyUSA, another prolific polling organization, also uses IVT.
Yeah, forget all that. And while your at it, forget the fact these polls tend to swing all over the place. (Does anybody really believe that Gov. Christine Gregoire’s approval margin has swung 11 points in the past month? Um… because of what?) And forget the fact that despite all the ups and downs, Strategic Vision’s May 2006 poll has Sen. Cantwell almost exactly where she was last August.
Go ahead… ignore all of that. It’s not the point. Let’s just accept the Rasmussen poll as cold, hard fact.
And in that context what leaps off the page at me is: how the fuck does McGavick expect to win with only 40 percent of the vote?
I don’t need a poll to tell me that Cantwell’s refusal to throw her base a bone on the Iraq war is hurting her support amongst anti-war Democrats. We all know that. What’s surprising to me is how little traction McGavick is managing to generate despite a yearlong campaign and hundreds of thousands of dollars of unanswered advertising. Back on April 4, Rasmussen had him at 40 percent. That’s exactly where they have him today. Big whoop. The McGavick folks can talk all they want about “closing the gap”, but they haven’t closed anything — it’s Cantwell’s numbers that have moved, not McGavick’s.
Let’s be honest, these aren’t much better than Will Baker numbers… just a few points higher than what you automatically get for sticking an “R” next to your name. Sure, some angry Democrats are awfully pissed at Cantwell, but there’s absolutely no indication that this is leading anybody to vote for McGavick.
And when it comes right down to it, does anybody really believe that more than a handful of anti-war Democrats are going to vote for McGavick just to punish Cantwell? For that matter, does anybody believe that Green Party candidate, scofflaw, and first-time-voter Aaron Dixon can possibly draw much more than a couple points? I don’t think so.
McGavick is going to have to give the public a reason to vote for him if he’s to have a chance of winning in November, and his cynical “civility” campaign is just not gonna do it. Meanwhile Cantwell is sitting on a $6 million war chest she hasn’t even started to spend, and if McGavick doesn’t hurry up and define himself, she’s gonna do it for him.
So believe the polls if you want. But if you do, I suggest you believe the entire poll.